Most of you probably know that someone pretty special came out to visit me a bit back, and some of you probably did not get to see that she had her hair straightened out while she was here: so here is a picture :)
It was pretty neat, and then we got all dressed up and went to a 11/11/11 23:11:11 party :p Lots of fun!
13 November 2011
This paper is a little different from the academic papers I have been posting, but it kind of goes along with the paper on libertarianism I posted before. It is not so heavy on the citations and more what I thought, and outlines some of the problems with libertarianism as I see it, along with some of the strengths. Jess should also read this, since she isn't sure what to think of Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand. I also got a couple comments/questions after my previous paper, and hopefully this will answer some of the questions about what I think about libertarianism - no, I do not fully endorse it, but I do think they have some awfully good ideas! =)
This was written in conjunction with the seminar I participated in at Yale summer 2010, after a lot of reading about libertarian philosophy and economics, and was for an independent study I did here at Houghton that summer/fall.
Caution: it's ridiculously long :p
This was written in conjunction with the seminar I participated in at Yale summer 2010, after a lot of reading about libertarian philosophy and economics, and was for an independent study I did here at Houghton that summer/fall.
Caution: it's ridiculously long :p
The main things that I have been reading seem to indicate that the libertarian question focuses around one basic point: what is the proper role of government in society? This includes the areas of economics, military, welfare, and is a question of if modern government really is of the people and for the people, as so many modern democratic constitutions claim, or if it is in fact more of a socialistic government comprised of people who care more about their own political gains of power and wealth than of the people they profess to represent.
My first reading was the Declaration of Independence. I thought that would be a good way to start a seminar on liberty, since it was the document that officially made the break for American liberty. After learning somewhat about the British view of the American Revolution last semester, reading the declaration made me wonder – were the people of America objecting, actually, to British rule? Or was it more the policies that they disagreed with? This was my question as I read more of the readings in this course: do liberals believe that the government should be small on principle, or is it that they don’t believe government is trustworthy and so try to limit its size to protect themselves? I found part of the answer in Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, when he asks “How came the king by a power which the people are afraid to trust, and always obliged to check?” This seemed to indicate that the power held by governments was not one that they necessarily agreed with or wanted to have over them, but was instead one that they would prefer to be without. In fact, the basis of Paine’s argument that a monarchial power was evil pointed to not just that the government was too big, but that it was wrong altogether.
From this I gather that there are two basic thoughts of liberals in these readings – firstly, that government must be ‘self-government’; as JS Mill said, “the rule [not] of a person by himself, but of each by all the rest”. This also agrees with Paine’s argument that a monarchy or king who holds absolute power is wrong. The second is that even self-government must be checked. This is the argument for a small government. In the seminar, one of the repeated themes was that when government interferes with private life, especially in the economic realm, the people suffer. It becomes a case of ‘the people’ vs. ‘the government’, which defeats the purpose of the government functioning to protect the people.
An example given was the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world. A West Virginia-sized piece of land in Alaska, there are many natural resources available in it. One of these is timber, and the US government has a logging operation running in the forest. The problem occurs with the question “Who owns the Tongass?” The answer is “everybody, nobody, and the government.” Since the government is the only party out of those three that can practically do anything with the Tongass, (it is not feasible for every American to head out there and log, etc,) the logging operation is run only at the efficiency the government can produce. The interested parties are the logging companies, who like having the government roads made for them, congress, which likes the PAC money donated by the logging companies, and the US Forestry Service, who gets jobs from Congress, and makes the roads for the loggers. This all works together in a cycle of getting jobs and money, while no one’s concern is that the procedures used are environmentally healthy, conducive to regeneration in the Tongass, or anything else – including the money, which the taxpayers pour into congress to keep the cycle going, without receiving any noticeable benefit from the logging business.
This example shows the immense waste inherent in government business. If the Tongass were privately owned, if the logging companies had to be competitive in order to get the job, if the owners were concerned about the land and farsighted enough to look ahead and see the importance of environmentally-sound logging practices, if the wood were being sold on a free market to buyers who would use it in free trade, then the land would be given good stewardship to ensure more production in the future, the taxpayers would not be burdened, the government would not be spread into things it was never constitutionally designed to do, and the entire system would be better off. This is the kind of economics they taught at the seminar.
The 10-part video series by Milton Friedman, “Free to Choose,” also focused largely on privatized economics. His argument focuses on the waste inherent in government, and bases his opinions off of the Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. He believes that centralization of government is extremely dangerous, and that the people must work very hard to be free, since the natural gravitation of any government is towards expansion of power and centralization. The opposite of this centralization is what Adam Smith noticed creates wealth – division of labor. Smith’s observations were key in Friedman’s argument, as he argues that the government is not a capable manager of the money of the people; that the people should manage their own money. This is his belief on the separation of powers: that decentralization would actually create wealth, since the people would be ‘free to choose’ where they spent their money, and what investments they wanted to make.
One of the real-life examples that I found to be most thought provoking in the seminar was actually so real life it was unintentional. One of the other students was saying that she made money cleaning houses for people, but it was all under the table. Since there was no requirement for minimum wage people could afford to hire her, and she had a job she would not have otherwise had. We had been talking about the detrimental effect minimum wage and labor unions/job security has on the economy, and the point was all but proved when one of the professors jokingly said “well, I’d hire you if you’d do a good job and I wouldn’t have to pay you minimum wage!” It was intended as a side comment, but I saw it was proving the point: if he could hire her at less than minimum wage, it would be good for him. If she had no job security, then it would be incentive for her to do a good job. If she did a good job, then he would keep her in his employ. It was neat to see an instance where the theory we had been talking about actually had an example. The example they officially gave was the Supreme Court case of Muller vs. Oregon, in which a law intended to protect woman by limiting their hours actually took away jobs from these women who worked in laundromats. The owners of the laundromats hired men instead, who did not have limits on the number of hours worked and thus were more profitable. The point of the illustration was that government interference often has long-term, unintended side effects, which was in fact one of the main themes of the seminar.
As an example of how business can flourish when given the freedom, one of the professors used the Underwriters Laboratory. Founded by insurance companies to test products that are to be insured, it is a symbol of an electrical appliance that can be trusted. The professor teaching this actually bit down on the power cord of a projector in the room while it was on, to demonstrate his faith in the Laboratory. Since they are not government owned and therefore are competitive, they have every motive to only give their symbol to products they know to be safe. Therefore, the people know they can trust the company so buy those products, and both parties flourish: the purchasers, because they get a good product, and the company, because they have customers.
One of the big questions I had about the libertarian argument concerns free market: if it is such a good thing, then why doesn’t it always prevail? Why do governments naturally come to be more controlling of the market, even in cases where the government is a democracy and claims to have the best interest of the people in mind? With the free market comes another question: doesn’t this allow for great stratification of resources? Isn’t it possible – or even likely – that equality would not prevail? The questions that concerned equality were some of the ones that dissatisfied me the most with the libertarian argument, and throughout the seminar I did not feel that they were adequately answered.
The question of the free market is one that I am still wrestling with. From the perspective they offered at the seminar, the idea of curtailing the free market was absolutely senseless. The argument was given from a strictly economic standpoint, where yield minus cost equals economic profit or loss. Where the revenue is greater than the cost, new value has been created. They used the example of a man starting a restaurant: If he spends $80,000.00 in labor, electricity, space, food, etc. and brings in $100.000.00, then he has taken the value of the finished product to the consumer minus the value of the raw goods and made the economy $20,000.00 better off. This is the value of the capitalist; he stimulates the economy. There is no such thing as too much profit, as long as the profit is made in a non-coercive, fair manner of free and voluntary exchange.
By its very nature, the more profit is made the more wealth is created in a nation. Resources are multiplied by creativity, and everyone is economically better off. In addition, if the economy is driven by profit and loss, resources will be channeled into the most profitable areas. This would eliminate the issue of wasted resources – if everyone looked out only for their own best interests, the overall profit margin would be greater. The general rule was that every endeavor should be subject to profit and loss – no one should be taxed at a higher rate because they make high profits, and people who are losing money should not have money poured into their failing system.
They also pointed out that a strictly free-market economy would encourage competition. New products would be offered, since everyone would be trying to get an edge over every other person, and the market – what sold and what didn’t – would determine who won the battle for consumer dollars. The uncertainty in the market is precisely what keeps it alive – the people doing the marketing cannot know exactly what it is that the consumers want, and as such try producing a wide variety of new products. This was the model given for a healthy market: many creative minds working to out-perform one another, the consumer benefiting from a wide selection of products, and the capitalist free to make a profit from his hard work.
For the most part, I agreed with this argument. It made sense that people are by nature selfish, and would try to make money. Having made money it is spent, and the economy is improved. However, I remain unconvinced that in a society so driven by the market, the social order would not suffer. It seems as though it would instead encourage a rather Hobbsian state-of-nature atmosphere, where each was in a war against all. That, of course, would not encourage free trade; warfare would quickly ensue. It remains, then, to be seen if it is possible to have a civil society paired with a free market.
The case for a libertarian civil society was the core of what I saw to be the libertarian argument – at the same time its strongest and weakest point. At the seminar, they vacillated between allowing for limited restrictions on society to arguing that there is a sort of spontaneous order that occurs in nature that would take care of the problem. The latter I could not believe; if for no other reason the killing fields of the twentieth century would prove to me that men do not naturally live in harmony with one another. At the same time, there is the argument that any peace that comes about in this world can be attributed to a kind of spontaneous order. The argument was not that God does not exist or does not play a role in human life, but instead that people do not naturally make peace for each other. However, I find that argument to be slightly less than convincing, because the point can be taken that any peace that comes about in the world is a result of human endeavor. The peace summits of international leaders are not forced upon the leaders of free countries; it is a voluntary attempt to bring peace to the world. The argument is not that God does not play any part in what goes on in the world; it is instead that even if He does, it is an issue of the people who still are trying to make peace. This still counts as spontaneous order, since the order is not coercive.
This is the part that bothers me the most. The laws of nature are not contradictory, and yet it seems that even while there is the issue that Hobbes brings up of the natural state being one of war, there is at the same time the state we now find the world in – one of welfare, social care, and attempts to bring peace to all people. Are these international leaders truly concerned only with their own economic welfare? In terms of overall politics, are the efforts truly only an economic attempt to further one’s own self? That does not even address the issue of country – do the leaders want the best for their countries out of a sense of patriotism, or is it instead simply a personal, economic concern for their own salaries and safe homes?
If the argument of each wanting only their personal wellbeing holds sound, then why is there social welfare? I can see what the motivation would be for some parts of a government – for example, it is expedient for a government to have a strong military to protect its citizens so the citizens will continue to pay taxes instead of being captured by a foreign power and paying taxes elsewhere. A military is an economically sound practice of protecting a valuable investment. What about the case, then, of a government program like Medicaid? It seems like a rather long stretch to say that there is an investment in loyalty and patriotism that the government can justify. After all, even if the people who are benefitted directly by government welfare programs are dedicated to the system that is giving them handouts and would vote for the people who establish such principles, there is still the consideration of all the people who are paying the taxes and putting into the economy the money that is being sucked out by these people who are not adding to the economic system. Since these are the capitalists, the ones whom this free market is supposed to be benefiting, it seems rather counter-productive to penalize them for their hard work. And yet, this is the natural trend of government; it naturally moves toward being more and more socialistic and providing programs for people who are in need.
The problem in society is the apparent contradiction of innately selfish people, who really want to help each other, faced with the practical realization that instead of helping one another, we often kill each other. Is this an issue of wanting to hurt each other but having some inward compulsion to make peace instead? History does not seem to indicate anything of the sort. Do we inherently want to kill each other, and face the world alone? If that was truly the case, then there would be no governments, since no one is forcing the world to have structured governments – yet the overwhelming majority of people in the world are ruled by some form of government. In order, then, to accurately determine the structure of government, it is necessary to understand human nature and the motives that drive us.
The state of nature as Hobbes portrayed it is one in which the people, despite any given geographical or familial relations, do not in fact care for each other but are in opposition with each other. The modern form of the state of nature is the capitalist ideal: a world dependent wholly upon the work and independent intelligence of individuals. In the same way, just as there is a tendency among humans to develop a government to encourage working together and bringing a measure of security, modern governments tend to take this a step further into the realm of using social, governmental welfare to ensure that security. For some reason, although humans seem to be by nature selfish, there is an ever-present trend of trying to bail people out of their difficulties.
If the libertarian argument is true, then there should be no need for a government to worry about taking too much care of a people. Instead, the people should be concerned that the government does not, in fact, actually care about them. The issue is one of contradictions, because it is the people, working against themselves, that make a government. In a democracy, oppressive government is made up of people who are themselves oppressed by the government. It makes no sense that they would impose heavy restrictions upon the country, because they would also necessarily be binding themselves. That brings me back to the question: why, if human nature is to kill all others, do they care enough to bail people out? Is there something about human nature that was missed when Hobbes wrote Leviathan? Laws do not contradict themselves; human nature is what it is.
The answer I have come to is that the issue is not one of human concern for others, but is in fact an ultimate power struggle. Through wanting to make themselves appear a certain way, governmental leaders do things that look compassionate or merciful in order to maintain international appearances. It is a worldwide trend of trying to impress others in an effort to appear more powerful. For instance, the major money given in supposed charity to people in need is actually more of an effort to appear charitable, protection given to the defenseless is instead to maintain a reputation of care in order to gain the goodwill and support of other nations. Such support is critical for ease of international trading, economic growth, and so on; therefore we have arrived back at the conclusion that the motivating concern of kindnesses is actually economic and self-centered.
This is that part of the libertarian argument that I do not have a problem with. Instead of attempting to prove that there are in fact good intentions in the world, libertarians instead simply admit that everyone is perfectly self-motivated and that far from having kind intentions, humans are instead working for their own economic interest. In fact, this is one of my favorite things about the libertarian argument, and that part which I thought was best presented in the seminar. There is no pretense of good will, or supposed care, but instead there is honesty of intentions, which I find rare and refreshing to find. I would almost rather know that that someone really is not looking out for me and know their motive, then be deceived into thinking that they really have my best interest at heart.
The part of the libertarian argument that I really do not like ad have trouble accepting is that humans can actually live this way. As strong as the argument is that there are in fact no un-selfish motives; that humans are by nature completely selfish and economics are the only motives in life, I find it impossible to believe. The reading that convinced me of this was, interestingly enough, Atlas Shrugged – the very book that set out to prove that the ideal form of government was the strictly economical, capitalist one that I have been describing. I found that book to be an interesting mixture of contradictions and impossibilities, while parts of it were also very compelling. However, the book at its very core contradicts itself: the tenement upon which the book rests is that the brilliant leaders who are withdrawing themselves from the scene of the world are causing it to collapse because of their complete rationality – a rather egotistical, if not entirely inaccurate view of what would happen if people no longer poured their lives into their work.
However, despite Ayn Rand’s almost desperate attempt to show a world in which the ultimate ideal is objective, unemotional selfishness; a system of government in which people do not care for each other as anything more than a means to economic profit, I am unconvinced that she actually achieved this goal. The central character, Dagny Taggart, is portrayed as a woman who has streamlined her life into her work and nothing else, who cares for nothing but the advancement of her railroad. In many ways, this is well shown – Dagny’s creativity in circumventing the obstacles put in her way by the increasingly socialistic government, her fantastic work ethic, and never-ending perseverance make her a good example of a driven capitalist.
However, her character is inconsistent in her relationships with men. During the course of the book, she has affairs with three different men, none of which are for the purpose of economic benefit or furthering her railroad. Thus, while she is in so many ways an ideal libertarian, the book does not convince me that the wholly free-market economy system really does work. It didn’t even work for the characters in the book! Since it is more likely that a person would write about something that could not happen rather than allowing things to happen in the book that weaken the argument, I am unconvinced that Rand does an adequate job of proving the libertarian argument. She outlines a good case, but the proof is lacking.
That being said, I think the book is rather realistic, since I don’t think that libertarians are entirely correct in their argument. The very human emotions that are inescapable in the book are similarly integral in real life. The protests of the characters that they do nothing for the sake of another are drowned out by the sacrifices they make for those they care about. If the argument was that a society need not care for those they do not know, then that would be okay. However, since they claim to not sacrifice for anyone and then do that very thing, I am unimpressed.
Atlas Shrugged contradictions aside, I think that the libertarian argument was summed up in its strengths and weaknesses rather well in that book. They believe in capitalism and free market. That was what the book was advocating. The problem with the libertarian position seems to be primarily this issue with people ending up actually caring for each other, when in a perfect libertarian society no one would care for anyone else. This weakness in the libertarian argument was also in the book. If Ayn Rand had been purposed to write a book on libertarianism, then she would have done rather well. That, I think, is why the sponsors of the seminar recommended the book so highly. As Randian philosophy, it falls a bit short. For summing up the libertarian argument, it is probably the best that could be done.
The question of individual versus collective liberty is one of the major arguments in libertarianism. Are people in fact so interconnected that anything one person does, another person is similarly affected? According to Bastiat, in What is Seen and What is Not Seen, it would appear to be so. His argument – also highlighted in Henry Hazlitt’s book Economics in One Lesson – is that when one action is performed, it has either negative or positive consequences on the rest of society. The example used was of a broken window: if a window is broken, people see the money that is being spent by the man who owned the window at the window maker’s shop. This is considered to be economic stimulation – it is money that is being spent, and as such, the economy prospers. However, the point drawn out by both Bastiat and Hazlitt is that while it is true that the man spends his money at the glaziers, he does not spend it elsewhere. The natural function of money is to be spent, and unless the man would have never spent his money, having a broken window does not boost the economy. It simply redirects where the money is spent.
The reading of Randy Barnett’s “The Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism” gave a fairly concise summary of libertarian belief. Libertarians recognize existence and value of individual persons, and as such they place value on the ability of all persons to live and pursue happiness. However, the belief in the pursuit of happiness, it must be remembered, is different that a guarantee of the results. If it would make a person happy to kill someone else, that does not justify the action: the person killed is not free to live and pursue happiness themselves, so the would-be killer must restrain themselves since their wish is a ‘less-basic’ right than that of the victim. That is an extreme example, though, and the point being made at the seminar was that it is possible for nearly all to pursue happiness without depriving others of the same. For the few that are not covered under that ‘nearly all’ I do not have an answer – it is a question of equality, and as I mentioned before, the libertarian argument on equality was not brought to a satisfactory conclusion at the seminar, and I still do not know what they would say in such a case.
With liberty to do as one wishes, restriction of government, and economic equality discussed, I now want to explore just one more issue of the libertarian argument. This question is simply if libertarianism is actually practical to accept as a worldview or philosophy of government. The apparent benefits are that there is economic prosperity, if the theory holds true, since free market is encouraged and flourishes. Freedom given to citizens to do as they please translates into people who work harder, since they are doing what they actually want to be doing instead of being coerced into doing something they have no interest in. This is good for a government, since the nation is wealthier, which grants power and prestige. High international standing transfers into more investments from other countries, and the economy prospers further. This is the purpose libertarians have for believing in the free market. The drawbacks are that there is necessarily complete ruthlessness. The thought struck me when I was at the seminar, then it became somewhat buried with all the other things I was learning, only to resurface when I read Atlas Shrugged. The lack of concern over the welfare of others bothered me, but as I thought more about the issue, and continue to think, I am becoming more and more convinced that this lack of concern is necessary in a free government. In fact, it seems to me that this is the very issue that is at the root of government over-interference: too many kind intentions. After debating what the causes of motivation are for kindnesses, I have come to the conclusion this is in fact the part of human nature in government that the libertarian argument does not take into account.
In order for the libertarian government to work, the people must be completely heartless, caring for nothing but their own economic gain. If this is the case, then as far as I can tell, the libertarian government would have a chance at success. However, as sound as the policies might be, there is no room in this argument for natural human affection for one another. A true libertarian would not care for their parents or children, much less someone who was not related to them. Clearly this is not the case; a cursory examination of any civilization will disprove any theory that people do not form relationships with each other.
The fact that libertarian politics do not allow for gentleness in character does not necessarily mean they are wrong; indeed I have no reason to believe that charity is meant to be the responsibility of government. In history, whenever government takes upon itself to provide for the needs of the poor they end up taking over and the citizens, far from ending up with more freedom and care, instead have no freedom and only so much care as the government decides to provide at the time – a most precarious position indeed, and not at all the libertarian definition of limited government and freedom!
If, then, it is not wrong for libertarians to have a ‘no charity’ policy, does that mean there are no objections to implementing it as my governmental policy of choice? I remain unconvinced. My thought is that even if it is not wrong, there is little to no chance that it would actually work. The reasoning behind this is straightforward – even the best politics would be hard pressed to overcome human nature. Therefore, even if the libertarian argument is solid, the humans implementing the policies are not, and that is where the difficulty arises. It doesn’t matter how good the logic is behind the argument, if it doesn’t work in real life there is no use in promoting it.
I heard a lot of arguments from people who believed very strongly in libertarianism, and the readings were also (with the notable exception of Plato and his rather communistic city) mostly slanted in the direction of less government meaning a better society. I learned a lot about what the libertarian argument was, thus fulfilling my objective for taking the seminar and going through the readings, thinking about what libertarianism was. Still, even after hearing and reading a disproportionally large number of pros without having the opposing arguments, I cannot totally believe the libertarian argument. I think a part of that is my conclusion that it would not work in practicality – that human nature, despite everything that Hobbes said about our wanting to kill each other, and despite the terrible genocides that do occur in the world, also bends toward something less than absolute austerity in the way common people actually deal with each other. Certainly there are broken homes, hurting people, and terrible things that happen in people’s lives. However, most people do not have the strong, idealistic principles required to be a pure libertarian – they will form attachments with other humans, take compassion on someone, or be less than cutthroat in business. If all people were cold and emotionless and fanatically devoted to their principles, libertarianism might work. As the world stands, my conclusion is that it is not a practical philosophy because such characteristics are not, in fact, human nature, and as such a different philosophy of politics is required.
11 November 2011
What common elements were there among the various heresies which Irenæus sought to address? Evaluate the theological devices he used to refute them.
Irenæus of Lyons based his theological arguments on an appeal to history, using the orthodox beliefs and traditions of the church and apostolic succession to establish his points. He “believed that he could undermine contemporary Valentinians by showing that they had forerunners and that these forerunners were wrong and perverted”. Gnosticism was not “a pagan misunderstanding of Christianity, but … a sectarian movement within the Church itself” – and therefore, Irenæus used Scripture to argue against the Gnostic heretics. Since the Gnostics were using the Bible (albeit a heretical interpretation) to defend their position, Irenæus tried to point out their errors of interpretation of theology using Christian orthodoxy and Scripture. He did this by first listing the various errors of the different sects within Gnosticism, then attempting to point out the places where the Gnostics had strayed from orthodox Christianity. This was done out of a belief that “‘in the Church, … God hath set apostles, prophets, teachers,’ and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behavior” and a desire to bring those who had strayed from the truth back to catholic orthodoxy.
On Christ’s birth and if He could die
The one thing all the sects of Gnostic heretics had in common was the belief that the person of Jesus Christ could not have been fully man and fully God. In its most fundamental form, Gnosticism held to a dualist view of the world – a “divine world of which ‘spirit’ was held to be a displaced native”. Some took the side the Christ was from the Father and had simply passed through his mother Mary, from which “we may trace back to the Gnostic period the Apollinarian error … that Christ was not derived from the blessed Virgin, but that it was of heavenly substance, and was only brought forth into the world through her instrumentality”. The argument was that Christ certainly could not have been her true son, since it would be impossible for Him to be sinless and yet born of a human (and therefore sinful) woman. Common on this side as well was the belief that Christ was not actually human himself – that he was visible, but not a real body and not a real man. The Saturninus and Basilides went as far as to say that Christ did not suffer death, but that Simon (of Cyrene) took his place and died on the cross (since evidently God as Christ could not die) while Christ received the form of Simon and lived. According to this tradition, Christ also could not feel pain; “With men he seemed a man, though not a man; he seemed to suffer in Judea, though he did not suffer”. The Cerinthus took a slightly different approach on the same idea that Christ could not have died – that “at the last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being”. Others held to the argument of the Carpocrates, who said that Jesus was the real son of Joseph, and since being born of Joseph and Mary as a human could not have actually come from the Father and been God. Instead, they equated Jesus to be on level with Peter and Paul, who possessed much self-discipline but were likewise not a part of God. Irenæus’ counter in this situation was simple and powerful, coming directly from Scripture, orthodoxy, and tradition – “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”. The Gospels, accepted by the Gnostics as Scripture, were clear.
On the dualistic view between matter and spirit
As Irenæus pointed out, “the Gnostics taught a doctrine of two Gods, denying both the goodness of the Creator and the omnipotence of the Father of the Pleroma. In their eagerness to segregate matter from spirit, evil from good, the Gnostics dissolved at once the unity of the world and the unity of God”. This dualist philosophy, Irenæus pointed out, ignored “that if the Lord had known many fathers and gods, he would not have taught His disciples to know [only] one God, and to call Him alone Father”. In addition to citing the Lord’s singleness of loyalty to one Father, Irenæus called in the prophets – whom the Lord said were “from one and the same Father” as He Himself was. One of these prophets, Irenæus points out, wrote that “‘I am a jealous God, making peace, and creating evil things’” – thereby showing that denying the ability of one God and Father to be at once creating peace and evil things denies the authenticity of not only the prophets, but also of the Lord. By showing that the Father – who had unquestioned legitimacy – had both sides of this nature, the argument that it was impossible to contain both natures was refuted by the very good combination of Scripture, the prophets, and God the Father.
On the interpretation of Scripture
Another common thread between different sects of heresies was the interpretation of Scripture to fit patterns of numbers. Irenæus explains the Gnostic’s position, that “they endeavour to bring forward proofs … sometimes through means of numbers and the syllables of names, sometimes also through the letter of syllables, and yet again through those numbers which are, according to the practice followed by the Greeks, contained in [different] letters”. This, he believed, showed only “the untenable and perverse character of their [professed] knowledge”, not any success on their part in explaining the scriptures and certainly no gain. The number 30 was particularly central, and was thought to be the number of Ӕons included in the one Pleroma. Irenæus’ method of theological refutation was unusually weak in this area – his argument that the number 30 was not significant centered on his personal belief that Christ “did not want much of being fifty years old” since he was referenced as being “not yet fifty years old”.
The idea of an Æon, 30 or no, was not well grounded – the Valentinians “maintain[ed]… that in the invisible and ineffable heights above there exists a certain perfect, pre-existent Ӕon” – but had nothing to show to back up the idea of this existence. These æons, it was believed, had a common essence being neither human nor born, but were sent forth by emanations by means of conjunction until there were thirty of them. Each one was an “Ӕon who never grows old and exists in a virgin spirit”, according to the Gnostic sect Barbeliotes. They were thought to be ‘ever-existing’, “an emanation from the divine substance, subsisting coordinately and co-eternally with the Deity, the Pleroma still remaining one”. Irenæus’ solid refutation was that this point was intrinsically contradictory; if the Pleroma was all one, then the Ӕons would be equal with God the Father – impossible, even by heretical standards. The Ӕons, Irenæus concluded, had no grounding in any authorized tradition or part of Scripture.
The Gnostic heresies that Irenæus sought to refute centered on some of the most basic beliefs of Christianity – the authenticity of Christ being who He said He was, the nature of God, and the interpretation of Scripture. His major problem was that when the “Gnostics were confronted with arguments based on these apostolic Scriptures, they would reply that the Scriptures could not be properly understood by anyone who was not privy to ‘the tradition,’ that is, the secret body of knowledge not committed to writing but handed down from the apostles to the successive generations of the Gnostic perfect”. His default response to the heresies that he encountered “was to appeal to ‘that tradition which is derived from the apostles’”,claiming that “The true gnosis is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the church throughout the world, and the character of the body of Christ in accordance with the succession of the bishops”. He also appealed to history as “the life-giving faith … preserved and transmitted in truth in the church from the apostles up till now”. Taken from the realm of apostolic tradition and orthodoxy, Irenæus’ arguments are a valuable source in refuting Gnostic heresy and set an example for others who wish to learn how to counter those who challenge Scripture and Christian belief.
 R.M. Grant, Irenæus of Lyons, p. 12.
 R.A. Norris, Jr., God and World in Early Christian Theology, p. 71.
 Irenæus, Against Heresies, qtd. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, p. 458.
 R.A. Norris, Jr., p. 76.
 Irenæus, p. 325.
 ibid., p. 349.
 J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), p. 83.
 Irenæus, p. 352.
 ibid., p. 350.
 ibid., p. 427.
 R.A. Norris, Jr., p. 79.
 Irenæus, p. 463.
 ibid., p. 514.
 ibid., p. 523.
 ibid., p. 593.
 ibid., p. 393.
 ibid., 392.
 ibid., p. 316.
 ibid., p. 317.
 ibid., p. 353.
 ibid., 316.
 ibid., p. 115.
 ibid., p. 120.
 R.M. Grant, p. 125.
We sang this in chapel this morning ... such a good reminder ...
I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen", and it's still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away
And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find You
But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away
And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth
While libertarian philosophers may think that they have found their archenemies in American government and politics, the essential roots of libertarianism are already planted and spreading in the area of education within the American system. An examination of the modern homeschooling movement shows strong libertarian leanings, even if homeschoolers would not identify themselves as libertarian in philosophy. Furthermore, the way homeschooling could transform America through the economic repercussions of widespread homeschooling – such as if became the only form of education in America – should give even the most downcast libertarians hope. Let us now look at what public education currently looks like and what its problems are, why public schools exist at all, discover what causes homeschooling to look so much like a libertarian education, then how this kind of education could affect the American economy as a whole if it was implemented.
When Milton Friedman was writing in 1980, the state of the public schools was very bad. According to his research published in Free to Choose, “Parents complain about the declining quality of the schooling their children receive … Teachers complain that the atmosphere in which they are required to teach is often not conducive to learning … Taxpayers complain about growing costs.” The situation has not improved in recent years. As reported by CollegeBoard an agency that administers the SAT to thousands of students every year, the overall test scores have risen 7 points in Mathematics, while dropping 29 points in Critical Reading since 1972 – a trend that is not altogether encouraging, especially considering the developments in technology whose purpose is to improve education. It is to be expected that the purpose and goal of schools is that their students get a good education. There is nothing out of order with a public school desiring good grades from its students, and still less reason why the federal government would want to have their citizens perform badly. Indeed, as academics are one of the ways a government shows the prowess of its citizens, there is every reason to believe that a government would actually be in favor of helping its citizens to do the best they possibly can. Why then, if homeschooling is actually such a good alternative, do American public schools exist at all?
This is not to say that the public schools do not try to acknowledge areas of strength and weakness; certainly that is what Advanced Placement and Special Education classes are for. However, it is one thing for a teacher to say that a child is good at English and assign increased reading requirements. It is something different entirely to realize that this child could do quite well writing novels, or going to trials and practicing writing legal arguments, or researching and writing for Wikipedia, and then helping that child to excel as an individual. Tutoring children who struggle in their schooling is also a commendable enterprise, but depth of knowledge a parent has about their child makes them naturally better suited to know the nuances of how their child will learn best. If a child needs specific attention in a given area, it is the responsibility of the parent to either learn what they need to know to teach that child, or else assign the task to someone whom they know cares about that child as an individual and would do an excellent job. The most important thing is not that the teacher is more or less qualified, but that the parents have direct say in what happens and are able to change tutors if they do not feel that the job is being done correctly.
There is, to be sure, the concern of parents who really do not care about their children and do a terrible job with raising them. This is not an easy concern to address, but there is the question of if this is actually covered in libertarian philosophy. As Richard Epstein says in Libertarianism and Character, “… as a moral theory, [libertarian thought’s] sole office is to establish the proper set of legal relationships between individuals….libertarian thought sets rules that, in many ways, moral theorists would treat, at most, as moral minimums.” From this it can be seen that there simply is not a nice answer in libertarianism for the problem of neglectful parents. While that is undoubtedly something that needs to be addressed, the philosophy of libertarianism does not cover all parts of life. Epstein continues, “The legal enterprise sets some boundaries on individual choice and then lets each person decide what moral principles to follow within those bounds.” Thus, while this question needs to be answered, it is a question of instilling moral principles and as such is beyond the scope of this paper.
At the same time, while there is not a moral answer in libertarian philosophy, there is the argument of economics: that a parent would want to give their child the best education possible for the economic benefits. In this case, perhaps if parents realized that the welfare of their child was entirely their concern and no welfare state would bail them out, they would be more responsible. For the libertarian argument, it must be assumed that parents realize their responsibility to care for their children. In a literate society such as America, it is also rational to presume that caring for children includes giving them an education, and the capitalist part of libertarianism takes care of the question of quality of education – it would have to be the best.
The problem here in America is that the citizens are the ones running the government (as can be seen by our constitution and election of government by the people from the people). That the citizens do not want to take personal responsibility, so they hand the responsibility off to someone else, can be seen by the very fact that we have public schools at all. This does not indicate a vote or a public decision of the popular will, but a fact that is by the virtue of the schools existing. This ‘someone else’ that the schooling is given to becomes the government at large, since the government is made up of the people. Public schools exist, then, because individuals do not want to take care of schooling their own children, but not because they do not want to have their children well taken care of.
This is important, because it does not require the illogical step of parents individually deciding to release all control over the education of their children. Instead, having schooling taken care of by the government means that schooling has gone public – exactly the opposite of what seems like the logical thing to happen, as will be seen in terms of efficiency and end result of education quality. The crucial point to remember, though, is that there is no clear distinction between the government and the people. This causes the general will – or laziness, as the case may be – to be towards the government taking care of the situation, instead of personal responsibility without personal conscience over neglecting children to an unknown entity. Just as it is easier for legislative bodies to send issues to committee, it is easier for individuals to put the burden of schooling on the public as a whole instead of taking the responsibility individually and schooling their own children. Since each individual legislating is so integrally related to ‘the government’, they wouldn’t think that there would be any ill effects arising from having their children taught by others. Indeed, the argument could well be made that just as legislators are trained and experienced in the field of policy making, the education of children should be left to those who make it their specialty. My argument is that this is not the best option.
The inability of individual parents to dictate what happens to their own children in the system of public education is what is robbing our public schools of their value. In the American culture, which does not claim to be one that is communist and trying to form its citizens into homogeneous followers, the concern raised by JS Mill in On Liberty is particularly appropriate. He writes that “Every extension of education promotes [the assimilation of people to be like each other], because education brings people under common influences, and gives them access to the general stock of facts and sentiments.” These ‘common influences’ are the very things that can are dangerous to America as a nation, because they dull the individuality of its citizens. For this reason, libertarian thought suggests that education be as ‘extended’ as little as possible, since the less extended education is, the less assimilated individuals will be to each other. On the other side of the situation, homeschoolers are able to immediately monitor their children’s education, which keeps this issue of assimilation to a minimum. Parents are taking their fundamental beliefs of parental involvement and high quality education and making it into something that is giving their children the kind of education they want them to receive, instead of allowing others to make those decisions for them.
Of course, not all libertarians believe the same way. However, according to a strictly libertarian philosophy, the government would have to be completely hands off in regards to education, since it does not directly pertain to protection in society, which is the libertarian’s view of the role of government. For that reason, since this paper is based on what libertarian theory would be, I find it necessary to acknowledge these deviations in libertarian practice but concentrate instead on what a pure libertarian would do.
If the education system was similar to modern homeschools, government intervention and assimilation of all toward one pattern of thought would be limited. Since there would be no stages in which the government was involved parents, not the government, would have final say in what children were taught. While this is not the practice in America’s public schools today, there is certainly the case to be made that the government in American is not libertarian in its approach to education! Indeed, in American history there is evidence that education being used for this very non-libertarian assimilation is not a new idea, as is recounted by George H. Nash, “[Leonard Read] soon became convinced that only a profound educational reorientation would suffice to quell the forever bubbling cauldron of erroneous doctrine … His task was explicit: to combat radicalism in California by a campaign of education.” Regardless of what Read’s political intentions were, the goal of his campaign is clearly that individuality would be lessened through all being taught the same thing. The nature of homeschooling, in that the parents are directly supervising the education of their children if they are not actually teaching them all subjects, is such that this mass ‘reorientation’, as Nash calls it, cannot take place. From a libertarian perspective this is a good thing, as preservation of the individual is a priority. Mill writes, “There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence.” This clearly implies that while it is not necessary that all have completely separate opinions from all others – which would be unreasonable to expect, if it was even possible – it is still necessary to keep the independence of the individual.
Even though there are a lot of educational practices that at first glance are helped by a government-controlled system, like computers, larger facilities, etc, in the long run a government such as the American government, which was not designed to be in charge of educating its citizens (as can be seen by the fact that at its founding public schools were not established,) must fail to do the best job of education. The argument that the government must have at least some form of standards for all schools, even private or homeschools, is actually detrimental in the long run because ultimately it destroys the sense of personal responsibility that is essential to libertarianism. While schooling with no government regulation is not currently available in America, the theory remains. Homeschooling, the closest thing currently available to a libertarian education, appears to be working; in my training as a telecounselor at Houghton, I was told that Houghton pursues homeschoolers because on average they are better students and earn higher grades. However, on account of homeschooling in its current state being a relatively new movement, there is as yet little to be seen in the way of overall trends. For now, the theory must suffice, but if Houghton can be used as indication of what colleges like in students, the trend may be encouraging to homeschoolers.
The prominence of libertarian education would also improve the general economy, since money would be spent directly on the children, by the parents, on the things that were most needed for personalized and effective education. The model now is, instead, one of mass redistribution of wealth through taxation and reimbursement which places the individual needs of the children at about the lowest level on the priority scale. The concern certainly exists that home or private schooling of children would give advantage to those whose parents are wealthy and are able to afford better education. However, as Friedman points out, “… the public school has fostered residential stratification, by tying the kind and cost of schooling to residential location. It is no accident that most of the country’s outstanding public schools are in high-income enclaves.” From this it can be seen that although bringing education in line with libertarian philosophy may not bring equality for all, it is not replacing a system that currently provides complete equality.
The more levels of bureaucracy involved, the less efficiency will occur in educational economics. In the libertarian situation, since the parents would be either administering the education or else directly supervising it, they would be paying directly and the overall cost would ultimately be less. Paying directly would encourage the parent to find the most cost efficient ways of educating their children, although the drive to look good would keep the education at the highest level possible. They would not pay top price for a curriculum that was not the best, encouraging a competitive market in curricula. This would encourage capitalism, which in turn would start a revolution of the market. This rise of the market would be enhanced by not only having the curricula be competitively priced, but also the things that the family would be able to buy by not having their income sucked out by taxes.
This is an example of Frederic Bastiat’s ‘what is seen and what is not seen’ – the seen effect would be the demise of public schools, which could not exist without the benefit of government subsidies. The relatively unseen effect, since it would be in the separate form of the people who were spending their money elsewhere, would be that of a widespread positive influence on the economy. If there is to be a real difference made, then the libertarian argument is that it must come naturally and not as a result of any government subsidies or forced growth in a particular area. The economic gains that would come from privatization of education would be a result of the decisions the parents made, but also the children being raised could see the value of having their parents take personal responsibility for something they thought was very important – the raising of their children – and how well individual choice worked out. They would then turn out as the individualist described in Bastiat’s What is Seen and What is Not Seen – “he is rational in his spending, seeks only moderate and reasonable enjoyments, thinks of the future of his children; in a word, he saves.” Citizens of this type, starting with the concept of rational spending and saving, would plainly bring a radical change in direction to the American system of economics.
An educational system like this does not require a completely libertarian philosophy to be implemented in the entire country. If the American government were to take a libertarian approach to the school system, while still retaining the same structure as now exists, the educational policies that I am now describing would be completely possible – although, as I have said, I do not think the current ways would last long. The teachers would not have to be the parents, but the parents would be making the decisions regarding teachers, costs, and curriculum. Libertarian philosophy in no way requires that everything must be done individually. Instead, there must be an economically sound purpose behind it. If there is one principle that governs libertarians, it is that the economics behind the practices must have reason. If there were no such economic reason, there should be no libertarian possibility of a practice like the one I have described. The theories would clash, leaving the idea flat. Libertarianism demands pragmatism, and if the theories did not match, libertarians would be forced to drop the idea of individualized education for the greater cause of their ideology. As of yet, this has not happened and private education is still a possibility in line with libertarian philosophy.
The first step in a changeover to personal education would be convincing parents that they really do need to be involved in educating their children. The danger of governmental education is not that the government is trying to take over the family and limit freedom and economic efficiency, but that is the natural result of a government in which the rulers are the citizens. As Mill writes, “… when society is itself the tyrant—society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it—its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression….” As can be seen from Mill, then, while such interference in education may be beyond what an individual would be able to justify, the government – representing society as a whole – may be allowed. That is why individual parents must decide that the education of their children is their personal responsibility, and take the initiative to do it.
As soon as this privatization takes place, but not before (since the government is, after all, not libertarian as a whole and should treat education as any other aspect of government that now exists), the government would need to cut all funding to education since the people are no longer using their services. Schools would then be either directly taught by parents or private schools that receive no government funding and are directly supervised by parents. Either of these categories would be libertarian approved, since they would be separate from governmental jurisdiction, and superintended directly by those involved. Of course, the lack of funding from the government would kill the public schools, which – even with taxpayer dollars assisting – are heavily subsidized by the federal government. However, since the people would be doing their own schooling, the public schools would no longer be necessary, and the overall American budget would improve as well since the monies now designated for education would be available for other needs.
The result of this kind of educational practice would be simple but revolutionary. Students would receive a better education, since their parents would be the ones driven to allow them to succeed. The libertarian economic and social principles that say this would be true have already been stated. Furthermore, the overall economic cost would be less, since the people paying for the education would be interested parties who would like to spend the least possible amount of money on the things they must spend money on. However, since the interest would also be a personal one of gain, they would spend enough money to do a good job with their children’s schooling. Lastly, the government would not be involved in anything above their responsibilities as the government, and so would be able to focus on the things that really are important for them to take care of. As can be seen, then, having an education system that follows libertarian principles is assuredly not the best for keeping the American social system stable as it is, but for a radical change in a positive direction, there is reason to believe that it could be effective.
 Friedman, Milton. Free to Choose. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980. p.151
 Epstein, Richard A. "Libertarianism and Character." Berkowitz, Peter. Varieties of Conservatism in America. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, n.d. 75-102, 2004. p. 76
 Ibid, 76
 Nash, George H. "The Revolt of the Libertarians." Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. n.d. 1-49. p.28
 Mill, p.3
 Friedman, 166
 Bastiat, Frederic. "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." Selected Essays on Political Economy. Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1995. p. 42
 Mill, p.3