Cactus Club January 1998

Cycle I: Part 3

1 January 1998.............for and against natural law.

To begin Part 3, which is a deliberation of natural law and social harmony, please read The Case For And Against Natural Law by Russell Kirk. Question: What is natural law and how does it differ from positive law?(PD)

4 January 1998...............natural law and natural rights.

Please read Natural Law and Natural Rights by James A. Donald. Question: Is there any objective way to determine which rights are "natural" rights?(PD)

6 January 1998............the function of rights.

Quoting from Moral Rights and Political Freedom by Tara Smith..........."By attempting to have rights do more than they are meant to, we actually prevent rights from performing their proper function". Question: What are rights meant to do and what is their proper function?(PD)

8 January problems and the law.

Quoting from Simple Rules for a Complex World by Richard Epstein.........."We try to solve more and more problems by legal rules and fewer through voluntary accomodations. Using law as an instrument for achieving perfect justice suffers from several major drawbacks". Question: What is the relationship between law and justice? (PD)

10 January 1998..............the ethics of Rothbard

Laissez Faire Books has a set of tapes read from Murray Rothbard's out of print book The Ethics of Liberty. In this book Rothbard worked out many of the details of a legal philosophy based on natural rights derived from natural law. He explained how a legal system based on property rights could be constructed that would make government obsolete. Question: Doesn't society require a government for the same reason that a ship requires a captain and a football team requires a coach?(PD)

14 January 1998............natural rights and crime

The essence of natural rights legal philosophy is simple. There are only two crimes and these are theft and assault. Of course there are degrees of both. Assault can range from murder to intimidation and theft can range from armed robbery to fraud but these are just variations of the two ways to harm a person or their property. Since these are natural crimes, they are almost universally recognized as such--- just like there is little debate over the effects of the law of gravity when someone leaps off a cliff. Also note that these are crimes against individuals, not against the state. Without this fundamental understanding of crime to anchor our legal system, the range of crimes begins to expand and the law becomes more complex and controversial. For example, consider legislation pertaining to discrimination. To implement these laws we have created a separate commission and enforcing them is a quagmire of controversy and complexity. We need to get back to the basics when it comes to the definition and enforcement of criminal law. Haven't we overallocated our scarce resources to the production of laws? (PD)

16 January 1998............the principle of collective right.

Quoting from The Law by Frederic Bastiat----------"Each of us has a natural right--from God--to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties? If every person has the right to defend--even by force--his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right--its reason for existing, its lawfulness--is based on individual right". Questions: Is the Declaration of Independence based on the idea of natural rights? How about the Bill of Rights? Does the principle of collective right require constitutional authority and why did Thomas Jefferson substitute the phrase "pursuit of happiness" instead of referring to property when he wrote the Declaration of Independence?(PD)

18 January 1998.............thoughts on natural law and natural rights

Yes, Virginia, there are indeed natural laws and natural rights. James Donald is right on target in his assertion that Hobbes was incorrect about the state of man in nature. As can be seen in history, lack of a formal, centralized government has not necessarily cast man into an existence "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Examples abound of societies where men lived without a central authority, but who nonetheless enjoyed order and commerce.

On the other hand, natural law and natural rights cannot, alas, be "objectively proven" -- although as Russell Kirk pointed out, they may be "proven" by right reason (i.e., logic). While to a great many this may constitute proof, it is the unfortunate case today that another great many (some of whom are hailed as fine intellectuals) deny the very existence of logic, or else claim logic as we know it to be the social construct of white European males. (Though, as Ludwig von Mises posited in *Human Action,* none of those claiming another sort of reasoning method for other races have ever shown what the method is.) And since natural rights and natural law are not concrete entities, I find no final way to quiet the naysayers.

However, just as the market -- itself an evanescent entity -- exists and can be proved by logic, and yet was put in place by no man, so do natural law and natural rights exist. I particularly like Donald's reference to natural law as the Evolutionary Stable Strategy in a society without a government, just as market economics is the ESS order of commerce in a society without central planners. For quite simply natural law and natural rights are those that exist without the existence of organized government or written laws and constitutions. Or perhaps more correctly, they pre-date man's organizations and inventions.

One aside I find troubling is Kirk's attack on those who might question the existence of God. It seems to me that those of us who agree on the existence of natural laws and natural rights possess a common starting point; to vilify those who question one's faith as to their source -- be it God or simply undirected nature -- seems petty. I'd leave questions of religious faith for another debate.(JV)

20 January 1998...............a natural education

Quoting from The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis-----------"The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.?" Questions: Does our educational system do an adequate job of educating students about natural law and natural rights social philosophy? If not, what are the consequences of the present system.(PD)

27 January 1998.............wrong about rights

This letter was sent to the author of the article below on January 22, 1998.(PD)

By looking for rights in the Bill of Rights you seem to accept the concept that rights originate with government. On the contrary, the right to act honestly and non-aggressively has nothing to do with a government document. A long- term and divisive proliferation of rights has occurred because of this misunderstanding which leads people to argue over which rights are superior. The current process of social decay, disorder, and discord will continue until the situation gets so bad that people begin to advocate fundamental reform. Our deteriorating social habitat will encourage more people to seek an education in the determinants of social development, order, and harmony. This knowledge may then lead to the evolution of a more advanced social system.

The following article was written by Vin Suprynowicz who is the assistant editorial page editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

'Now Bossie, tell us how you felt when you heard those discouraging words ...' "I think most Texans are embarrassed by this," says Jim Hightower, the former Texas agriculture commissioner who now hosts a radio talk show in the Lone Star state. "This is every bit as ludicrous as it seems. This isn't about Oprah Winfrey. This is an effort to squelch free speech criticism of what is being done to our food by agribusiness interests." Mr. Hightower refers to the trial -- court-watchers estimate it could last four weeks -- now getting underway in a federal courthouse in Amarillo, Texas, in which popular national television personality Oprah Winfrey and her producers face charges of ... well, of allowing a guest tosay bad things about hamburger.

Back in 1989, California and Washington state apple growers lostmillions -- they said no one wanted their crop at any price -- after the television magazine show "60 Minutes" aired a segment questioning the safety of apples sprayed with the insecticide Alar. After a 1993 damage suit against the network was dismissed by a federal judge, a dozen states -- Texas among them -- moved to pass new, "veggie libel" laws. If a critic goes on television alleging that some specific,brand-named product is unsafe, the manufacturer has obvious standing to take the speaker to court, where the burden of proof is then on the plaintiff to prove the statement was in error, that the speaker spoke in willful disregard of the truth, and that provable damages have been caused. The drafters of the new laws argued it was harder for an entire industry to prove it had been harmed -- harder to figure out who was really damaged if someone went on TV and said "That black crust you get when you barbecue is pure poison" ... or whatever. Hence, the new laws like that now being tested in Texas, which seek to outlaw libels against generic types of produce -- and particularly beef. Of course, after being warned by anti-meat activist Howard Lyman on the show that beef industry feeding practices (like mixing into their feed the offal from the slaughter of other cattle) might promote "mad cow" disease, Ms. Winfrey simply expressed the personal decision "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!" While many might hold such fears to be unreasonable, stating "I don't eat beef any more" is clearly the kind of statement the First Amendment was meant to protect.

And so these particular plaintiffs have been reduced to arguing Ms. Winfrey and her producers "selectively edited" their program to include the most inflammatory statements. (Unlike all those other television shows, which strive to air only the most boring parts?)

Yes, the power of televised rumor is fearsome. And it's natural to sympathize with a hard-worker rancher or farmer who faces severe economic setbacks, through no fault of his own, when a whim of the market makes his product temporarily less popular, for any reason.

We might all wish those daytime freak shows, in particular, would either tone down their shrill competition to air the latest and hardest-to-believe outrage, or else supply some kind of clear disclaimer, to the effect that "Stories told on this program bear the same relationship to objective reality as the 'blood feuds' on professional wrestling."

But the constitution grants no one a right to make a profit selling commodities that the public doesn't want this year (however stupid their reasons), nor could it, nor should it. (In fact, after dipping for about two weeks, cattle prices again rose to the levels enjoyed before the Winfrey program aired.)

While on the other hand, the Bill of Rights clearly does protect the freedom of speech. Furthermore, as has been demonstrated many times,that freedom has to include even stupid and misguided speech, since no government monitor can ever be trusted not to turn the power of censorship to his own advantage.

On top of everything else, this "Oprah lawsuit" is stupid on its face, since in truth there (start ital)are(end ital) things about the way the frightened cattle in a slaughterhouse shute are turned into neat, white-wrapped packages in our shopping carts, that many folks would rather not learn about in detail, but which everyone from the defense team to the animal rights extremists will now seize this opportunity to air for us in exquisite, graphic detail.

And then send into re-runs.

(Knowing a promotional Godsend when she sees it, Ms. Winfrey has even brought a TV crew with her, and proposes to begin broadcasting shows from the Texas panhandle this week.)

Arriving in Amarillo to cover the big event, reporter Tim Jones of the Chicago Tribune was told by his cab driver, this week, "That stoooo-pid trial. The guy who did that should have had better sense."