Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lewis's Lockean Liberalism

Dyer and Watson point out that Lewis saw Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity as one of the best expressions of the classical natural-law tradition.  John Locke appealed to Hooker in explaining how the law of nature arises in the state of nature.  Dyer and Watson see this link between Lewis, Hooker, and Locke as supporting their conclusion that Lewis's understanding of the natural law of individual rights and limited government shows a natural law Lockean liberalism.  Although Lewis never explicitly acknowledged Locke as an influence on his political thinking, we know that Lewis read Locke, and much of what Lewis said about politics looks very Lockean.

So, for example, in Mere Christianity Lewis identifies securing individual liberty in private life as the primary aim of government:
"The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.  A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging his own garden--that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time." (169)
 Notice that the State's concern here is with human happiness "in this life"--not in the next life.  A government that would be directed to eternal salvation would be a theocracy, and Lewis said that "theocracy is the worst of al governments," because any government that would pretend to have the power of salvation would be tyrannical.

Lewis thought that government did not need to promote Christianity in order to provide a common morality for society, Dyer and Watson explain, because "Lewis believed that God had imprinted His moral law on every human heart, whether or not that person had come to faith in Jesus Christ" (93).  Consequently, Lewis accepted the Lockean argument for the toleration of all religious.

One good illustration of how the Lockean moral law arises naturally in the human mind is in Lewis's essay "Delinquents in the Snow."  He tells the story of how some young hooligans had been caught stealing and vandalizing Lewis's home, and how they had not been properly punished by the legal system.  He complained that "according to the classical political theory of this country," we "surrendered our right of self-protection to the State on the condition that the State would protect us" (98-99).  But if the State does not protect our natural rights, including the right to property, the natural right to protect ourselves and our property reverts to the individual.  This is what Locke called the natural "executive power of the state of nature."  This natural right to protect oneself, one's property, and one's family from attack arises naturally in the human mind without any need for a Christian faith that such a natural law is divinely ordained.

Although Locke denied that government needed to inculcate virtue, Dyer and Watson observe, "his Thoughts on Education is all about inculcating virtue" (90).  So that even without the legal enforcement of virtue, which would threaten individual liberty, Locke assumed that the education of children in their families, their churches, and the wider society would shape the moral and intellectual virtues. Lewis agreed.  In fact, his fantasy writing for children--such as the Chronicles of Narnia--was intended to contribute to the moral education of children supervised by parents rather than the State.

So, as a Lockean liberal, Lewis denies that Christian citizens have any right to use their political power to coercively impose their Christian morality on their political community.  Dyer and Watson think this is particularly clear in the way Lewis speaks about  homosexuality, religious education in schools, and divorce law.

First, Lewis shows his Lockean liberalism in what he says about homosexuality.  Although Lewis was clear about homosexuality being a sin, he saw no justification for the State punishing that sin as a crime.  In a letter, he observed: "Of course, many acts which are sins against God are also injuries to our fellow-citizens, and must on that account, but only on that account, be made crimes.  But of all the sins in the world, I should have thought homosexuality was the one that least concerns the State.  We hear too much of the State. Government is at its best a necessary evil. Let's keep it in its place."

As Dyer and Watson suggest, Lewis's view of homosexuality was probably influenced by his life-long friendship with Arthur Greeves, who was homosexual.

In the passage just quoted, Lewis seems to assume John Stuart Mill's harm principle--that the only justification for limiting anyone's individual liberty is to prevent harm to others. While this seems to be a uniquely modern principle, it can be found in the premodern natural law tradition.  As Dyer and Watson indicate (113), it's stated by Thomas Aquinas: "Human law is framed for the mass of men, the majority of whom are not virtuous. Therefore, human law does not prohibit every vice from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more serious ones from which the majority can abstain, and especially those that harm others and which must be prohibited for human society to survive, such as homicide, theft, and the like" (Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 96, a. 2).

Lewis also showed his Lockean liberalism in which he said about the place of religion in public education.  He saw England as becoming increasingly secularized, and if most of the public school teachers are not Christian, we cannot expect them to teach Christianity.  Christians should raise their children as Christians and send them to Christian schools, without expecting the public schools to inculcate Christianity in the children.

A third illustration of Lewis's Lockean liberalism is in what he said about marriage and divorce.  Since Christianity teaches that marriage is for life, Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, divorce is not normally allowed. But he saw no justification for legally enforcing this Christian condemnation of divorce.
". . . I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused.  The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question--how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself, you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the  British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. This distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not." (101-102)
If we bring together what Lewis says here about marriage and what he says about homosexuality, we might infer that Lewis could have supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, with the understanding that the rules of marriage enforced by the State will differ from the rules enforced by the Church.  In fact, I have argued that a Lockean natural law argument can be made for legalizing same-sex marriage (here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Dyer and Watson recognize that interpreting Lewis in this way as a Lockean liberal who denies the right of government to legally enforce Christian morality will "leave many of Lewis' devoted readers unsatisfied" (137), because it shows that "Lewis parts ways with many traditionalists and evangelicals" (112), who scorn Lockean classical liberalism.

Occasionally, Dyer and Watson try to appease the Christian traditionalists and evangelicals, but in doing that Dyer and Watson end up contradicting themselves.  For example, in trying to make Lewis's liberalism compatible with Robert George's "perfectionism" in his book Making Men Moral, they write: "How did Lewis conceive of a government's role in making men and women moral? If perfectionism means the willingness of a government to promote and inculcate a conception of the good, as George uses the term, then Lewis can be called a perfectionist.  If perfectionism requires a specific theory as to how a government should do this, then Lewis is not a perfectionist. He was entirely skeptical that government can enforce or even inculcate a conception of the good at all. This skepticism raises an enormous problem" (121-22). 

Isn't this contradictory?  On the one hand, Lewis supports "the willingness of a government to promote and inculcate a conception of the good." On the other hand, Lewis was "entirely skeptical that government can enforce or even inculcate a conception of the good at all." 

There is, however, a better rhetorical strategy for persuading Christian traditionalists and evangelicals to accept Lewis's Lockean liberalism: it can be argued that the New Testament supports such Lockean liberalism.  Locke's Letter on Toleration is full of quotations from the New Testament.  And long before Locke wrote this, Roger Williams argued that while the Old Testament taught theocracy, the New Testament taught religious toleration and a separation of church and state.  Williams even argued that atheists had to be legally tolerated.  With the possible exception of the book of Revelation, the New Testament presents the first Christians as viewing their churches as purely voluntary associations, and they see no need to legally enforce Christian morality.  And thus the New Testament teaches liberalism.  (I have written about this here, here, here, here, and here.)

In only one passage in their book, do Dyer and Watson implicitly point to this:
". . . Despite the profoundly different political situations of first-century Christians and Christians in the modern West, Lewis often treated the question of Christian politics in a way that nonetheless echoed St. Paul's advice to the early church in Rome. 'If it is possible,' Paul admonished, 'as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.'  The practical challenge for Christians, wrote Lewis along similar lines, lies in discoverying how to 'live as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish.'" (111)
Remarkably, Dyer and Watson do not elaborate this thought in their book, which might have been used to persuade Christians that in adopting Lockean liberalism, Lewis was returning to the original teaching of the New Testament.

Monday, December 26, 2016

C. S. Lewis's Natural Law of Lockean Liberalism

Did C. S. Lewis show how the ancient idea of natural law could support the modern idea of Lockean liberalism?

That he did indeed do that is the provocative claim made by Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson in their book C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law (Cambridge University Press, 2016).  This is provocative because, as Dyer and Watson indicate, many of the Christians who have become devoted fans of Lewis's writing--and especially American evangelical Christians--will be disturbed by the thought that Lewis was a classical liberal who rejected theocracy as a form of tyranny, who believed that government should not have the power to legally enforce Christian morality, and who thought the only proper aim of government was to secure individual liberty from legal interference except when necessary to prevent harm to others.

I find their arguments largely persuasive.  But unlike Dyer and Watson, I don't share Lewis's scorn for modern science--and particularly Darwinian science--as subverting any conception of natural law.  On the contrary, as I have often argued on this blog, I see a tradition of natural law thinking--from Aristotle to Aquinas to Locke--resting on the biology of human nature that can be supported by a Darwinian science of human nature that sustains a Darwinian classical liberalism.

Lewis believed that our distinctly human capacity and propensity for making moral judgments--for judging what is good and bad, right and wrong--testifies to the existence of a universal moral law or natural law or what the Chinese called the Tao.  We disagree about how to apply this law to particular cases, but the mere fact that we can argue about this shows that we agree on some general principles of morality that are so universally held that they can be found in all human civilizations throughout history.  Lewis's Abolition of Man concludes with an Appendix that provides "illustrations of the Tao"--quotations from religious, philosophical, and legal texts around the world that are remarkably similar in the moral principles they affirm.  So, for example, the Old Testament commandment "Do not murder" (Exodus 20:13) can be found in many different texts.  Similarly, the Golden Rule--do unto others as you would have them do unto you--is recognized in all moral and religious traditions as a fundamental principle of the moral law.

The best explanation of this universal moral law, Lewis argues, comes from the fundamental doctrines of orthodox Christianity--particularly, Creation, Fall, and Human Nature, or "our created-yet-fallen human nature."  We were originally created by God in His Image as a Mind capable of grasping the moral law. But while we were originally created good, we used our free will to fall away from God through pride or disobedience, and our human nature became so corrupted or sinful that we could not perfectly follow the moral law that we could know by reason.  There is a natural moral law, but we fail to keep it. To keep it, we need to be redeemed by God's forgiveness.  Those who accept that divine forgiveness will have eternal happiness in Heaven with God.  Those who reject that divine forgiveness will have eternal punishment in Hell far from God.

Dyer and Watson assume that these Christian doctrines must be rejected by "post-Darwinian thought," because Darwinian materialism requires a materialist explanation of the origins of life that denies any conception of the universe as intelligently designed for some divine purpose.  According to the Darwinians, human life is meaningless because it has no natural purpose or telos.  To support this conclusion, Dyer and Watson quote from Richard Dawkins and his famous claim that Darwinian evolutionary theory made it possible to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist" (18-20).

But this ignores the fact that Lewis was a theistic evolutionist (as I have indicated here).  Actually, Dyer and Watson acknowledge this in one passage: "To be clear, Lewis saw no conflict between reason and a biological theory that explains the progressive development of life on earth by means of natural selection. That theory, he allowed, may be proved more or less accurate by successive discoveries" (24-25).  But then they generally assume that Dawkins is correct in claiming that Darwinian science must be atheistic.  And thus they pass over in silence prominent theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins, whose Christian faith was much influenced by reading Lewis.

This also ignores the fact that Darwin himself employed the Thomistic idea of "dual causality" in claiming that an evolutionary science of "secondary causes" left open the possibility of "primary causes" in the divine creation of the laws of nature (see here and here).  Darwin thought that seeing God as the ultimate source of the moral law could reinforce the moral sense: "the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality" (2004, 682).  And yet he also thought that people could obey the natural moral law even without seeing its divine source.  Dyer and Watson see Lewis as taking the same position: "One can recognize and practice elements of the natural law without acknowledging its ultimate source" in God (91).

Also, in denying that Darwinian science can be teleological, Dyer and Watson ignore the ways in which biological science must recognize immanent teleology (as opposed to cosmic teleology) in the goal-directed character of living beings (as indicated here).

Furthermore, Dyer and Watson fail to notice that what Lewis does in looking for anthropological evidence of the universal moral law as the Tao corresponds to what evolutionary moral psychologists have done (beginning with Darwin) in looking for the moral universals of evolved human nature.  In the Descent of Man, Darwin declared: "I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important" (2004, 120).  And just as Lewis saw the Golden Rule as one of the finest expressions of this conscience, Darwin thought that the Golden Rule "lies at the foundation of morality" (151).  Collecting and analyzing the massive evidence for moral universals has been the work of many Darwinian moral psychologists, beginning with Edward Westermarck in The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (1906).

I am sure, however, that Dyer and Watson would object that while Lewis defends the universal moral law as an objective cosmic reality that human reason can grasp as true, Darwinian moral psychology must explain morality as rooted in subjective human emotions that have no cosmic truth.  After all, doesn't Darwin show the influence of emotivist philosophers--such as David Hume and Adam Smith--in grounding morality in moral sentiments rather than moral reason?

Moreover, Dyer and Watson agree with Lewis's argument that insofar as Darwinian science rests on a scientific naturalism that denies any supernatural origins for human reason, this science cannot assert anything to be true without falling into self-contradiction.  If human rationality is the product of an irrational process of evolution that has not been guided by the Divine Mind, then we have no good reason to trust that human rationality as valid.

Although at times Lewis sounds like a Kantian rationalist in claiming that moral imperatives are known by pure reason without any impulse of desire or passion, he adopts Aristotle's account of "practical reason," as opposed to "theoretical reason," in a way that suggests that he agrees with Aristotle that moral judgment requires a combination of reason and passion (see here and here)., which is the position taken by Darwin and the evolutionary moral psychologists.

"Thought by itself moves nothing," Aristotle declares in the Nicomachean Ethics, although reason can guide the desires that do move us.  Desires (orexis) always moves us, but thought never moves us without desire.  Deliberate choice by practical reasoning requires a conjunction of desire and reason into "desiring thought" or "thinking desire."  In his Rhetoric, Aristotle shows how the psychology of the moral emotions, working through social praise and blame, supports a natural moral sense.

Moreover, Lewis's "Illustrations of the Tao" in The Abolition of Man are illustrations of the universal moral psychology of the human species as animals naturally inclined to feel moral sentiments of approval and disapproval.

One can see this by noticing how selective Lewis is in his choice of illustrations.  For example, under the category of "the law of general beneficence," he quotes the Biblical injunction "Do not murder."  Why doesn't he also quote these commands of Moses to his soldiers fighting against the Mideanites--"Kill all the male children and kill all the women who have ever slept with a man; but spare the lives of the young girls who have never slept with a man, and keep them for yourselves" (Numbers 31:17-18)?  Doesn't Lewis quote the first passage because he knows it will elicit the reader's sympathetic approval, while he knows that the second passage (or other passages in the Bible that display brutal violence) would provoke moral emotions of disapproval?  Does this explain why the first belongs to "the Tao," but the second does not?  Lewis is passing the Bible through the moral filter of human moral sentiments so that he can correct the Bible's mistakes.

Similarly, when Lewis provides illustrations of the Tao that concern "Duties to Children and Posterity," he does not quote God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22).  Nor does Lewis quote from the Biblical story of how Jepthah sacrificed his daughter to God after God had given him victory over the Ammonites (Judges 11:30-40).  Such stories violate natural law, because they offend our moral emotions.

Evolutionary neuroscience has confirmed the importance of such moral emotions by showing that people with damage to certain emotional control centers of the brain are diminished in their moral judgment, or even totally lacking any moral sense (like psychopaths), not because of any defect in cognitive reasoning, but because they lack the moral emotions (like guilt, shame, indignation, and love).  Thus, neuroscience has refuted Kantian moral rationalism by showing that it is neurologically impossible (see here and here).

But then, Dyer and Watson argue, such evolutionary scientific research presumes that we can trust in the validity of human reasoning, but an evolutionary account of the origins of the human mind denies that such trust is justified, and thus such evolutionary science, like all purely naturalistic reasoning, is self-defeating unless we believe that the human mind has been created by a Divine Mind.  That's Lewis's famous argument from reason that has been elaborated by Alvin Plantinga. 

But as I have argued (here and here), this argument from reason originated with Rene Descartes, and its weakness is the implausibility of radical Cartesian skepticism.  The core of the argument moves in four steps.

(1) If we understand naturalism as the belief that there is no God--no supernatural Mind outside of Nature that created Nature--and if the naturalist is also a Darwinian who believes that evolutionary science explains the origins of all life, including human life, then the Darwinian naturalist must believe that the mental faculties of human beings originated through evolution by natural selection favoring those random mutations that were adaptive for survival and reproduction.

(2) Natural selection rewards adaptive behavior and punishes maladaptive behavior. But natural selection does not care about the truth or falsity of an animal's beliefs. If beliefs produce adaptive behavior, they will be rewarded by natural selection regardless of whether the beliefs are true or false. Therefore, the evolution of adaptive behavior in our prehistoric ancestors did not guarantee or make it probable that our cognitive faculties would be reliable in generating mostly true beliefs.

(3) From this it follows that the Darwinian naturalist has no good reason to trust his cognitive faculties as reliable. But then it follows that the Darwinian naturalist has no good reason to feel confident that his belief in naturalism is true. Consequently, Darwinian naturalism is self-defeating in that it contradicts itself.

(4) Darwinian science--and science generally--can escape this self-defeating position by rejecting naturalism and accepting theism, because theism believes that our human minds were created by God in His image such that we can understand the intelligible world He has created, and therefore we can be confident in the reliability of our divinely created cognitive faculties. This is compatible with evolutionary science, because we can assume that God has guided the evolutionary process, perhaps by causing those random mutations that He foresaw as facilitating the evolution of the human mind in its capacity for correctly understanding the world. This is also necessary for evolutionary science because it supports our confidence in the validity of human reason and escapes the incoherence of naturalism.

The weak link in Plantinga's argument for metaphysical naturalism as self-defeating is step 2, where he assumes that adaptive behavior is completely unrelated to true belief. The evidence of evolutionary history suggests that evolution produces cognitive faculties that are reliable but fallible. The mental abilities of animals, including human beings, are fallible because evolution produces adaptations that are good enough but not perfect, and this results in the mental fallibility that is familiar to us.

But despite this fallibility, the mental faculties cannot be absolutely unreliable, so that we might be in a state of utter delusion, as the Cartesian skeptic claims. Even Plantinga concedes (in his debate with Daniel Dennett) that in the evolution of animals, "adaptive behavior requires accurate indicators."  So, for example, a frog must have sensory equipment that allows him to accurately detect flies so that he can catch them with his tongue.

The waggle dance of honeybees is another dramatic example of how evolution by natural selection favors adaptive behavior that tracks the truth about the world.

This suggests that we can account for the natural evolution of reliable cognitive faculties without assuming a theistic explanation of human mental capacity as a product of divine creation in the image of God.

Even without attributing any conscious beliefs to honeybees, the remarkable accuracy of their waggle dance illustrates how natural evolution--even without divine guidance--can produce animal cognition and communication that shows an accurate representation of the world as related to the needs of the animal.

Or would Lewis and Plantinga argue that this can only be explained as the work of God--that the cognitive abilities of honeybees show that they have been created in the image of God--because otherwise we would have no reason to believe in the accuracy of their dance?

In my next post, I will take up the account of Lewis's Lockean Liberalism provided by Dyer and Watson.

Some of my other posts on Lewis are here, here, and here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Ian Vasquez on the Human Freedom Index

Ian Vasquez is the Director of the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.  He has supervised the development of the Human Freedom Index.  In response to my previous post, he has sent me the following comments:

               You bring up many good points and I’m pleased the HFI can play a role in more carefully thinking about those issues—indeed, that’s one of its very purposes. I would, however, correct one misperception in your review. In point 4, you say that we do not (or that we believe we should not) identify unofficial or social restraints on freedom. Most of the HFI identifies official restraints, so I can understand why a reader could have that impression. But we say in the report that we are measuring freedom of interference “predominantly by government” (p. 7), but not exclusively so. Thus we have measures on homicides or female infanticide, for example, that are mostly non-official violations of freedom. In some cases, like female genital mutilation, they also reflect social practices that are restraints on freedom. A limited number of our indicators, moreover, explicitly recognize customary practices that restrict freedom. Such is the case with the divorce measurement we use. For the most part we are measuring government infringements on liberty, even in the case of divorce, but not always. The question of whether to measure social practices that may seem “tyrannical” or restrictive of freedom is a tricky one. I admit we don’t delve into that issue in the report, though in our seminars we did discuss the issue. To a great extent, the fact that there are really no international indices that measure social restraints, allowed us to focus the HFI as we did. I agree, however, that we might do a better job clarifying this issue.

                On parental rights and divorce, our indicators really are a sort of proxy for women’s rights insofar as they compare the extent to which women and men have the same rights in a given country. This is somewhat different than measuring those rights themselves or, for that matter, the rights of children. We are of course implying that parents should have rights over their children, but we don’t discuss or measure to what extent, something that differs from country to country (and as far as I know, no country gives absolute rights to parents to do what they want with their children). The question of how the rights of children fit into a social order based on negative freedom is also worthy of a full discussion and is a challenge some classical liberals have taken up as you point out. But we don’t get into that in the HFI. Here again, I know of no international empirical index that we could use that measures children’s rights according to a classical liberal definition.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Human Progress: (6) Measuring the Evolution of Freedom

Classical liberals argue that human freedom is good, because when human beings are free from coercion, they will voluntarily cooperate in the evolution of spontaneous orders that are more successful in satisfying human desires than any planned order using coercive power to achieve its goals.  This is an empirical claim about the evolution of human nature, human history, and human progress that requires empirical confirmation by the measurement of freedom and its consequences.

Since 1995 classical liberals at the Fraser Institute (a Canadian think tank) have published an annual Economic Freedom of the World that ranks the countries of the world according to their levels of economic freedom.  Beginning in 2012, the Fraser Institute has cooperated with the Cato Institute and the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation for Freedom to produce an annual Human Freedom Index that ranks countries according to a comprehensive index of  human freedom that combines economic freedom and personal freedom. 

As is characteristic of classical liberals, they define freedom in a negative way as the absence of coercive constraint.  They use 79 distinct indicators of freedom in the following 12 categories:

Rule of Law
Security and Safety
Association, Assembly, and Civil Society

Size of Government
Legal System and Property Rights
Access to Sound Money
Freedom to Trade Internationally
Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business

The most recent Human Freedom Index (HFI) covers 159 countries for 2014, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available.  The data are not collected by the authors but come from the most credible sources (for example, the World Justice Project, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Freedom House).

For each of the 79 indicators, countries are scored on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents the highest level of freedom.  The scores for each of the 12 categories are averaged.  These are then averaged for personal freedom and economic freedom.  The final score for freedom in general is the average of these two, so that personal freedom and economic freedom are weighted equally.

For 2014, the top 10 freest countries, with three tied for 6th place, were:

1. Hong Kong
2. Switzerland
3. New Zealand
4. Ireland
5. Denmark
6. Canada
6. United Kingdom
6. Australia
9. Finland
10. Netherlands

Other countries rank as follows: Germany (13), Norway (13), Sweden (15), USA (23), France (31), Japan (32), Singapore (40), South Africa (74), India (87), Russia (115), Nigeria (140), China (141), Saudi Arabia (144), Zimbabwe (148), Venezuela (154), and Iran (157).  The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America.  The lowest are in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

The HFI can be used to study how freedom contributes to human well-being.  For example, the highest levels of human freedom are strongly correlated with wealth (higher per capita income) and democracy (except for Hong Kong).  The correlation with wealth is what we would expect from Smithian economic theory: the gains from specialization, exchange, and productive efficiency associated with economic freedom should tend to generate higher levels of income and growth rates.

The HFI and the writings of the authors of the report (Ian Vasquez and Tanja Porcnik) suggest to me 10 questions.

1.  Is it reasonable to measure only negative liberty? 

In his famous essay "Two Concepts of Liberty," Isaiah Berlin distinguished two conflicting ways of defining liberty that had emerged in modern intellectual history.  In its "negative" sense, liberty could be defined as not being coerced or constrained by others. Liberty in this sense means liberty from.  This is the individualistic liberty defended by liberals, who want to protect the individual's freedom from coercion by others.

In its "positive" sense, however, liberty could be defined as self-mastery or self-realization, in that one frees oneself from the constraints of one's irrational desires and beliefs, so that one's true self or higher self can prevail.  Liberty in this sense means liberty to.  This is the liberty espoused by social reformers who argue that we need to free ourselves from the constraints that we impose on ourselves so that we can find our true selves.

Positive liberty has a benign form that is compatible with negative liberty.  For example, in a liberal society, people can choose to join a religious group (like the Amish) or a socialist commune (like the kibbutz) that imposes severe restrictions on its members, but as long as membership is voluntary, and members can choose to leave, this is an exercise of their negative liberty.

And yet positive liberty also has a dangerous form that denies negative liberty.  For example, a Marxist socialist community might dictate that people cannot be truly free until they have been liberated from their bourgeois class consciousness, and for this liberation they must be forced to be free, perhaps by being coerced in "re-education" camps.  Such socialist liberty becomes the total denial of individual liberty.

The conception of negative liberty is stated by John Locke in the Second Treatise (sec. 57):
"The end of Law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge Freedom: For in all the states of created beings capable of Laws, where there is no Law, there is no Freedom. For Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others which it cannot be, where there is no Law: But Freedom is not, as we are told, A Liberty for every Man to do what he lists: (For who could be free, when every other Man's Humour might domineer over him?) But a Liberty to dispose, and order, as he lists, his Person, Actions, Possessions, and his whole Property, within the Allowance of those Laws under which he is; and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary Will of another, but freely follow his own."
The conception of positive liberty is stated by Thomas Hill Green in his famous 1881 lecture against freedom of contract ("Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract" ):
"We shall probably all agree that freedom rightly understood is the greatest of blessings; that its attainment is the true end of all our effort as citizens.  But when we thus speak of freedom, we should consider carefully what we mean by it.  We do not mean merely freedom from restraint of compulsion.  We do not mean merely freedom to do as we like irrespectively of what it is that we like. . . . we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying, and that, too, something that we do or enjoy in common with others. . . . the mere removal of compulsion, the mere enabling a man to do as he likes, is in itself no contribution to true freedom. . . . the ideal of true freedom is the maximum of power for all members of human society alike to make the best of themselves."
Thus, "true freedom" requires that we be forced to do what we ought to do, which is what we "really" want to do, because only this way do we make the best of ourselves.  So, for example, Green argued for the legal prohibition of alcohol:
"The citizens of England now make its law.  We ask them by law to put a restraint on themselves in the matter of strong drink. We ask them further to limit, or even altogether to give up, the not very precious liberty of buying and selling alcohol, in order that they may become more free to exercise the faculties and improve the talents which God has given them."
Notice that despite the differences between Locke and Green in their defining freedom, they agree that the negative freedom from the restraint of compulsion is not unlimited, because it must be limited by law.  After all, the legal protection of negative freedom requires legal constraints on the freedom of those who would interfere with the freedom of others.  Under a liberal system of the rule of law, we are free to live as we please only so long as this does not impede the equal freedom of others, and thus legal coercion is justified to enforce this limit.

Green argued that the freedom of contract for workers negotiating with employers could not be a "true freedom" without laws protecting workers from being exploited by employers who were in a superior bargaining position.  Even Berlin conceded this point:
"As a plea for justice, and a denunciation of the monstrous assumption that workmen were (in any sense that mattered to them) free agents in negotiating with employers in his time, Green's essay can scarcely be improved upon.  The workers, in theory, probably enjoyed wide negative freedom.  But since they lacked the means of its realization, it was a hollow gain.  Hence I find nothing to disagree with in Green's recommendations; I reject only the metaphysical doctrine of the two selves--the individual streams versus the social river in which they should be merged, a dualistic fallacy used too often to support a variety of despotisms." (Liberty, 2002, pp. 41-42) 
Classical liberals like Vasquez and Porcnik are reluctant to concede this point--that the freedom to do something (like finding a satisfying job) requires "the means of its realization" that might be secured by law.  Classical liberals argue that it is confusing and incoherent to define the word "freedom" so that the conditions necessary for the successful exercise of a freedom are themselves "freedoms."  The freedom to contract with an employer for employment and having a satisfying job are both good things.  But they are not the same thing.  It might be true that in the long run the negative freedom of contract will generally increase the likelihood that workers will find satisfying jobs, but to decide whether this is true requires clear and precise definitions that distinguish freedom and the consequences of freedom, so that we can see the cause and effect relationships.

Moreover, to define freedom so broadly that it includes the conditions for its successful exercise is incoherent in that the legal coercion to enforce the conditions would deny individual freedom.  So, for example, to legally enforce certain conditions of employment denies the employer's and the employee's freedom of contract.

Consequently, classical liberals like Vasquez and Porcnik see many of the international statements on human rights as not providing proper standards for measuring freedom, because they include as "rights" many claims to good things that go beyond and even contradict negative freedom.  So, for example, classical liberals might agree with the affirmation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 that "everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person" (Article 3); but they would disagree with the Declaration's claim that "everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay" (Article 24), because while rest, leisure, and paid holidays are certainly good things, they cannot be legally mandated without infringing on the freedom of employers and employees to contract for the conditions of employment. (Article 24 is one of the articles introduced in the drafting of the Declaration by socialist delegates from Latin America and supported by the communist bloc.)  And yet a Human Freedom Index with freedom defined in a purely negative way might show that countries with high levels of negative freedom tend to provide more good jobs for more people than countries with low levels of negative freedom.

While limiting their Human Freedom Index to negative freedom, Vasquez and Porcnik invite the proponents of positive freedom to devise their own indexes of positive freedom, which can then be compared with the index of negative freedom.  They point out, however, that people with different ideological commitments will disagree on their standards of measurement for positive freedom

2.  In measuring freedom, should we attempt to measure restrictions on freedom designed to enhance freedom? 

Vasquez and Porcnik say no.  They recognize, as Locke does, that the proper end of law is to preserve and enlarge freedom, and that this requires legal limits on freedom.  So, for example, a system of criminal justice and the compulsory taxation necessary to pay for this system restrict freedom, but they do not try to include this in their measurement of freedom.

This points to a general problem for classical liberalism in its commitment to limited government, as opposed to anarchism in its denial that any government can properly constrain freedom.  Classical liberals believe that the protection of liberty requires at least some limited government to coercively enforce that protection through the rule of law.  But anarchists believe that even a limited government with coercive power will necessarily deprive people of their natural liberty.

3.  Does freedom include democracy? 

Generally, people measuring the progress of freedom in the modern world have pointed to the increasing spread of democracies around the world.  But the HFI does not include democracy as an indicator of freedom.  Classical liberals like Vasquez and Porcnik do not regard democracy per se as supporting individual freedom, because the power of a democratic majority can be just as threatening to the liberty of minorities as an autocratic dictator, and actually a dictator who chooses not to interfere much in the private lives of his subjects could be supportive of freedom.  A liberal democracy that is constitutionally limited and dedicated to respecting individual rights is perhaps most desirable.

The HFI can be used to show the correlation between freedom and democracy.  As Vasquez and Porcnik indicate, Hong Kong stands out as an outlier.  It has the highest freedom ranking, and yet it is not a democracy.  It is a unique case.  It was a British colony until 1997, and since then it has been under Chinese administration, but with a special status--"one country, two systems."  The pro-democracy protests that have broken out in Hong Kong in recent years suggest that the present arrangements are unstable.

As Max Roser has shown (in his essay "Democracy"), there has been a slow increase in the number of democracies around the world, beginning in 1800 when there were almost no democracies in the world, although this was interrupted during and between the two world wars by an increase in autocracies.  After 1945, there was a renewed growth in the number of democracies, but also growth in the number of autocracies.  Then, in 1989, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a dramatic shift towards democracy around the world.

Using the data from the Polity IV project, Roser shows that the proportion of the world population of citizens living in democracies has increased from 0.87% in 1816 to 12% in 1900, declined to 9.4% in 1941, and then increased again to 50% in 1994 and 56% in 2015.  This is the most stunning turn in the political history of humanity, particularly when one considers that not only were there few democracies in the world prior to 1800, but that in those older democracies (like Athens) the body of democratic citizens was restricted to a small portion of the population as opposed to the expansion of citizenship in modern democracies.

Democracies tend to be richer countries.  Autocracies tend to be poorer, with the exception of the autocracies that are rich because of the wealth coming from exporting fossil fuels.  Democracies tend to be less violent, both domestically and internationally.  And democracies tend to be healthier, as measured by low child mortality.

But still the classical liberals are right to warn that illiberal democracies can suppress freedom.  The current rise in the popularity of demagogues promoting ethnic nationalism and other illiberal policies (like suppressing free trade) is an indication of this.

4. In measuring freedom, should we identify not only official or governmental restraints on freedom but also unofficial or social restraints? 

Vasquez and Porcnik say no.  Here they take the side of Friedrich Hayek against John Stuart Mill.  In On Liberty, Mill thought he had to defend individual liberty not only against governmental coercion but also against social coercion--"social tyranny," the "tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling," or the "despotism of custom."  By contrast, Hayek thought the pressure of public approval or disapproval in enforcing moral rules should not be identified as coercion that threatens liberty (The Constitution of Liberty, 62-63, 146-47, 402, 451, n. 20; Law, Legislation, and Liberty, vol. 3, 167-68, 170-71).  On the contrary, he thought that in a liberal order, society but not the state would have to enforce moral virtue through customary social norms of conduct.  Adam Smith shows how this is done in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.  This supports the fusionism of liberal conservatives who can promote the combination of social virtue and political liberty.

5. Does measuring freedom require personal judgment? 

Vasquez and Porcnik claim that they have achieved objectivity in their scoring of the indicators of freedom for each country because the collection and analysis of data comes from outside sources.  But don't these outside sources depend on the personal judgments of the people involved?  In some cases, the dependence on personal judgment might be minimized--as, for example, with the data for homicide rates.  But in most cases, won't the scoring depend on human judgment?  Even with something like homicide that might be easily measured, we have to exercise judgment in deciding how important this factor is for freedom, which leads to the question of weight.

6.  In measuring freedom, how do we weigh the various indicators?

In measuring freedom, classical liberals often assign great weight to economic freedom, as reflected in the Fraser Institute's index for the Economic Freedom of the World.  Some people object to this because it gives no weight to personal freedom, although classical liberals might argue that economic freedom is crucial for our personal freedom.  Recently, Andreas Kohl and Juan Pina have produced a World Index of Moral Freedom that ranks 160 countries for their levels of moral freedom, using an index divided into five categories of indicators: religion, bioethics, drugs, sexuality, and gender and family.  If freedom is rightly understood as absence of coercion, they argue, then moral freedom can be defined as absence of moral coercion in these areas of decision-making.  So how much weight should we give to these different kinds of freedom?

The Human Freedom Index of Vasquez and Porcnik combines economic freedom and personal freedom, giving equal weight to each.  (What Vasquez and Porcnik call personal freedom includes some of the factors belonging to what Kohl and Pina call moral freedom.)  But then the various indicators within these two categories have to be weighed.  They accept the weights assigned in the Fraser Institute index for economic freedom.  They then must assign weights for the indicators of personal freedom. 

The Human Freedom Index is derived from a total of 79 distinct variables (42 from the economic freedom index and 37 from the personal freedom index).  To produce the personal freedom index, Vasquez and Porcnik rate each of the 37 indicators on a 0-10 scale, with 10 representing the most freedom.  They then average the scores for these indicators as divided into seven categories: (1) Rule of Law, (2) Security and Safety, (3) Movement, (4) Religion, (5) Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, (6) Expression, and (7) Relationships.  They then average the scores for the first two categories--Rule of Law, Security and Safety--to get a score for Legal Protection and Security.  And they average the scores for the other five categories to get a score for Specific Personal Freedoms.  The average of these two scores is the score for the Personal Freedom Index. 

The point of this scheme of weighing is to give a lot of weight to Legal Protection and Security.  This weight is even greater when one notices, as Vasquez and Porcnik point out, that the Economic Freedom of the World index includes nine variables in the area of "Legal System and Property Rights," which measure "how effectively the protective functions of government are performed."  Consequently, the Human Freedom Index gives very heavy weighting to the Rule of Law as fundamental for freedom.  Like Locke, Hayek, and other classical liberals, Vasquez and Porcnik emphasize the primacy of equal treatment under the rule of law in protecting individual freedom by limiting arbitrary coercion coming from many different sources. 

Thus, their weighing of indicators of freedom depends on their philosophic judgment about what is most important for human freedom.

(7)  Does the freedom of parental rights violate the freedom of children?

In measuring freedom in "relationships," Vasquez and Porcnik score three indicators: "parental rights," "same-sex relationships," and "divorce."

In describing their data sources for "parental rights," as coming from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, they write:  "Measurement is based on whether women and men have the same right (1) to be the legal guardian of a child during marriage and (2) to be the legal guardian of and have custody rights over a child after divorce" (Human Freedom Index 2016, 198).

So they assume that an important element of freedom is parents having the right to be legal guardians of children.  But if all people have an equal right to freedom, as Vasquez and Porcnik say, then why doesn't this include children?  And if so, does the freedom of children conflict with the freedom of parents to act as guardians of their children?

For Vasquez and Porcnik, one of the indicators of "Security and Safety" is "Women's Security and Safety."  And one of the indicators for this is "Female Genital Mutilation," which they measure by "the percentage of women in the country who have undergone any type of female genital mutilation" (HFI 2016, 192). 

I have written some posts on this (here, and here,).  Typically, the genital mutilation of women is carried out by mothers on their young daughters.  There is no legal coercion.  Rather, this is a customary tradition enforced by parents on their children.  As indicated above, Vasquez and Porcnik say that they do not regard customary traditions enforced by social pressure as violations of freedom, but here they seem to depart from that position.  Moreover, this identification of the genital mutilation of children by their parents as a violation of freedom contradicts their claim that parental guardianship of children should be legally protected as individual freedom.

Classical liberals often have trouble in determining the moral status of children.  Classical liberals speak about the human freedom of adults and pass over children in silence.  As I have argued in a previous post, Steven Horwitz is one of the few classical liberals who has tried to give an account of how family life and children fit into the classical liberal understanding of human freedom.  He rightly argues that, as Hayek recognized, the human family is not a spontaneous order but a deliberate organization depending on central planning by parents.  He also rightly argues that while children cannot properly be treated as full adults with the rights of adults, they should be treated as human beings with the potential for becoming adults with the freedom of adults, and so parents exercise a stewardship over children that can be revoked if the parents abuse or neglect their children. 

Locke recognized this in saying that while "all men by nature are equal," children are "not born in this full state of equality, though they are born to it," and parents have a temporary rule and jurisdiction over them until they attain the age and reason that gives them the freedom of adulthood (Second Treatise, secs. 54-55).

By this standard, we might say that parents do not rightly have the freedom to impose genital mutilation on their children.  Once daughters become adults, they might then be free to choose female circumcision for themselves; and indeed some women argued for this.

(8)  Does the Human Freedom Index show the success of the Nordic social democracies as capitalist welfare states?

Many classical liberals today warn against welfare state policies as a form of socialism that threatens freedom.  Friedrich Hayek did not agree with this.  The third part of his Constitution of Liberty is entitled "Freedom in the Welfare State," and there he argued that while socialism understood as the public ownership of the means of production was the greatest threat to individual freedom, the welfare state was compatible with individual freedom, because the welfare state was not socialism.  Some of Hayek's classical liberal friends--like Ludwig von Mises--criticized him for making this argument.  But the Human Freedom Index vindicates Hayek on this point by showing that some of the most extensive welfare states today--particularly, the Nordic social democracies (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland)--have some of the highest rankings for human freedom.

For those classical liberals who think Hayek was mistaken, because the welfare state is a form of socialism that must subvert freedom, there must be something wrong with the Human Freedom Index insofar as it incorrectly ranks the Nordic social democracies as having the highest levels of freedom.

As I have indicated in a previous post on the Nordic social democracies, these regimes are in fact not truly socialist, because they embrace the freedom of liberal capitalism.  In the Human Freedom Index, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden rank among the top 15 countries, which puts them above the United States, which ranks at 23rd.  Although the United States ranks a little ahead of them in the economic freedom ranking, they all rank far ahead of the United States in the personal freedom ranking.  This suggests that these Nordic social democracies should be seen not as socialist countries but as capitalist welfare states.

Socialists (like Bernie Sanders) who point to the Nordic social democracies as their model are showing that they have abandoned true socialism as too great a threat to human freedom.

(9)  Does the Human Freedom Index show that human freedom generally promotes human well-being or flourishing?

That seems to be indicated by the strong correlation between the Human Freedom Index and many of the standard measures of human well-being.  For example, the Economist Intelligence Unit has developed a "Quality-of-Life Index.", which includes the results of subjective life satisfaction surveys and objective measurements of GDP per capita, life expectancy at birth, family life (based on divorce rates), political freedom, job security, climate, personal physical security, community life (membership in social organizations), governance (ratings for corruption), and gender equality.  Here are the rankings for the top 17 countries with the HFI rankings in parentheses:

1. Switzerland (2)
2. Australia (6)
3. Norway (13)
4. Sweden (15)
5. Denmark (5)
6. Singapore (40)
7. New Zealand (3)
8. Netherlands (10)
9. Canada (6)
10. Hong Kong (1)
11. Finland (9)
12. Ireland (4)
13. Austria (11)
14. Taiwan (26)
15. Belgium (17)
16. Germany (13)
16. United States (23)

Notice that 9 of the top 10 countries on the HFI list are within the top 12 on this list.  The one exception is the United Kingdom, which is 6 on the HFI list and 27 on the Quality of Life Index.

Of course, as we always say, correlation is not causation.  But such a strong correlation does suggest a strong association between human freedom and human happiness.  Such a strong association might be rooted in human genetic and cultural evolution.

10.  Is human freedom and its connection to human happiness rooted in human evolution?

I have argued that our evolved human nature includes at least 20 natural desires, and that a liberal social order can be judged as the best social order insofar as it secures the freedom that allows human beings to most fully satisfy those natural desires.  Moreover, the desire for freedom itself might be seen as a naturally evolved desire insofar as human beings have an evolved resistance to being dominated by the arbitrary will of others. 

I have elaborated my reasoning in my paper on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism," which was presented in 2013 at the special meeting in the Galapagos Islands of the Mont Pelerin Society on the theme "Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty."

The Human Freedom Index helps us to judge whether the empirical data about freedom and its consequences can confirm this argument for Darwinian liberalism.  That it might has been suggested by Paul Rubin in an essay on "Evolution and Freedom," which was published in the first book on developing the Human Freedom Index--Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Human Progress: (5) Life is More Peaceful

"The Hanging" by Jacques Callot, published in 1633 as the 11th in a series of 18 etchings entitled "The Miseries and Misfortunes of War," depicting the destruction and suffering of civilians in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), often called the first anti-war statement in European art. As many as 8 million people were killed in the war.

Perhaps the most fundamental principle of classical liberalism is the promotion of peaceful cooperation and the denial that violence is ever justified except in defense against violence.  Those who join the Libertarian Party of the United States must pledge: "I certify that I oppose the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals."  Few people can honestly take that pledge, because many people think that violence or the threat of violence is justified in some cases to force people to do something that they would not voluntarily choose to do.  Progressive liberals want to use coercion to enforce economic planning. Traditionalist conservatives want to use coercion to enforce social morality.  And yet the liberal norm of non-violence has become ever more appealing in human history, particularly in the past few centuries, as indicated by the decline in many forms of violence.  Liberalism has made life more peaceful and less violent than it has ever been.

The best book surveying the evidence for declining violence is Steven Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature (2011)I wrote a long series of posts on Pinker's book from October of 2011 to January of 2012, and in April of 2014.  I also have a chapter on Pinker in Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker (2016).  Pinker's argument shows the influence of James Payne's History of Force (2004), which lays out the reasoning for declining violence as founded in classical liberalism.  Another good survey of this history that stresses the importance of taming the male propensity to violence is Robert Muchembled's A History of Violence: From the End of the Middle Ages to the Present (2012). Recently, the history of declining violence in England has been presented in James Sharpe's A Fiery and  Furious People: A History of Violence in England (2016).  Max Roser shows the empirical data for declining violence in his articles under the categories "War and Peace" and "Violence and Rights."

In Roser's "Ethnographic and Archaeological Evidence on Violent Deaths," he attempts to collect every archeological and ethnographic record of violent deaths in non-state societies.  I have noticed only one omission--the recent report (in January of this year) of prehistoric skeletal evidence for a prehistoric massacre of a foraging band found at the site of Nataruk, west of Lake Turkana in Kenya.  I wrote a post on this.  Roser started with Pinker's collection of the data.  But he asked Pinker's critics to suggest corrections, and indeed he did correct a few mistakes after examining all of the original sources for Pinker's data and adding sources not included by Pinker.

Roser includes killings in both inter-group  wars and intra-group homicides.  And thus he sidesteps the debate over whether the evidence for violence among foraging bands shows warfare or only personal homicide--a debate that I have covered in various posts.  He analyzes these violent deaths among non-state societies as both rates (homicies per 100,000 people) and shares (percentage of a sample of deaths that were due to homicide).

He concludes that there was much more violent death in the non-state societies studied by archaeologists and anthropologists than in modern state societies and in the world today.  While he does not say so explicitly, Roser confirms the argument of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke that state of nature was a state of war, and that the establishment of formal government was necessary for the pacification of human life.

In "Homicides," Roser defines homicide as "unlawful death deliberately inflicted on one person by another person," which does not include interstate wars, civil wars, or genocides.  His survey of the data shows a stunning decline from the Middle Ages to the present in the rate of homicides per 100,000 population per year in Western Europe and the English-speaking countries.  Over the past century, a similar decline has appeared in many other countries around the world.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, for example, the homicide rate has dropped from 45 in 1450, to 25 in 1550, to 6 in 1625, to 2 in 1812.  Italy has had the highest rates in Europe.  But even here there has been a decline: 73 (1450), 47 (1550), 32 (1625), 18 (1812).

By 1960, homicide rates were down to around 1 for most European countries. There was a rise from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but then the decline resumed.

The homicide rates for the United States have generally been higher than in Canada and Europe: 1.2 in 1900, 9.7 in 1933, 4.5 in 1958, 10.55 in 1980, 10.4 in 1991, 5 today.  The rates for the United States are highest in the American South.

Today, the lowest rates (around 1) are in Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. The highest rates are in South Africa (35), Columbia (36), Guatemala (43), Venezuela (46), and the Honduras (61).  High rates are often associated with the violence of the drug trade.

In 1880, homicide rates were low in Northwestern Europe, but higher in Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, and Greece).  By 2000, all of Western Europe had low rates, and the higher rates were in Eastern Europe.

Low and middle-income nations tend to have higher homicide rates than do high-income nations.

Homicide is predominantly a male activity.  In the United States, around 85% of the killers and around 75% of the victims are male.  Most homicides are men killing men.  And it's mostly young men (20-30 years old).

There is a problem, however, in visualizing the historical trend in homicide that also comes up in judging the historical trend in war.  In looking at Roser's visual presentation of the data, do we really see a "decline" in homicide and war?  If by decline we mean a line that smoothly slopes downward, then there's no such decline, because the lines show spikes up and down.  So, for example, in the United States and Europe, homicide rates spiked upward from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, and then declined.

The same is true in examining the historical data for warfare.  In Roser's "War and Peace over the Long Run,"  he presents a "Chart of Global Deaths in Conflicts since the Year 1400."  Each pink circle represents one conflict.  The size of the circle represents the absolute number of war deaths.  The position of the circle on the y-axis represents the rate of war deaths (the number of deaths per 100,000 of world population).

This chart shows vividly that the two world wars of the first half of the 20th century were the most destructive conflicts in human history as measured by both the absolute number of deaths and the rate of deaths.  World War Two--with 60 million deaths--stands out as the most deadly single conflict in human history.  Thus, the empirical data would seem to deny the claim of Roser and Pinker that violence in war has been declining, because the data seem to show clearly that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history.  That's the conclusion of Matthew White in his book The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities (2012).  And yet both Roser and Pinker draw some of their data from White.

White ranks the Second World War as the worst atrocity of human history.  But he also concludes his book by identifying the interconnected events stretching from the First World War to the deaths of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao as the "Hemoclysm" (Greek for "blood flood") as the Number 1 atrocity of human history, with a collective death toll of 150 million.  How can this be reconciled with the argument for modern history showing a trend of declining violence?

One response from both Roser and Pinker is to point to the sharp decline in military violence after 1950 as showing that the violence of the first half of the 20th century was only a temporary deviation from a long historical trend of declining violence. As Pinker says, we can see World War Two as "an isolated peak in a declining sawtooth--the last gasp in a long slide of major war into obsolescence" (Better Angels, 192).

Another response to White's ranking of atrocities is to reinterpret the data.  Roser's "Chart of Global Deaths in Conflicts" shows that while the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was not the worst war in the absolute number of fatalities, it was almost as deadly as the two world wars in the rate of fatalities, measured as a proportion of the world population at the time.

Like Roser, Pinker uses the rate of fatalities in proportion to world population to revise White's ranking of atrocities.  As I have indicated in a previous post, Pinker can be criticized for his manipulation of the numbers here.  By changing White's numbers, Pinker can conclude that the Number 1 atrocity of all time was the An Lushan Revolt and Civil War in China in the 8th century, and World War Two drops to Number 9 on the list.  (Roser does not mention the An Lushan Revolt, and it does not appear on his "Chart of Global Deaths in Conflicts," which goes back only to the year 1400.)  Pinker's changing of the numbers seems dubious to me.

There is, however, one good argument for why the violence of the 20th century--particularly, the first half of the century--does not deny Pinker's theory of history as showing declining violence.  The historical trend towards decreasing violence and increasing liberty depends on the spreading influence of classical liberal culture based on the principle that violence is never justified except  in defense against violence.  In the 80-year-long Hemoclysm seen by White, three illiberal individuals leading illiberal regimes were responsible--directly or indirectly--for most of the violent deaths: Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.  White saw the communist regimes as responsible for 70 million deaths, which would justify ranking communism as the Number 1 atrocity--even greater than World War Two--except that it's hard to think of the whole communist movement as one event.  That illiberal leaders and regimes have been the primary sources of violence in the 20th century confirms Pinker's argument for the pacifying effects of liberalism.

Because of the contingency of history, we can never be sure that illiberal movements will not arise and cause great disasters.  Some day, we might see another Stalin, or Hitler, or Mao, or Pol Pot.  Or we might see a global catastrophe emerge from the growing spread of illiberal Islamic radicalism or illiberal ethnic nationalism.  (I have posts on such possibilities herehere, and  here.)  And that's why Pinker is clear in stating that there is no inevitability in the historical trend towards declining violence, because it could be reversed by illiberal turns (xxi, 361-77, 480).  But insofar as classical liberal ideas and norms spread around the world, they can increase the odds in favor of declining violence, which is what has happened since World War Two.

Roser presents the data for this in his "War and Peace after 1945."  Amazingly, while world population has increased dramatically--from 2 billion in 1945 to 6 billion in 2000, and then to 7 billion in 2010--the absolute numbers of war deaths has declined.  In World War Two, over 60 million people were killed.  But in the year 1949, global war deaths were down to 596,086.  By 2007, global war deaths were down to 22,139.

The battle death rate (annual world-wide battle deaths per 100,000 people) has also declined: from 21.8 in 1949 to less than 1 in 2010.

Another change is that while today civil wars and civil wars with foreign intervention (like the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan) continue, interstate wars have almost ceased to exist.

But then, of  course, many people today see increasing terrorism as the new form of global violence that we should fear.  This popular perception began with the 9/11 attack, which was the single most deadly terrorist attack in human history--over 3,000 victims.  So the 9/11 attack is similar to World War Two in appearing to refute the belief in declining violence in modern times. 

Roser shows, in his article on "Terrorism," that if one includes terrorist attacks in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003, then terrorist violence appears to have skyrocketed since 2000.  But if one excludes Afghanistan and Iraq as special cases, then the rate of deaths from terrorism world-wide has dropped since the 1980s and 1990s, as Pinker has argued.

Moreover, one can contend, as Roser suggests, that the illiberal War on Terror of the Bush administration initiated in response to the 9/11 attack has been the leading cause of terrorism.  Roser quotes from Richard Clarke, a counter-terrorism expert: "Far from addressing the popular appeal of the enemy that attacked us, Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed, proof tht America was at war with Islam, that we were the new Crusaders come to occupy Muslim land."

A liberal foreign policy would justify the use of military violence only in self-defense against violent attacks.  Since Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 attack, the U.S. led invasion of Iraq had no justification as self-defense.  Afghanistan in 2001 was connected to the 9/11 attack only insofar as there were Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.  Attacking these camps might have been justified as self-defense, but not the invasion of Afghanistan and the attempt at "nation-building," in using violence to enforce social and political goals in Afghanistan.

As Roser indicates in his analysis of data, terrorist violence has certainly increased in some parts of the world since 2001, particularly in parts of the Middle East and Africa, where Islamic Radicalism is strong.  But even so, the global risk on average of being the victim of terrorist violence is extremely low compared with other causes of death.  In 2010, the global death toll for terrorism was 13,186.  By comparison the global death toll for tobacco was 6,000,000 and for road traffic accidents 1,209,000.

Thus, the empirical data for terrorist violence in recent decades is compatible with the historical data over long stretches of time that shows that life has become less violent and more peaceful in the modern world as shaped by the norms and habits of classical liberalism.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Human Progress: (4) Life Shows More Equality of Opportunity

Five years ago, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement began when protesters settled into Zuccotti Park in New York City's Wall Street financial district.  Their slogan was "We Are the 99%"--to indicate their protest against the economic inequality that allows too much wealth to be concentrated in the top 1% of society. 

One of the protesters in the park held a poster that said: "Equality First! Liberty Later."

This suggests that equality and liberty are in conflict, and that fairness requires that equality take priority over liberty, that we sacrifice liberty to achieve equality.

Against this position, classical liberals argue that equality and liberty are compatible, as long as equality is rightly understood as equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome.  According to this liberal view, inequality of outcome is good inequality if it arises from equality of opportunity.   By this standard, the liberal social order has achieved human progress if life shows more equality of opportunity than ever before.

Despite the general agreement in American political debate on the idea that government should secure equal liberty for all individuals, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, Americans disagree about the best way to pursue that goal. 

Thomas Jefferson hoped that although previous regimes had promoted "an artificial aristocracy, founded on wealth and birth," American democracy would be ruled by "a natural aristocracy" grounded on "virtue and talents."  He thought that an educational system was needed that would allow the most talented few to rise to the top even if they were born poor and of low social status.  Democratic equality, therefore, would be an equality of opportunity that would give all people the liberty to develop their talents, so that the naturally best could rise to the top.

Abraham Lincoln conveyed this thought in his metaphor of life as a race.  The primary aim of popular government, he believed, was "to elevate the condition of men--to life artificial weights from all shoulders--to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all--to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life."  This is the noble vision that elevates American political rhetoric.  It's the American Dream--a fair chance for all to get ahead in life.  And, of course, Lincoln himself--born in a log cabin--was the exemplification of this American story.

And yet Lincoln's image of the race of life suggests a possible conflict between equality and liberty.  The fairness of the race demands equality at the starting line but liberty in the running of the race.  The faster runners must be free to take the lead and leave the slower runners behind.  But how can we be sure that the slower runners are not hindered by "artificial weights"?  How many of the slower runners were raised in families that didn't train them to run fast?  Were they perhaps born to parents who had already fallen behind in the race?  Is it unfair for the fast runners to be free to give their children a head start?  Was it unfair, for example, that Fred Trump gave his son Donald a head start in becoming a real estate developer in New York, and that Donald could later give his children the same head start?

Does fairness require that we occasionally stop the race, bring everyone back to the starting line, and then start again?  If so, what does this mean?  Would we have to abolish the family, because children born into different families will not be equal at the starting line? 

What should we do for those who from birth suffer physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from running well?  And what should we do for those who accidentally injure themselves during the race?  Should the faster runners be forced to help those who are unfairly disadvantaged? 

President Lyndon Johnson answered yes to this question in 1965, when he announced the policy of "affirmative action" to ensure for black Americans not just equality of opportunity but equality of result in the race of life.  Does this mean that slower runners must have a head-start in the race?

On the one hand, those of us who stress the fairness of equality would want to protect the unfortunate from unfair competition.  On the other hand, those of us who stress the fairness of liberty would want to protect the freedom of the fastest runners to win the trophies.

If we were serious about achieving equality of outcome, even at the expense of liberty, would we have to embrace pure socialism, in which the private family and private property would be abolished, and the means of production would be collectively owned by government?  This is what Karl Marx proposed.  And this is what has been attempted in some utopian socialist communities, like the original kibbutzim in Israel.  (As I have indicated in some previous posts here, and here., the kibbutzim have given up their attempts to abolish private property and private families.)

Max Roser's article on "Income Inequality." is a good survey of the empirical data on inequality in economic income.  But he does not distinguish inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity.  And so he does not consider the possibility that some of the inequality of income that we see arises from equality of opportunity.

He employs the Gini index as a measure of the income distribution of a population.  The Gini index is a number from zero to 1, where zero represents a distribution that is perfectly equal--so that 10% of the population earn 10% of the total income, 20% earn 20%, and so on--and 1 represents the maximum of inequality--so that one person has all the income of a population.  Another measure of income distribution is to calculate the share of total income or wealth received by various strata of the population--the top 1%, the top 20%, and so on.

Despite the debates over these measurements and what they mean, some patterns do emerge rather clearly. In the richest countries, there was great economic inequality at the beginning of the 20th century.  So that, for example, in the USA, before the Second World War, 18% of all the yearly income went to the richest 1%.  But then the share of the top 1% began to drop.  In 1980, in the USA, the richest 1% received 8% of the total income, much lower than the 18% before the war.  Then, however, inequality started to rise again.  By 2010, in the USA, the richest 1% received 17% of the total income, which was back up to the pre-war levels.  Other English-speaking countries (Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Australia) show the same U-shaped pattern: high inequality, then a drop down to the 1980s, and then rising again to the high levels of inequality seen at the beginning of the 20th century.

The pattern for much of continental Europe and Japan is a little different.  It's an L-shaped pattern: first high inequality, then a drop down to the 1980s, and then leveling off or only slightly rising over the past 25 years.  For example, in Sweden, the richest 1% in 1938 received 12% of the total yearly income, then in 1980, this was down to 4%, and in 2010, it was up slightly to 7%.  Sweden and the other Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Denmark) have the lowest levels of economic inequality today, apparently because their policies of Social Democracy (or Democratic Socialism) favor a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Those people who worry most about economic inequality--people like Thomas Piketty and Bernie Sanders--generally argue that the English-speaking countries should try to be more like the Nordic Social Democracies--using confiscatory progressive tax rates and social welfare programs to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor and the middle class.  To escape from an unfair inequality, they argue, we need to move from liberalism to socialism. (I have written a series of posts on Piketty that begins here.)

And yet, there are at least three objections to this argument for socialist equality.  The first is that the empirical data for economic inequality does not necessarily show a lack of equal opportunity, because there can be a lot of mobility into and out of the top economic ranks of society.

 In fact, there is a lot of evidence for such mobility.  Economists who study this have shown that over 50 percent of Americans will be in the top 10 percent of income-earners for at least one year in their lives.  Over 11 percent of Americans will be among the top 1 percent of income-earners (people making a minimum of $332,000 per year) for at least one year in their lives.  94 percent of the Americans who join the top 1 percent group will keep that status for only one year.

Moreover, the factors that explain higher household incomes among Americans are not fixed over a lifetime, and they are to some degree a matter of personal decisions, which means that people are not forced to remain in one income bracket for their whole lives.  American households with higher than average incomes tend to be households where the members are well-educated, in their prime earning years (between the ages of 35 and 64), working full-time, and are in stable marriages.  Households with lower than average incomes tend to be households where the members are less-educated, outside their prime earning years, unemployed or working only part-time, and they are likely to be unmarried.

A large part of the growth in economic inequality among Americans over the past 40 years has been a result of assortative mating:  college students marry people they have met in college, and then form two-income households with the higher income levels correlated with higher education.  These "power couples" are then in a position to help their children become successful, because their children will inherit the good genes of their parents as well as the good environments of rearing the parents provide.  Since high educational achievement is correlated with high IQ, and since the higher paying jobs in a highly technological and mentally challenging economy require higher intelligence, what we see here is the emergence of what Charles Murray has called a "cognitive elite."  So if we really wanted to reduce economic inequality, we would have to prohibit intelligent and well-educated people from marrying other intelligent and well-educated people.

Consequently, people can raise their chances of becoming wealthy by getting a good education, by getting married to other well-educated people, by getting lots of professional work experience, and by forming two-income households.  When people do this, they create economic inequality.  But isn't this good inequality?

That supports the second objection to socialist equality--inequality of outcome is not necessarily unfair if it arises from an inequality of skills, education, and intelligence.  As Roser shows in his article on "The Skill Premium," much of the growing inequality of income over the past 30 years can be explained as the growing gap between skilled and highly educated people and those who are unskilled and less educated.  The economic effects of technology and globalization have increased this gap.

The third objection to the argument for socialist equality as achieved by the Nordic Social Democracies is that these are not really socialist regimes but capitalist welfare states, and consequently they fail to achieve the absolute equality of outcome that would require a pure socialism that most human beings find undesirable.  As I have indicated in a previous post, the Nordic Social Democracies are highly ranked on the indexes for "economic freedom" compiled by the Heritage Foundation and the Frazer Institute.  This confirms Rosa Luxemburg's complaint that Eduard Bernstein's proposal for social democracy was actually a "variety of liberalism" and not true socialism. 

While it is true that the Nordic countries have a lower level of economic inequality than does the United States, it is also true that those countries have not achieved absolute equality.  So, for example, in 2007, the richest 1% in the United States had 33.8% of the total wealth, while the richest 1% in Sweden had 18.8%.

Only once have democratic socialists succeeded in creating real socialism with real socialist equality--in the kibbutz.  (Bernie Sanders volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1960s.) But once the kibbutzniks had created socialist equality, they chose democratically to abolish it, because most of them found life in a perfectly egalitarian community unbearable.  (I have written about the kibbutzim and other socialist communes in Darwinian Natural Right, pp. 92-101.)

The kibbutzniks were the pioneers of Jewish resettlement in Palestine.  The first kibbutz, Deganya, was founded in 1910.  By 1980, there were over 130,000 people in over 270 kibbutzim in Israel.

The kibbutzim practiced pure socialism that came as close to absolute equality as any human community has ever achieved.  The members rotated jobs.  They took all of their meals in a common dining hall.  They had no private property.  They did not even own the clothing they wore, which was provided for them by the community.  When children were born, they were sent to a children's house to be cared for and educated by the community.  Children were allowed to visit their parents only a few hours in the afternoon.  This was understood as necessary for the sexual equality of men and women, because women were free from the burden of caring for their children. All decisions about the organization of the community were made by consensus in a general assembly, usually held weekly, where every member participated equally.  The kibbutzniks saw themselves as putting into practice the Marxist principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."  They also seemed to be following Plato's recommendation in The Republic that the Guardians in the just city should not have private property or private families, because they should care for the common good of the whole community rather than their selfish private interests.

But then, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, young mothers began to complain that they did not have enough time with their children.  They wanted at least to be able to put their children to sleep at night.  As the children matured to adulthood, many of them left the kibbutz because they didn't like the communal childrearing.  Beginning in the 1970s, many of the kibbutzim decided to allow family sleeping rather than collective sleeping.  Socialists complained that allowing children to live with their parents would lead to the privatization of many things and inequality.

The kibbutzniks wanted not only private families but also private property.  Some of them returning from serving in the British army in World War Two came back with teakettles.  Allowing some people to own private teakettles, and to drink tea privately in their homes rather than in the communal dining room, violated socialist equality.  Then some people wanted to own their own clothes and to select their clothing.  They also wanted to own their homes.

The kibbutzim had to abandon job rotation to keep skilled people in their specialized jobs.  The most skilled workers wanted extra pay for their work, and they complained about those people who didn't work hard but received equal pay.  By the end of the 1990s, many kibbutzim were assigning wages according to skill level.

Henry Near has written the most comprehensive history of the kibbutzim--The Kibbutz Movement: A History (2 volumes).  He concluded:
"During most of the history of the kibbutz movement social change was justified (or resisted) on grounds which stemmed from, or were compatible with, a socialist world-view. From about 1980 onwards, however, the ideological background changed. . . . The improvisations were still ideologized, but the ideology was no longer that of socialism, but of late twentieth-century capitalism" (vol. 2, pp. 357-58).
The most fervently socialist of the kibbutzniks complained bitterly about this, and some of them lamented that they had tried to change human nature, but they had failed.

In a liberal social order, people are free to form egalitarian socialist communes like the kibbutz, as long as they are voluntary.  Indeed, in the history of the United States, there have been hundreds of such socialist communes, beginning with Robert Owen's New Harmony in Indiana (1825-1827).  Most of them lasted no longer than a few years.  Some of those that were animated by some religious faith lasted a few decades.   This shows that people devoted to socialist equality can form small communities that succeed for some time, and in the case of the kibbutzim, they succeeded for at least seventy years.  But eventually they must fail, because most human beings will find that the conditions for socialist equality--abolishing private families and private property--frustrate their deepest natural desires.

By contrast, liberal equality--equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome--is more achievable because it does not require changing human nature.

There is one major objection to my argument here.  Even if equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are different, aren't they connected, in that countries with a higher degree of equality of outcome tend to be countries with a higher degree of equality of opportunity?  That's the point of what some economists have called "The Great Gatsby Curve."  (See Miles Corak, "Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27 [2013]: 79-102.)

We might not regard income inequality as unfair as long as there is social mobility, so that children born into poor families have the opportunity to enter the high income levels as adults, and the children born into rich families do not always inherit the high income levels of their parents. 

This is how Abraham Lincoln interpreted equality in the race of life.  Speaking to Union soldiers in the Civil War who had come to meet him at the White House, he explained to them what they were fighting for:
"I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has.  It is in order that each of you here may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise, and intelligence, that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained" (August 22, 1864).
But the Great Gatsby Curve suggests that this equal opportunity in the race of life is no longer true in the United States and other rich countries (particularly the English-speaking countries), because income inequality lowers social mobility by shaping opportunity, so that the children of poor parents remain poor as adults, and the children of rich parents remain rich as adults.  The Great Gatsby Curve plots countries against a x-axis that is the Gini index of inequality and a y-axis that measures intergenerational immobility as the probability that people have the same income level as their parents.  The Curve rises and thus indicates that countries like the United States and the United Kingdom with high income inequality also have high intergenerational immobility, while countries like Norway and Finland with low income inequality also have low intergenerational immobility.

There are various factors to explain how parents pass on their economic status to their children.  Children might inherit genetic propensities from their parents (intelligence, talents, and personality traits) that make it more or less likely that they will enter high-paying occupations.  Rich parents might instill in their children the habits of self-discipline, ambitious striving, and education that are required for economic success.  Rich parents might help their children enter the expensive and highly selective schools that train their graduates for economic success.  Rich parents might also use their social connections to help their children find the best jobs for economic success.

Some critics of the Great Gatsby Curve say that it is being misinterpreted.  The differences between the United States and Norway, for example, might be due to the fact that the United States is a large and culturally diverse country, while Norway is a small and culturally homogeneous country, so that the inequality in the United States is actually mostly inequality between different cultural groups.

But this would not explain the differences between the United States and Canada, both of which are large and culturally diverse countries.  Canada has both a lower level of inequality than the United States, and a lower level of intergenerational immobility. 

Miles Corak has compared the income rankings of fathers and sons in the United States and Canada, comparing sons born to top decile fathers (the top 10% in earnings) and sons born to bottom decile fathers (the bottom 10% in earnings).  In the United States, there is a 25% probability that the son of the top decile father will remain in the top decile.  In Canada, the probability is about 17%.  In the United States, there is a 22% probability that the son of the bottom decile father will remain in the bottom decile.  In Canada, the probability is 16%.  In both the United States and Canada, the son of the bottom decile father has about a 7% probability of rising to the top decile.  More than half of sons raised by top decile American fathers fall no further than the 8th decile, and about half of those raised by bottom decile fathers rise no further than the third decile.

But notice what this means.  There is some social mobility in all of these rich liberal countries.  But they differ in the degree of social mobility.  The opportunities at the starting line of the race of life are not perfectly equal, because parents and the environments that they create influence the opportunities for their children.  It is harder for the children of poor parents to reach the highest level of economic success than it is for the children of rich parents.  But notice that about 50% of the sons of fathers at the bottom of the economic ladder can enter the lower middle class level.

Remember also that while at least 95% of all human beings before 1800 lived in grinding poverty--close to mere subsistence--almost all Americans, Canadians, and others in the richest countries today live a richer life than most human beings have ever lived before, and that greater wealth brings greater opportunity for living a flourishing life.