Evolving Culture and Adherence to Abstraction

Sheldon Richman has written a piece entitled “In Defense of Extreme Cosmopolitanism.”  What does he mean by “cosmopolitanism”?

Original cosmopolitan liberalism, what we call libertarianism today….

Huh?  I guess I need to understand the definition of “cosmopolitan”:

Free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world.

What does this have to do with libertarianism?  Does libertarianism require one to be free of national prejudices or attachments?  Of course, the answer is no.  This is just plain goofy.  If libertarianism is only open to those who free themselves from the tribal connection, Richman can go back to that proverbial telephone booth.  Talk about a small tent.

Current Prices on popular forms of Gold Bullion

Richman is writing in response to something Steve Bannon said; suffice it so say it was regarding American nationalism.  Yet from this, Richman offers a strawman:

The “ideal” of a culture insulated from change is a chimera…

I cannot speak for Bannon.  But who on earth is cheering for such an ideal?  I cannot tell you how happy I am that I can eat Indian food anywhere in the world; this certainly wasn’t true even 100 years ago.  One (including Bannon…and me) can use the word “culture” without also requiring that this means “insulated from change.”

Culture evolves.  It has always evolved.  It will always evolve.  Given the communication and travel possibilities today, it will evolve faster than ever.  By knocking down his strawman, Richman demonstrates that he understands this:

In a freed society most change occurs at the margin — the world does not start afresh each day — because no central authority has the power to make society-wide decisions.

When culture evolves at its own pace, it can be wonderfully marvelous.  When cultural evolution is forced, it is a source of certain conflict.

We live in a world where it is forced: who we allow on our property, who we must associate with, who is allowed to use the women’s restroom…all of these things are dictated.  A libertarian cannot cheer when a private property owner is forced to bake a cake, take a wedding photograph, or allow an…mmm…open-door restroom policy…can he?

…the political program based on liberal cosmopolitanism — libertarianism — centers on unconditional free trade and freedom of movement…

There is no such thing as “unconditional free trade and freedom of movement” in a libertarian order.  To understand why Richman writes such a thing, please note the one thing he leaves off of his list – and in fact the most fundamentally important requirement for libertarianism to function; the only item that must be “unconditional” for a libertarian order to be established.  Can you guess what it is?

(Hint: private property)

“You, in the back – I see your hand raised.  What’s that you say?  Private property?  That’s right!  Unconditional respect for private property.”

And in a private property order, “people, capital, producer goods, and consumer goods” do not have “unconditional…freedom of movement” via “open borders.”  They may move only to those places upon which they are invited or allowed. There are no “open borders” in a libertarian society.  This is a contradiction in theory and in practice.

…that is open borders for people, capital, producer goods, and consumer goods.

Why do open-borders libertarians insist on conflating goods, capital, and people when speaking on this subject?  Nothing dictates that the movement of people will be as free as the movement of goods or capital.  As it is today, in a libertarian world trade and investment will likely extend much farther than will the people who produce the goods traded.

This program…embodies the understanding that the flourishing of flesh-and-blood individual human beings, like the division of labor, is limited by the extent of society and that therefore the boundaries of society should be expanded through the peaceful voluntary exchange to include the entire world.

There is no “should” about including “the entire world” in libertarianism unless you ignore private property.  Private property inherently involves discrimination.  “Peaceful voluntary exchange” by owners of private property will determine how geographically far society will extend and the form of that society – including the race, religion, and even sexual preferences of those who they will allow on their property.

Once you ignore private property, you have no libertarianism.  You have the United States.  Best case.

What does “open borders” mean in such an environment?  If Richman thinks government control of borders stinks, just wait until every individual private property owner can decide what he will or won’t do with his property and what he will or won’t allow on his property.

I haven’t met a homeowner with an open border.  I have not driven by an exclusive and gated subdivision with an open border.  In all such cases, the property owner is free to manage his border.  Instead of the world with a couple hundred national borders, we will live in a world of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of private borders.

Left-libertarians think freedom of movement will be inherently enhanced by such a proposition?  Why?  Only if they ignore private property.

This program represents not merely an adherence to an abstraction, liberty…

People do not coalesce around an abstraction.  They coalesce around family, friends, religion, sports, work, politics, social clubs, common leisure activities, language, housekeeping and grooming practices, etc.  In other words, they coalesce around culture – the culture that they know.

It cannot be avoided that from the beginning of man’s recorded history, religion has been a part.  It cannot be avoided that family and kin is the most decentralized and longest-known form of governance devised.  It cannot be avoided that infinitely more people are drawn to the community of football than have ever been drawn to any “idea.”


Libertarianism requires unconditional respect for private property.  Private property results in discrimination; what is done with my property and who I allow on my property is my choice.

Libertarianism, in theory, is decentralization in practice.  There are no universal “shoulds” in decentralization.  If there were, it wouldn’t be libertarianism or decentralization, would it?

Culture cannot be avoided when the libertarian theorist attempts to consider the application in a world occupied by humans.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.