First Principles: Freedom

Monday, April 04, 2011

Benjamin Barber, distinguished senior fellow at the New York think tank Demos and Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Rutgers University, and Harry Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand and a board member at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, talk about the principle of freedom, who it's for and from what, in advance of the First Principles debate.


Benjamin Barber and Harry Binswanger

Comments [43]

Mark Plus from Mayer, AZ

Scores of countries have either abolished capital punishment, or have at least let it fall into desuetude. Yet libertarians and Rand cultists like Binswanger still use rhetoric from the 1940's about how governments threaten to murder their citizens for concompliance. It makes you wonder how a government like, say, Canada's, manages to collect taxes and enforce regulations on businesses without having to make an example of someone occasionally by shooting him or her.

Apr. 09 2011 12:29 PM
Mark Plus from Mayer, AZ

Scores of countries have either abolished capital punishment, or have at least let it fall into desuetude. Yet libertarians and Rand cultists like Binswanger still use rhetoric from the 1940's about how governments threaten to murder their citizens for concompliance. It makes you wonder how a government like, say, Canada's, manages to collect taxes and enforce regulations on businesses without having to make an example of someone occasionally by shooting him or her.

Apr. 09 2011 12:27 PM

It's sad how many comments here, by people who do not know Objectivism, presume to know what it's position is - say on Industrial Pollution.

Pollution, where it is not exaggerated and fabricated by anti-corporate, anti-progress or pseudo-progress (sustainable) environmentalists, is a Tragedy of the Commons (ToC). Complaining about the factory that harms the Commons is no different from complaining about the man with the largest flock of sheep, who grazes too much grass.

Environmentalists and Statist minds can so no other solution than to assert laws that prevent the factory or shepherd from acting and producing. This low-brow approach presumes a Right to take away the very Liberty that makes products so abundant in free countries and rare in places like N. Korea.

The only rational solution for the shepherd was the privatization of land. Immediately he had to look after his, and NOT harm his neighbor. The same approach applies to air and water . . . and it CAN be done. GPS and a rational court system could easily take care of such privatization. It is already developing for underground resource properties.

Yes, air and water move, but that merely requires laws that protect neighboring owners of air and water. If they dislike the impact of their neighbors, they can strike a deal or go to court. Problem solved such that, generally, the factory (et al) will be able to continue producing great stuff YOU would like to have cheaply available.

Apr. 06 2011 04:59 PM

Amy writes "And when an unregulated corporation pollutes the air or water, it absolutely is forcing its pollution on the population that breathes that air & drinks that water."

The Objectivist's answer to the quoted sentence is as follows:

no one forces you to stay in the area affected by this corporate-caused pollution ergo you can't complain because your complains are the equivalent of exercising coercion on the corporation.

To all: Any effort to realize in the real world here in the US the Objectivist program (anarcho-capitalism in its most anarchic form) requires the abolition of our Constitution. Hiding behind the Objectivist spiel that we've heard
spewing out of our radios hides the ultimate
misanthropic ideology.

Apr. 05 2011 01:05 PM
Ken from Orange County, NY

Amy, you are absolutely right regarding corporation pollution. To view this from a liberty-based position, it is a violation of property rights for a corporation to pollute you're air, water, soil, etc...

In addition, the entity of corporations themselves are a creation of the government. It is a legal shield designed to protect businesses from the consequences of their actions.

For far too long government has been protecting those who pollute the environment and shifting costs onto the American population rather than those who committed the original action. Through bribery (er, campaign contributions) government serves to enable corporate polluters.

Apr. 05 2011 08:48 AM
Amy from Manhattan

And when an unregulated corporation pollutes the air or water, it absolutely is forcing its pollution on the population that breathes that air & drinks that water. Sometimes this results in deaths among the population, & that's no better than the physical force Mr. Binswanger is so opposed to. It's happened far too often, & corporations should not have the freedom to do this.

Apr. 05 2011 01:27 AM

@Louis from Bayside:

You and Mr, Barber have the luxury (and in his case some financial incentive {re: Paradigm Project} to wallow in your confusion over the nature of freedom or its importance to human existence.
Do you think that Mr. Weiwei should have been less "determined" to be imprisoned?
Or do you think it the responsibility of free women and men to up the negative consequences until the Red Chinese government ceases its campaign of collectivist tyranny?

Apr. 05 2011 12:07 AM
Louis from Bayside

What is interesting about Harry's view is that either human beings have free will or their actions are forced upon them from the outside. There is another view. If living beings exist in a state of relationship then there is a mutual dependence. Even the concept of self has no meaning without the concept of other. So Harry is grasping at all or nothing. It's either all self will and self determination or there is no free will and our actions are governed by circumstances. In truth it is neither because self exerts its influence on the circumstances and vice versa with the outcome being uncertain.

We haven't even delved into an understanding of the mind because certain minds definitely embody freedom of choice (i.e. self-control/discipline, compassion) and other minds are compulsive with no self control (i.e. our out of control eating, shopping, sex, etc).

Apr. 04 2011 03:46 PM

Most if not all of those commenting here need to review their fundamentals in the light of the menace of pragmatism. Please search that phrase on the Web. Very few of you came prepared to discuss anything in terms of principles.

Apr. 04 2011 01:02 PM

@Mr_Bill from New Rochelle:

"---i.e...I'm for no forced health care financing, but only after a mechanism is found to stop freeloaders from showing up at hospitals and ER's and getting free care."

Mr. Bill, you are already taxed to support the huge and well paid bureaucracy of the civil and criminal courts for determining and enforcing lawful debts. Collect the money owed from the "freeloaders" that way.

You probably won't be any more satisfied by creating a second, larger and less "considerate" bureaucracy to subsidize politically powerful aspects of the health care and health care insurance industries.

Apr. 04 2011 12:31 PM

Hey Brian,

You're going to have to work harder at propping up Mr. Barber - he's behind on points.

Mr. Binswanger had me at "economic power does not equal political power" (there's a difference between an "offer of a dollar" and the "offer-threat of a bullet") - but of course you are not aware of any difference in the effort to collect individually volunteered pledge money and the effort to collect the money allocated to you out of the funds the government collects for you by force.

Could you ask Mr. Barber how the consumer protection agency would explain how a

"low profit" "limited liability company (L3C)", " . . . a for-profit company with a stated social purpose as its primary reason for being" does business, as opposed to how a regular company with the stated "social purpose" of "enriching its shareholders by meeting the operational needs of its customers."

Apr. 04 2011 11:47 AM
NJ Citizen from Dover, NJ

Discussions of freedom are frequently pointless when the people discussing it have not first attended to and agreed upon what good and evil are. But good and evil are so broad that serious people first have to agree on a more particular locus of good and evil, to define what values they cherish and what disvalues they abhor. For example, is it good or evil to provide the elderly with a low cost medical system thru such a mechanism as Medicare? What values and disvalues are at work in just this one issue? From here the next step is to discuss intrinsic freedom, i.e. the adult use and benefit from a well-tuned personal organism that is not subject to arbitrary cut off of necessities to its best state of health, broadly considered. Having settled this in the context of the corner of good and evil under discussion, then the debaters move on to discuss operative freedom, i.e. what actions celebrate and enhance the values and minimize the disvalues.
Media damagogues throw around the word freedom with shifting meanings and/or nebulous moral contexts. If they are allowed to go unexamined and unchallenged, what is the cost that we pay for this?

Apr. 04 2011 11:45 AM
Louis from Bayside

Harry's assertion that human beings act independently is wrong. We are affected by the actions of others and they are affected by everything we do. If there exists a dependent relationship between self and others then to what extent can we say we act freely?

For example do I have freedom to not own a cell phone? Well the answer lies in our complex web of relationships. It is certainly conceivable that there may be a set of circumstances where a person doesn't want a cell phone however due to their employment they find themselves in a situation where they need to purchase one.

If you argue that you have freedom as to where you work this can clearly be refuted by the truth that certain factors beyond our control operate to determine which choices (if any) are available to us.

Apr. 04 2011 11:44 AM

one of the fundamental flaws in libertarian thinking was articulated by the libertarian spokeman when he said the solution is to completely separate government from economics.

when diiscussing complex systems and events it can be helpful to break them down into parts, or views that are more manageble separately. however, it is important to bear in mind that such separation is a convenient fiction.

economics and politics are different views of the same large, complex system. while they can be studied separtely they are inherently connected. suggesting that government should not interfer with the market confueses a representation with the things it represtents. it is analagous to suggesting that wind should not interfer with the weather.

Apr. 04 2011 11:36 AM
Juli from Skillman, NJ

Freedom to bear arms. Yeah, when you are actively involved in the actions of an organized militia. Otherwise, there is no need to possess a gun and remove freedoms from others that do not carry a gun.

Apr. 04 2011 11:30 AM
Frank De Canio from Union City, NJ

First of all the opposite of determinism is not free will, but random behavior. We are all determined. The question is what are our determinants, and the question of a sound society is how can we create determinants of behavior that afford the indiviudal the greatest options to make viable choices, and how to protect individuals from those who make choices that infringe on the freedom of others.

I would think that a good government and a sound upbringing will afford the individual the greater number of options. Hence a banquet of contingencies, options, are better than a limited menu of reinfrocements of behavior.

But the bottom line is, we are all determined for better or for worse; the fruit doesn't fall too far from the tree and indiviudals don't stray too far from the multiplicity of influences that inform them from the cradle, to the government, to the schools and environment.


Apr. 04 2011 11:30 AM

To Ayn Rand Center adherents, freedom is something people fight for for themselves.

To Demos types, freedom is something individuals fight for for everyone.

Apr. 04 2011 11:29 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

Benevolent hyper-, unrestrained capitalism? Seems like it leads us back to a strange type of Christian (often Catholic-inspired) benevolent patricianism that once ruled many European governments/kingdoms, wherein a certain elites hold power to deign offer assistance based on their good graces. Moving more and more in such a neo-feudalist direction, those elites are no longer nobility but rather wealthy elite who either influence or directly control the purse strings. Great...

Apr. 04 2011 11:29 AM
Morgan from Brooklyn

It's seems individuals seem to think freedom is the ability to spend their money however they see fit, while corporations see freedom as the ability to take money from others however they see fit.

Apr. 04 2011 11:29 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Corporations don't just "make arguments" to convince us--too often they control information that only they have, & w/out that information, the individuals they sell to, & those they employ, don't have the freedom to make fully informed choices. I'm thinking of drugs w/undisclosed side effects (that the mfrs. knew about, radium in watches & asbestos in ships (that workers weren't warned about), & cribs that actually cut limbs off babies (that the mfrs. knew the risks of). Does Mr. Binswanger actually think those things were OK?

Apr. 04 2011 11:29 AM
leo Farley

Don't know who said it maybe Janis Joplin, "Freedom's just another word for nothing else to lose" from Me and My Bobby McGee. I think.

Apr. 04 2011 11:29 AM
Mr_Bill from New Rochelle

Mr. Binswanger seems so childlike....

He believes that his theortical idea of how 'it should be' gives license to his ideas of freedom. I am with him, but only when certain pre-conditions are ameleorated.
---i.e...I'm for no forced health care financing, but only after a mechanism is found to stop freeloaders from showing up at hospitals and ER's and getting free care.

...I'm all for open campaign financing; as long as all major candidates end up with the same amount of money....I

I'm all for nudism; but only at the beach.

Apr. 04 2011 11:28 AM
Rick from Connecticut Coast

People with extra money in their pocket talk tough and don't want any government. The minute they lose their money and fall short they drop to their knees and pray to Uncle Sam, just witness the banks, financial companies, Wall street, etc

Apr. 04 2011 11:26 AM
Cee from nyc

Does the Objectivists believe the government should stop sanctioning the existence of corporate charters/the corporate form? After all, they are just fictional entities that couldn't exist in the market without such sanction.

Apr. 04 2011 11:26 AM

Ultimately, freedom is the ability to say no.

Apr. 04 2011 11:26 AM
Mike Leung

...necessary component to freedom Mr Barber insists it is the antithesis to.

Apr. 04 2011 11:25 AM
Bernard from Bronx

My understanding is that objectivist don't mind government when it is there to protect them from attack or force from others. Why not go all the way and avoid government at all cost. It seems to me a bit too convenient when government is good for some things but not others.

Apr. 04 2011 11:25 AM
John A.

Why is it that Harry strikes this listener as a person not free at all, but so locked to his ideologies as to not even be able to respond to the conversation at hand to him? Conversation skills, sir.

Apr. 04 2011 11:24 AM

Freedom is a concept even more obscure than happiness. It is easy to know you are happy. How does one know if one is free? Whether its laws of society of laws of physics, our very existence depends on restrictions and limitations. Perhaps that explains our preoccupation with freedom which we can never tuly attain.

Apr. 04 2011 11:24 AM
Mike Leung

All fortunes were made possible by the availability of spenders. We saw ourselves deregulation nurture the kind of hoarding that dries-up spending, denying the freedom Mr Barber is advocating to anyone who isn't already enjoying it. As far as taxation and policy nurtures the availability of spenders, government is a necessary component Mr Barber insists it is the antithesis to.

Apr. 04 2011 11:24 AM
rob from forest hills

Unfortunately in our society I think freedom is the right to complacency.

Apr. 04 2011 11:24 AM

I find it ironic that the discussion of freedom is between three educated white men. Who by virtue of such, are historically least likely to have experienced oppression as anything other than a construct.

Freedom can only be reified in the face of oppression. Therefore, those least likely to appreciate it's values are a couple of Randholes.

Apr. 04 2011 11:23 AM

And economic power isn't political power? And you consider this guy an intellectual?

Apr. 04 2011 11:23 AM
Jack Spann

Here's a libertarian train of thought to follow. You don't believe you should be required to follow certain coercive laws (let's say, wearing you seat belt). So you don't wear your seat belt. And, you don't make your children wear their seat belts.

So then, a drunk driver barreling the wrong way down the highway crashes into your car, killing all your children, and you survive, so you have the rest of your life to ponder why you didn't strap your kids in, like you knew you should all along.

Apr. 04 2011 11:22 AM

Who the hell is this right-wing nutjob? The Guilded Age was a great time for capitalism?

This guy is either a billionaire or completely delusional. The amount of historical revisionism he engages in, in addition to his inanity, is staggering.

Apr. 04 2011 11:21 AM
Libby from Harlem USA

Yes, of course, government relies on force. But how is capitalism free from force? Its pure force from the ripping out of raw materials from the ground to the physical force used by the body to manufacture goods. Has the guest seen images of workers whose limbs have been maimed by repetitive actions of fast moving assembly lines? Be thorough and expansive in your thinking please! Markets aren't abstract - they are governed by the actions of people!

Apr. 04 2011 11:21 AM
Ken from Little Neck

Did one of your guests just advocate a return to th 1870s as an economic model? Sure, it was a fantastic time for economic growth, if you were lucky enough to be a wealthy white male. If you were anyone else, I guess you're not worthy of that kind of "freedom".

Apr. 04 2011 11:21 AM
John james from nyc

Harry needs to move to China.

He would love it there.

Apr. 04 2011 11:20 AM
Leonick from DC

Who let these cranks (especially the Ayn Rand nut) on the air??!!

Apr. 04 2011 11:18 AM
Estelle from Austin

Freedom means to live my personal life as I wish.
What is that saying, "My freedom stops where it begins to infringe on yours"? That's the key, whether we are talking about personal or economic freedom. The trick is where and how the line is drawn.

Apr. 04 2011 11:18 AM
Hubert from Queens

Money is not a force?

This guy is on Crack...

What do hookers want for thier bodies?

Does your guest think they want to give thier body up for money?

Apr. 04 2011 11:17 AM
RLewis from the Bowery

thanks for starting this off with a false dicatomy. how can this possibly go anywhere worthwhile from there? Next.

Apr. 04 2011 11:11 AM

Freedom is as nebulous and ephemeral a concept as happiness. Founding governments and wars on abstract nouns, we should all realise by now, is a fruitless pursuit. Happiness has become solely about the accumulation of wealth and liberty is interpreted as the freedom to exploit. One can frame these debates in the pretty colours of democracy all we like, but it has always been and ever shall be about economics and equity. May we be saved from Libertarians, Fundamentalists, and all the other forms of petulant and pernicious ideology humanity leans on in times of crisis.

Apr. 04 2011 10:49 AM

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