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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10475/what-libertarianism-is/

What Libertarianism Is

August 17, 2009 by

Libertarians tend to agree on a wide array of policies and principles. Nonetheless it is not easy to find consensus on what libertarianism’s defining characteristic is, or on what distinguishes it from other political theories and systems.

Various formulations abound. It is said that libertarianism is about: individual rights; property rights; the free market; capitalism; justice; the non-aggression principle. Not all these will do, however. Capitalism and the free market describe the catallactic conditions that arise or are permitted in a libertarian society, but do not encompass other aspects of libertarianism. And individual rights, justice, and aggression collapse into property rights. As Murray Rothbard explained, individual rights are property rights. And justice is just giving someone his due, which depends on what his rights are. FULL ARTICLE

{ 135 comments }

Magnus August 24, 2009 at 11:09 am

All we do know is that no such system has ever evolved naturally, despite disputable claims that the early American West, or Viking Iceland, or tribal Ireland, were close.

No such system? The entire body of what we now call commercial law was created privately. It was then co-opted by various governments.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lex_mercatoria

the early American West evolved into the modern government-based American West as it grew

No, it didn’t “evolve.” It wasn’t a passive process. Gangsters moved in, and took things over.

The real trick was for the gangsters to convince their victims they were a force for good. It is a lie that has been passed on down through the generations, which you now repeat.

The model I think is appropriate is the model that we currently live under, although of course it’s a “fixer-upper”. I guess it’s my conservative side that thinks that completely tearing down the framework of our society and rebuilding it from scratch, based on a political / philosophical system, might be a bit imprudent. The last time that was tried, based on the philosophy of Messrs Marx and Engels, it didn’t work out so well, if memory serves.

Socialism fails because of the calculation problem. It is impossible to coordinate production and consumption without markets and prices. Not for you, not for the Russkies, not for the most powerful conceivable computer. Impossible. Socialism was never good “on paper” or “in theory.”

Your adherence to the existence of the state, in whatever form, is the reason you will never see a “minimal state.”

Minarchist libertarianism is and will always be doomed to failure because you have conceded that statist relationships have the capacity to solve complex, long-term social problems.

Once you do that, you have already lost the debate. You have conceded that aggression is not only necessary, but it’s an affirmatively good idea, to be applied where and when it suits you.

Then, for some reason, you are surprised and offended that other people have taken that idea and expanded on it for their own benefit. They say, “Hey, if the state works over there where Russ likes him some organized violence (e.g., to keep the peasants from rioting), let’s use it over here where it suits me!”

That’s the dynamic that produced the modern welfare-warfare state. The two sides play off each other, in a symbiotic dance. Side A wants to use state violence to achieve X, and Side B wants state violence to achieve Y. So, each side gives a little to get a little, and you end up with Side A agreeing to Side B’s demands, and vice versa.

It’s a game that’s as old as the hills. It was going on in ancient Rome. Bastiat complained about the two halves of the French Assembly dividing up the wealth of the population in the 1850s.

It’s a complete fantasy to think that these people who call themselves the state are going to just walk away from all that power. It’s absurd. You could more easily walk into your local hang-out of La Cosa Nostra, the Russian Mob, the Triads, or MS13, and explain to them, in a carefully-crafted logical argument, how they really ought to be in the business of providing blankets and shoes and food to orphans. Try joining one of those organizations and reforming it from within. It’s ridiculous.

I have no illusions that the idea of the state will go away just because anarchism is the truth, preferable, or economically advantageous. It’s a criminal enterprise, and so the people who populate it are not susceptible to pleas that they stop being criminal.

The state will collapse, of course, allowing normal, peaceful, anarchic relationships to more fully flourish, but not because anarchists say so. It will collapse because states all collapse, and for the same reasons — the parasite eventually kills its host.

mpolzkill August 24, 2009 at 11:19 am

“Standard answer” indeed! You’re no statist, you claim, yet you buy and use the State’s biggest whoppers. That was a new tautology on me though: we must keep the State so that it will always protects us from the welfare addicts it always creates.

I’m starting to get pretty embarrassed talking here, this is all little league stuff. We don’t have to say (and won’t say) “bye bye tomorrow”. Come on – if you’re even sincere about any of this – this is probably the source of your problems with anarchism. Of course “ancapistan” shouldn’t be (won’t be, CAN’T be) decreed; the State’s poor, stunted creations couldn’t handle it. This is all a false dilemma. Bah!

“Conservative side”, yep, thanks for showing it so clearly in public.

Michael A. Clem August 24, 2009 at 11:53 am

I guess it’s my conservative side that thinks that completely tearing down the framework of our society and rebuilding it from scratch, based on a political / philosophical system, might be a bit imprudent.
But of course, that would never happen. People are too used to the habits and institutions that they’ve grown up with to to toss them aside and build society from scratch (at least most of them). That doesn’t need to happen to make an anarchist society, anyway. governments didn’t create money, they simply took over the production of money. Governments didn’t create the institution of marriage, they simply wormed their way in with their regulations. Much of our life and society would not be turned topsy-turvey if we went to anarchism overnight (though of course, even that’s unlikely to happen). The difference that anarchism would make would be gradual, and would mostly be noticeable only over a period of time and accumulated changes.
In any case, I think you guys have beaten this definition of “libertarianism” into the ground, and don’t see anything productive about the back and forth going on now.

Russ August 24, 2009 at 11:59 am

Magnus wrote:

“It’s a complete fantasy to think that these people who call themselves the state are going to just walk away from all that power. It’s absurd.”

And when the Revolution takes place, and we have ancap, all “those people who call themselves the state are going to just walk away”? No, they’ll probably be the first ones to start up PDAs, just like the old KGB is the new Russian Mafia.

“Minarchist libertarianism is and will always be doomed to failure because you have conceded that statist relationships have the capacity to solve complex, long-term social problems.”

Well, sure, I have conceded that. Get your head out of your ancap philosophy book, and take a look at history. The US has used “statist” relationships to “solve complex, long-term social problems” for going on 235 years now. And most peoples’ lives aren’t that bad. Face it, the “statist relationships” work.

“The state will collapse, of course, allowing normal, peaceful, anarchic relationships to more fully flourish, but not because anarchists say so. It will collapse because states all collapse, and for the same reasons — the parasite eventually kills its host.”

If the state does collapse, it will probably cause a hell of a lot of rights violations, and pain and suffering, in the process. Wouldn’t it be better to try to fix the system and thus avoid all this? Or do you believe in “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”? This is the kind of thinking that resulted in the Terror in the French Revolution, or the deaths of millions of kulaks in Soviet Russia.

mpolzkill wrote:

“That was a new tautology on me though: we must keep the State so that it will always protects us from the welfare addicts it always creates.”

Oh please. Those “rioting welfare addicts” were just a convenient example.

“I’m starting to get pretty embarrassed talking here, this is all little league stuff. We don’t have to say (and won’t say) “bye bye tomorrow”. ….”

Please, you’re getting all worked up over nothing. My idea of government “going bye bye” was just a rhetorical device, nothing more. What is “little league” is all you guys pretending that you have never heard any of the classical liberal justifications for government before, and pretending that ancap is intuitively obvious whereas minarchism is a radical new theory, when of course the opposite is the case.

“”Conservative side”, yep, thanks for showing it so clearly in public.”

Not a problem. I don’t see a problem with having a “conservative side”, if that means having a sense of prudence, and thinking that throwing the baby out with the bathwater is wasteful.

mpolzkill August 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Testify, Brother Magnus!

I really liked that, esp.: “Try joining one of those organizations and reforming it from within. It’s ridiculous.”

That made me think of something and I believe it belongs here on “What Libertarianism Is”:

Ron Paul’s second career does not advance libertarianism. I dearly love Dr. Paul, but he always reminds me of Nock’s great line about a minister trying to take over a whorehouse. I believe that all political efforts cause more harm than good. Paul has done an incredible job in spreading the word to the receptive (he said the name Spooner on national television, that almost made me cry) but I think this is more than counteracted by the alarm he sets off in all the other political groups. All political actors know in their hearts that all opposing political actors are scum and must be destroyed. NO beautiful & intricate philosophy can survive the ensuing shitstorm or the way the media masters can smear shit on it by the expert way they put two separate ideas into one mental box for most people. I’d bet the average person sees Paul in KKK robes, just as they saw Iraqis flying into the WTC.

What we need for action is something more along the lines of Gandhi’s making his own salt. The great obstacle is that where the Indians KNEW the British were exactly as Magnus describes them, we have millions like Russ that just aren’t going to see that D.C. is every bit as bad as London. (Not to insult Russ too much, but there could be another reason he is a hopeless case: it seems he is very comfortable with the “Raj”, he has said how comfy he is, he may very well be one of their contractors)

Russ August 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Michael A. Clem wrote:

“In any case, I think you guys have beaten this definition of “libertarianism” into the ground, and don’t see anything productive about the back and forth going on now.”

You’re probably right. I’ve restated my main contention, that a minarchist is a *type* of libertarian (and not just 98% of a “true” anarchist libertarian), enough times that if Stephan or whoever is still unwilling to accept that, I probably won’t be able to change his mind.

Russ August 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm

mpolzkill wrote:

“we have millions like Russ that just aren’t going to see that D.C. is every bit as bad as London.”

*sigh*

Of course I think DC is bad. That’s why I want to make it much smaller than it is now. Jesus Harold Christ on a frickin’ rubber crutch, you guys just don’t seem to have a sense of proportion. Just because both Hitler and I are “statists” according to your nonstandard definition, that does not mean I would like to live in Fourth Reich Germany.

“(Not to insult Russ too much, but there could be another reason he is a hopeless case: it seems he is very comfortable with the “Raj”, he has said how comfy he is, he may very well be one of their contractors)”

So I take it that you are an outlaw, living on the lam, staying one step ahead of the system by the virtue of your wit, charm and wicked left hook? Puuulleeeeze! You are probably a relatively comfortable member of the bourgeoisie, just like me. (And no, I don’t work for the government.)

mpolzkill August 24, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Haha, in this case that would be Tom Woods’ “Demon Baby”.

A true conservative wants to conserve ANYTHING that makes him comfy. A conservative has no principles but self interest. It may be that he sees further than other conservatives, his self interest may not be AS narrow. It may be that what he wants saved is worth saving, but need not be and usually isn’t.

I’m the opposite of worked up, exposure to conservatives temporarily depresses & enervates me.
As M.A. Clem just said, we’re looking bad here, not getting anywhere, it’s embarrassing.

I love classical liberalism, recommend it to those who have an emotional need for a master as the only tolerable statism there is; but if you haven’t noticed, classical liberalism, after bringing us most everything good about the modern world, died a whimpering death. Why not work on and call for something now that’s even greater than Classical Liberalism? And why would your weak sauce ever appeal to many?

mpolzkill August 24, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Excuse me, Gandhi wanted to make London smaller? I missed that somehow.

Your definition of statist was the one without proportion. Hitler was a totalitarian statist, you are an appeasing statist.

We’re all outlaws just hoping a D.A. spotlight doesn’t land on us (if we have any sense), literally, that’s how big the law book has gotten. That aside, I am closer to one of those cave dwelling poor schmucks one hears of (though I don’t avoid the public roads, not my strain of libertarianism), haha.

I didn’t say you directly worked for them, I said you may be a contractor. That’s a big group, I know; it could be said that in our fascist economy we are all government contractors. I think I want to stop working for them more than you do.

Rafael Garcia August 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I have loved reading the exchange in these threads between Russ on one side and Stephan and co. on the other. I would just like to add two minor clarifications of my own to both sides:

First, Stephan, you insist that you oppose aggression, but not consequentialism, and that you “don’t mind” if Russ opposes aggression on consequentialist grounds. But this is not true. Consequentialism is incompatible, as Russ pointed out, with your deontological opposition to aggression. Moreover, your (perfectly valid) refutations of Russ’s views were also refutations of consequentialism. Consequentialism is always self-contradictory, and always easy to refute for the clear-thinking. To deny this is the province of those who haven’t caught up on the last couple decades of analytic philosophy.

And Russ, though your style of argument is one I really admire for the most part, you have a troublingly loose grasp of logical terms like “ad hom” and “reductio ad absurdum”. Stephan was demonstrating that any support for a state logically requires socialism or what you call “statism”. Of course, you can claim to oppose interventionism and to simultaneously support a state. Just as I can claim to believe there is no literal “God” while continuing to call myself a Christian. That doesn’t mean that you and I don’t contradict ourselves in the process. Stephan was helping you by showing you that, and his arguments were not “ad hominem”. You showed a glimpse of understanding his real arguments, which were in fact “reductio ad absurdum”. But you evaded the argument. Stephan’s point is that if it is morally permissible for an entity to violate rights in order to prevent more rights violations, then there is no logical distinction between rights violations like taxation and rights violations like rape. It is easy for an ancap to oppose rape, because anarchist libertarianism is consistantly anti-aggression. You, unlike Stephan, cannot say “I would not rape in order to minimize other rapes” without contradicting yourself and falling into absurdity. If you want to say that (and you should want to say that), you will have to abandon your incoherent “sort-of-statism” and return to the truth (not “purity”, mind you, but plain old truth) of anarchism. And conversely, minarchism offers not results or practicality, but merely untruths and support for evil.

Though I disliked Stephan’s use of the word “despise” earlier, overall I think his tone has been unexceptional (despite your frequent complaints of name-calling), and it is clear that he has proved that he is right and you are wrong.

Thanks again to you both (and to you others as well).

Stephan Kinsella August 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Rafael Garcia:

First, Stephan, you insist that you oppose aggression, but not consequentialism, and that you “don’t mind” if Russ opposes aggression on consequentialist grounds. But this is not true. Consequentialism is incompatible, as Russ pointed out, with your deontological opposition to aggression.

True. I was too loose. I meant I don’t care why he opposes aggression, so long as he does.

Though I disliked Stephan’s use of the word “despise” earlier, overall I think his tone has been unexceptional (despite your frequent complaints of name-calling), and it is clear that he has proved that he is right and you are wrong.

Yes, that was a bit overboard by me; I didn’t take the time to subtly distinguish between criminals, outright statists, and imperfect libertarians.

Magnus August 24, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I was the one who used the term “despise.” In this case, I was referring not to people I despise (since I have only love in my heart), but rather to the false equivalence between anarchism and Communism.

They are both so extreme, the story goes, and Communism was so wrong, that anarchism must also be wrong, and therefore the best route must be somewhere in the middle.

This line of “thinking” is just so trivial, so meaningless, so useless, so vacuous, while posing as the supremely reasonable alternative. It makes me sick.

It’s not reasonable. In fact, it’s anti-reason. It is frequently the least-defensible position in the entire spectrum of opinion.

My feelings on this subject are part of my general disdain for the “moderate” position, which people typically adopt for no other reason than that it is easy and requires no intellectual rigor, while pretending to be the epitome of maturity and wisdom.

Moderates are the intellectual equivalent of the sheep who is always to be found in the dead center of the herd.

gene August 24, 2009 at 6:36 pm

I agree.

Anarchism can not be called extreme by any means. And, really neither can Communism [in the sense of communal, not the State sense}.

All societies evolved from some system of anarchy, some better than others, so how extreme can that be?

Many peoples also lived communally before “States” took over.

The problem is the failure to choose and adapt “working” systems and somehow institute them on a large scale. It’s possible no system will work on a large scale. The State seems to be the outcome of “bigness”. Bigness breeds it and it breeds bigness itself.

It’s really difficult to say if we have witnessed paricular “types” of systems fail or just the failure of “States”. The last gasp is always an unsucessful attempt to “control” what has become uncontrollable and this will always present itself as “socialistic”, whether it started that way or not.

Russ August 24, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Hehehe… I feel like Michael Corleone: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” *grin*

mpolzkill wrote:

“A true conservative wants to conserve ANYTHING that makes him comfy. A conservative has no principles but self interest.”

No, conservativism is based on not having the “fatal conceit” that I have the perfect system, derived from pure reason alone, without resort to past experience. It’s based on the idea of piecemeal reform of government, not completely tearing it down, and hoping you can rebuild it all in time. These are ideas from people like Hayek and Popper, despite the fact that they might have resented being identified as conservatives.

Rafael Garcia wrote:

“…you have a troublingly loose grasp of logical terms like “ad hom” and “reductio ad absurdum”. …You, unlike Stephan, cannot say “I would not rape in order to minimize other rapes” without contradicting yourself and falling into absurdity. If you want to say that (and you should want to say that), you will have to abandon your incoherent “sort-of-statism” and return to the truth (not “purity”, mind you, but plain old truth) of anarchism….”

The reason I “evaded” Stephan’s “trap” is because I honestly thought it was kinda silly. I can’t for the life of me see how raping people could ever reduce the total amount of rapes; that’s much more ridiculous than any hypothetical that I ever came up with. Making sure people pay their fair share for a minimal state, and denying them the opportunity to opt out of that and join a PDA instead, is not rape. Not even close; if I were a rape victim, I’d probably be offended by the suggestion of equivalency. So I just didn’t walk into a perfectly obvious and completely contrived “philosopher’s dilemma”. If I were to walk into the trap and say that I would condone rape to reduce the total amount, firstly, it sounds absurd to condone rape (which it is, because it’s an absurd hypothetical). That makes it, on the face of it, a reductio ad absurdem argument (which is valid enough, logically speaking). Secondly, it would color me as a moral monster, hence the charges of ad hominem attack. I think I used the terms accurately enough.

“…it is clear that he has proved that he is right and you are wrong.”

Well, this is a matter of opinion, of course, and since I *am* playing to a hostile audience, I will take such evaluations with a grain of salt. But it has been fun.

Russ August 24, 2009 at 7:57 pm

gene wrote:

“The problem is the failure to choose and adapt “working” systems and somehow institute them on a large scale. It’s possible no system will work on a large scale. The State seems to be the outcome of “bigness”. Bigness breeds it and it breeds bigness itself.”

This is possible. The problem is that “bigness” seems to be better for accumulating militaristic power. If a state broke up into a large number of small states into order solve its “bigness” problem, that might well make it vulnerable to another, big, militaristic state (Hans-Herman Hoppe’s take on ancap and defense notwithstanding).

gene August 24, 2009 at 8:20 pm

i agree russ,

smaller states or groups are much easier to handle, but they can be easily dominated.

small states group together for protection and this makes others do the same.

eventually the amount of force necessary is so large, that it abuses its power and eventually the abuse leads to its collapse.

i think it is also why anarchy is so hard to maintain when population is dense. its not so much that the system of anarchy is archaic or inferior, but the dominance of larger force [State].

force seems to be the double edged sword.

Magnus August 24, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I can’t for the life of me see how raping people could ever reduce the total amount of rapes; that’s much more ridiculous than any hypothetical that I ever came up with.

That’s the point. He was illustrating the absurdity of advocating institutionalized stealing as a means of reduce the incidence of stealing.

mpolzkill August 24, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Russ,

Tear what down? I’m a panarchist, no one HAS to be master-less. You have touchingly communicated your fear at ever losing your imaginary protectors; I wouldn’t rip away a child’s security blanket and I won’t be decreeing any “Ancapistan” (absurd, I know, but this absurd straw man is the basis of your criticism).

Othyem August 24, 2009 at 9:37 pm

I feel like this debate has gone around in circles. We have, on the one hand, libertarian-anarchists arguing that some variation of anarcho-capitalism is a viable political structure, and on the other we have libertarian-minarchists arguing that it’ll never work. As much as I love discussions like these because I always learn something, I think we’re really spinning our wheels here. My MAIN point, Russ, is not to convince you that anarcho-capitalism is the end-all/be-all or the cat’s meow of political configurations. You’re obviously well-read and nothing I or anyone else said could drastically change your mind into a hard-core Rothbardian. But that’s not what’s at stake.

Russ, you think it’s okay for a government to violate everyone’s rights a little bit if it equals a lesser number of rights violations in the absence of government. In fact, this is essentially the sole purpose of government, in your opinion–to minimize the amount and severity of rights violations. I think there’s a few things wrong with this approach.

“Suffering caused by rights violations is my only concern.”

You’re right to point out that the SUFFERING caused by rights violations should be the ultimate end; without it, “rights violations” is just another empty term devoid of anything meaningful, and your choice to mitigate them without any reference to the suffering (interpreted broadly) would be irrelevant. Rights violations only make sense in that regard. But why stop there? Isn’t this slightly arbitrary? Why is it okay for a government to lessen suffering by lessening rights violations, but it’s not okay to lessen suffering through some other altrustic approach?

Here’s an example, let’s imagine we have a group of medical scientists/doctors who’ve stumbled upon a miracle cure for disease X. Several thousands of people die each year by this disease and every one of these cases can be remedied by their miracle cure. Problem is, is the doctors are exceptionally greedy and they decide to charge a “monopoly price” for this curative potion. A price which is much too expensive for the several hundreds, even thousands, of people. To what extent is it justified to regulate the profits of these doctors to ensure that every individual can be cured. Let’s say there are 10 doctors. A regulation on each one would be (I’m guessing) 10 rights violations, but thousands would live. If there were no regulations on these doctors, then there would be obviously 0 rights violations (because certainly people DO NOT have a RIGHT to medicine), but thousands would die. Now, if you’re true intent is to minimze rights violations, then you’d pick the latter option, which would minimize the amount of suffering THROUGH rights violations–that is, no regulations against the scientists; however, it would MAXIMIZE the amount of suffering total–that is, thousands would die. You have a few options here:

You could say “Screw ‘em, there’s so such thing as a monopoly price anyway”, in which case you’re more principled than you think. Or you could go ahead and regulate the doctors to lessen the amount of suffering and death, which would mean crossing the threshold from “principle” to “pragmatic”, but at the cost of clarity. You’ve realized sometimes there’s more dreadful suffering than the kind caused by rights violations so you agree to focus on suffering generally. This isn’t good territory to be in, especially when trying to defend the minimal state from potential expansion.

Or, you could allow those suffering from their illness a “positive right” to have “affordable healthcare for all.” I don’t need to run into scenarios where that could lead, do I? I’ll speak to the more general claim of providing “positive rights” for your citizens. I’m assuming–perhaps you’ve mentioned it in an earlier post–that in your minimal state an individual’s rights are (mostly) negative, that is, freedom NOT have one’s property violated, etc. By giving people positive rights, you basically win by DEFAULT. The state becomes necessary to protect the very rights it itself creates and defines. Of course, a life in anarchy will have a greater amount of rights violations if the state can make rights at will.

“I wouldn’t have a problem with that, so long as the free riders moved on along to some other country.”

You agree that if a civilian doesn’t want to take part in government he’s “free” so long as he migrates somewhere else. Although I don’t agree with that last point, I think we’re headed in the right direction. You are welcome to enjoy your minimal state, and I (or perhaps not) and others who so choose can either consent or not consent. We may differ about what is done with the non-consenters, but if you recognize the value in the act of consenting, then you recognize the value in being able to choose anarchy, whether or not you choose to be an anarchist yourself. That’s what this debate should be about.

Othyem August 24, 2009 at 10:01 pm

“This is debatable. A lot of people who do care do not agree at all. The idea is to prevent state-sponsored terrorism (the really dangerous kind with WMDs involved) by providing a “negative example” to those states that could do so. Assuming for sake of argument that a terrorist could set off a nuke in NYC, that would involve a huge level of rights violations, that would make years of war seem relatively paltry in comparison.”

This proves my earlier point exactly. A government charged with the responsibility to reduce suffering through rights violations can basically do whatever the hell it wants, so long as its intent stays true to the original purpose. Disregarding the fact that there’s NO WAY to KNOW if a particular course of action will actually result in MORE or LESS rights violations, an administration is pretty much given free reign to intervene wherever and whenever it wants. Hell, a future president COULD say “Canada is planning to invade in order to murder, rape, and kill our children. The results could be catastrophic; the death toll is sure to number in the hundreds of millions! Let’s go to WAAAR!!!” Yes, I know, far-fetched–but that’s the point. Anything becomes justifiable if its purpose is to reduce rights violations. ANYTHING! And there’s no recourse. Future rights violations would be, for the most part, purely speculative.

Rafael Garcia August 24, 2009 at 11:14 pm

RUSS: I can’t for the life of me see how raping people could ever reduce the total amount of rapes; that’s much more ridiculous than any hypothetical that I ever came up with.

MAGNUS: That’s the point. He was illustrating the absurdity of advocating institutionalized stealing as a means of reduce the incidence of stealing.

ME: I’m not sure who Magnus refers to here, but the argument was originally Stephan’s, and presumably Stephan had two distinct arguments in mind with this example. I was more interested in the second.

1) We can accept utilitarianism for the sake of argument, and then ask: why do we expect minarchism will minimize crime instead of anarchism? Stephan (and magnus et al.) had many arguments on this point, and several of them were stronger than the rape analogy. I personally have not thought about this question enough to weigh in on it, though I found the arguments on both sides interesting. As Stephan has pointed out elsewhere on this blog, it’s irrelevant, because there is another (logically prior) argument that the “rape” example serves.

2) Utilitarianism itself is, in my opinion, outdated and easily refuted. The first claim, that it is outdated, I fully admit to be pure rhetoric and ad hominem (though it explains its appeal to even such luminaries as Mises, Mill, and Bentham). But the second claim, that it is easily refuted, was demonstrated by Stephan’s reductio ad absurdum (which I paraphrased in my last post). Of course you don’t want to say that you condone rape in order to minimize total rapes, because this does sound monstrous. But that is not ad hominem, that is the point – to show that your position is, when thought about clearly and logically, monstrous. The only reason we entertain arguments by utilitarians is because in the end, we don’t take them too seriously. If you really were a person who would kill eight innocent men to save nine, or rape one child to save two, you would be beneath moral discourse. Your arguments show you to be a far more morally and intellectually sensitive being than that, despite your unfortunate attachment to the utilitarian creed (and thus, to the minimal state). Note that for argument 2, the fact that rapes do not in fact stop other rapes is entirely incidental. We are arguing purely about the logical coherence of utilitarianism at that point, not about facts of the world.

I will drop this subject now, because I’m sure that the cranky preaching of a natural law supporter will not magically convert all utilitarians on this board to deontological libertarian anarchists. Otherwise Stephan would have done it already (with help from Magnus, Othyem, and mpolzkill).

gene August 24, 2009 at 11:29 pm

The argument goes around in circles because the basis of the situation does the same.

we can’t get around force. the only way to deter what one might conceive of as “wrong” force is to counteract it with greater force.

in order to have greater force, someone or some group must have the ability to use it. with this ability comes power and eventually or even originally, abuse.

with this abuse comes submission or the need for even greater force, etc.

it doesn’t really change whether the background is anarchy or statist. the nature of force controls the system, not the other way around.

so, we all have the right idea believing that we should not agress and try to live in peace but the problem is you need one [or group] mother —— to keep the peace and that same bad a– dude [or dudes] will eventually mess everything up. and you always need someone deciding when to call the dude, etc. so control enters and things slide downhill!

my personal view is anarchy and low population is the way to go. if you don’t like the particular situation, you can move and it will be different. Since we have neither, just hope for the best!

Gil August 25, 2009 at 1:29 am

A big point is: would S. Kinsella & friends not bug poor ol’ Russ but actually bug real aggressors and robbers? If a mugger held up S. Kinsella, would he lecture the mugger on not using aggression to get what he wants? Or is S. Kinsella prepared for such a scenario whereby he has the ability to use retaliatory force against a mugger or a group thereof? Or is S. Kinsella hoping in the ‘goodness of humanity’ and hope he’ll never have to face a mugger? Or will S. Kinsella say “yes sir, yes sir, three bags full sir” and give the mugger what he wants with any retaliation whatsoever?

If most Libertarians subscribe to one or both of the last two scenario then anarchotopia is unrealisable. After all, one group of people who are strong to give governments crap are Mexican Druglords yet if they could defeat governments and become the new powers their rule is hardly going to be any better.

Magnus August 25, 2009 at 7:23 am

I wouldn’t rip away a child’s security blanket and I won’t be decreeing any “Ancapistan” (absurd, I know, but this absurd straw man is the basis of your criticism)

You’re not speaking the statist language, mpolzkill. Unfortunately, the essential component of Russ’s security blanket is knowing that he can force you (and everyone else) to pay for and participate in his state.

Your live-and-let-live attitude is a feature of voluntarism, not statism. Forcing everyone to comply is the whole point of the state, its defining feature, its raison d’etre.

mpolzkill August 25, 2009 at 7:55 am

Gil,

There are more scenarios that could be imagined when Mr. Kinsella still has all of the money and freedom that was already stolen from him by your “bada**” of choice: the “unreal” robber according to your conventional view. We radical libertarians are always at a disadvantage in these discussions because it is impossible to know what an unfettered market will come up with. Your average criminal is not as intelligent as your average peaceful citizen. In a free world, why we would all just sit back and let ourselves be robbed without coming up with some systems and technology to defeat them, I don’t know. I do know why we allow ourselves to be robbed right now by your “unreal” robbers: because there are just too many like you and Russ with this massive mental block.

In an alternate example, we already know what you and Russ do when these “unreal” robbers take away almost all of our rights to defend ourselves, on 9/11/2001 totally drop the ball protecting the sheep they have slowly neutered over the last 80 years or so, Federalize airport security (their every failure brings them further aggrandizement), then spend a trillion of our dollars insanely slaughtering and torturing Iraqis, brazenly start spying on us…ad infinitum. You say something like: “Boy, I wish they would decide to make themselves smaller, but don’t forget, we always need our magic-badged protectors, can’t ever tear down all the wonderful things they’ve done”.

mpolzkill August 25, 2009 at 8:17 am

Magnus,

You hit the button there: language. As a very young man I learned the language of Lysander Spooner (that’s why, no matter how hard I try to cool it down, it’s at least a bit overheated, ha ha). Russ seems to be baffled, he can’t understand why we seem to be calling him a bad guy. He’s not, he’s just trapped by the slave language he was trained in by his masters. Gil thinks it’s funny that we seem to be attacking Russ. It’s because that’s where the battle is: the State’s main campaign is always to put its outposts in every mind.

That reminds me, you conservatives here; how’s your battle against public school coming along? Does it look like the “liberals” are going to give you back your kids any time soon? Keep on saying you hope they get smaller, that should do the trick.

Michael A. Clem August 25, 2009 at 8:46 am

Okay, now we’re really going off in strange directions. An obvious point is that there’s no reason debating with someone who isn’t interested in debate. Would Stephan argue with an armed robber? I can’t answer for him, but I suspect that he would not, unless he thought it might distract the robber and give him a chance to take action. But the absurdity of the question is that it says little about the political system: it can be asked of anyone, today. Would you ask the robber to wait while you pulled out your cell phone to call the local police to come to your aid?
Russ, on the other hand, is clearly more interested in debate and discussion on the morality and practicality of these issues, as the rest of us are, and presumably wants to get at some worthwhile truth. Thus, talking to Russ makes sense, while trying to talk to an armed robber doesn’t.

mpolzkill August 25, 2009 at 9:02 am

M.A. Clem,

“says little about the political system”

I don’t know, it says a lot about Gil & conservatism, I’d say. For instance, I think their phantasmagorias are the place to look when you want to find the root causes of the “Cold War”.

Great talking to you all, I look forward to tonight and reading what you all come up with. Take care.

Gil August 25, 2009 at 8:38 pm

“Thus, talking to Russ makes sense, while trying to talk to an armed robber doesn’t.” – M. A. Clem

Uh huh . . . No, it shows a capacity for talk and nothing else. It reminds me of the story of when the poor people of New York would riot – did they trash the rich side town to make a real statement, nope, they trash their own side of town where it was safe to do so and where there’d be little to no repercussions. Nope, you have no ability to make a real difference in the real world but taking on Russ over the ‘real’ meaning of ‘Libertarianism’ gives a cheap feeling of ‘doing something’.

Rafael Garcia August 25, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Gil, your impatience with education and obsession with action are surprising. This Institute is dedicated to education, that is its purpose, and education is achieved by talking and writing. Moreover, what “action” do you suggest, if educating others is not “real” enough for you? Either you are recommending violent revolution, in which case you are not the safest person to be communicating with openly, or you are recommending political action, which is intrinsically evil (as all this “useless” talking has been trying to prove to you and others). As Mises would exhort us: tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito. That is, “first, do no evil. but proceed ever more boldly against it.” Political activism usually breaks the first injunction, under the pretense of carrying out the second.

Gil August 25, 2009 at 11:35 pm

So, Rafael, you don’t like violent revolution (which ironically was the way in which America got to secede from Britian) nor do you like getting involved in politics (I do respect Ron Paul for pro-active in his beliefs even if I probably wouldn’t agree with all of his beliefs) so what’s left: ‘education’. Okeedokee. ;)

Rafael Garcia August 26, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Good point, Gil. I should clarify, political action is only immoral for an anarchist, not a minarchist. And even there, I’m not sure about it yet, I’ve yet to read enough on both sides.

Violent revolution against the State is not, of course, intrinsically wrong. But it can be quite stupid, if public opinion doesn’t support it. This is not 1776, and Obama is not seen the same way as George III was.

Gil August 29, 2009 at 11:23 am

“But it can be quite stupid, if public opinion doesn’t support it. This is not 1776, and Obama is not seen the same way as George III was.” – Rafael.

Bit late but – it is estimated that the ‘revolution’ was only supported by 30% of the population. The rebels believed in what they were doing not whether the majority like it or not.

Michael A. Clem September 1, 2009 at 9:49 am

Nope, you have no ability to make a real difference in the real world but taking on Russ over the ‘real’ meaning of ‘Libertarianism’ gives a cheap feeling of ‘doing something’.
Talking doesn’t preclude doing other things, too. But if ideas are so unimportant to the workings of the world, why are you bothering to talk? Actions speak louder than words, don’t they?
In truth, though, human action is meaningless without the thought or idea that guides it. Both thought and action are necessary for meaningful purpose. And, naturally enough, different ideas lead to different actions. The purpose of talking to others about these ideas is to persuade them to take different actions. You can argue about how effective such talk is in persuading people, but you cannot argue without accepting the fact that you, too, are trying to persuade people to take different actions–otherwise, why would you argue? Just to make noise?

Kaelen October 11, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Russ,

Russ, have you seen A Clockwork Orange? Since a lot of this discussion is hypothetical and no anarcho-cap nor a true monarchist state has existed, go with me on this scenario. Stephan has referred to you endorsing rape to prevent other rapes, and while you see this as extreme and unrelated, he is merely addressing the principle of allowing lesser evils to take place for the sake of preventing greater evils. Let’s say 1 out of 100 men will commit a rape; but it has been proven that if exposed to a live violent rape at a young age only 1 out of 100,000 will commit rape (similar to the process in Clockwork Orange). Would you be okay and support educational techniques that place 100,000 young male kids in a room and then allow a girl who was kidnapped to be brought in and raped (by an already convicted rapist) in front of them, knowing that this would lead to a lot less women being raped overall?

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