Steve G.

Dr. George Phillies: “Arizona, Land of the Two Libertarian Parties”, Part Five (Appendix)

In Libertarian on June 4, 2008 at 8:00 pm

I am honored to have been given permission by Dr. George Phillies to post a full chapter from his excellent book, “Funding Liberty” , right here on Last Free Voice. I will be posting Chapter 17, “Arizona, Land of the Two Libertarian Parties”, in multiple entries. This is the fifth and final installment, which contains the appendix to this chapter. Part one is here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part four is here.

Dr. Phillies has a doctorate in Physics from MIT, and is a Professor of Physics and Game Design at the prestigious Worcester Polytechnic University. A longtime Libertarian activist, Dr. Phillies is currently the Chairman of the Massachusetts Libertarian Party, and was a popular candidate for the Libertarian Presidential nomination for 2008 where his concession speech – pointing out that the enemy is outside the Libertarian Party – has been hailed as one of the greatest moments (and most inspiring speeches) of the 2008 Libertarian Convention.

A link to purchase this book, as well as to purchase other books by Dr. George Phillies, is at the bottom of this entry.



The Non-Initiation Oath

A significant part of the Arizona debate has referred back to the non-initiation of force Oath, which the National Party and some, but not all, state parties require of their members. The Oath, which dates back to the founding days of the Libertarian Party, is an agreement that Party members will not support the initiation of force to resolve social or political issues.

The difficulty is that there is a lack of unanimity, to put it mildly, as to what this statement means. During my last National Chair campaign, I listened to many Libertarians as they explained their interpretation of the Oath to me.

The author of the statement is the Party’s Founder, David Nolan. Nolan has repeatedly said publicly that the oath is an agreement that we are a political party, and we are out to attain change through the peaceful use of orthodox political processes. No more grandiose interpretation was intended. In understanding the oath, one was supposed to recall the context of the times in which they were written. In 1972, left-wing anti-war activists were planting bombs, several each day, in government offices and other places across the United States. The Capitol Building itself was repeatedly attacked. The intent of the oath was to make clear that the Libertarian Party was not associated with the radical left revolutionaries of that period.

Within the Libertarian Party, one readily encounters a second interpretation of the Oath, namely that the Oath requires one to oppose any political action that could be termed ‘initiation of force’, with this phrase being very broadly interpreted. In particular, after an extensive exegesis, ‘opposition to initiation of force’ is taken to require one to oppose taxation and the products of taxation. Indeed, some Party members who support this interpretation claim that one can logically derive all moral conclusions from the non-initiation principle, a matter discussed in the Appendix to the Appendix.

A significant complication is that phrases very much like those in the Oath are attributed to the writings of Ayn Rand, where precisely these interpretations are invoked. Rand—a mid-twentieth century author and philosopher —was an active opponent of the Libertarian Party who condemned involvement in the Libertarian Party by her followers. It is my understanding that Nolan maintains he was not thinking of her words when he wrote the Oath, and therefore that her phrasings do not inform the meaning of the Oath that he wrote.

Within the Libertarian Party one also encounters many Libertarians who take an third interpretation of the Oath, an interpretation that precisely contradicts the second interpretation. In the third interpretation, it remains the specific duty of government to prevent the initiation of force, and therefore Libertarians mandatorily must support collection of taxes to maintain a justice system, a constabulary, and a military. If the second interpretation borders on support for anarchism, the third interpretation holds that anarchism is fundamentally incompatible with Libertarian beliefs. It is my impression that the three sides are similar in level of support within the LP, but not equally bellicose in expressing their faiths.

Under unfavorable circumstances, discussions between Libertarians who believe these interpretations can consume all the time of a Libertarian group, leaving absolutely no time for political activity. The National Party faced up to this question once. At an early National Convention delegates subscribed to the ‘Dallas Accords’, which in essence said that: We are so far from needing to settle the question that we shouldn’t argue about it.  Partisans of the two sides agree not to use their statements to shut the other side out of the Party.


The Axiom of Choice and Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem

It is almost certainly the case that you should skip this section. It had little to do with the rest of the book.

However, once upon a time I almost tried to become a professional mathematician. There is a specific issue that I find sufficiently annoying that I am going to discuss it here. You really want to turn ahead to the next chapter now.

In short, one occasionally encounters assertions from some libertarians that all moral decisions can be ‘logically derived from the non-initiation principle’. My thesis here is that the phrase ‘logically derived’ as invoked in the previous sentence is a process of religious faith whose properties are fundamentally antilogical: They are indubitably logically inconsistent with the process ‘logically derived’ that most readers encountered in plane geometry.

Skip to the next chapter. This is your last warning.

I am going to omit almost all mathematical details, so what I have to say reduced to four paragraphs.

First, we have the ‘Axiom of Choice’. What does the Axiom of Choice say? Suppose I form a collection of objects, all of which have some property. For example, I could make a list of all human women. According to the Axiom of Choice, I can then choose a representative person from that list, and we have agreement that ‘this person is a woman’. Now, given several interesting medical issues involving unusual chromosomal sorting, genetic defects, and the wonders of modern gender alteration surgery, there can be a range of opinions as to who belongs on that list. Sometimes one realizes that the definition of the list is incomplete or unambiguous. That doesn’t matter; definitions are in the end arbitrary. There is no claim that I can identify every single person on the list. The Axiom of Choice only claims that, for any list chosen to include all objects with a particular property, I can choose a representative object, which is prominent in no way except that it is an example of the objects on the list.  Thus, I can choose a representative woman, who with respect to her membership on the list is distinguished only by being a human female.   There is no implication that the object is typical in any sense.  I may choose an average woman.  I may choose the richest woman in the world.  However, when discussing her, I am allowed only to refer to her as being female, not to her as being average or well-to-do.  Similarly, when I choose a representative triangle, that triangle might or might not be a right triangle, but nothing in the proof can take advantage of the triangle’s being or not being a right triangle.  The Axiom of Choice, once you understand it, sounds fairly obvious, except that it also applies to lists that have an infinite number of members.

Second, the Axiom of Choice is the basis of modern mathematical proofs. Modern proofs do not resemble the proofs that most readers saw in plane geometry. Modern proofs work by examining counterexamples. I give a simple case. Suppose we have a theorem ‘the sum of the internal angles of a triangle is 180 degrees’. A counterexample disproves the theorem. If I can show you a single triangle whose internal angles do not add to 180 degrees, I have disproven the theorem as stated. How in modern mathematics do I prove the theorem? I announce ‘consider a triangle whose angles do not add to 180 degrees’. I just invoked the Axiom of Choice. I selected a representative triangle with these particular properties and no others. Now I examine other properties of this odd triangle, and derive a contradiction, for example that the alleged triangle must have at least four corners. That’s a contradiction; by definition triangles only have three corners. Therefore, I have shown that any triangle that is a counterexample to the theorem ‘the sum of the internal angles of a triangle is 180 degrees’, is self-contradictory.  It therefore does not exist. Ergo, all triangles must obey the theorem. Note that I have just proven the theorem without showing for even one triangle that the sum of the internal angles is 180 degrees.

Third, until early in the last century the objective of mathematics was to reduce all results to logical derivations from a few axioms. Along came the German mathematician Kurt Goedel. Goedel proved, using the Axiom of Choice, that except in trivially simple logical systems you cannot produce a simple set of axioms that describe all mathematical results. That is, in any complicated mathematical system there are an infinite number of statements that are true, but that cannot be derived from any simple set of axioms using orthodox logic.* Alternatively, Goedel showed that excepting truly trivial logical systems all complete logical systems have an infinite number of independent axioms.

Fourth, we now return to the statement that all moral decisions can be logically derived from the non-initiation principle, which may be phrased as an axiom: ‘any act that violates the non-initiation principle is immoral’.  Any moral question may be phrased as a theorem ‘this action does not have the property immoral.’ Morality is not mathematically trivial. Ergo, from the Axiom of Choice and the Goedel Incompleteness Theorem there are actions that are moral or that are immoral that cannot be logically proven to be moral or immoral from any short set of axioms. Claims that one can logically derive all moral conclusions from the Non-Initiation Principle are claims that an entire nontrivial logical system can be derived from a single axiom.  Such claims are mathematically incompatible with the properties of mathematical logic, and must be recognized as non-logical statements of faith.


*The Axiom of Choice could be in error. There are several truly remarkable mathematical results that do not look entirely reasonable that have been derived using the axiom. There is an alternative to the axiom that I have seen given several names, e.g., constructivism, which holds that proof by showing the falsity of counterexamples is invalid.  Valid proofs must advance by positive calculation. For example, suppose you want to claim that you can take a sphere, cut it into five parts, and reassemble your five pieces into two new spheres, each, by the way, having the same volume as the initial sphere.  To do so via constructivism you must specify the cuts. [No, that is not an arbitrary example; it is a very important example.] With the Axiom of Choice you can prove that you can slice a sphere into five parts and reassemble them into two spheres, each having the volume of the original sphere.

See, I told you that you should skip to the next chapter.


Click here to buy “Funding Liberty” by Dr. George Phillies.

Click here to browse other titles by Dr. George Phillies.

  1. What this really needs is an Epilogue to the Footnote to the Appendix to the Appendix. Then you’d probably see a sizable chunk of people pushing to adopt it as the LP Platform at the next convention!

    I kid (sorta)… I just bought a copy of the book, and look forward to reading it. I’m glad Phillies put all this together.

  2. And now you have heard what happened in Arizona.

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