In my last post, I defended the idea of unions by re-asserting the fundamentality of the right to bargain individually, versus the derivative “right” to bargain collectively. The error involved is a hierarchy error, an exceedingly common epistemological corruption born of the inability to think in terms of principles.
Described in that manner, it seems rather academic and not really all that big of a deal, does it? Today, I will tie together the ideas presented in that post with those I wrote about in “The Road to Hell“, to present a textbook demonstration of ideological causality in action — how ideas flow from concept to action in the real world, of how “good intentions” lead people to a hell they may in all sincerity have not intended, and defines in what manner such people remain responsible for that outcome.
As I wrote earlier, collective bargaining is not a fundamental right, but a derivative expression of the fundamental right of individuals to set terms, to negotiate them and to accept or reject those of others. A legitimate question would be: if collective bargaining is just an expression of individual bargaining and a legitimate application of that principle, is it not protected in the same manner? Why wouldn’t the advocates of individual rights support the union activists, on the grounds that they are merely applying the principle that we hold dear in a particular manner?
The answer to this, is that errors and contradictions can and will arise when principles are applied improperly. Contra Kant, a principle is not an arbitrary rule that applies in all situations without regards for context — an approach that guarantees contradiction. They apply to all situations within a given context, with said context defined by the application of the more fundamental principle of which the given principle is derived.
A simple example: imagine that a man assaults his wife with a baseball bat. In court, he defends his action by pointing out that the bat was *his* property, and therefore he can do as he pleases with it. This is absurd on its face, and the way we know that is by reference to fundamentality. In this case, property rights are understood as a derivative of that more fundamental right, the individual right to life. In the light of that deeper principle, the right of property simply does not apply in the context of assault against another; the fundamental takes precedence. In other words, where the right of property would contradict its own fundamental, it logically ceases to apply.
In this manner, ideological causation leads us to discover the self-limiting nature of property rights when understood in the right context; to paraphrase the old libertarian truism, your right to swing your bat ends where my nose begins.
Now imagine what would happen to this same issue in the inverted context of many libertarians, who take the right of property as the fundamental instead of the right to life. That’s a hierarchy error, one that IMO is the source of the really bizarre things that some libertarians espouse. Now follow the logic of it: there could be no questioning of the mans’ right to swing his bat at his wife, per se; now it becomes a balancing act between his property rights in his bat, versus his wife’s property rights in self ownership of her body. How do you adjudicate that? You don’t; you get a seemingly chaotic, yet entirely logical, pile of absurdities. One need merely examine Murray Rothbard’s approach to the issue of parenthood to see an example.
The same pattern of chaos and contradiction applies when collective bargaining is made into a fundamental “right” in the manner that union supporters do, rather than a derivative application of the individual right to bargain.
When the individual right to bargain is the fundamental, it means that the individual choice is logically (and therefore, morally) prior; it means that collective bargaining happens only among individual who consent to bargain in that manner. It also means that the individual retains the right to opt out and got it alone, if he so chooses — in other words, the collective does not and cannot ever override or supersede this prerogative. The individual right to bargain therefore constrains collective bargaining, sets its limits and the context in which it is understood. Under such an understanding, unions are perfectly legitimate, and there is no basis upon which anyone, let alone the government, may dictate terms regarding who may or may not organize, or regarding the form or manner or such organization.
In other words, exactly the “freedom” that the union activists invoke in support of their position. So what’s the problem?
The main logical issue with the elevation of collective bargaining into a “fundamental” right, is that it inverts the heirarchy. Logically, if collective bargaining is the fundamental, then individual bargaining is a mere derivative right, at best. In this view, the collective is sovereign, not the individual. Now, it is the individual who does not and cannot override or supersede the prerogative of the collective. Now it is the collective which sets the limits and provides the context in which individual bargaining is understood, or even permitted.
In this understanding, unions are no longer an expression of the individual’s right to bargain; they are now its enemy. Now you have a stolen concept fallacy, which is the usual marker of the point where things really start breaking down.
That’s what the basic logic of this hierarchy error predicts. That is the road that the advocates of the “right” to collective bargaining are traveling. Where does it end? Ideological causality, as shown in the logic of the ideas themselves before we examine the real-world results, predicts that the end-of-road of “collective right” is the denigration, abrogation and eventual abolition of individual rights. Tyranny, in other words. The counterfeit “right” logically destroys the genuine right, and must do so.
OK, all that logic’s fine, but it’s just abstract reasoning, right? What has actually happened in the real world?
I could easily just link here to dozens of recent posts by Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse for contemporary examples, but it isn’t necessary; I need merely cite the well-known and documented hatred of unionists for sovereign individuals exercising their right to bargain individually, as embodied in the term “scab“. That is the ideological rubber meeting the logical road, right there.
While unions were born as an expression of individual rights, they are now its enemies — key and active participants in the destruction of capitalist liberty. That is their end-of-road. (As an aside, this pattern seems to repeat throughout all the formerly liberal movements co-opted by the Left, such as feminism and anti-racism.)
And this is the answer to the all-too-common protests of union supporters who insist that they don’t want such a thing, that the unions have historically been opposed to tyranny, that they aren’t thugs, do not support the thugs, and insist that it’s unfair to paint the entire union movement with the actions of a few outliers. It is the thugs who are the logically consistent ultimate expression of the “collective right” end-of-road, and it is the supposedly peaceful union supporters who are clueless at best, and hypocrites at worst.
As I have said before to such people, and will say again: it does not matter what you “intended”. Your incapability in/disdain for logic is no excuse from the moral responsibility of doing your due diligence in determining where your road leads. By trying to sweep the thugs under the rug, away from the glare of sunlight, you provide them cover by waving your hands, screaming “don’t look at the man behind the curtain (or under the rug), look at ME, see how civilized I am?” Conservatives call you “useful idiots”, but I know better than that. When you stand there amidst the ruins of a once-great country, screaming “But I didn’t mean THIS!” you will not be absolved.
Ideological causality is a real bear, and it doesn’t care if you scream.