On Air Ownership and Pollution

The question of how to deal with air pollution is frequently asked of libertarian theorists, as it is an issue which has been dominated by governments for far longer than a human lifetime. Accordingly, it may be difficult to transition toward a free market alternative to government environmental regulations. Several other attempts have been made to address this issue, but let us tackle the problem rigorously from first principles.

The starting point for all of libertarian ethics is self-ownership, that each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false is false by contradiction.

Because each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, it is wrong for one person to interfere with another person’s exclusive control of their physical body without their consent. This is how the non-aggression principle is derived from self-ownership. Because each person has full responsibility for the actions that one commits with one’s physical body, one may gain property rights in external objects by laboring upon unowned natural resources, and one owes restitution for any acts of aggression that one commits against other people or their property. But because the non-aggression principle and private property rights are derived from self-ownership, they are dependent upon it. That which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent, therefore self-ownership takes primacy if there should be a conflict between the self-ownership of one person and the external private property rights of another person.

Now that a logical framework is established, let us consider the problem of air pollution through this framework. The essential fact about air pollution is that the polluter adds harmful substances to the air against the wishes of those who are exposed to it, either through inhalation, external contact, or ground or water pollution as the contaminants are left behind once polluted air has passed through an area. When such exposure occurs, the pollution is not only an act of aggression against private property, but against liberty and life as well in the event of illness or death caused by the pollutants. This means that a polluter may be guilty not only of damaging property, but of assault or homicide.

But what about the air itself? We can deduce what it means to own the air from what it means to own something in general, which has already been discussed. Given the above theoretical framework, a person may own land, but the air above the land is not labored upon and is not static upon the property. (One could gain ownership of some air by performing some labor upon it, such as enclosing in a container or pressurizing it therein, but this is mostly a separate issue from that of air pollution.) But a person must have some reasonable clearance above the land to be able to move freely upon it and generally enjoy the private property right in it. This clearance might also allow one to hunt game birds and to be free from spy drones flown by other people, but could not extend high enough to impede commercial air or space travel overhead. The extent of this clearance is impossible to determine a priori and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis through negotiations and contracts.

At this point, one may be led to think that far from the leftist caricature that libertarianism is unconcerned with environmental pollution, this framework is actually too sensitive to pollution, as any amount of air pollution could be considered an act of aggression. If true, this would require a radical reorganization of society so as to eliminate all emissions. But this is where the Reecean proviso rescues libertarianism from a practically untenable position. Because self-ownership overrules external property rights, pollution that is required for survival is permissible. As Friedman points out[1],

“Carbon dioxide is a pollutant. It is also an end product of human metabolism. If I have no right to impose a single molecule of pollution on anyone else’s property, then I must get the permission of all my neighbors to breathe. Unless I promise not to exhale.”

Another example is the burning of wood in one’s fireplace or campsite to prevent hypothermia, cook food, sanitize drinking water, etc., as disallowing such activities (or their more modern equivalent of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat) would result in a massive depopulation, which in turn would destroy the institutions of private property. But the Reecean proviso cannot defend non-essential pollution, such as that produced by modern transportation or tobacco smoke, as there is no self-ownership to weigh against private property rights. Fortunately, we need not alter civilization quite so radically, as there are other theoretical considerations which are somewhat more permissive.

The distinction between non-harm, non-violence, and non-aggression means that the maxim of ‘no victim means no crime’ is an oversimplification; the more accurate statement is that no victim means no restitution can be owed and no punishment beyond what is necessary to stop acts of aggression should be meted out. This distinction allows us to differentiate[2] between noticeable trespasses and unnoticeable nuisances, the latter of which are only actionable if some damage may be demonstrated. This is because a substance which cannot be noticed and does not demonstrably cause harm is functionally equivalent to being absent, and a lack of cause for restitution leaves a court with no sentence to impose.

The dispute resolution standards in use by the polluter and the pollutee also play an important role, as a different result will occur if both use a reasonable doubt standard versus a preponderance of evidence standard. Still another possibility is that the polluter will use a private court company with one standard of proof while the pollutee will use a different private court company with a different standard of proof. Such instances would need to be negotiated and contracted on a case-by-case basis, but any competent court company would be staffed by people who are aware of such problems and capable of performing such negotiations. Coase explained[3] that such negotiations will result in some level of pollution and some restitution that is satisfactory to both. Perhaps this is not ideal for nature, but it does minimize pollution levels beyond what alternatives to voluntary negotiations have produced thus far.

Another matter is that not all property claims are established at the same time. This means that it is possible for a right to pollute to be homesteaded, in that if all of the pollution generated by a property owner falls upon unowned wilderness and stays there, then anyone who establishes property in that wilderness tacitly consents to the current conditions of present and continuing pollution. Of course, another instance which would need to be negotiated and contracted on a case-by-case basis is that of a polluter ceasing operations for a time, as the newer property owners may come to expect this new, cleaner state of affairs and take action if the polluter resumes operations.

These deviations from a strict ban on air pollution still leave in place a far greater protection of the environment than do statist environmental regulations. Whereas a private owner both exercises exclusive control over a resource and may sell either the resource or stock in it, government officials cannot generally do the latter. This means that government officials lack an important economic incentive to take care of the air. A private owner of an airspace whose air becomes polluted would sue the polluter for damages and seek injunctive relief, but the Environmental Protection Agency or its state-level subsidiaries tend to block such lawsuits when filed by concerned citizens. This lack of incentive also leads governments to pollute the air, to the extent that the U.S. military is the worst polluter in the world.

It is clear that governments cannot be trusted to defend its citizens from such aggressions, but it has done worse; it has prevented free market solutions from being implemented. During the 19th century, people whose property was damaged by factory smoke took the factory owners to court, seeking relief from the pollution in the form of injunctions and damages. The government judges, realizing on which side their bread was buttered, sided with the factory owners, claiming that the “public good” of industrial progress outweighed private property rights. Legislators, also knowing who was more capable of funding their campaigns and bribing them, joined in for the polluters and against the pollutees by eliminating the option of class action lawsuits against polluters who cause damage over a large area. Rothbard recognized[4] that technology has therefore developed to produce air pollution because governments have interfered with private property rights in this area, and a society where this was far more restricted all along would have developed in a more environmentally friendly manner.

The criticism of libertarian theories of air pollution that is least addressed is that they do not effectively deal with situations in which responsibility is greatly dispersed, such as the pollution from driving automobiles leading to smog in large urban areas or places with geography that traps harmful particles. Pollution is no more acceptable if a million people produce it than if one person produces it, but the responsibility of each person becomes so small as to be unmeasurable for purposes of restitution. There is also the matter that crime consists of both an actus reus and a mens rea, and the everyday driver does not operate an automobile with the intent to harm the environment. As with individual cases, we may expect that a Coasean negotiation will occur to minimize both pollution and damages, but the major reason that theorists tend not to address this concern is that no theory can solve a problem of mass action; only a mass counter-action, such as driving less or using more environmentally friendly fuels, can solve such problems.

In closing, a libertarian approach to air pollution does not produce perfect results, but neither does anything else, and turning this problem over to the state has only produced and will only produce ecological disaster.


  1. Friedman, David (1989). The Machinery of Freedom. p.168
  2. Rothbard, Murray (1982). Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution. Cato Journal, p. 55-99
  3. Coase, Ronald (1960). The Problem of Social Cost. Journal of Law and Economics, p. 1-44
  4. Rothbard, Murray (1973). For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto. p. 317-327

Ten Simple Rules For Debating

A significant amount of my recent work has been written in response to arguments made by other libertarian thinkers. As such, the time is ripe for a guide to how this is best done. This article will take the reader through the process of an exchange of ideas from start to finish, and explain my ten simple rules for debating. Those who follow these rules are guaranteed to become more successful debaters, as well as less stressed and overworked.

1. Pick your battles. While a person of little renown may have enough time to engage with whomever one pleases at whatever length one desires, people who have less time to spend engaging in debates must choose which opponents to engage and which to ignore, as well as how long to engage each opponent. It is best to have a consistent rubric for this, which will be discussed further in rules 2 and 9.

2. Engage only those worthy of being engaged. Some people are capable of maintaining a rational discourse, while other people cannot seem to communicate without resorting to personal attacks, profanity, threats, and other such uncivil behavior. Some people have interesting and novel insights, while other people insist upon bringing up points which have been refuted a thousand times. Some people are experts in the fields of which they speak, while other people do not stick to their lasts. Some people make the effort to properly support an argument, while other people Gish gallop. A person’s behavior in this regard is a strong indicator of whether that person is worthy of one’s attention. Note that other debaters will judge you by a similar standard, so be the kind of person that someone else would be willing to debate.

3. Do your research. If you know a topic in great detail, you will be more able to counter any argument your opponent may make. An uninformed debater is an incompetent debater. An unprepared debater is a sloppy debater. Also, make sure that the sources you study are reliable. If the opponent is competent, a misinformed debater will be an embarrassed debater.

4. Do not argue to convince the opponent; argue to convince a third party. In many cases, a person worthy of being engaged will be firmly entrenched in a position, and it may even be against the nature of the format for your opponent to come over to your side. Focus instead on convincing the audience, whether they be people watching a live debate or reading a correspondence. This methodology is stated explicitly in some debate formats, but it is sound strategy regardless.

5. Base your arguments upon logic (logos), not emotion (pathos) or authority (ethos). A debate is properly won by using reason and evidence to demonstrate that one’s position is superior to that of one’s opponent. Detouring into appeals to emotion can help one connect with the audience or provoke an opponent into a misstep, but this does not advance one’s case in a rigorous manner. Appealing to the authority of oneself or someone else can dissuade a weak opponent or convince a less intelligent audience, but attempting this against a strong opponent in front of a knowledgeable audience is a recipe for disaster.

6. Relentlessly attack logical fallacies and weak arguments. It is important to point out every shortcoming that you can find in your opponent’s case. Doing so will make you more skilled in identifying logical fallacies and weak arguments, which means that opponents will be less able to get away with sloppy reasoning in future debates. Do not worry about being pedantic; your job is to find all weaknesses in your opponent’s case and illuminate them to make your case appear stronger by comparison.

7. Focus on the task at hand. A debate can easily go off track, especially if the subject matter is wide, deep, or both. Avoid making arguments that neither support your case nor attack your opponent’s case. Only go into the weeds if your opponent takes you there; the person who begins the foray into many different minutiae is usually running out of solid logic and evidence.

8. Destroy arguments, not people. Be respectful of your opponent, or at least be as respectful of your opponent as he or she is of you. Resorting to personal attacks (or escalating them if they are already in use) is a refuge of a person with weak arguments, and it will make people less willing to consider your case on its merits. Remember, your job is to defeat your opponent’s arguments, not his or her character.

9. Know when to quit. There comes a point in every debate at which further discussion has diminishing returns or even becomes completely pointless. It is important to learn to identify that point and stop there. Sometimes this will be clear; an opponent may even announce that a particular round will be his or her closing argument. If this happens, respond with a closing argument of your own and be finished; do not repeatedly pummel the opponent after he or she has left the debate. This may also be the case in a timed or response-limited debate, in which case one should abide by the rules of the format. In other cases, it will be a matter of personal judgment to decide to walk away from a debate.

10. Handle both defeat and victory appropriately. No one likes a sore loser or a bad winner. If you lose a debate, reflect on how and why you lost. Then, take the necessary steps to avoid losing in the same manner in a future debate. This may involve more study of the debate topic, reviewing logical fallacies, or even changing one’s position on an issue. If you win, do not gloat or boast. Accept victory graciously, then check your discourse for arguments that could have been stronger or presented more effectively.

Unrepentant Aggressors Must Die For Liberty

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counterrebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments were addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed here.

To close, I want to summarize the logical argument against violent revolution in a general sense, as it seems Reece fails to understand this as well. His objections to it are all straw men, wishful thinking and contentions that the form of the revolution will be “just so” as to happen to work.

This is thoroughly false and misguided, as we will see shortly.

(As an aside, it is important to note that I have never claimed that government agents were not aggressors and that self-defense against an agent of the state is somehow not permissible, but that it will not achieve liberty. This is a large distinction, but one our critic ignores when he reminds us that “using force against them [government agents] meets the standard of self-defense.”)

Underhill did not make this claim, but many other people who advocate against revolution do, so it was necessary to address.

Reece’s argument is basically summed up as follows:

What follows is such a preposterous misstatement of my case that it can only be intentional.

the revolutionaries will all use precisely the appropriate tools to hide themselves, will use precisely the correct strategy to rebuff a more technologically superior military, will act such that the public relations can be turned against the state only,

I never claimed that all revolutionaries will do this; only that a certain number of them will need to do so if the revolution is to be successful.

will not be confused with violent criminals by the mass of the populace,

This concern is largely irrelevant. If we wish to use history as a guide, as Underhill is wont to do, then we must assume that the mass of the populace will not lift a finger one way or the other, regardless of whether they believe the revolutionaries, the state, or both to be violent criminals. Most people are so used to having the state provide them with “security” that they have no concept of how to deal with such issues themselves, let alone take up arms to suppress a group of people who are defeating agents of the state in battle.

will only fight back when the mass of the people are on their side (specifically, on this point, Reece conflates the mixed support for non-violent resistance by Apple with support for violent revolutionaries),

I never claimed that all revolutionaries will wait until there are enough of them to be successful; only that the state will be able to crush them if they make an attempt before they have the means to succeed.

I did not conflate the support for Apple’s resistance to government spying to support for revolution. Underhill claimed that resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front. I merely pointed out the falsehood of that statement.

the populace will not use force against people they view as terrorists killing their families in their homes,

I said nothing of killing families in their homes.

and no revolutionary will kill anyone who didn’t “deserve it” for being a government agent.

I did not claim that this will never happen; only that it should be minimized as much as possible to avoid attempts at reprisal and bad public relations.

And there’s no possible case that any of the leaders of this revolution that engage in organizing such things as coordinated strikes across the country, etc., will see an opportunity to gain power out of this and take it (as Lenin did in the October Revolution – which Reece seems to think only failed because it was communist, despite the fact that communism as described by the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric of statelessness was never obtained out of that revolution).

This is a concern, but if existing nation-states can be overthrown, then so can these revolutionaries-turned-statists. The October Revolution failed to produce a stateless society because anarcho-communism is a contradictory ideology that ignores human nature and economic incentives.

Nor, of course, will there be any disagreement among these cells which have no full knowledge of each other as to what constitutes sufficient support for the state to be worthy of death: there will be no Cantwell-style authoritarians involved, viewing the Left as worse than the state, nor Zwolinski-style leftists involved, wanting to have a universal income imposed to help the poor, nor anyone who, like David Friedman, rejects the NAP as the basis for anarchy (turning instead to utilitarianism).

I did not claim that the same standards would be used by each revolutionary cell across all places and times. People who would violate libertarian ethics in a libertarian revolution, such as Zwolinskians and Friedmanites, would make targets of themselves, as they would be initiating the use of force just as agents of the state do. Cantwell is not an authoritarian, nor does he view the left as worse than the state; his view seems to be that if people will not eliminate the state, then the left must be suppressed because the two will reinforce each other when both are present, leading to societal ruin. As eliminating the state is unlikely in the short-term, the left is a more immediate and addressable problem.

And no one will deem military families, unarmed government agents like DMV employees or postal workers, or simply “voters” as providing enough support for the state, I’m sure.

Of course this can happen, but such people can be disavowed or even forcibly stopped by other revolutionaries, as attacking such people is tactically unwise, even though it may be possible to make a moral argument that they are vicariously liable in some way.

Underhill’s use of the revolving Stalin statue meme at this point solidifies his intentional effort to misunderstand the case for revolution.

When we look at all Reece’s caveats and conditions, it becomes readily apparent how fanciful this idea of using violent revolution to rebuff the state really is.

When one misunderstands the case, as Underhill insists upon doing, it certainly can appear fanciful.

Reece has no conception about the reality of war, only the wishes of his own heart. He has no concern for the life and limb of human beings here, dismissing such concerns as irrelevant.

Underhill proves that it is he who has no conception about the reality of war with his next sentence. Concern for the life and limb of human beings who are engaged in combat against one’s forces is irrelevant for a competent military strategist. The way that wars are won is that a sufficient number of enemy combatants are killed or wounded and a sufficient amount of economic damage is caused so as to make the conflict too costly to continue for the other side. The contention in his subtitle, that fighting fire with fire only burns everyone, further illustrates his ignorance. This only occurs if the two sides are roughly equal in their capacity to use force. But if one side overwhelms the other, then most of the victors will not be burned.

He does not recognize, as Thomas Jefferson did, that “war is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong, and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses.”

Underhill does not recognize, as Otto von Bismarck did, that “not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided—but by iron and blood.”

He does not understand the contention of Agatha Christie “that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.”

With the notable exception of Pyrrhic victories, this contention is false. To win a war is to maintain control of one’s destiny and to have leverage at peace talks, should there be any. To lose a war is to be at the mercy of conquerors.

He simply dismisses concerns of collateral damage, of mass deaths, of the realities of such violent conflict.

This is false. To compare a situation to the alternative and make the case that the alternative is worse does not constitute a dismissal of said situation.

Just as he dismisses the power of non-violent action.

I did not do this. In “Liberty Requires Revolution,” I said, “None of this is to suggest that [non-violent] methods are useless. But at best, they will not defeat the state by themselves. At worst, they ease some of the pain of oppression, which gives people less incentive to end it. Their purpose, if any, must be to weaken the state and grow the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible, then to aid a revolutionary effort.”

He claims I do not understand that the state “will not magically disappear” if people stop providing it resources. “When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long,” he contends. But how successful is the violence of a man who cannot find armaments? Who cannot obtain fuel? Who cannot pay for food and clothing and shelter?

How successful the violence of a man who cannot find armaments, obtain fuel, or pay for the basic necessities of life depends entirely upon how able and willing he is to use force to get more. This is primarily a function of what resources he has available at the moment. Underhill seems to believe that whatever they have on hand will vanish once the state fails.

Soldiers who believed their cause most righteous have often quit fighting because of a lack of resources – how much more so when these unpaid and ill-equipped soldiers are fighting against non-violent protesters and peaceful people in their homes solely in the name of the state that is not paying them? Revolutionary War soldiers often quit because they were not getting paid. The US government had to resort to hyper-inflationary money printing to pay soldiers during the Civil War just to keep them fighting.

Some will quit, but others will not. Underhill has no answer for those who will not, and this is why his pacifist approach fails.

A few soldiers even marched (peacefully!) on Congress in the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 in order to demand payment, forcing the Congress to leave Pennsylvania.

The soldiers took control of the weapons and munitions stores in Philadelphia, blocked the door of the State House where the Congress was meeting, and managed to get the Congress to leave Philadelphia. This was not peaceful activity, although one could make a case that it was justified because the Congress was a criminal enterprise by universal ethical standards.

It is far more powerful to quit using state currency, quit selling to the state, and stop paying taxes. As pointed out by the character Lord Varys in Game of Thrones, “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.” And once men stop believing power resides with the state, there is no longer any power the state can bring to bear.

While I agree that alternatives to state currency, refusing to provide services to the state, and refusing to pay taxes are powerful methods, they have the same shortfalls as all non-violent methods. The state will respond to this non-violent resistance with violence long before men can stop believing power resides with the state, and the protesters will either back down, be victimized, or fight back.

The ultimate question here is precisely the one that has gone unaddressed by Reece this entire time, despite it being brought up in the original article I presented. As The Doctor pointed out in the quote I originally used:

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…

This did not go unaddressed; in “Resolve To Understand The Struggle” I explained that this is no argument against revolution because refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.

We return to this to ask this of our critic: who must die so that you can be free?

The answer is simple: unrepentant aggressors must die for liberty. People who commit acts of aggression, refuse to stop doing so, refuse to make restitution, and cannot be subdued by non-lethal means must be killed in self-defense if people are to secure their liberty.

Sure, you’ll start with the government agents; the police and military members that provide the force for the state. But what about their families? What about your family? Your friends? Your neighbors? The people going about their daily lives in peace? Voters? Non-voters? Other anarchists who don’t support your violence? Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters?

Underhill makes a hysterical and intentional effort to misrepresent the case here. None of these people need die. Of course, some may, but this danger does not go away by not engaging in revolution.

Only a fool believes that there will be no innocents slain in your violent revolution that would otherwise go about their lives in peace.

Only a fool believes that the number of innocents slain in an effort to end the state would come close to the number of innocents who have died and continue to die because of the state.

Just as an eye for an eye makes everyone blind, so too does violent retribution only increase death, destruction and heartbreak.

Much like Underhill’s contention that fighting fire with fire only burns everyone, this demonstrates a lack both of historical knowledge and of how conflicts proceed. The threat of an eye for an eye is what ultimately keeps the peace, as evidenced by the efforts of most tyrannical rulers to disarm their citizens and the lack of total warfare since the invention of nuclear weapons. What really increases death, destruction, and heartbreak is a situation in which proverbial eyes can be put out with no consequences for the aggressors.

And so, I must stand with Martin Luther King Jr. and declare that the solution is not violence, but peace, love, and non-violence. Justice and liberty are not served by bloodshed and revolt, but by peaceful resistance and refusal to submit.

Underhill again fails to understand that peaceful resistance and refusal to submit are incompatible as soon as the state resorts to force.

As that great man said:

And the other thing is that I am concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice. I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence.

If one is concerned about justice, brotherhood, and truth in a world where violent criminals perpetrate injustice and falsehood by force, one must advocate defensive force to stop them.

For through violence you may murder a murderer but you can’t murder murder.

It is impossible to murder a murderer because a murderer has forfeited self-ownership by destroying the self-ownership of another person.

Through violence you may murder a liar but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate.

This is not in dispute.

Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that. And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go.

This approach cannot deal with situations in which darkness would put out light. For this, we need Malcolm X’s approach:

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”

Let us make a final point to conclude this debate, as further correspondence would appear to be fruitless, given our respective dispositions. Underhill’s general position is described almost exactly in Brandon Smith’s essay “Understanding The Fear Of Self-Defense And Revolution” (2015). Smith laments:

Over the course of half a century, the philosophy of “anti-violence” has come to include a distinct distaste for self-defense. Self-defense is now consistently equated to “violence” (and is, thus, immoral), regardless of environmental circumstances.

Even in the liberty movement, there are people who disregard physical defense as either barbaric or “futile” and have adopted rather less-effective pacifist ideologies of more socialist activism. The problem with certain factions of libertarianism is that they tend to live within their own heads, reveling in a world of Randian and Rothbardian political and social theory, while abandoning the other side of concrete resistance. Some in the survival community call these people “egghead libertarians,” and I think the label fits.


They have almost no experience with and, therefore, no respect for the concept of self-defense and revolution. And they have no capacity to fathom what such an endeavor would entail. This unknown scenario inspires fear in them — a fear of struggle, a fear of failure, and a fear of death.

While taking action from a position of love for one’s fellow man is indeed noble, it is sometimes not enough in the face of pure evil — the kind of evil inherent in the ranks of elitism and the globalist ideology. It is important to keep at least one foot on the ground when building a movement of dissent and realize that while maintaining the moral high ground is paramount, there are limitations to what peaceful resistance can accomplish, depending on the opponent. If you are not prepared to use both peaceful means and physical defense if necessary, your movement will ultimately fail against an enemy without conscience.

To illustrate this point further, as Underhill indicates an interest in historical fiction in his footnotes, let us consider such a work. “The Last Article” (1988) is a short story written by Harry Turtledove. In this alternate timeline, the Nazis won World War II and thus gained control of the British Raj in India. Gandhi tries the same tactics against the Nazis that he used against the British in our timeline, but the Nazis are unmoved by Gandhi’s pacifism, opting instead to slaughter protesters. The movement collapses in the face of Nazi savagery, and Gandhi gets captured and executed by Field Marshal Walther Model. A state apparatus facing an existential risk at the hands of the citizenry it has long oppressed is far more likely to act like the Nazis than the British toward the resistance.

Finally, let us consider the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote in Gulag Archipelago (1973):

And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…

Of History and Possibilities

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counterrebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments will be addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed separately.

Reece contends that “semantics are important” in his dispute over whether the English Civil War was, in fact, a revolution, before proceeding to admit that “[i]t is not wrong to call the overthrow of Charles I and the establishment of the Protectorate under Cromwell a revolution”. So then what is the issue? According to him, it’s “not the most precise” – despite it meeting both the Webster’s definition I cited and the Oxford definition Reece favors. In what way is this not precise? I contend Reece cannot say other than repeating his claim that Marxist historical revisionists were the first to use the term.

I have already said; a civil war generally lasts longer and necessarily involves fighting between regular military forces representing each side, while a revolution does not necessarily involve this. One could further note that a successful revolution results in a change of organizational structures. But Oliver Cromwell was essentially a king by the different name of Lord Protector; he held the position for life, passed it on to his son, and wielded power on par with that of a king. The only structural change of note was the abolition of the House of Lords between 1649 and 1660, but the House of Commons had been gaining in influence for some time and was the more influential of the two by 1649.

…not even I would go so far as to argue that the Marxists are simply wrong about everything simply by being Marxists. If one cannot argue the error of something besides associating it with a group of people that is often wrong, there is no argument – only a genetic fallacy.

This is a straw man, as I said no such thing. The point I made is that contemporaries of the events who witnessed them first-hand used the term “civil war,” and it is better to trust the people who actually experienced an event than those who analyze their records much later.

Similarly, in his other article, Reece claims that it is the Oxford dictionary definition that “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance”. Here he missed the point entirely.

It is impossible to the person who makes a point to miss said point.

The argument was not merely whether the dictionary definition included that as a theoretical possibility, but whether it was a rational possibility. As I will argue throughout this article and was arguing with that original statement, believing this is possible is simply wishful thinking; a forcible overthrow of a state will result only in death, disaster, chaos and a new state.

His arguments to this effect failed before, and I will show that they fail again.

Back in the first response, he argues that “[a] competent historian, much like a competent economist, does not think in a simple and linear fashion” in an attempt to counter the point that Charles II was invited peacefully to retake the English throne, saying that “an analogue about ignoring counter-factual possibilities in favor of historical determinism applies” to the analysis of history. This is just nonsense on stilts – nothing more than an attempt to smuggle in his hypothetical counter-factuals as if they were actualities. History is not economics, where logical laws apply that could present counter-factual truths.

The historical record does not work this way, but theoretical history does, and theoretical history is what we are dealing with here.

Reece claims that there is no guarantee that Charles II would have succeeded his father to the throne without the Revolution. But equally there is no guarantee that he wouldn’t have. Or what if the Gunpowder plot had removed Charles I’s father, James I? Or if the Nazis won WWII? Who knows what might have happened if events in history occurred differently?

This is a valid point which undermines the case for using history as an absolute guide for the future.

He continues to make this mistake later when talking about the French Revolution again, where he claims:

to say that Napoleon did not rise to power from violent revolution would require one to show that he would have taken power in the absence of the French Revolution. This is impossible because it is a counter-factual.

Similarly, “to say that Napoleon rose to power from violent revolution would require one to show that he would not have taken power in the absence of the French Revolution. This is impossible because it is a counter-factual.”

These are not equivalent because one happened and the other did not (at least in this timeline).

Yet it seems our critic would have us believe that the history of Napoleon’s reign in France can be attributed to the French Revolution, saying “[t]he idea that Napoleon’s beneficial accomplishments as the Emperor of France have no bearing on the result of the French Revolution itself is laughable.”

While a competent historian does not think in a simple and linear fashion, this does not mean that one should ignore the particular linear results of this timeline.

While accusing me of linear thinking about history, Reece claims “[e]very event that happens after a given historical episode has some bearing on the result of that historical episode.” I suppose we are to believe that the nature of the Roman Republic must be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms. After all, the latter happened after the former. Clearly, this is ridiculous, but the rationale is the same. Where do we draw the line?

That a given historical episode should be analyzed in terms of what events were set into motion by it is standard practice, and for good reason. That the Roman Republic must be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms is not clearly ridiculous, given that a link may be established between them in that the United States was founded in part upon knowledge of the Roman Republic. It is important to consider what the governing philosophy in a particular place and time motivates other people to attempt in a different place and a later time. I will grant that the time span of two millennia between them makes the link weak and obfuscated, but it is there. Where we should draw the line is in cases where a link may not be established; for example, the Olmec need not be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms because their governing philosophy did not influence the founding of the United States.

I’d contend that the failure of the French Revolution was evident in its leaders being replaced by Napoleon…

This is a valid point.

…and it is foolish to ascribe Napoleon’s rule, good or bad, to the taking of power by Robespierre.

Again, how does one know that Napoleon could or would have gained power without the French Revolution? It is impossible to say.

Reece then responds to the discussion of the French Revolution by pointing out that the coup by which Napoleon rose to power was “bloodless, not peaceful”. In my view, this is a distinction without a difference.

There is quite a difference between a situation in which no one is willing to use force and a situation in which one side is willing to kill the other but gets what it wants without having to escalate that far. Underhill’s failure to understand this shows that he has no real concept of how power works.

The point I was making when I noted that no one died in that coup was to note the difference between a shooting war and a bloodless coup. More precisely, what Reece is advocating is not a large show of force to get a weakened regime to capitulate, but a violent and drawn out war of resistance against powerful armies.

I am advocating a large but decentralized show of force to get a regime to capitulate, while recognizing that this is likely to lead to a war of resistance against powerful armies. But these armies are not nearly as powerful as most of us are led to believe, as explained in the previous articles.

He is also wrong when he claims that “[t]he War of the First Coalition began in response to the Declaration of Pillnitz, a threat made by King Frederick William II of Prussia and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II against the revolutionaries if they should harm King Louis XVI or his family”. The Declaration of Pillnitz was specifically written to avoid war as Leopold II did not want to fight a war at that point; the language required a war if and only if every single other European power declared war first. Reece is basically arguing here that preemptive strikes are acceptable based on the nation-states equivalence of finger wagging.

A conditional threat is still a threat, and a threat is an initiation of the use of force. As such, defensive force was justified for the purpose of ending the threat.

The article continues to note that “[a]ggressive behavior by powerful nation-states occurred regardless of whether rulers were replaced by new rulers.” This can be addressed quickly: the question was not about whether a state in revolution was more aggressive than its neighbors, but whether the state became more powerful as a result. The French Revolution is a decided case of this happening. Debating over the specific details of the sequence of events only misses this point.

Debating over the specific details of the sequence of events is required to decide the point. Few events in history are solely the cause of one prior event. Most events have multiple causes, and they occur because of some events and in spite of other events. It is quite possible that the French state became more powerful in spite of the French Revolution, or that it would have grown more powerful if there had been no revolution.

Reece also declares that I am “intellectually lazy” for not debating whether Napoleon’s rule was a net positive for liberty or not. It seems that Reece does not understand the concept of a non-sequitur.

It seems that Underhill can only focus on immediate cause and effect, and is unable to take a longer view.

Chasing every red herring in a debate cannot produce a useful discussion of the original topic (in this case, the result of violent revolution for liberty), which I intend to stick to.

Underhill’s case against violent revolution as a means for achieving liberty consists mostly of historical anecdotes, so it is he who has organized the herring hunt, so to speak.

Similarly, he accuses me of hypocrisy, saying “[c]ounter-factuals for thee, but not for me? How hypocritical.” Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t cite any use of counter-factuals on my part to back that up other than the one used explicitly to point out that counter-factuals prove nothing.

That counter-factuals prove nothing is not in contention; at issue is that ignoring them leads on to historical determinism and all of the fallacies thereof.

Continuing on, Reece presents a false dichotomy with the claim that “[a] revolution is either peaceful or violent; the law of excluded middle forbids any other status.” This is no answer to my contention that isolated cases of violent actors does not a violent revolution make. The tarring and feathering of a tax agent does not inherently represent a revolution as a whole. The reason is obvious: such an act would not be deemed revolution if it occurred in isolation. Like a heap of sand, there is no strict dividing line, but a few actions here or there are not enough to constitute a rebellion.

That a revolution is either peaceful or violent is a true dichotomy. Violence can vary in degree, but it is either present or absent. Otherwise, Underhill manages to make sense here.

In fact, our critic goes so far as to claim that my ceding of the point that “it hasn’t happened before” defeats my entire case! What an example of poor logic. It is also true that the fact that no one has made a perpetual motion machine does not constitute an argument against it, but Reece would be a fool to think he could do that!

Recognizing that the fact that revolution has yet to end the state is not proof that it cannot does defeat Underhill’s case, as his case is that we should never expect liberty from revolution. With regard to the perpetual motion machine, Underhill makes a categorical error. The argument against a perpetual motion machine is that physical laws backed by rigorous mathematics say that one cannot be constructed. No such argument can be made against an anti-political revolution to end the state.

He continues by arguing that people clamor for the state’s protection because “they do not perceive their survival to be in danger.” This is a curious objection.

To be more precise, most people do not perceive their survival to be in danger from the state, but this is changing.

Thousands of people die in terrorist attacks and the people fear more such attacks, but they do not perceive their survival to be in danger?!

Most people understand that their odds of dying in a terrorist attack are far less than their odds of being killed by a car accident, a severe storm, or even a non-terrorist murderer.

On the contrary, it seems the more people fear for their life the more they turn to the state if it is viewed as legitimate. This is what is meant by legitimacy – the people believe the state exists for the sole purpose of keeping them safe and thus turn to it when they are afraid.

As technological and entrepreneurial advancement creates ever more private alternatives to state monopolies, this legitimacy is slowly but surely being eroded.

They will not turn away from it because of economic problems, immigration issues or any other such contentions: they will only engage in more clamoring for self-destructive policies. It takes generations to dissuade people of this. Nor will significant acute crisis make them turn from the state’s policy makers; crisis leads to ever more radical authoritarianism, whether it be in the election of Hitler or the turn to a politician like Trump promising protectionism and nationalism.

This cannot continue forever; eventually there will be a point at which people either destroy themselves or turn against the state itself, finally understanding that it is the cause of their problems rather than the solution.

Suffice it to say that Reece continually demonstrates poor handling of historical fact and causality and often misses the entire point of the argument to throw out a red herring in response.

Suffice it to say that Underhill continually demonstrates short-sightedness, lack of imagination, and linear thinking. He frequently relies upon an anecdotal case, only to then accuse a critic of red herrings for dealing with said anecdotes in detail. Additionally, Underhill accuses people of missing his point when they are simply using elements of his case to make a counterpoint.

Defending the Reecean Proviso

On March 7, I published an article which discusses a libertarian theory of property rights as well as a proviso thereto which covers the case of a conflict between one person’s self-ownership and another person’s private property rights in external objects. This invited a lengthy criticism by Coralyn Herenschrict in the comments section which bears addressing in the form of a point-by-point rebuttal.

Another in a long historical line of strenuous but unsuccessful attempts to undermine property rights by exception. …Attempting to turn property ownership from a fundamental human right of an individual by virtue of his interactions with the natural world into a privilege conditionally granted by other men by virtue of their state of being.

The Reecean proviso is not an effort to undermine property rights; it is an effort to examine what happens when one person’s property rights in one’s body comes into conflict with another person’s property rights in external objects. That property ownership is a fundamental right of an individual by virtue of one’s interactions with the natural world is not being questioned.

Thus, private property rights over external objects are dependent upon the property right over one’s physical body. That which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent. Therefore, self-ownership stands above private property rights in external objects.

This conclusion makes two errors. It confuses states that must coexist both with states that must remain true and with states that have hierarchical precedence. It also confuses negative rights with positive rights.

This is not so, as we shall see.

For example, I must own myself to homestead land for that act to be valid. But once valid, it is forever valid. Regardless of if I die, sell myself into slavery, or otherwise subsequently lose ownership of myself. The dependency on my self-ownership is scoped temporally to the period in time of the act of homesteading. The dependency does not extend into the past before that period nor into the future beyond that period.

This is not entirely true. A person who loses self-ownership loses all corollaries thereof a fortiori, and private property is one such corollary. This happens if a person dies or commits murder while having no heirs or will and testament. Death is the cessation of the biological processes which produce self-ownership. Committing a murder negates one’s self-ownership through the violation of another person’s self-ownership because the moral hypocrisy of claiming one’s own rights while having irreparably violated another person’s rights cannot be rationally advanced in argument. One cannot sell oneself into slavery; as Murray Rothbard explains[1],

“A man can alienate his labor service, but he cannot sell the capitalized future value of that service. In short, he cannot, in nature, sell himself into slavery and have this sale enforced—for this would mean that his future will over his own person was being surrendered in advance. In short, a man can naturally expend his labor currently for someone else’s benefit, but he cannot transfer himself, even if he wished, into another man’s permanent capital good. For he cannot rid himself of his own will, which may change in future years and repudiate the current arrangement. The concept of “voluntary slavery” is indeed a contradictory one, for so long as a laborer remains totally subservient to his master’s will voluntarily, he is not yet a slave since his submission is voluntary; whereas, if he later changed his mind and the master enforced his slavery by violence, the slavery would not then be voluntary.”

Herenschrict continues:

I must simultaneously have various rights in order to blast a watermelon with a shotgun for fun. I must have the right to be on the land. I must have the right to use the shotgun. I must have the right to destroy the watermelon. But none of these rights requirements takes philosophical priority over the others by virtue of the need they coincide. In case of conflict between these rights, philosophy does not supply any basis to grant dominance to any one of them.

None of these rights are dependent upon any other of these rights, so it is correct to conclude that philosophy does not supply any basis to grant dominance to any one of them.

Your claim that a property right in one’s own body is not actually a property right but is a different kind of right taking precedence over property rights is not established.

This is a straw man; I did not claim that a property right in one’s physical body is not actually a property right. I made the case that the property right in one’s physical body is logically stronger than a property right in an external object. This is established by the fact that the property right in one’s physical body arises through direct appropriation and inhabitation, while property rights in external objects can only be established through exercising the property right in one’s physical body. There is a clear relationship of dependence here, so the precedence of the property right in one’s physical body over property rights in external objects is established.

Self-ownership does not convey a positive right obligating others to action to keep me alive. I will not repeat the extensive argumentation elsewhere demonstrating the invalidity to the notion of positive rights except to mention its conclusion that positive rights necessarily contravene property rights.

This is another straw man, as a positive right obligating others to action to keep someone alive is not being defended. In fact, the Reecean proviso does not even call for obligating others to inaction to allow a person to keep oneself alive, as a property owner could prevent the proviso from being used simply by making the life-saving property unreachable or by defending it in such a way that it cannot be taken without posing a threat to the property owner.

First, the person’s life must be in jeopardy due to the aggressions of another person and not due to the person’s own action or inaction. Otherwise, a person could make a series of poor choices so as to engineer a situation in which the person is reduced to a stark choice between using another person’s private property or dying and then take advantage of this situation to take private property from another person by underhanded means. Because one inherently consents to what one does to oneself, one cannot commit acts of aggression against oneself. Thus, the threat to one’s life that would allow the Reecean proviso to be used cannot be of one’s own making.

This is an impossible standard to set up as existing philosophically above respect for private property. It is indistinguishable from arbitrary behavioral standards which necessarily must be subordinate to respect for private property. Various degrees of action or inaction may make encountering various types of aggression more or less likely. What constitutes “of one’s own making?”:
– If I fail to save money or work hard enough to feed myself or defend myself
– If I fail to read enough books and develop my negotiating skills enough to optimally manage my interpersonal relationships with potential aggressors and/or allies
– If I fail to make wise choices of career or neighborhood to live in

Can any or all of this be mixed in a pot and out pops a determination that a particular act of aggression upon me was “of my own making” or not due to various particular actions or inactions on my part? That’s an impossible determination to make on any basis other than completely arbitrary.

This is not impossible or arbitrary; in fact it is quite simple. A situation is of one’s own making if it was not forced upon oneself against one’s will by an external agent. As such, all of the above examples would be of one’s own making and not sufficient cause to apply the Reecean proviso.

How would a property owner be able to make this determination on the fly when he detects someone claiming qualification under the Reecean proviso trying to take his stuff? How would a victim himself be able to make such a determination on the fly to know whether he may morally take someone else’s stuff? To think the integrity of one man’s property rights would be philosophically dependent on some other men’s personal views on such matters makes a mockery of the notion of property rights.

This may well be impossible in practice. However, a property owner may be unaware of such a taking until it has already occurred, which would remove the need for the property owner to make such a determination. A person who is in such a position to use the Reecean proviso will know it, as it requires one to be near death and without any other means of preserving one’s life besides appropriating owned property. The objection that the integrity of one person’s property rights would be philosophically dependent on some other person’s views on such matters confuses theory with practice.

Second, the person must not knowingly endanger the life of the property owner.

How in the world can the person know what endangers the life of the property owner?

It is simple to know that some takings would endanger the life of the property owner. If a person is kidnapped and taken to a desert area where only one cactus is within reach, and that cactus bears fruit which is being used by its owner as his sole source of sustenance, then taking some of it after witnessing the owner do this would endanger the life of the property owner and thus be outside of the Reecean proviso.

How in the world can the person know the financial situation of the property owner, his health care needs currently and in the future, his quality/quantity of life trade-off equation, not only for himself but for spouse, his children, his heirs, or other beneficiaries of his property?

This is unnecessary because a person cannot be responsible for knowledge that he does not have and lacks the means to get, as a person in position to use the Reecean proviso would.

Since the sole philosophical role of property is the support of human life, and limits to life directly correspond to limits of property used to support and extend it, any deprivation of property is inherently life threatening by nature. The larger the deprivation, the larger the threat to life.

Does a solitary person who owns thousands of apple trees suddenly suffer a life-threatening circumstance because a desperate person picks one apple? Of course not.

Third, the person must not appropriate any more privately owned resources than are required for survival in the moment. Going above and beyond the bare minimum is an act of theft, as it is not required for survival in the moment. Even taking some extra “for the road” is not allowed, as it cannot be proven that doing so will be the only possible method for survival. Fourth, a person may only travel through territory in which the person is unwelcome if survival requires that one do so. Doing so when there is another path available, or when survival is not in jeopardy, constitutes trespassing. Fifth, a person who is traveling through territory in which the person is unwelcome must traverse the territory as quickly as possible. Taking more time than is reasonably required constitutes loitering and trespassing.

Herenschrict objects to all of these by asking who would determine what is required, what the bare minimum is, what constitutes survival, and what constitutes as quickly as possible. The theoretical answer is that there are objectively true answers to all of these questions, therefore no one determines them. The practical answer is that the property owner, proviso user, and any dispute resolution services they retain will come to some agreement after the fact, as is the case for any other civil dispute.

Survival is an odds game. It is a continuum.

Survival is a binary function; either one lives or one dies. There is no state of being in between the two.

The more resources and easier journey, the higher my chances of survival. If I can slowly trespass on 100 miles of private land in a valley with lush fruit for me to eat, or quickly trespass on 1 mile of private land across high mountains with dangerous arctic snowblasts, am I morally justified to trespass on one but not the other?

One would have to take the shorter, more treacherous path because it minimizes the appropriation of private property belonging to other people.

If I can avoid land trespass entirely by commandeering a car at gunpoint to maximize speed of property violation and maximize my survival prospects, is that the only morally justifiable path?

Herenschrict demonstrates a level of misunderstanding here that can only be intentional. Commandeering a car at gunpoint threatens the life of a property owner, therefore it is not permitted under the Reecean proviso.

If you think transferring private property from some parties to others under certain conditions leads to a more prosperous, happy society, then by all means make voluntary relinquishing of those property rights a condition of membership in your private defense organization so such rules apply among mutually consenting parties. But don’t act as if your vision of a society that disregards property rights for the greater good just some of the time has any philosophical basis and binds even those who do not agree.

This is yet another straw man, as no such things are argued by the Reecean proviso.

Sixth, a person who deprives a property owner of value in order to survive must make restitution for that value if and when this becomes possible.

You know your philosophical reasoning has gone completely off the reservation when you must solve the socialist calculation problem in order to employ your principles. What constitutes “fair” restitution, below which one violates the Reecean proviso and cannot morally seize another’s private property but above which one fulfills it and can morally seize another’s private property?

This would be a devastating criticism if there were any truth to it, but there is none. There is no need to solve an economic calculation problem because the property owner, proviso user, and any dispute resolution services they retain can come to an agreement on what restitution, if any, should be made without making such a rigorous calculation. “Seize” is not the most accurate term for what the Reecean proviso allows, as it does not allow for force that threatens the property owner.

Ask any eminent domain victim how well involuntarily imposed determinations of “fair” compensation for seizures of their property work. Since values are subjective, “fair” prices for goods are settable only by their owners. And such individual prices can vary wildly from item to item from moment to moment, depending on the owners personal circumstances, state of mind, and decisions, including may items owners rightfully regard as “not for sale at any price.”

The field of straw men keeps growing, as the compensation is to be determined voluntarily between the property owner, proviso user, and any dispute resolution services they retain, not involuntarily imposed. The only exception to this would occur if the proviso user refused to make any restitution for the property that was used, in which case force could be used against the proviso user to get said restitution. An item rightfully regarded by its owner as “not for sale at any price” will either be something that has high sentimental value or something that the owner requires to survive. The former is not needed by the proviso user for survival (and probably cannot be obtained without threatening the property owner), while taking the latter would threaten the property owner. In both cases, the item cannot be appropriated within the Reecean proviso.

Passively owning property is not interfering with the self-ownership rights of another.

In the vast majority of cases, this is true. The Reecean proviso exclusively addresses so-called “lifeboat scenarios” in which it is false.

If a property owner put a sturdy, impenetrable fence around his property he would be guilty of aggression because this would thwart the attempts of Reecean-proviso-qualifying individuals to seize his property. By your reasoning to remain moral he must provide his private property to them on demand, because if they demand it, it’s not his property any more, it’s theirs by right.

The Reecean proviso allows people who are in extreme circumstances a negative right to keep themselves alive. This is not a positive obligation upon the property owner to assist in such an act. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the property owner may thwart the Reecean proviso by making the life-saving property unreachable or by defending it in such a way that it cannot be taken without posing a threat to the property owner. The property is not theirs by right; they may simply use it if and only if they can and they must.

One may, in spite of the above limitations, try to equate the Reecean proviso with a form of socialism or forced redistribution. But if there is to be forced redistribution, then there must be someone who will do the forcing. Such a person would be acting as the jeopardized person’s agent, and would therefore be subject to the same restrictions on conduct that apply to the jeopardized person.

Enter the ambulance-chasing attorney eager to become the agent of anyone and everyone around the planet who fulfills the conditions of the Reecean proviso (for a cut of the loot he can obtain for them, of course). If there is an impoverished rice farmer in rural India whose life becomes imperiled by aggression but could be saved by his seizure of private property, the attorney will be there in a flash offering to become his agent.

As explained in the original article immediately following the quoted section, if one is able to get someone to forcibly redistribute wealth to keep one alive, then one will have other, less aggressive options available, such as arranging survival aid and evacuation from the desperate scenario to be carried out by the person who would act to forcibly redistribute wealth. The arrival of the attorney gives the imperiled person an alternative to appropriating another person’s private property, as the attorney should be able to make a return trip with the imperiled person, thus removing the person from the imperiling condition. Note also that by inserting himself into the situation, the attorney makes the vehicle in which he arrives as well as his personal possessions prime targets for appropriation, which disincentivizes ambulance-chasing attorneys from seeking such cases.

Then, armed with the full moral authority of Reecean proviso, the attorney can appropriate the private property of anyone. Of course if the Indian farmer suffered severe, traumatic injuries from the aggression requiring an immediate helicopter flight to a major city and immediate extensive reconstructive surgery in order for him to survive, his medical bills could be substantial. Fortunately for him, by the Reecean proviso every private property owner in existence is obligated to pay these bills to make sure this man does not immediately die and the attorney will gleefully make sure they do.

This is completely false, due to the defenses that private property owners may make against the Reecean proviso, such as making such property unreachable or by defending it in such a way that it cannot be taken without posing a threat to the property owner.

The Reecean proviso amends Rothbard’s response to say that the encirclers may not keep the encircled in a situation where survival is impossible.

You may not amend Rothbard’s response. Rothbard’s response was what it was for a reason. Your amendment contradicts it.

I may do whatever I wish with Rothbard’s response. However, my readers will be the judge of whether such an action is legitimate by voting with their donations and page views.


  1. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 40-41

The Case For Damages For Abortion

At a town hall on March 30, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that if abortion is outlawed, then women who still have abortions should face “some form of punishment”, though he did not elaborate upon what that might be. Outcry from both anti-abortion and pro-abortion activists led him to walk back his statement, saying,

“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”

But is there a form of punishment for the woman that is compatible with libertarian principles? Let us examine this from both a criminal and a civil perspective.

The act of abortion involves removing a fetus from a woman’s uterus and killing it. The reason that most people have difficulty in figuring out the morality of this is that it weighs fundamental rights against each other: the woman’s right to liberty and property in her body versus the fetus’ right to liberty and property in its body. But before the point at which the fetus is viable outside the uterus, the only way the fetus can keep itself alive is to rely upon the woman for sustenance. The rights to liberty and property cannot be exercised without exercising the right to life, and that which is dependent cannot supersede that upon which it is dependent. Thus, the fetus’ right to life overrules the woman’s rights to liberty and property. Therefore, the logical position is to be pro-life until the fetus is viable. After the fetus is viable, the woman may choose to evict it but not to kill it.

Of course, there are some special cases where this calculus is altered and an abortion is clearly justifiable. If a woman’s life is in imminent danger and the fetus is not yet viable, then there may be a choice between aborting a fetus to save the mother and letting both die. In such a case, the fetus is out of luck and the abortion should proceed to preserve what life can be preserved. A birth defect or other illness which causes the fetus not to have the potential to become a sentient being (e.g. anencephaly) also legitimizes an abortion, as carrying the pregnancy to term will accomplish nothing and fail to produce a being with self-ownership. But aside from these circumstances, a fertilized egg which implants into the uterus has the potential to become a sentient being. (Implantation is a better starting point for when life begins than conception because at least half of fertilized eggs do not implant in the uterus, but instead leave the uterus as menstruation does.)

When none of the above special cases apply, killing a fetus is unjustifiable. Therefore, stopping someone from killing a fetus is justifiable, as is applying some sanction to someone who has killed a fetus. If an abortion is performed against the woman’s wishes, then the performer is clearly a criminal against both the mother’s body and the fetus’ life. But if an abortion is performed at the woman’s request, then she bears some vicarious responsibility for hiring the abortion provider to act as her agent. But how may someone be stopped from killing a fetus? To whom are the people complicit in the abortion responsible? What kind of criminal sanction or civil restitution is just? These are not easy questions, but let us attempt to answer them.

Using force to protect a fetus from being aborted must be done carefully; otherwise, such an effort may cause the very problem it is intended to prevent, as well as aggress against innocent bystanders. Such an effort would have to be directed solely against those who perform abortions and never against the women receiving abortions. This will probably always be difficult, if not impossible, so let us consider the matters of responsibility and restitution once an abortion is performed.

In all cases where killing a fetus is unjustifiable, the criminal liability for destroying a potential sentient being is upon the abortion provider. While there is some vicarious responsibility on the person who hires the abortion provider (usually the mother), the general rule is that there is no vicarious liability in criminal law. This is because a crime is composed of both an actus reus and a mens rea, and the mother has the latter but not the former. As such, the mother’s responsibility is best handled civilly.

The responsibility for restitution depends upon what was negotiated between the mother and father of the fetus. The default condition, which should apply when no other explicit agreement was made between the couple, is that agreeing to engage in an act which may result in pregnancy creates an obligation to be responsible for the new potential sentient being which may be created. One may assert a preference that a pregnancy not occur, and one may act upon that preference by using contraceptive measures, but the only guaranteed method of contraception is abstinence. If an abortion is performed, then the responsibility for the new potential sentient being has been shirked, and its heirs, if any, are due restitution. A fetus has only its parents for heirs, and restitution for an act of aggression cannot be due to a person who is complicit in the act. Thus, the restitution must be due to the father of the fetus, and only in a case where he did not consent to the abortion, as this would make him just as culpable as the mother. If the couple did make an explicit agreement to terminate any pregnancy resulting from their sexual activity, then there is an injustice against the fetus, but no restitution for it because there is no one who can receive said restitution.

Finally, let us discuss what sort of restitution may be appropriate. If a mother aborts a fetus against the father’s wishes, then he is deprived of offspring that he would otherwise enjoy. But to compel specific performance in terms of forcing the woman to bear the aborted fetus’ father a child would legitimize both rape and slavery. This makes specific performance inappropriate in the circumstances of the case. While damages cannot adequately compensate a father for the deprivation of offspring, a monetary judgment would have to suffice, in an amount which is best determined by specialists in such cases.