Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 14, 2011

in Complexity & Emergence, Country Problems, Hubris and humility, Law

… is from pages 63-64 of the 1969 Revised Edition of Lon Fuller‘s deeply profound 1964 book, The Morality of Law:

Today there is a strong tendency to identify law, not with rules of conduct, but with a hierarchy of power and command.  This view – which confuses fidelity to law with deference for established authority – leads easily to the conclusion that while judges, policemen, and prosecuting attorneys can infringe legality, legislatures cannot, except as they may trespass against explicit constitutional restrictions on their power.  Yet it is obvious that obscure and incoherent legislation can make legality unattainable by anyone, or at least unattainable without an authorized revision which itself imparts legality….  Being at the top of the chain of command does not exempt the legislature from its responsibility to respect the demands of the internal morality of law; indeed, it intensifies that responsibility.

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W.E. Heasley October 14, 2011 at 7:32 am

Being at the top of the chain of command does not exempt the legislature from its responsibility to respect the demands of the internal morality of law; indeed, it intensifies that responsibility. – Lon Fuller

“Keynes was exceedingly effective in persuading a broad group—economists, policymakers, government officials, and interested citizens—of the two concepts implicit in his letter to Hayek: first, the public interest concept of government; second, the benevolent dictatorship concept that all will be well if only good men are in power. Clearly, Keynes’s agreement with “virtually the whole” of the Road to Serfdom did not extend to the chapter titled “Why the Worst Get on Top.” – Milton Friedman

The rise of the public interest concept of government and the benevolent dictatorship concept [politicos through the mechanism of government] intensified the politico’s minimization of responsibility to law.

Fred October 14, 2011 at 7:59 am

When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.
–Bastiat

Methinks1776 October 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

LIKE

Greg G October 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

Methinks,
First, allow me to completely disassociate myself from the ugly comments directed your way by others yesterday. Of course the very next post was by someone insisting that “all intelligent people know” that kind of vitriol is common to your political foes. I trust your own concept of individualism is a bit more expansive than that.

I am a recent newcomer to the blog and rarely agree with your views but find your arguments to be consistently interesting and carefully constructed. And I find them even more interesting than your frequent insults and backslapping, which are themselves often clever and amusing and only rarely mean-spirited.

As a newcomer here I could use your help orienting myself. It seems to me that your role is to be the Sheriff in these parts, harrying the unworthy who have breeched the perimeter of Galt’s Gulch, and defending the faithful who would prefer more of an echo chamber effect here. I am not for a moment suggesting that you seek that echo chamber effect. No miscreants, no need for a Sheriff.

So give me some guidance on exactly what kind of Libertarian you are. There are, after all, a quite bewildering variety of those who self-describe that way loose in the land, if not the blog.

Do you favor any kind of taxation, social safety net, financial regulation or government run K-12 education? If so, where and how do you draw the line?

I am hoping we can lighten things up a little in this neighborhood but that is probably the hubris of the newcomer. I remain mindful of the dangers of incurring your wrath even as I expect we will continue to irritate each other.

Methinks1776 October 14, 2011 at 10:16 am

Oh, Lordy.

Greg, you don’t need to disassociate yourself from anyone. You can’t be held responsible for the actions of deranged adults not under your immediate care.

I’m not a fan of Ayn Rand’s work. I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged. Thus, I’m not sure how Galt’s Gulch works and I don’t know anything about a Sherriff. But, I did get a good laugh.

I’m just one of the patrons of the cafe, just like you. This is my distraction.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to hijack this thread with blatherings about my personal beliefs. I comment a lot, but it ain’t my blog. If you want, you can email me at methinks76@gmail.com

Greg G October 14, 2011 at 10:26 am

Glad to hear your views on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. I read it and found it to be a crime against literature. Just kidding Cafe patrons, I don’t really want to steal your freedom to read it.

Fred October 14, 2011 at 10:33 am

Took me an entire year to read it. More often than not I’d pick it up to thumb forward to the next stopping point, only to put it back down. I will not be reading any more of her work for I find it to be work.

Methinks1776 October 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

If you think she’s painful, you should try a slog through Keynes’ General Theory.

Dan H October 14, 2011 at 10:53 am

I can see where people probably wouldn’t like Atlas Shrugged, but for someone like me that went to 13 years of Catholic school and was made to feel guilty about my own existence, Atlas Shrugged was the most important book I had ever read. It definitely helped me turn my life around.

Fred October 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

Dan, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I read it. But the damn thing was work. So much work that when I weigh the potential gains from reading more of her books with the personal cost, I chose to pick up The Dark Tower series instead.

Economiser October 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm

You don’t have to agree with everything Ayn Rand says to like her philosophy. I for one found it a breath of fresh air to see someone advocating self-interest as a moral choice.

anthonyl October 15, 2011 at 10:21 am

It was work to get through, though I enjoy some her character development and her dialogues can become really intense at times. I found it worth the effort.
It’s just a book. Why some claim it as a cult manifesto is no more troubling than those who claim the bible as one. Same thing, different time. Those who can’t accept her idea of individualism think it callous, but I don’t think Rand was saying you can’t help people. She just found sycophantic do-goodism a dangerous basis for a free society.

vikingvista October 16, 2011 at 9:56 pm

If you’re reading her novels for literary value, you are missing the point. But if her literary style is such a distraction for you, try her essays.

brotio October 17, 2011 at 1:59 am

I appreciate Ayn Rand for her defense of individualism, but I also found ‘Atlas’ to be work. Ayn Rand would never use two words when a thousand would do. However, ‘The Fountainhead’ was easier to read.

Randy October 14, 2011 at 9:24 am

Fred,
Like the thought, but I can’t imagine a situation where a true “law” and morality would ever conflict. For example, it is not immoral for a human being to pick up a rock and throw a rock into space, its just that the law of gravity makes it impossible. Real “laws” can’t be broken.

And yes, this is a definitions game, but then, the use of the term “law” to describe the rules made by rule makers is also a definitions game – it is, in fact, propaganda.

Fred October 14, 2011 at 9:29 am

I agree that law and legislation are not synonyms.
Don has a great lecture to that point (if you read this Don can you post a link?).

Anotherphil October 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm

“went to 13 years of Catholic school and was made to feel guilty about my own existence, Atlas Shrugged was the most important book I had ever read. It definitely helped me turn my life around.”

Sorry that your learning was so deficient. My experience was different. I was taught that I was an individual, a unique being, endowed by a Creator with innate dignity, with a free will but also faults, with rights as well as responsibilities.

As such, it innoculated me against the dreams of statists, central planners and others that care for great masses but have not a lick of compassion for the individuals-that see me (and you) as checkers to be moved about at their will-as disposable and dispensible.

When I was younger and more afflicted with delusions of invincibility and possessed of egocentricity, I read Rand.

I still find that her emphasis on the individual was laudable, written as it was when the modern state was asserting itself as the essential, if not only important social entity. Of course, Rand’s respect for my individuality ended when I might exhibit a desire to assist others gratuitiously.

Taken as a whole however, Rand’s philosophy was simply the merger of a adult mind and an adolescent maturity. Me, me, me, isn’t just deficient, is dangerous. Radical individualism is a recipe for state domination. We are no greater individuals than on April 15, and as a result, we clamor for a “refund” and argue about the equity of the tax code, that can never be “fair”, rather than arising en masse to tell our leaders that the 16th amendment was a crime against the individual.

I find it odd that people who proclaim themselves freed from religion so frequently shackle themselves to secular cults, whether it be Marx, Keynes, Freud or Rand. Truly this is a testament to the observation that when a main fails to believe in something, he doesn’t believe in nothing, he believes in anything.

Anotherphil October 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm

As such, it innoculated me against the dreams of statists, central planners and others that care for great masses but have not a lick of compassion for the individuals-that see me (and you) as checkers to be moved about at their will-as disposable and dispensible.

I write that with a wink, because we know great statists all know the death of one is tragedy, but the death of millions (at their hands) is a statistic.

Craig October 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm

“Radical individualism is a recipe for state domination.”

That is straight out of Orwell. Meaningless.

Greg G October 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Economiser, Do we really have a shortage of people willing to act in a self-interested way and offer a justification for it? I was unaware of this pressing problem.

Dan H , That’s a little like fixing the problem of running off the road on one side by running off the road on the other side. No doubt a turn around of sorts.

Economiser October 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Greg G,

Why, yes. We are constantly told that altruism is good and self-interest is bad. Rand is very good at flipping that around – self-interest is good, but of course self-interest can and does include being altruistic *if it’s what you want to do.*

Progressives often misread Rand, and libertarians in general, to be saying that selfishness involves never caring about others. To the contrary, the virtue of selfishness is that you acknowledge that following your own self-interest is virutous, and thereby you also acknowledge that allowing others to follow their own self-interest is also virtuous. Accepting the virtue of selfishness leads to accepting the virtue of non-aggression, because it forces you to accept that others have the same right to be selfish as you do. It’s actually a highly moral philosophy.

Methinks1776 October 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm
Fred October 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Thanks. Though it was more for Randy than me.
(and I could have looked it up myself if youtube wasn’t blocked by my liberty loving employer)

Greg G October 14, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Economiser,

You cannot be serious. Ayn Rand was an admirer of William Hickman because, in her words “other people did not exist for him.” That would be the William Hickman that butchered an 8 year old girl and then taunted her parents about it. Guess he didn’t “want to do” that tedious altruism thing. But as you say, Rand “was good at flipping that around.”

If you feel insecure about pursuing your self interest do you really need to improve on Adam Smith?

Economiser October 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Greg G,

Hickman is irrelevant to my point.

In my worldview, you are free to do as you wish with your time and money, subject only to common law protections of property and contract. In your worldview, my time and money are forcibly subject to all sorts of regulations and redistributive taxes because people like you think you can plan the economy. Which is more moral?

Greg G October 14, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Economiser,

Your economic philosophy is irrelevant to my point.

In Rand’s worldview, her economic views were only one part of a larger philosophy that she was quite insistent was interdependent and must be taken as a whole. I did not misread her and do indeed realize that her philosophy does permit optional acts of altruism……or admiration for the acts of a vicious murderer like Hickman.

Economiser October 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Greg G,

You brought out an ad hominem attack. I don’t know jack about Hickman, nor do I care. I said that I was refreshed to read certain things that Rand wrote. That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with everything she did or said over her lifetime. You really showed that straw man.

I thought this whole blog was about economic philosophies, so I fail to see how mine is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

Greg G October 15, 2011 at 12:56 am

Economiser,

You gave what I understood to be an endorsement of her value as a moral philosopher. I provided accurate information that I believed to totally undermine her authority as a moral philosopher and her insistence that her system be taken as a whole. I do understand that you like her economic policy but find that thing about murder distasteful.

It is not that I think economic issues are inappropriate on the blog (since you raise the issue of straw men). I was just responding to your choice to cite her wisdom on morality not just economics.

g-dub October 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm

greg g> You gave what I understood to be an endorsement of her value as a moral philosopher.

The context was discussion of “selfishness” (better put as self-interest, I think) and how it was moral. How you turned that into sanction of murder is beyond me. Ridiculous.

BTW, I have never read Rand.

Gil October 15, 2011 at 6:34 am

Shock and horror – I agree with you about you with using a word with two different meanings as though they were the same is faulty. :O

anthonyl October 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

Laws can’t be anything but propaganda. It doesn’t even matter what they actually write down anymore. Just pass it and we’ll figure out what we the administration wants it to say. Congress is a group of individuals as well. Could they be falling prey to the very serfdom Hayek warned about?

Greg G October 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

g-dub

Rand’s devotion to selfishness was expansive enough to include admiration for the acts of a vicious murderer precisely because of the purity of Hickman’s commitment to selfishness and how little he cared about others reaction to that. Rand is known first and foremost as a moral philosopher, not an economist.

I realize that no one here at the Cafe is endorsing her views on Hickman. Even so, those views about the murder are a deal breaker for me as far as her being any sort of moral authority. Economiser was recommending her specifically as someone whose philosophy “leads to accepting the virtue of non-aggression.”

I am sure that if Hickman had merely tried to aggressively tax the girl, instead of dismembering her, that Rand would have been seriously outraged.

muirgeo October 14, 2011 at 8:21 am

And yet walking Boston Commons I’m reminded of the inescapable truth that TJ wrote;

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/01/Declaration_of_Independence_plaque,_Boston_-_IMG_9559.JPG

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Fred October 14, 2011 at 8:31 am

And when the government no longer exists to secure these rights, we need a New Declaration of Independence.

http://www.isil.org/resources/lit/new-declaration.html

Methinks1776 October 14, 2011 at 8:51 am

We’ve long known that you can’t understand anything you read. We’ve also long understood you want the right to rob your fellow citizens.

muirgeo October 14, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Yeah… quoting Jefferson proves I want to steal things from others. The fact is methinks you have no moral or practical idea on how society should be ordered. You have as your guiding principal that you shouldn’t have to pay taxes. BRILLIANT! But you’ve obviously thought nothing through past that. If we were to discuss political philosophy I’d have yours backed into an intellectual corner in short order.

Methinks1776 October 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm

You are absolutely correct, I’m nowhere near stupid enough to think I can engineer society and I wouldn’t want to if I could. What would be the fun in that?

My guiding principal is that imbeciles should not be allowed perform procedures on or hand out prescriptions to helpless children. Do you know where the corner is, btw?

muirgeo October 15, 2011 at 8:29 am

So apparently you are an anarchist. Yeah now there’s a well thought out plan. No plan at all. Yeah but you chose here to immigrate here not some anarchy and you continue to choose to live here under some form of government than to move to an anarchist state and you choose methinks 1776 as your moniker.

So again this thread started with a quote from the Declaration of Independence and the discussion has your position… as I said…. backed into a corner in a few mere post like check mate in 3 moves.

brotio October 17, 2011 at 2:12 am

Oh, are you walking Boston Commons this week?

How much CO2 was spewed into the atmosphere (at Mother Gaia’s expense) to get your ample posterior across the continent? How many poor children had to do without vaccinations so that you could reap such an obscene profit in health care to make such vacations routine?

geoih October 14, 2011 at 8:45 am

It’s like the old Nixon line: ‘Are you saying the President can do something illegal? I’m saying that when the President does it, it’s not illegal.’

Anotherphil October 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm

You should hear Jesse Jackson Jr’s invocation for executive fiat.

Nixon didn’t dream of the ultra vires things leftists now routinely urge their failed messiah to do has been denied a rubber stamp Congress.

Anotherphil October 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm

ERRATA:

now that he has been denied a rubber stamp Congress.

Jon October 14, 2011 at 9:16 am

Interesting linguistic side-note: In ancient Greece, the word nomos, meant custom/tradition. For example, it was nomos (custom) in Athens for young men to be educated. Over time, that word become to mean law/rule. Things that were once used to determine behavior became the tools for authority to crush dissent (see the arrest and execution of Socrates).

g-dub October 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Over time, that word become to mean law/rule.

Telos?

nailheadtom October 14, 2011 at 9:25 am

Don’t forget to buckle your seat belt.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises October 14, 2011 at 9:49 am

it should be noted that no conservative justice ever sitting on the United States Supreme Court has ever: (1) held any view that law has anything to do with morality; (2) includes any rights not explicitly in the Constitution; (3) cited to the Declaration in support of any right of any individual.

The Court just had the opportunity to correct all of this in the Gun Case and refused because if Judges had the right to increase individual freedoms that would give them too much power.

Jon October 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm

To which gun case are you referring, sir? There are an awful lot of Supreme Court opinions regarding weapons

Economiser October 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm

>> if Judges had the right to increase individual freedoms that would give them too much power

This shows an extreme misunderstanding of individual freedoms and the role of judges.

Anotherphil October 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

“cited to the Declaration in support of any right of any individual.”

The Declaration is not written law, are you really that ignorant of the basics? Written law was traditionally legislative acts (statute) and judicial opinions (case law). Today, written law has been extended to regulation, the largely uncontrolled diktats and fiats of the new pharisees of the new administrative state (if only the pseudo economist John Kenneth Galbraith were as concerned with the actual leviathan of the state, as his imagined industrial one) with the phrase “force of law”.

g-dub October 15, 2011 at 1:11 pm

The consitution was supposed to be an expression of “natural law.” (Fuller was a natural law theorist.)

Constitutionalism means the agents in governments, including judges, are bound by the constitution, regardless of personal predilection. They take an oath to protect/obey it. Once bound by that constitution, there is a certain irony that decisions are more legal positivist in that the rule (binding) following must be done, regardless of the natural law origin.

Theoretically, they are not supposed to have free reign. Their power and scope is bound. If they limit (scope) ruling on “something,” even in a case where “common sense” dictates that justice demands more, then the binding of constitutionalism prevents them from doing so because that is the oath they took.

That is what is meant by the “rule of law” and not the “law of men.”

g-dub October 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm

or “rule of men.”

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