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November 30, 2009


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Gerard O'Neill

"It is, quite simply, an infringement of an individual’s property rights. Libertarians should be appalled - and if they are not, then they are not really libertarian."

I've been thinking about this myself as I'm libertarian-leaning (vague, I know). Surely the essence of libertarianism is mutual respect of one-another's property rights? It only works if everyone is on the same page in relation to shared values, so to speak.

And I think that that's a big part of reason for the Swiss vote - a suspicion that Muslims in Switzerland (and Europe for that matter) do not share the same values and are simply asserting their own interests (as they are entitled to) in the face of an apparent lack of interest in their ambitions on the part of many (all?) Western governments. Sharia law reflects one set of values held by many: but its values are inherently not libertarian in my reading of them.

The task for Muslims in Europe is clearly to demonstrate their commitment to Western values, including democracy and freedom (as indeed many do), in turn showing how there is no conflict between being a European and being a Muslim. The sooner they do that then the sooner we can all move on from debates about minarets and focus instead on some of the issues and conflicts you mention yourself.


The Truth about Islam



I'm not sure if you have the terms right. It seems that the vote on minarets is an example of majoritarianism - rule by the majority (or the "ten billion flies can't be wrong" way of governing). Democracy isn't identical with this, though it does share many aspects. Democracy is, in large part, about a tradeoff between individual rights and group desires. There should be (although you claim there isn't) an explicit defence of individuals against groups who would wish them ill.

Mark Wadsworth

What Gerard O'Neill says.

john b

Easily resolved:
1) liberty is the only thing that matters.
2) representative democracy, although it has no inherent value, is empirically the least worst way of preserving liberty
3) direct democracy is a terrible idea.

@Gerard, Mark: if they'd passed a law banning the use of Sharia law to settle contract disputes, although illiberal, that might just about make some kind of sense in the context you describe. But they've passed a law *banning people from building a particular sort of tower*. That's just idiotic, illiberal nonsense.


The task for Muslims in Europe is clearly to demonstrate their commitment to Western values

A loyalty test, how sweet. Why should Muslims have to 'demonstrate' a commitment that I don't share? I am not particularly fond of 'Western values' (the concept, the plethora of associated ideas such as property rights, liberal democracy, etc), and no one thinks they are entitled to cancel my human rights on that account. So why should Muslims, just because they happen to be targeted as an ascriptively denigrated out-group, face such tests?


Chris, you seem to assume that this vote reflects some kind of inherent ignorance in the population which should be either (a) ignored in the name of 'liberty' (b) fixed by education. In many other historical contexts, I am sure you would see the weakness of analysing racism like this. Imagine a similar vote in the US south in the 60s in which black churches were banned in Alabama. Is the sensible response to ponder what this means for liberal political philosophy, or to try and understand the roots and nature of that racism so it can be defeated?

You fail to explore the possibility that the reason there is such widespread support for this racist move is that the Swiss, like most other Western populations, have been subject to hysterical anti-Islamic coverage in the media for the past several years. This would then lead us to ask why does the media and political class routinely use particular groups as scapegoats and whipping boys for the ills of the system? And perhaps lead us to ask whether the solution to the problem is not (a) or (b), but (c) dismantling a political economic system in which a narrow elite must routinely foster hatred of minorities as a way of safely funnelling popular anger and/or winning support for imperialist ventures.


I'm enclined to agree with john b insofar as he argues that the answer is found in a functional, rather than ideological/philosophical analysis of the situation - it's a case of identifying what works rather than what the hierarchy of principles is.

I would, however, argue for a wide interpretation of liberty as the sum capacity of the population to fulfil themselves.

On this reading, the minaret ban is indeed pretty idotic as it is a wholly negative move - no-one's self-fulfilment is especially enhanced as a result of it.


Democracy is a bit like marriage, its for better or worse.


"A loyalty test, how sweet. Why should Muslims have to 'demonstrate' a commitment that I don't share?"

Without necessarily condoning the goings-on in Switzerland...it probably ought to be noted that they probably wouldn't let you build a towering statue of a clueless student in combat boots selling a newspaper either.

john b

"I would, however, argue for a wide interpretation of liberty as the sum capacity of the population to fulfil themselves."

Yes. Weirdly I had a dream last night where I discussed this post with one of my university-era philosophy tutors, and he pointed out that I really needed to use the wide sense of liberty for it not to be a stupidly restrictive formulation. I agree with both of you.

"it probably ought to be noted that they probably wouldn't let you build a towering statue of a clueless student in combat boots selling a newspaper either"

But if you-as-Swiss-person can persuade your neighbours to let you build such a statue, then you can (as planning is a local matter). If you-as-Swiss-person can persuade your neighbours to let you build a minaret, then you still can't, because that's what the federal law now says.

alanm crisps not dunked

Liberty in a democracy means only the freedom to express your view.

Libertarianism or egalitarianism are just other things you have to argue about within a framework of democracy.


The logic implicit in Chris's asterisk (note that a bill of rights would not solve this problem at all, as it merely prioritizes liberty over democracy) is curious. A democracy is subject to rules and these claim priority. Why not a bill of rights?


Democracy works to the extent that every majority is aware that it is potentially a minority, and so has an interest in protecting minority rights. This should be made to the clear the Swiss as a sign of a dangerous sickness in their democracy. Any human population is endangered by illness. There is no protection other than innoculation (i.e. proper civics education).


This should be made clear to the Swiss ..

Curt Doolittle

The swiss are to be admired.

It is easy to chide them. But never confuse tolerance with laziness, tolerance with profiting from selling off your cultural assets, tolerance with military weakness, tolerance with economic pragmatism, tolerance with intergenerational transfers of wealth via government policy.

It is very, very, expensive to create a society. It is more expensive to create a society that accepts risk, and capitalizes productive gains. It is nearly impossible to create one that both embraces risk, capitalizes productive gains, and is relatively free of corruption. It simply hasn't happened anywhere else outside of europe. Those institutions rest on a precarious foundation. They do NOT rest on democracy. In fact, democracy is antithetical to those foundations.

It took a thousand years for us to shake off the last invasion of mysticism. We may never shake this one off - it is a reformed judaism. And must rely on an emergent china to save the world from our failures of 'convenient tolerance'.

Islam is a disastrous cancer. Christendom need not be christian. It can be a bastion of secular humanism. But any religion that has political aspirations, and by that, all monotheistic religions are political movements - and given their methods they ALWAYS win against secular states.

And libertarians should stop lying to themselves: all social costs are paid by foregone opportunity, in the form of property rights, manners, ethics, morals, truthfulness, fidelity, and contract, and by the ongoing maintenance of the institutions of property, law, calculation, money, credit, interest, and banking.

We pay for society by foregone opportunities for violence. If we accept the principle of non-violence, then there is a cost to that non violence: all men pay into society for it's institutional costs. These forgone opportunities are payments that accumulate in institutions and traditions. (THis is why people feel they are stolen from by policy such as immigration. THey have forgone opportunity costs that are then handed over to others, which benefits some but punishes the lower end of society.)

Those people who have faith in the supposed miracle of democracy, secularism and reason to force reformation on islam, have too little knowledge of the history of democracy, too little understanding of the cycle of civilizations, too little knowledge of our own history, too little understanding of institutions and their impact on prosperity, and are too willing to steal from the deprivation of their ancestors, and the social capital that they left as a legacy to their descendants.

And those that forego violence, need no longer forgo it, because by the theft of their institutions, they are stolen from, and have no recourse left but to return to their natural state, or to restore what has been stolen from them.

(A little abstract possibly, but accurate.)


Using the monetary incentives in referenda raises the following problems:
_the vote is no longer anonymous and the voter can be submitted to coercition.
_some strange things: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/11/haunted_by_the.html

Paul Sagar

"However, Left Outside is, I think, entirely wrong to call the move “spectacularly undemocratic.” If we define democracy as the will of the majority, then it is perfectly democratic."

Well I thought that Left Outside was wrong too, simply because I wanted to say that "if democracy = making decisions according to popular votes/the decisions of representatives elected by popular vote, then how can it be "undemocratic" for the Swiss to vote against minarets?"

I think LO was making the old mistake of confusing "democracy" with "values and outcomes that I like", and committing the fallacy of thinking because he didn't like the outcome, ergo it wasn't democratic.

Standard "all virtues must be in harmony" fallacy, really. We see it everywhere.

On another note, looks like I'm going to have to do another post, entitled "Some ways to think about freedom"...;)


I guess there is no such thing as a pure democracy. As muslims in every western country have less rights, even here in my own country (UK) I see it all the time.


I personally think that religion although currently being most influential on international politics will not be any of any value after around 10 years as people are quickly realizing that religion means nothing.


Libertarianism or egalitarianism are just other things you have to argue about within a framework of democracy.

Leica S2 Digital Camera

I couldn't think you are more right.

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