Friday, July 10, 2009

It's Time For Libertarian Tolerance

Actions are Relevant, Not the Motivation

The religious/spiritual conscience is the strict, private domain of the individual. The contents of that domain are off limits and irrelevant to other individuals. Some will claim those contents are sometimes inconsistent with self-government. To me, that is the height of arrogance and ignorance.

Certainly, the mind, spirit, and conscience is one piece of our lives off limits and inaccessible to an oppressive, totalitarian state. Throughout history individuals have managed to survive and even outlive tyrannical state regimes by relying on a strong, principled, spiritual conscience that is untouchable by even the most onerous of despots.

What inspires and privately defines your self-government is is your own concern.

Recently, US expatriate Jeff Knaebel (a contributor to LRC) renounced his US citizenship at the Mahatma Gandhi national monument in India. Mr. Knaebel shredded his US passport and “placing the pieces upon the monument, Knaebel declared his independence from not only the American government, but all governments renouncing his birth certificate as well, stating that citizenship must either be voluntary, or be considered forced slavery.” Mr. Knaebel then read aloud his Declaration of Renunciation and Severance of U.S. Citizenship which is a marvelous, inspiring statement.
As this news spread throughout the blogosphere I noticed some of the usual gnashing of teeth among atheist fundamentalists impressed with Mr. Knaebel’s declaration but upset with his motivation. It seems that Mr. Knaebel is a Buddhist and the precepts of that belief were, at least in part, the source of his declaration of individual sovereignty.

It’s no secret that a large percentage of anarchists are atheists. Included among this group are agnostics, who will respectfully claim disbelief until empirical evidence proves otherwise. These folks generally respect those who are believers. Then there are the fundamentalist atheists who unequivocally declare that there is no God(s) and therefore claim access to all the knowledge of the universe (the only way one could make such a claim). These individuals are generally intolerant of any sort of religious or spiritual beliefs.

Anyone who has spent any time examining the philosophy of anarchy will find that there are many different ideological “versions” of anarchism. Per Bylund’s lists a healthy sampling:

“…collectivist and individualist anarchists, revolutionary and pacifist anarchists, atheist and Christian anarchists, communist and socialist anarchists, high-tech and primatism anarchists, industry-centered and environmentalist anarchists, as well as property abolitionist and free-market or capitalist anarchists.”
However, you will find at least three key elements of that philosophy that is shared by all interpretations: the necessary abolishment of the oppressive state, voluntary association, and self-government. The latter is the element being considered here.

In order for a stateless society to be successful, individuals within that society must practice self-government, i.e., individual responsibility. They must act in accordance with a code of morality/ethics dictating non-aggression and respect for other’s lives and property. This “code” may originate from a variety of sources, secular or religious.

Some fundamentalist atheist/anarchists brazenly claim that no one can be described as or declare himself an anarchist if he has a religious loyalty to a God(s) because he is then submitting to the governance of someone other than himself. This, of course, is nonsense. Using their argument, it would also follow that one cannot be an anarchist if married, as such a relationship entails submitting (at least sometimes) to the orders of a marital partner. One could also not be employed by another party, as that relationship, as well, would involve taking commands from someone other than yourself. Even a self-employed individual takes “orders” from his customers.

All of these examples are related to personal accountability, rather than governance. An individual is accountable to his/her marriage partner in accordance with their marriage agreement and vow. An employee is accountable to the contractual agreement made with his/her employer. In a similar manner, a business owner is accountable to his/her customers if he/she intends to stay in business. By the same manner, one who holds a religious belief does so, in part, to regulate his/her behavior. The individual sees in that religious doctrine a reliable, time tested philosophy for guidance. Following that guidance offers the best hope of living successfully and peacefully among other individuals. The individual sees this doctrine/code of ethics as a guidepost to compare his behavior and thus make himself accountable.

None of the above examples can be remotely compared to statist’s behavioral obedience to their governing ruling masters- an obedience created through fear, force, and coercion. It is the rejection of this illegitimate governance that characterizes an anarchist. As I wrote a couple years ago:

“Religious doctrine, in and of itself, has no collective power over others. It has no armies or thugs with guns to enforce its edicts. An individual needs no state or private security apparatus to defend himself from such doctrine if it is intellectually or morally disagreeable, but merely the use of his God-given reason and self-education. The state, however, is a secular/godless construct only attractive to those with no moral conscience. It is an instrument of force, legitimized by fraudulent doctrine and promises, and used to control others by force rather than honest, forthright, peaceful persuasion.”

The fact that some individuals have both accepted religious teachings, and in some cases accepted them to the point of religious reverence and/or worship, is irrelevant to being characterized as anarchists. The fact that they both dismiss and disavow any allegiance or obedience to any man-made, man-operated system of governance over their lives, property and liberty is relevant.

If you come to these beliefs through religious doctrine- so be it. If you come to these beliefs by way of an indoctrinated, secular, moral code of ethics- so be it. What’s important is that you have accepted these ethics and morals as imperative to living peacefully and freely among other individuals. What is important is a physical, not spiritual reality- your exhibited behavior toward and your social interactions with others.

Why should one give up their own personal motivation to serve the ambitions of intolerant, atheist evangelists?


Autonomist said...
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Autonomist said...
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Autonomist said...

What's ironic is the "new atheist movement" is chiefly responsible for helping the average person wake up and realize that atheists are not the paradigmatic examples of "rational freethinkers" they sometimes pretend to be; far from it, they can be just as fanatical and intolerant as the religious people they criticize.

(Readers are invited to have a look at Darwin Bedford's site, for example, if they doubt this.)

The intolerance many atheists display is divisive and dangerous, and it hinders rational worldview adjudication.

Intellectually responsible free thinking theists, agnostics, and atheists need to show solidarity in our rejection of irrational fanaticism (whether atheistic or theistic).


Autonomist said...


Regarding the relationship between theism and anarchism in particular, it's a matter of empirical fact that there have been many influential theistic anarchists throughout history (with Leo Tolstoy being, perhaps, the most notable example).

Philosophically, there is no inconsistency between theism and anarchism per se. Any definition of anarchism has to be qualified in some sense to allow some type of "authority." Here's why: if one's definition of anarchism entails absolutely no authority, then one cannot even be an authority over oneself, which is absurd. Thus, any coherent version of anarchism would have to be a qualified or conditional anarchism according to which there should be no unjustifiable authority. (And it would be an uphill battle to suppose that, were God to exist, his authority would be unjustifiable.)

So for both historical/empirical and philosophical reasons it is wrongheaded to claim that anarchism is incompatible with theism. Any coherent definition of anarchism would be compatible with both theism and atheism. It is not until an anarchist begins adding further worldview assumptions to her anarchism that incompatibilities arise.