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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6384/the-right-to-self-defense/

The Right to Self-defense

March 16, 2007 by

To say that someone has the absolute right to a certain property, writes Murray Rothbard, but lacks the right to defend it against attack or invasion is also to say that he does not have total right to that property. Furthermore, if every man has the right to defend his person and property against attack, then he must also have the right to hire or accept the aid of other people to do such defending: he may employ or accept defenders just as he may employ or accept the volunteer services of gardeners on his lawn. FULL ARTICLE


Mark Brabson March 16, 2007 at 10:17 am

We have made progress in Florida with the recent enactment of the “Stand Your Ground” law. Definately a strong advancement in both the ability to defend yourself and others AND the ability to defend your property.

Alex MacMillan March 16, 2007 at 10:42 am

Since only private property has the right to be defended, I presume this means a state has no moral right to limit immigration.

Nick Bradley March 16, 2007 at 12:01 pm


The right to self-defense is not limited to private property. In fact, nowhere in Rothbard’s excerpt did it state that was the case.

In fact, when the state forbids or make impossible certain types of self-defense, the state takes on an obligation to provide the defensive service.

If a state bans private police and outlaws self-defense, it has an obligation to provide it. The same goes with national security and immigration.

Since a community DOES NOT have the legal right to ban certain types of people from their communities (the 14th amendment, the civil rights act, etc. etc.), the state has a moral obligation to provide that service.

In a true free market, where private commons would certainly exist (roads, parks, etc.), the users of that resource would have the right to ban individuals from using it.

Since a community does not have the right to provide for its own national security against terrorism, the state has a moral obligation to do so.

In a truly free market, a community would have the right to perform ethnic profiling in the event of a terrorist attack.

Kevin B. March 16, 2007 at 1:45 pm


“In a true free market, where private commons would certainly exist (roads, parks, etc.), the users of that resource would have the right to ban individuals from using it.”

I would reword your statement to say that “the owners of that resource would have the right to ban individuals from using it.” Some may mistake your words to mean public property.

Richard March 16, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Maybe I’ve misunderstood Rothbard but on the basis of proportional defence, a householder would not have the right to shoot a burglar. Am I correct?

George Gaskell March 16, 2007 at 2:49 pm

Self-defense is the first right.

It is the first, most basic distinction between forms of violence — dividing the universe of violent acts into those that are acceptable and those that are not, between right and wrong, in the simplest sense of these terms.

Therefore, all morality flows from the idea of self-defense.

Only a state could pervert these fundamental truths to the point where it supposedly becomes immoral (or illegal, at least) to defend oneself.

Matt Robare March 16, 2007 at 2:49 pm

The whole idea of proportional defense was, interestingly enough, derived by the Rabbis centuries ago from the Torah law: “An eye for an eye.”

They realized that, unlike in draconian Babylon where the doctor causing accidental blindness was himself blinded, the doctor causing accidental blindness must duly compensate the plaintiff.

(Presumably that compensation depended upon how important the person’s eyes were to them. If they were a scribe they’d probably be entitled to more compensation than a musician or a politician.)

Alex MacMillan March 16, 2007 at 5:36 pm


I was referring to Rothbards following remarks:

How extensive is a man’s right of self-defense of person and property? This basic answer must be: up to the point at which he begins to infringe upon the property rights of someone else.”

It follows that defensive violence may only be used against an actual or directly threatened invasion of a person’s property -and may not be used against any nonviolent “harm” that may befall a person’s income or property value.”

These above comments seem to imply that no defense of private property may be applied by the restriction of someone’s movement (over the globe), since such movement does not involve an “actual or directly threatened invasion of a person’s property”. If you know of Rothbard’s logic to restrict someone’s personal movement, what is it?

Peter March 16, 2007 at 11:53 pm

If someone’s “movement” means movement over your property, that would be “actual or threatened invasion of a person’s property”. Therefore you can ask them not do so, or to leave. If they refuse, you can use force to make them move. If they respond with force to prevent you making them move, you can shoot them. What’s the problem?

Richard March 17, 2007 at 1:59 am

“If they respond with force to prevent you making them move, you can shoot them.

What’s the problem?”

Because if you hear someone lurking round your house during the night you’re hardly going to go downstairs and say “excuse me but would you please leave?”, then wait for them to comply or say “no” or attack you. Chances are you’re scared out of your wits and don’t want to risk getting injured first if they’re armed. Therefore, after checking it’s not one of their family, most people would probably go down and shoot them. It’s one thing to steal bubblegum from a shop, quite another to invade someone’s home and start ransacking it.

Furthermore, you’d probably want to keep them there before the law enforcement agency arrive. In which case would it be acceptable to shoot them if they tried to leg it?

Alex MacMillan March 17, 2007 at 8:00 am

Nick or anyone else,

Let me be more specific. Wilma Wilkinson walks from point A on the globe to point B and does not threaten or invade anyone’s private property in the proces. In the environs of point B, Wilma obtains a job, rents or buys property, and otherwise acts as a law abiding, responsible human being. Does Rothbard have a moral justification for preventing Wilma from being at point B and sending her back to the environs of point A?

Michael A. Clem March 18, 2007 at 11:32 am

My gosh, Rothbard covered so many details, and for the most part fairly well. I’ve really got to read him in more depth.
One little quibble from this section, though. I would say that when a person commits a crime, this does not forfeit his rights–it merely calls for restitution to the victim to undo his crime, to the extent of the rights-violation. This also makes it easy to understand why the shopkeeper is not justified in shooting the bubblegum shoplifter.

Scott S March 21, 2007 at 8:36 am

I received the daily Rockwell email today, and this article was the first on the list. After reading it, I have a question (and thanks to the Mises blog site for having a search function so I could find this story)…

Rothbard says that if A promises (and signs a contract with) B to pay him some money in six months and then doesn’t, B cannot use force to get that money from A. But later he says that if B loans $1000 to A and A promises to give B back $1100 in a year (and then doesn’t), B has a right to the $1100.

Why does B have a right to the $1100, instead of just a right to reclaim his property, the $1000? The $100 in interest was not real property, it was a ‘promise’ (like the first example) and so it would seem B doesn’t have a claim to it.

It could be argued that B wouldn’t have loaned the money to A if he didn’t expect to get paid back with interest, but the same could be said for the contractual promise of A to pay B in the first place – maybe B wouldn’t hang out with A unless he knew A was going to give him some money.

Why is the $100 in interest treated differently than the first contractual promise to pay B money?

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