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New Book: Communication and Libertarianism

coverCommunication and Libertarianism, by Pavel Slutskiy, has recently been published. It’s available in kindle and paper here, but unfortunately at ridiculous academic publisher prices designed to make it impossible for most people to read the book.

As David Gordon explains in his endorsement:

“This is an outstanding contribution to both libertarian political philosophy and communication theory. It is far and away the most comprehensive work on communication issues in libertarian theory ever published. The author has integrated successfully the libertarian insights of Mises, Rothbard, Block, Kinsella and others with the philosophy of language as developed by Austin, Searle and Grice. He has done so in a unique and unprecedented way. The book would appeal to students and scholars interested in libertarian theory and more generally, to philosophers and political scientists interested in high-level scholarship.” —David Gordon, libertarian philosopher and intellectual historian, Ludwig von Mises Institute

Abstract Research in communication studies, as in any other field, is based on certain ontological and epistemological foundations that, together with research methodological assumptions, are often referred to as research paradigms. The three most common research paradigms in communication studies include positivism, interpretivism and critical theory. The ability of these paradigms to contribute to the development of scientific knowledge in communication studies will be questioned on the basis of the distinction between communication art (a skill acquired by experience, studying or observation) and communication science (knowledge capable of resulting in a prediction or predictable type of outcome). All three paradigms are charged with a failure to formulate laws or regularities and thus advance communication studies as a science. An alternative “mixed methodologies” approach is also ruled out due to the incommensurability of positivism on the one hand, and interpretivism with critical theory on the other. Mixing these paradigms is not possible because they are based on mutually exclusive ontologies (realism and non-realism, respectively) and methodologies (empiricism or constructivism, respectively).


This book attempts to address two topics that I believe are connected: libertarian theory on the one hand, and communication on the other. As I will show in the following pages, the common theme that connects these two topics is the theme of property rights. Libertarianism maintains that human rights are property rights, and I will demonstrate that property rights are essentially a communication-based phenomenon. At the same time, every normative theory of communication necessarily deals with the concept of human rights, and libertarian understanding of property rights as the foundation of human rights provides a logically consistent analytical framework for addressing various questions related to communication.

The libertarian approach to communication would necessarily look at it from the perspective of rights—libertarianism, in general, is a theory that deals with rights, offering a particular view on what is and what is not lawful. Libertarianism, as such, is a normative legal theory—it deals with the questions of what the law should be, and not what it is. In line with this logic, I will not address legal matters within any particular jurisdiction and will not offer any dedicated analysis of positive law, although some current pieces of legislation will be referenced as examples.

But what exactly is libertarian theory about? As a normative theory, it maintains that, in the field of social interaction, all actions can be divided into two categories: aggressive and non-aggressive, where aggression is defined as the initiation of physical force. Non-aggressive actions either do not involve any social interaction whatsoever (without other agents included in their orbit), or they are based on peaceful cooperation and are consensual, voluntary actions. Libertarianism is based on the premise that aggressive actions are impermissible; that it is unlawful to initiate violence against another person or his property without permission (this is often referred to as the non-aggression principle). I will try to show that this principle is logically and ontologically dependent on communication, thus proposing that libertarian philosophy can be explained (and perhaps even defended) from the perspective of communication. I will do this by looking at how central concepts of libertarianism that are crucial for discriminating aggressive actions from non-aggressive actions—the concepts which include private property and consent—are incomprehensible without taking into account the phenomenon of communication. There are several other implications of the importance of communication for understanding the concept of legally permissible actions in libertarianism—for example, the questions of threats or contract theory; these also will be addressed in the following pages.

In contrast to aggression, which libertarianism prohibits, it finds non-aggressive actions not only permissible, but also highly desirable, because voluntary consensual cooperation is the most effective way for each man to satisfy his needs one by one. Any social cooperation, however, requires communication—voluntary interaction without communication is not possible. Cooperating, coordinating and negotiating consent and actually consenting all require communicative actions. From this perspective, it becomes clear that communication is a necessary requirement for avoiding aggression in social interactions and, without it, peaceful coexistence is not achievable.

On the other hand, I assert that the relationship between libertarianism and communication is a two-way street. And the key postulates of libertarianism can aid to the development of a logically consistent normative theory of communication (a theory which tells what communicative actions are lawful or unlawful). So the book also deals with the other aspect of the relationship between rights and communication—the libertarian theory of communication. There, I examine communication processes from a libertarian legal perspective. What communication acts should be considered illegitimate? When words become something more than “mere speech”, and what makes a particular communicative action different from others in such a way that it may entail legal consequences? This is one of the key questions in which I am interested in this book—when and how communicative actions can constitute rights violation, and when speech becomes an act of aggression.

This question will bring me to the discussion of the dichotomy of words and deeds, and the notion of speech as potentially invasive action. It is related to the question of freedom of speech—a topic that has a long history in libertarian philosophy, as well as in general communication theory. This topic is also particularly important at times of increasing government interference in communication and ongoing attempts to intervene in and regulate the communication sphere, media and the Internet. However, the preceding libertarian literature focused mostly on political, legal or economic aspects of human rights in general (without paying much attention to communication issues per se), whereas communication theory mainly ignored the issue of property rights from its analysis of communication freedom. This book attempts to fill these blank spaces by adding an important element in the foundation of the libertarian theory, arguing that not only are human rights inseparable from property rights (as has been argued by libertarians in the past), but also that both depend on communication.

To better understand the relationship between libertarian legal theory and communication, I will use the framework of the speech—an approach developed within the field of language philosophy to study how people interact with each other through communication, and how messages perform a specific function in the process of communication. In brief, speech act theory suggests that certain communicative actions produce changes of social status—they actually “do things”, rather than merely describe the reality. Such communicative acts are called “performatives”, in contrast to “constatives” which are descriptive messages that “state things”. Performatives, according to this theory, have an “illocutionary force” that enables them to accomplish things in addition to making claims. The issuing of the message is the performing of an action. Throughout this book, I will be exploring the relationship between legal philosophy and the philosophy of communication. I will examine libertarian theory with the help of speech act theory and, at the same time, I will also try to see how libertarianism can provide an analytical framework with which to analyse speech acts.

I will therefore endeavour to offer a general approach to the libertarian theory of communication, based on the fundamental ethical propositions and understanding of the nature of communicative actions. The methodology that I will be using is based on praxeology and the rational paradigm—deducing analytical conclusions from a priori truths. In this sense, I will depart from traditional communication methodological paradigms of communication studies (positivism, interpretivism and critical theory) and offer a different analytical approach to studying communication. By doing this, I will offer an alternative way of defining the object, the scope and role of communication science.

Most of my observations will not be novel for scholars of libertarianism: I rely on the insights provided by great theorists of this philosophy—L. von Mises, M. Rothbard, W. Block and N. S. Kinsella, among others. Their works form the basis of the libertarian theoretical foundation of the book. For speech act theory, I rely on the classic works of J. L. Austin, H. P. Grice and J. R. Searle, as well as the followers of this intellectual tradition. I am greatly indebted to all the authors I cite throughout this book—if I manage to see into the distance, it is only because I stand on the shoulders of giants. However, I expect that some of those giants would not agree with what is written on the following pages. Some would think that I completely misinterpret them in my analysis, which may indeed be the case, intentionally or unintentionally. Wherever I realise that I twist certain theoretical postulates for my argument, I will indicate this.

Throughout this book, I will use the word “man” understood in the liberal philosophic tradition as a member of the species, Homo sapiens or all the members of this species collectively, without regard to sex. The word “man” will refer to both men and women in its original meaning of “thinking being” or “intelligent being”, rather than a male person. Using the word “man” instead of “men and women” or “humans” or “persons”, as well as avoiding random alternation of personal pronouns “he” and “she”, is not done to exclude females from the analysis and should be read as gender-neutral. This decision has been made in order to provide greater consistency and smoother transitions between citations, as well as with respect to the philosophical tradition of using the word “man”.

I understand that this choice to avoid using gender-neutral language, as well as some ideas expressed on the following pages, may be found controversial or counterintuitive. I would generally see any disagreement with my ideas as extremely valuable—the major goal of this book is not to claim a monopoly on truth but, rather, offer what I believe is a novel perspective on familiar issues with a potential to ignite fruitful discussions about the methodological foundations of communication studies, the nature of lawful and unlawful speech, and other questions related to communication.

Pavel Slutskiy, Bangkok, Thailand

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