Direct Democracy vs. Libertarianism: Reason vs. Logic

 A meeting of the minds between the opposing camps of any debate requires first, at the very least, an acceptance of common terms. A shared understanding of standard rhetorical fallacies, for example, advances the debate by exacting from both parties a discipline in their argumentation, much as courtroom rules of order constrain and focus the theories of counsel.

But in the world’s living languages even fundamental terms evolve in their meanings, more often in their nuances, in just a generation or two. Liberals, for instance, are not what they once were: the American term now more closely describes a dogmatic advocate for greater governmental intervention than a free-thinking supporter of broader individual liberty.

Our poor grasp of even the fundamental facets of the intellect itself have impeded our search for good political solutions and for common ground. And a better understanding of this language deficiency will likely yield for us more meetings of the minds.

Physics has long since accepted that one cannot grasp the reality of the universe without first incorporating the presence of the observer himself. We humans stand far removed from a full appreciation of our own perceptual shortcomings. But progress toward that end will advance our mastery of both the physical sciences and the science of politics.


The more common descriptives of intellect — intelligent, smart, bright, and moral — unintelligent, dumb or stupid, dull, and immoral — are used almost interchangeably. But meaningful distinctions ought to be drawn between the constituent functions of intellect — some better suited to a discovery of real-world principles and appropriate plans of action than others.

Intelligent vs. Unintelligent: (an efficient acquisition, retrieval and logical manipulation of relayed data)

A highly intelligent individual may test at the genius level in one narrow field of knowledge and yet be sub-normal in all others: the common term for such a person, often autistic, is savant. Rarely are such people productive members of society, as their specialized genius proves non-adaptive to the subjective complexities of a human-dominated real world.

In the sordid affairs of mankind it isn’t sufficient to possess an encyclopedic knowledge in one field or another — or even in quite a few. The storage in human memory of what amounts to a knowledge of trivia and even its retrieval and manipulation into logical configurations is a form of intellect best performed today by computers — devices equally divorced from any grasp of human nature and human values, i.e. from human morality.

Some of our more sadistic serial killers were highly intelligent: Extreme intelligence is an amoral quality, a trait that neither guarantees an individual’s adaptability nor precludes his evil action — or the evil acts of those relying upon his high intelligence. Any vision of a utopian society governed by the most intelligent among us is a hopelessly incomplete and an amoral one.

Is higher intelligence preferable to lower intelligence? Of course it is. But just as in evolution bigger hasn’t always proven better and more specialized means less adaptive in a changing environment, so too, where intelligence comes to dominate the intellect, where information is thus gathered through relayed data — not through personal experience and social interaction — a social deficit, even a misanthropic disposition, is much more likely to result.

Smart vs. Dumb/Stupid: (a reasoned decision-making, informed by a real-world, experiential understanding of cause and effect)

For smart people an assessment of cause and effect in the real world informs their judgments of proper courses of action — not relayed data assiduously committed to memory. Highly intelligent savants find even the simplest goal-oriented reasoning difficult. They cannot effectively process subjective perception, causal experience and stored memory into a weighing of probable outcomes of alternative plans.

For most of us, however, this is just our natural integrative reasoning, which generally takes place in fractions of seconds; and, intelligent or not — i.e. able to process relayed information or not — we are almost all able to learn from our own mistakes and thus make smarter decisions over time.

To be smart demands reason. Many animals are quite smart; but they are not intelligent in the sense presented here. Chimpanzees and crows can problem-solve their way to obstructed food by virtue of their advanced understanding of cause and effect — sometimes more advanced than many humans. But they still lack non-experiential, relayed knowledge — knowledge derived from the stores of other individuals’ experiences, recorded or conveyed through some common medium.

Reasoning is a dynamic process of adaptation and may serve one well absent any recorded, relayed information at all. Yet smart individuals, even if highly intelligent, are not necessarily introspective. Like the best Labrador retrievers, they may find — or intelligently research — a way to get to their chosen goals. But they may never stop to question their motivations and their roles in the world — let alone the underlying structure of the world itself. Higher human concepts of equality, justice, innocence and guilt — the cornerstones of morality — may still be but vague concepts or of no concern at all.

And logic, while an admittedly intelligent, often useful construction of an abstracted reality, is nevertheless based solely or primarily upon relayed data. Without adding the dynamism of reason as a real-world, corrective guide, one would not be expected to adapt and survive in the real world by intelligence and logic alone.

Bright vs. Dull: (an integration of empathy and social reciprocity into action)

To be bright is to be socially insightful — which is not necessarily to be socially adept — particularly within circles where true sociability proves a weakness. Bright people are aware of or at least interested in others’ feelings most of the time; and this may prove both a blessing and a hindrance. Bright people appreciate and practice social reciprocity, yet perceive and avoid being crass, and often find pleasure and take pride solely in socializing well with others.

Of course, many people consider themselves very bright and are yet very far from it. There are Harvard graduated, world-travelling overachievers whose smart decisions made them millions who are yet the very dullest human beings — gracelessly droning on about themselves without any awareness of others’ true feelings about them.

And brightness, being the social aspect of intellect, is no guarantee of intelligence, per se, or even of smart decision-making. Understanding how to motivate or subtly influence other people becomes increasingly less important as a given issue grows time critical and therefore demands the immediate use of relayed data or well reasoned action. In such sensitive situations brightness may in fact prove more a diversion from effective decision making than a crucial resource thereof.  But in the course of everyday life bright people possess the charm and social facility to manipulate and solidify relationships upon which hierarchies are determined. And without the quality of brightness itself, including its characteristic charm and grace, society would be bereft of the very spirit of that term.

Moral vs. Immoral: (a judgment of innocence and guilt integrated into action)

One might object to categorizing moral sentiment as a facet of intellect. But moral judgment integrates all the facets of intellect into appropriate, effective action: One must be bright enough to recognize and to deeply value innocence for its own sake, in turn distinguishing and condemning guilt. One must be smart enough to act effectively in defense of innocence and in the prevention of guilt. And in order to vindicate the former two facets of intellect one must be intelligent enough to benefit from the whole store of human learning.

[For a more detailed discussion of morality, see the site page, Of Morality.]

Bill Clinton is a highly intelligent, smart man, and very bright — but he is not a moral man. While he may enjoy all the facets of intellect necessary to be moral, his actions seem more often determined by something other than his intellect. Selfish base drives and ego needs are always in competition with the intellect. But moral human beings tame their individual needs and drives in order to focus more fully upon the dictates of morality itself.

Though a moral person adapts best to a changing environment, gifted in all facets of intellect, survival is by no means assured. In a predominantly immoral world such as ours, morality may require of the moral individual even a violent defense of the innocent, including, of course, of himself.


The trouble at the heart of libertarianism is that voluntarism and non-aggression are purist ethical principles that fail to address the current realities of human nature. Their models may be entirely logical, using imaginary peaceable human beings in order to construct idealized ethical theories. But unbound by any realistic representations of humans existing in societies today, their proposals amount to escapist games of logic.

Without beginning with the world as it is, developing some systematic proposal for altering or at least containing the more violent aspects of human nature — those that would never be voluntarily suppressed by the offenders themselves — offenders whose violent tendencies first gave rise to the nation states –libertarianism will remain a marginalized political party. It is intellectually lazy to contend that violence is largely the product of state systems; and it is intellectually indefensible — stupid, in the terms presented here — to ignore the inevitable cause and effect of unilaterally forsaking the real protections of a state system in favor of a voluntary society. Ask the Tibetans about this.

Without introducing a transitional political system designed to shift human nature itself toward an all-voluntary, non-violent society libertarians aren’t proposing anything at all. And in the real world where dangerous people do exist, it is immoral to turn one’s back on that dangerous and intransigent, genetics-based reality, condemning our state system instead, which at least marginally protects the innocent from such people. Finally, to argue for a system where protection of the innocent is left to a private, voluntarily financed military is probably the most absurd and therefore the most immoral of its logical extrapolations.

[For a further explanation of the necessity of the state, see site post, The Nation-State: Law, Punishment and Immigration.]

Among the virtues of the direct democracy system presented here, its capacity to force accountability and self-reliance onto both communities and individuals distinguishes it from others: No transfer of debt to future generations is permitted. And those who necessitate government and its services are the ones who pay for its continuation. Thus prisoners are required to work at least as many hours as do honest citizens with full-time jobs.

All convicted prisoners shall labor no less than eight hours per day, five days per week, unless two physicians certify that they are physically or mentally incapable of as much; and only in so laboring shall able prisoners earn the privileges of hot meals, visitations, educational and recreational opportunities and personal, non-toiletry possessions within cells.

(from Amendment VIII)

The design therefore is intended to direct human behavior toward the development of a prevailing spirit of classical liberalism, as well as the fostering of respect for diversity, particularly with respect to those who don’t share in that political spirit. For a realistic model of a voluntary society must contemplate the probability that individuals, even within a libertarian community, may choose to reject the founding principles and yet remain citizens or at least residents.

But what makes this proposed direct democracy more moral than any voluntary libertarian society — where coordinated state protections are to be forsaken in favor of voluntarily financed, competing private forces — and also more moral than our current situation — is its smart, specific protections of the truly innocent, our own children: 

Amendment V – The intentional, knowing, reckless or criminally negligent infliction of death or grave physical or psychological injury—a disabling injury that is not susceptible to humane, restorative care or natural, restorative healing absent professional medical or mental health intervention—by an adult upon a minor, a postpartum human being younger than eighteen years of age, henceforth shall be a high crime: an offense so heinous and degenerate that, upon conviction and exhausted appeal of the convicted, the latter shall be confined by the state, apart from the public, until death.


And the use of any illegal intoxicant by a custodial parent shall be, ipso facto, felony child neglect and cause the immediate loss of custody of all minor children upon arrest; whereupon custody shall be restored only upon exoneration, or completion of sentence and judicial consent.

(from Amendment XV)

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2 responses to “Direct Democracy vs. Libertarianism: Reason vs. Logic

  1. I think you wrongly conflate “libertarianism” with its extremist cousin “anarcho-capitalism” or with some other variety of anarchy. Most self-identifying libertarians are not actually full-blown anarchists; they do not believe that protection of person, property and liberty is rightly left to private entities only. Most believe that these functions are the true calling of a legitimate government… and no more than that.

    • Mr. Wolfe,

      Thank you for your comment at what direct democracy might be.

      I would agree with you that not all libertarians take the ideology to its “extreme” logical ends. The same may be said of most who call themselves liberals or conservatives: they do not dig deeply into the logical ramifications of their respective philosophy’s principles.

      But go to almost any libertarian forum or blog online and you will find it dominated by those who do in fact take those principles seriously. Rightly so. These energetic thinkers are the audience I wished to address, not what might be called “me-too” libertarians — those who are simply fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

      The non-aggression principle is the widely-accepted guiding principle among libertarian ideologues. But few have translated the principle into actual policy. Among those who have, the notion of privately-funded armed forces and police has been among the most prevalent — and also the most dangerous — national policy proposals. Thus I addressed it.

      The goal of the post was to expose the faulty reasoning that underlies pure libertarianism, vis a vis the darker aspects of human nature, not to deny the existence of libertarian moderates. Were a system of direct democracy similar to the one I devised ever ratified, it would be those moderates who would make it work best.

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