Q: You're very deliberate about your parenting philosophy matching the life philosophy you advocate for at FEE. Can you tell us a little about your journey to peaceful parenting and how we can apply our political principles to our personal relationships?
A: My journey to peaceful parenting
Before developing strong views about parenting in general, I became opposed to government schooling as part of my general discovery and adoption of libertarianism. In this, I was influenced by John Taylor Gatto and Murray Rothbard’s “Education: Free and Compulsory." Homeschooling was the natural alternative, and a long-favorite Facebook page has been Ana Martin’s The Libertarian Homeschooler.
My big light-bulb moment with parenting happened while reading "Left and Right," a journal edited by Rothbard in the 60s. There I found a reprinted essay by Herbert Spencer called "On Moral Education." That brought me to the realization that libertarian principles were directly applicable to parenting in more ways than people realize. This brought me from homeschooling to championing radical "unschooling" and peaceful parenting. I elaborate on this in my articles "Wise Parenting Uses Natural Consequences, Not Artificial Ones Imposed by Force” and "Spark and Fuel: How to Help Your Child Learn without Resorting to Compulsion."
When my daughter was born, I was inspired to explore freedom-oriented parenting further. I found two lectures by Objectivist Parenting advocate Roslyn Ross called Raising Children Is an Act of Philosophy which were a big influence. Also during this time, I read books by Maria Montessori, which were highly enlightening, although I don’t plan on sending my daughter to a Montessori school. My biggest recent influence has been child psychologist Peter Gray, who runs a great blog at the Psychology Today web site, recently founded The Alliance for Self-Directed Education, and is the author of the outstanding book Free to Learn. I’m looking forward to reading John Holt, and for my daughter, I’m looking into Agile Learning Centers, which were introduced to me by my friend Rebecca Zeines.
My biggest source of pride is that my daughter leads a cheerful, free, playful, thriving life, and that she sees me as a dear, helpful, fascinating, and fun presence in her life that is in no way intimidating. At age 4, completely on her own, she has remarked curiously about how I never, ever get angry at her.
Applying political principles to personal relationships
From that point, it was a natural, logical next step to further extend the freedom philosophy, not only to parenting, but to human relationships and human life in general.
Through articles by Jeffrey Tucker, Isaac Morehouse, TK Coleman, and Zak Slayback, I became fascinated with how schooling (as well as authoritarian parenting) and the lack of childhood opportunities to work and exercise self-responsibility not only harms us, but does psychological and philosophical damage that haunts through the rest of our life. We need to “deschool” ourselves to be happy in our personal and professional lives. See my article co-written with Isaac, “Seven Ways School Has Imprisoned Your Mind,” as well as my essays “Your Career Is an Enterprise” and “Entrepreneurship Is For Everybody."
On his podcast, Isaac recommended Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. That book expanded the freedom philosophy in my mind even further, to not only the way we treat children, but the way we treat everybody in our lives, including ourselves. I explored these ideas in “Are You Not Selfish Enough?” and “Self-Discipline Must Be Selfish.” Also enlightening in this regard is Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness. And I avidly recommend Nathaniel Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (which I read on Zak’s recommendation). I discuss Branden’s ideas in my three most recent articles Trump’s Ego Is Actually Too Small, What the Self-Esteem Movement Got Disastrously Wrong, and Stop Pushing Your Kids Into "Safe Spaces”.
Many of the above articles, as well articles on similar themes by Jeffrey, Isaac, TK, and Zak can be found in the FEE ebook, Your Life, Your Work.
Q: What roles does negotiation play in your parenting style? I'm very interested in peaceful parenting as well.
A: Negotiation is very useful and sound: always preferable to commands. Although, constantly hassling the child with negotiation offers to micromanage her behavior throughout the day can also hamper the development of her ability to self-direct and self-manage. I try resorting to even that level of meddling only when something urgently needs to get done: i.e., we need to get out the door to make an appointment.
Q: How do you see the liberty movement evolving?
A: I see it bifurcating. On one hand, it will grow as a life and moral philosophy. That will see success after success, as individuals use the freedom philosophy to be inspired by high-minded humane principles of human harmony and to unlock their own potential to thrive in their personal and professional lives. The transformed lives will be unmistakable, and the philosophy will spread like wildfire among people who have every interest in emulating such transformations.
On the other hand, many libertarians will continue to be led astray by politics, and will corrupt or water down the philosophy in order to appeal to "war” allies in the political left, right, or center.
My hope is that the former will quickly outstrip the latter.
Q: What's your take on advocating for liberty from a natural rights versus a rule-based utilitarian perspective?
A: I believe that an “absolute rights” perspective is wholly compatible with a “functional” perspective of the nature of morality. I agree with Ludwig von Mises that individuals adopt norms for the benefit that redounds to virtually each and all. But Mises’s approach is not “act-utilitarianism” (whichever act is best) but “rule-utilitarian” (whichever rule is best). With the massive complexities of life, to think that some economist or any other analyst can identify specific exceptions to rules like “in general theft, the minimum wage, etc is bad” is a case of what Hayek called the pretense of knowledge. So, for me, the right to life, liberty, and property should be applied absolutely, and not in an ad hoc, case-by-case basis, even though the reason these rights are worthy is because of the benefits they bestow, and not because of some cosmic duty. Morality, like honesty in particular, is the best policy. Rights should be sacrosanct, even if they are not, strictly-speaking “sacred.”
Q: I've recently stumbled upon a study that was basically saying that the quality of the government generates prosperity and not its restrained size. How would you start in debunking that piece of info? Article here.
A: The main unfounded assumption in that article is about causation. Perhaps “big” (in the sense of size, but not meddlesomeness) government is correlated with freedom. A very plausible explanation for that would be that a freer population is more productive and so provides a bigger tax base in spite of less onerous impositions (think of the Laffer Curve here), and a bigger tax base funds bigger programs. Think about it: of course a freer first world country can spend more on government projects than some third world kleptocracy. That doesn't mean that that spending isn't detrimental or that the people wouldn't be even freer and wealthier with a smaller government.
This is the kind of error that is more likely to be made when we are preoccupied with trying to construct common ground with potential allies in the futile war of politics.
Q: You have been an eloquent critic of what you call the "people's state," which is a variant on the idea of democracy. Two questions: what do you see as the biggest danger of democracy? Also: if pressed, what good can you say for democracy?
A: Just to be clear, by “people’s state” I don’t just mean democracy. I mean any kind of state that is conceived of as some kind of “servant” of the people, and not just its master. For example, nationalist dictatorships are also people’s states. I elaborate on this in "How Nationalism and Socialism Arose from the French Revolution.”
The biggest danger of democracy is the myth of “democratic self-rule” that fosters a mass “Stockholm Syndrome”: captives identifying with their captors. The second biggest danger is that it allows regimes to “divide and rule”: pitting people against each other by giving them corrupting access to the mechanism of power and plunder.
To paraphrase Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to invite the damned to join Hell’s steering committee.
Honestly, no matter how pressed, I cannot think of anything good to say for democracy (which is not to say I have anything good to say for any of its rival statist systems).
Q: What books have had the biggest impact on your worldview?
And what books would you recommend (if these differ from the previous question) to a young professional or someone interested in liberty?
- Liberalism by Ludwig von Mises
- For a New Liberty by Murray Rothbard
- I, Pencil by Leonard Read
- Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
- Your Life, Your Work by FEE
- How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne
- The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden
- The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand
- The State by Randolph Bourne
Q: What has been the most difficult intellectual challenge to your philosophy on war and peace that you have faced? How did you come to grips with it?
A: The biggest challenge was understanding why people so readily supported wars. The one to unlock that question for me was Randolph Bourne, as I explain in my essays “The Herd Mind,” "Nothing to Fear But the Fearful Themselves," and "Peace is the Keystone of Liberty."
Q: Does the existence of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies violate Mises's regression theorem on the origins of money?
A: Economic theory cannot be validated or invalidated by economic events. Events can however be clues that our theorizing has been wrong on theoretical grounds. Bitcoin is a clue that Mises's theorem can be refined. However, the core of his regression theorem is unassailable. I explain this in my article "Should Bitcoin’s Birth Have Been Impossible?"
Q: You are strongly opposed to any form of violence or coercion (which is wonderful.) Unfortunately, the capacity to commit violence or coerce others has largely been written into the construct of masculinity perpetuated by American culture (the idea that men should be big, strong fighters.) So my question is, how do we present non-violence as something that makes men strong?
A: I think that "the chase" is biologically hardwired in humans in general. Predation-oriented politics feeds off of that and encourages us to make prey of our fellow human beings. Production-oriented civilization, on the other hand, sublimates "the chase" into "pursuits" of self-actualization, self-expression, and excellence, especially in the market. Ayn Rand (as Jeffrey discusses beautifully in his article on the movie Fight Club), better than anybody, captured this sublimation by showing productive and cooperative entrepreneurs and workers to be just as much heroic figures as the predatory warrior heroes of ancient cultures (the "heroes" of the Iliad, the Aeneid, etc). This is the way to capture the imaginations of young men and women alike, giving them an alternative to the resurgence of warrior heroism on the nationalist right. (On this, see my articles The Non-Battle of Auburn Was a True Victory for Liberty and Today's Civil Strife Is Rooted in Economic Frustration and Fallacy).
Q: You're really good at seeing messages of liberty in popular movies that weren't necessarily made to encourage the idea of liberty. What are some of your favorites?
A: Thank you. Some of my recent essays have discussed Beauty and the Beast, Logan, and the first two Star Wars trilogies. I've also written about the Marvel and DC cinematic universes and the animated films of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki.
Q: FEE is always putting out new and diverse content, what advice would you give to young writers looking to break into the world of blogging for liberty?
A: I would advise writers just starting out to:
- Read a lot.
- Start a blog.
- Write every day.
- Read what you write aloud to yourself.
- Edit and re-edit yourself over and over again until you love it.
- Put yourself into your reader's head space.
- Welcome criticism thoughtfully.
- Don't take criticism personally.
Q: Can you name a policy decision over the last 20 years that you like?
A: Opening up travel to Cuba, gradual state-level decriminalization of weed, releasing Chelsea Manning from prison, overturning new overtime regulations. I could go on. But I don't credit the wisdom and/or goodwill of policy makers for these decisions, but the shifts in public opinion that made the decisions advantageous to the deciders.
Q: Rank the following movies:
The Dark Knight (2008)
Iron Man (2008)
The Avengers (2012)
- Iron Man (2008)
- The Avengers (2012)
- Spider-Man (2002)
- The Dark Knight (2008)
I haven't seen Deadpool yet.
My favorite MCU movie is Captain America: Winter Soldier.