Should Libertarians Support Ethnic Nationalism?

The relationship between libertarianism and the alt-right has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Let us thoroughly explore the issue to see what support, if any, libertarians should provide to ethnic nationalist movements.

Ethnic Nationalism and Ethno-statism

Many people who support ethnic nationalism are also ethno-statists. That is, they seek to form nation-states that are ethnically homogeneous or nearly so, and they want these states to advance the interests of the majority population in an explicitly racial sense. While many ethnic nationalists advocate voluntary separation, it is unlikely that enough people would do this on a large enough scale to form the desired ethnic separation on the scale of contemporary nation-states. It would thus be necessary to initiate the use of force in order to achieve this goal, and this is nearly certain to occur regardless of whether leaders of ethno-state movements wish it to occur.

Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never moral, but responding to an initiation of force with defensive force is always moral. This puts libertarians directly at odds with those who would use state power to force people into different associations from those which they would choose. In fact, libertarian philosophy justifies the use of any amount of force to defend against ethno-statists who attempt to forcibly separate people.

At first glance, this may appear to be an open-and-shut case, but there is far more nuance to consider. Unfortunately, most libertarian commentators stop here, failing to consider anarchic forms of ethnic nationalism as well as the role that ethno-statists may play in moving toward a free society, however unwittingly. Let us examine these and other considerations.

Anarcho-ethno-nationalism

The starting point for libertarian ethics is self-ownership; that each person has a right of exclusive control over 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 leads to a contradiction.

Each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, so it is wrong for one person to initiate interference 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. Each person has full responsibility for the actions that one commits with one’s physical body, so 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. The reason for this is that one is responsible for the improvements that one has made upon the natural resources, and it is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves. To initiate interference with another person’s property without their consent also violates the non-aggression principle because it denies them the just fruits of their labors.

It is possible to form and maintain an ethnic community using these principles. Someone may acquire land and form a community upon it, granting admission only to those who meet criteria chosen by the property owner. Alternatively, a group of like-minded people may purchase adjacent properties to achieve the same result. As long as no acts of aggression are committed, people who form a covenant community may choose whatever rules for admission and continued membership that they wish. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically damage the property owned by others. With respect to other territories, the property title may be more or less severely restricted. As is currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (voluntary zoning), which might include residential versus commercial use, no buildings more than four stories high, no sale or rent to Jews, Germans, Catholics, homosexuals, Haitians, families with or without children, or smokers, for example.”[1]

As Hoppe notes, these criteria may have a racial component, as a free society has no state to tell property owners that they may not discriminate on certain grounds that policymakers deem objectionable.

It would not do to leave unaddressed the apparent contradiction in anarcho-nationalism. This is a semantic problem; the word ‘nation’ has become convoluted in its meaning. In this case, nation is to be understood in the sense of the Old English word ‘thede.’ A thede is a group of people who share a heritage, whether this be cultural, genetic, linguistic, religious, or some combination thereof. They define an identity for themselves and consider themselves to be a group of which everyone else is not part. (The term ‘elthedish’ refers to those outside the thede.) A person may be part of multiple thedes or none at all, though the latter makes survival and reproduction much more difficult. Non-genetic thedes can and do exist, but as purely social constructs without a clear biological root, they are less stable and require effort to maintain. With this in mind, it becomes clear that anarcho-nationalism need not refer to the contradictory idea of a stateless state, but to the idea of a group of people with a shared identity and common heritage who reject statism in favor of voluntary forms of social order.

A Liberal Case for Illiberalism

Of course, at this point we may expect outrage from all of the usual suspects that one would lift a finger in defense of racists. The classical liberals among these people would do well to consider their own attitudes toward freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other such freedoms that they hold to be universal human rights. When they defend these ideas, they frequently find themselves standing up for people who make controversial and/or reprehensible statements. This occurs because censors pursue such people almost exclusively. After all, they have no motivation to target people who make ordinary conversation that has no potential to cause meaningful change. Classical liberals defend their ideological opponents from censorship because they believe that there is a short and slippery slope between infringement of the rights of some and infringement of the rights of most. Thus, they follow the quote commonly misattributed to Voltaire but actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.“[2]

What they fail to realize is that the same is even more true of private property rights. In the libertarian view, freedom of communication is not a universal right. As Hoppe explains,

“In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. …Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal.”[3]

More generally, one has no right to communicate ideas on private property that someone else owns if doing so goes against the wishes of the property owner. Because private property is a more fundamental right than freedom of communication, restrictions on property rights are even more injurious to liberty than assaults upon freedom of speech or freedom of the press. As before, those who use their property in a mundane manner that is unlikely to cause meaningful change are unlikely to encounter interference. Those who are confronted about their non-aggressive use of private property rights will be those who use their property rights in a controversial and/or reprehensible manner, such as excluding people on the basis of race. Because there is a short and slippery slope from interference with politically incorrect uses of private property to all manner of interference with private property rights, those who use their property rights in a controversial and/or reprehensible manner (as long as no force is initiated in the process) should be the first people that libertarians (or classical liberals) defend.

Ethnic Separatism

As explained previously, libertarianism stands against an ethno-statist takeover of an existing state apparatus followed by ethnic cleansing, endorsing the use of force to defend against and stop such events from taking place. But ethno-statism need not manifest in this form. Another possibility is the concentration of people of the same ethnicity in a particular area, who then decide to secede that region from a larger state. Although ethno-statism cannot be supported by libertarians in an absolute sense because it is still a form of statism, there are several beneficial effects which may result from a race-based secessionist effort. This may allow libertarians to offer limited support for such a movement as a lesser evil than the current state of affairs with a possibility for greater potential for libertarian efforts in future.

First, let us consider the political orientation of the typical racial separatist. Overt and elevated in-group preference combined with statism results in an affinity for socialism, which tends to manifest as fascism or national socialism among white nationalists and as communism among racial nationalists of other races. If such people become concentrated in a certain area, it follows that the political climate in said area will become more socialist while the political climate elsewhere will become less socialist.

Second, it follows that ethno-statists are useful for breaking up large, powerful states into smaller, less threatening parts. If, for example, white nationalists were successful in seceding Oregon from the United States, and black nationalists were to do the same with Mississippi, then the United States government would be weaker than it is currently, and the two ethno-states would be weaker still. While there would still be much to be desired from a libertarian perspective, it would be an improvement over current levels of state power.

Third, the departure of the most bigoted and hateful individuals of all races into ethnically homogeneous territories would produce a significant reduction in racial tensions. After all, a multiracial society is more likely to succeed if those who deem it impossible remove themselves from that society, and an ethnically homogeneous society is the only way to satisfy such people. That such a scenario would distinguish the true separatists from race-baiting charlatans so as to expose the latter is a decided plus.

Next, let us consider the possible fallout from such a development. Secessionist movements, irrespective of their impetus, tend to inspire a nationalist response in other parts of a state. While this is fraught with its own dangers because nationalism is hostile to decentralization of power below the national level, nationalism is certainly a lesser evil than globalism, and may serve as a temporary makeshift on the path to a better political arrangement than that presaged by the United Nations and the European Union. If secessionists succeed in their efforts, it will inspire other secessionists to try their hand, some of whom may be far more libertarian than the ethno-statists who began the trend.

Just as altering the concentrations of racists and socialists are two-way streets, so is altering the concentration of libertarians. If people who reject libertarianism in favor of ethno-statism wish to concentrate somewhere and separate from the rest of a current state, this is beneficial for the cause of liberty in the remaining area because it raises the percentage of libertarians there. This could be a deciding factor in achieving the critical mass of libertarians necessary to form a libertarian social order.

Crossover Effects

It is necessary to explore the consequences for the libertarian movement from explicitly standing up for the rights of ethnic nationalists. Because any collaborative interaction between groups is likely to result in some degree of personnel exchange, we may expect that some ethnic nationalists would become libertarians and vice versa. If ethnic nationalists would embrace libertarianism, that means that they would accept self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, and private property rights. As a result, they would have to stop initiating the use of force in their advancement of racism and advocating for politicians to do so on their behalf. This should be regarded as a positive development by any sane person. The presence of such people would also help to counter the worrying development of entryism by social justice warriors and other leftists into libertarian circles by triggering them into leaving.

We may also expect that some libertarians will become ethnic nationalists. They are more likely to become the sort of anarcho-thedists discussed earlier than to ally with national socialists, though the latter is not unheard of. This may be a positive development, in that there is a tendency toward politically autistic hyper-individualism in the contemporary libertarian movement. This is an individualism so extreme that it fails to comprehend group identities or interests, and may even deny their existence and relevance. Mingling with ethnic nationalists may awaken libertarians to the realities of demographic issues and alert them to the fact that they will consistently lose to those who organize around a group identity unless they do so themselves.

The Nature of the West

The final matter to consider is the role of ethnicity in libertarianism itself. Anyone who has been to a libertarian gathering knows that the attendees at any such event will skew overwhelmingly white, and anyone who has studied libertarian philosophy will know that most of its authors are white and/or Jewish. Ethnic nationalists have an explanation for this that fits with the available logic and evidence. Like any other species, humans adapt to their environment. Although humans are uniquely capable of adapting the environment to themselves, differences between individuals frequently outweigh differences between groups, and there has been significant mixing of human populations, these do not completely negate the former effect. Humans in different parts of the world have also developed different cultural norms, governing philosophies, and religious traditions as adaptations to their particular environments. This explains why universally preferable values are not universally preferred and why there is a correlation between ethnicity and the acceptance of libertarian ethical norms. Those who view the West only as a portable set of ideas should consider the above explanation for why the portability of those ideas has been relatively poor and why the continued practice of them outside of the West is linked to a legacy of Western colonialism in such places.

At this point, a few caveats are necessary. None of this is to say that individuals of color cannot become libertarians, or that the failure of non-Western cultures to produce a tradition of libertarian philosophy thus far proves that they cannot. Nor should libertarians who are not of European or Jewish descent be anything less than welcome in libertarian groups. But in the aggregate, demographic disparities are natural and should be expected. The disproportionate number of white or white-passing people at libertarian gatherings is neither a problem to be solved nor an achievement to be celebrated; it is simply a result explained by evolution and history. Thus, there is cause for cautious optimism that some white nationalists may come to reject statism and socialism in favor of creating a libertarian social order in their ethnic communities.

Conclusion

Depending on circumstances, libertarians can support some forms of ethnic nationalism, as long as they only involve voluntary ethnic separation and seek to use private property rights to create their ethnic enclaves. However, libertarians should forcibly suppress those who insist on aggressive violence in pursuit of racial agendas. Regardless of whether they agree with such action, libertarians should defend the rights of anarcho-ethno-nationalists to do this, as it is both a litmus test for true belief in private property and the first target that enemies of libertarianism will attack in a larger quest to diminish or destroy private property rights. This is an actual slippery slope that must be vigorously guarded.

No libertarian can support statism or involuntary socialism in an absolute sense, but the kind of self-quarantine of such ideologies that ethno-statists propose may prove useful for libertarians who do not live in an ethno-state. If ethnic nationalism leads people to break apart larger states into smaller ones, this would be a positive step toward liberty. A more general sense of nationalism may develop in response to ethnic secessionist movements, and while this will present an obstacle to further localization in the long-term, it may be a useful temporary ally against statist globalism.

The West, and the liberty that has thus far uniquely developed from its traditions, is neither exclusively genetic nor exclusively ideological; it is partly both. Libertarian philosophy was mostly constructed by members of particular thedes, and other members of those thedes are statistically more likely to accept this philosophy. Ethnic nationalists can inform and remind libertarians of this so that efficiency may be increased by focusing more on the aforementioned thedes in our conversion efforts.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 139.
  2. S. G. Tallentyre (Actual author: Evelyn Beatrice Hall) (1906). The Friends of Voltaire. Published by John Murray, Albemarle Street, London. p. 198-9.
  3. Hoppe, p.218.

Building Liberty in Minecraft

The defining feature of this time period is the Internet, which provides unprecedented freedom of speech and access to information. But the more things change, the more they remain the same. Millennials have suffered from the same steady march against economic freedom. We understand much about social media and relatively little about free markets. But a new generation can know about a free society right now, and this led me to build Liberty Minecraft.

Prior Developments

For the past quarter century, the Internet has generated emergent digital economies in which people exchange digital items for analog items, usually fiat currency. These economies offer pay at any rate, avoiding minimum wage laws that remove low rungs on the economic ladder. Digital economies also exist in massively multiplayer online games.

In 2007, more than one hundred thousand people were employed as gold farmers in World of Warcraft for as little as thirty cents per hour.[1] A gold farmer is a person who plays multiplayer games to earn in-game currency for the purpose of selling it for real-world currency. Earning in-game wealth takes time and effort. Because online games can be accessed all over the world, people can earn a competitive wage in relatively low-wage markets by selling in-game currency to players in high-wage markets. Gold farming uses server bandwidth in exchange for money that players wish to spend on the game, and this costs game developers. It was once typical for game developers to ban gold farmers, but in recent years they have turned toward economic freedom as a solution to rising costs due to gold farming.

Today, players of Runescape and Eve Online may exchange in-game wealth for tokens called Bonds or CCP, respectively. These tokens are purchased for cash by one player, traded in game to another player, and may be used to pay for membership services that would otherwise cost $10-$15 per month. Game developers like play-to-pay business models because they can sell membership services for a 30% premium and use their own players to regain market share from gold farmers.[2] For gamers, play-to-pay models can provide dollar-equivalent hourly wages of less than $1, but highly skilled players can earn $5 or more. One may earn a wage during the least productive periods of their daily lives, producing at least some value instead of none.

Transactions are not always small. For example, a player of Entropia Universe spent $2.5 million to purchase virtual real estate in 2012. This was done because in the game, land owners share the revenue generated by player-to-player transactions, and this revenue is directly convertible to US dollars. This speculative bet may have yielded annual returns of 27 percent.[3] By their nature, speculations infrequently generate a profit, but one develops ability by trial and error.

Digital economies make it easier to learn about economics. Many capitalist acts between consenting adults are illegal in the real world,[4] but such barriers are rare in online games. Digital exchanges execute billions of trades per month for any of a thousand virtual commodities. Players of all ages can make thousands of equity decisions in those markets without having to file capital gains taxes. People can lose a digital shirt and learn real economic lessons.

Experiencing economic freedom in games is all well and good. This may partly explain why millennials were so attracted to Ron Paul’s “End the Fed” movement. However, organizing society by libertarian principles is about more than economics. Non-aggression and private property require freedom from the state. No such freedom presently exists in the real world. The lack of such empirical examples may help one understand why those same millennials support Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump just four years later. We do not understand freedom from the state, and this has not changed. Because a libertarian society is foreign to our experience, people ask questions like “who will build the roads?” The answer is actually simple. Without a state, people who want roads and are capable of building them do so. I have seen this in action because of Minecraft.

Original Conditions in the World of Minecraft

Minecraft is a sandbox game. Play is self-organized within a block building, 3D world. Players may select one of three basic game modes. In Creative, one may access a menu with infinite resources. In Survival, one must gather and consume resources to live but will respawn if they die. Hardcore mode is like Survival, but death is final.

Minecraft worlds are large by default. From an origin, a player may travel 30,000 kilometers along any axis and may build 256 meters to the world’s zenith. This is roughly half the size of Neptune by surface area (if it were a terrestrial planet) or seven times the surface area of Earth. Each Minecraft world has three dimensions of this size and depth. Each world is generated algorithmically from an 8-byte seed, a string of numbers. There are 264 possible 8-byte strings, leading to over 18 quadrillion possible Minecraft worlds.

The Virtual State of Nature

Online, Minecraft is lawless. Before modifications of any kind, the only rules which govern player behavior are physical laws. You have exclusive control over your player character but anyone may attack and try to kill you, thereby gaining access to resources that you carry or protect. However, in such large worlds with abundant ‘natural’ resources, violent conflict is relatively rare because it is simply easier to work for what one wants.

Competition among Minecraft servers is unfettered and meritocratic. Engagement is high; Minecraft is the best-selling computer game at present. The barrier to entry is low: a Minecraft server can be created or copied in minutes, deployed online at low cost, and operated by anyone. In less than one minute, a player may select and visit any of thousands of servers. Participation is voluntary; players always have the option to leave a Minecraft server at once.

Minecraft servers have diverse rule sets. An infinite number of server configurations are possible with server plugins that modify the game. Within commercial use guidelines and technical limitations, server operators establish rules according to their preference. These rules need not and often do not conform with existing laws in the real world. These rules can be and are often enforced by computer code. In this way, all Minecraft servers are new principalities which may or may not be governed by smart contracts.

Social orders are spontaneously created within Minecraft. Players develop institutions that are optimized to solve problems. Users build means to produce, distribute, and trade valued goods, especially food and building materials. They create farms, roads and shelters, and also chests to organize and store items for later use. Players create and promote their own social norms. If a player does not fill in potholes or replant trees to replace those that they have felled, other players may try to change their behavior. This may take various forms, from warning them in the game’s chat to attacking problematic players. Those who share values and aesthetics build their own communities and exclude (sometimes by violence) others with opposing values. Spontaneous order thus develops with or without an explicit ethical framework.

In Minecraft, people experience social orders with arbitrary rules. So, what happens if one creates a Minecraft server that defines rules by libertarian ethics and Austrian economics? In my case, the result is Liberty Minecraft.

Long Experience in a New Order

Liberty Minecraft is a sandbox for freedom. The goal was to establish a practice environment where people may test ideas within a digital free society and may learn about freedom by playing it. For over nine months, this goal has been achieved. Play is ordered spontaneously within the physical laws of Survival Minecraft. In a number of other ways Liberty Minecraft is different.

Liberty Minecraft is not as large as a default Minecraft setting. As before, there are three dimensions but their size has changed. The Overworld is seven kilometers on a side; just under nineteen square miles in surface area. This is roughly the size of Manhattan.[4] The Nether, another region, is just as large. The End, a place devoid of most resources, is ten times larger.

Some resources in Liberty Minecraft are renewable, while others are not. Resources must be gathered in order to be used or exchanged. Products are either created by the players or discovered in scarce structures that are native to Minecraft worlds. Liberty Minecraft could someday run out of trees, water, or soil, among other things.

Liberty Minecraft has few rules. Only one rule constrains player behavior; resolve nonviolent disputes nonviolently. Players of Liberty Minecraft must seek nonviolent solutions to the problem of scarcity. Two other rules further specify conditions that permit a player to use my server: read and understand the rules, and do not hack the server. The fourth rule is followed by myself and by the server itself. This rule does not bind the players, but rather provides them with an option and a promise: everything you claim is yours; if someone else claimed it first, then it is not yours. Private property rights within Liberty Minecraft are enforced by smart contracts.[5]

To claim property, a player may use a claim tool on unclaimed land and must spend claim blocks to create a claim. Claim blocks cost $20 each. A player may also purchase land from an existing claim holder. In both cases, smart contracts are optional and available to execute these transactions. Smart contracts also enforce all other forms of property on the server. This applies to player characters.

One may engage in combat with others provided that each player turns on the ability to do so. In Liberty Minecraft, a player character is protected from other players by default. This protection is optional. A player may disable these protections and enter player-versus-player mode. By entering this game mode, a player consents to be attacked at will by other players. This allows for combat between two or more people to take place, but only if all parties involved agree to enter into mutual combat.

Competition within Liberty Minecraft is unfettered and meritocratic. In under one minute, anyone who owns Minecraft for PC can join the server and begin to act within a libertarian social order. Player interactions are voluntary, with complete freedoms of association and discrimination. No one is required or forbidden to provide for others.

Liberty Minecraft uses Diamonds, one of the in-game commodities, as money.[6] At present, Diamonds are used to create the best tools and armor in Minecraft. They are also scarce, durable, and fungible. Within Survival Minecraft, diamonds cannot be farmed or produced synthetically. To obtain a diamond, one must search for hidden chests in scarce structures or dig underground for diamond ore.

Minecraft players seem to have freely chosen Diamonds as the medium of exchange. Thus, I have chosen Diamonds as money. However, a Diamond is indivisible. This problem was addressed by creating a Diamond Exchange to split a Diamond into $1,000. The value of a dollar is measured to fifteen decimal places, so there is plenty of room for revaluation if money becomes too valuable to perform ordinary transactions.

Engagement is strong so far; since the official launch in March 2017, players have engaged in more than 100,000 trades using our shop system. A single trade may consist of anything from one item to more than a thousand items, all player created. More than 8,000 hours have been logged by the players at the time of this writing. Liberty Minecraft is also cash flow positive and profitable.

Some Problems with Liberty Minecraft

There are four clear problems with Liberty Minecraft. First, the money is inherently disinflationary. Land claims as private property can only be traded when players have a “claim blocks from play” value that is larger than the size of the claim being traded, which is a technical limitation. To provide a real estate market with existing smart contracts, players must somehow accumulate claim blocks from play. To achieve this, players accumulate 20 claim blocks per hour, which is an arbitrary amount. All players receive the same amount per hour of play. Claim blocks are worth $20 each, so players currently receive a universal basic income of $400 per hour of play. Universal basic income is an obviously anti-libertarian element, but it does present the opportunity to solve this problem and observe what happens when a libertarian society eliminates universal basic income.

Second, within Liberty Minecraft, power is centralized in a single, flawed operator. I, Nathan Dempsey, make mistakes and correct them. Both types of actions can cause problems. For instance, when I created the world border in The End, I incorrectly calculated the area. The End was roughly ten times larger than I intended, and if I had left it that way, our world would become far too large for me to economically perform regular backups. I recalculated and changed the world size. This changes the availability of resources that are found in The End. I will make more mistakes as time goes on. However, if any player decides that my choices are intolerable they may (with some work) use software to download the world and their property. Then, they may put their version of the world online with server software and compete with me for players. This functions somewhat like a hard fork of a cryptocurrency. Following a land dispute, a player decided that absolute property rights are intolerable and left after downloading the world, which proves both that new competitors may enter my line of production and that I cannot be an ultimate decision maker.[7][8]

Third, the conditions of the game and server make theft and assault impossible. A player might create a death trap, but these can only be made on one’s own property, on unclaimed land, or on land in which they have been granted permission by the claim owner to create such hazards. Because property claims are impossible to violate (unless I chose to or a hacker managed to alter the server status), Liberty Minecraft does not provide a model for dealing with aggressors against property rights aside from having the server owner (me) remove someone from the server.

Finally, the Terms of Commercial Use prohibit anyone from selling soft currency for hard currency. Therefore, I cannot offer the play-to-pay model described in the opening without violating the Terms of Commercial Use. The terms provide a narrow range of ways that I can provide value to players in exchange for money. This even applies to affiliate marketing (which is not permitted), such as with Amazon. The consequence is that I must innovate within these narrow terms, which creates an interesting problem but deviates from a libertarian order. And ultimately, Mojang, the company that developed Minecraft, is regulated by the state, so Liberty Minecraft still operates within a statist framework to some degree.

Conclusion

Minecraft spontaneously generates social orders. Liberty Minecraft is an effort to create such an order based upon Austrian economics with libertarian ethics. Within Liberty Minecraft, players operate in an unfettered free market and experience social freedoms that are opposed by state aggression. This experience sharpens one’s thinking about economic and social affairs. Experiencing economic freedom online without freedom from the state has led people to reject the Federal Reserve System but favor the state at large. The goal of this project is to test libertarian ideas in a simulated environment and lead people to reject the state in favor of private property rights and non-aggression, which one experiences within Liberty Minecraft. Liberty Minecraft has some important problems that may be solved in future updates, and represents nothing less than a proof-of-concept for exploring social orders in games.

References

  1. Valdes, Giancarlo. “Jagex Wages War against Gold Farming in RuneScape 3 with Bonds” VentureBeat, 25 Sept. 2013. http://venturebeat.com/2013/09/25/jagex-wages-war-against-gold-farming-in-runescape-3-with-bonds/
  2. Dutton, Fred. “Entropia Universe player spends $2.5 million on virtual real estate” Eurogamer.net, 4 Apr. 2012. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-04-04-entropia-universe-player-spends-USD2-5-million-on-virtual-real-estate
  3. Block, Walter. “Fake Economic News | Walter Block” YouTube, Mises Media, 4 Aug. 2017. www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiwhlU4d-nY
  4. Dempsey, Nathan. “How The World Works” Liberty Minecraft, 14 Oct. 2017. www.libertyminecraft.com/how-the-world-works/
  5. Dempsey, Nathan. “How Private Property Works” Liberty Minecraft, 4 June 2017. www.libertyminecraft.com/how-private-property-works
  6. Dempsey, Nathan. “How The Money Works” Liberty Minecraft, 4 June 2017. www.libertyminecraft.com/how-the-money-works/
  7. Dempsey, Nathan. “Free Market Update: Land Disputes” Liberty Minecraft, July 2017. https://www.libertyminecraft.com/free-market-update-land-disputes/
  8. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 21.

Book Review: Libertarian Reaction

Libertarian Reaction is a collection of fifteen essays by Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective. The book is divided into three sections; one focusing on reaction, one focusing on liberty, and a long final essay.

The first part begins with an essay on the limits of libertarian ethics. In Savages, Qui deals with several types of humans who cannot be properly be considered people, and must instead be dealt with as lesser beings. The point that there is a difference between colonialism (the imposition of law and morality on people who have no rational conception of it) and colonization (a parallel development of law and morality while not imposing upon others) is important and oft-overlooked. The essay finishes with a denunciation of both Islam and communism as incompatible with libertarianism if each is to be practiced rigorously. The arguments are correct but elementary, which the author has since remedied elsewhere.

In Borders And Liberty, Qui weighs in on the debate over border policy, concluding that while state immigration restrictions are not libertarian and the only justifiable borders are private property boundaries, closed borders are a lesser evil than the forced integration imposed by modern states. He recommends restoration of the right to discriminate, sponsorship of and vicarious liability for immigrants by those who wish to bring them in, and elimination of welfare programs as methods of improving the current situation. References to support the assertions regarding demographics would improve the case made here.

Prerequisites for Liberty deals with the problem of humans who are not savages as described in the first essay but are nonetheless inclined to aggressive violence. Again, references to support demographic arguments would be helpful. Qui notes several obvious but underappreciated truths here, most notably that a libertarian social order cannot exist below a certain intelligence level, as this would preclude people from understanding the necessary rules of such an order. He correctly states that some people may convert to libertarianism by seeing it in practice instead of reaching it through reason. In fact, this is by far the more likely method of conversion in the near future. The role of hedonistic practices in damaging a social order are discussed, as is the folly of accepting non-libertarians into libertarian circles simply to grow numbers.

The next essay is Voluntary Ethnic Separation, and it explains the difference between what libertarianism requires one to accept and the common caricature of all such ideas as hateful racism. Qui shows great insight in tackling common leftist arguments here. He also makes the important point that collectivism can arise as a benign heuristic to help with decisions because people lack the capacity to deal with individuals beyond a certain point. However, the same demographic claims resurface without proper support. Finally, the point that ethnostatism could be a step toward breaking up large nation-states into more local forms of governance is overlooked by most libertarians, but not Qui.

The Antistatist Case for Monarchial Government is a longer essay that Qui included despite having changed his views on the matter, as he views it as being theoretically important. He makes a distinction between government (a manager of land and provider of essential services) and state (an entity that exercises a monopoly on initiatory force) which is lost on many people. He also explains that while a libertarian society would be imperfect, a state has even worse inefficiencies. Later, Qui hints at a potential problem with wilderness areas falling victim to a tragedy of the commons, but this could easily be solved by homesteading such areas. There are two significant errors here: a lack of accounting for the arguments made by Stefan Molyneux and others in favor of private dispute resolution organizations with regard to how law courts could function without a state, and a contradiction concerning redistribution and efficiency. The final part of the essay reads much like Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s case that monarchy is superior to democracy, and is reminiscent of the real-world example of Leichtenstein.

Qui tackles an uncomfortable issue that perhaps interests too many people in libertarian circles with The Libertarian Solution to the Age of Consent. He quickly rebuts the left-libertarians who wish to let children make decisions regarding sexual conduct, describing parenting of young children as a sort of regency until the child gains the ability to use reason. But Qui errs in saying that damages done by improper parenting are no different from any other sort of crime, as one can never truly be made whole from the lifelong detriments caused by improper parenting.

Dysgenics and Market Nobility discusses the corruption of the phrase “all men are created equal” from a statement of equality before the law into a belief in human biological uniformity. In doing so, he distinguishes between the natural elite of a free society and the power elite of a statist society, which are often conflated by leftists. Qui then explains how the two tend to work together in statist societies to keep the same families at the top for centuries rather than let the rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle properly play out. The essay then turns toward dysgenics, which refers to programs that have the opposite of a eugenic effect. The roles of feminism, sexual liberation, and welfare statism are examined in this light.

The first part concludes with Civilization and Natural Law, which makes unconventional but strong arguments in favor of censoring and physically removing people on the basis of their political opinions. Qui’s case is more utilitarian and reserved than it needs to be, but he still reaches the correct result that freedom of speech is a privilege that comes with owning property, not a fundamental right. He then finds that the solution to intractable differences between people and groups is mutual discrimination and exclusion, as forced integration necessarily results in racial tensions.

The second section begins with The Freedom of Government, which revisits themes from several of the previous essays. Qui makes a powerful case that people who claim to believe in democracy but deny people the self-determination to choose their form of governance are charlatans. He also observes that a large enough number of small monarchies is effectively equivalent to a libertarian social order. The only problem with this essay is brevity, as more explanation of each point would greatly improve the presentation.

The Curse of Citizenship explores how the modern state makes its subjects into cogs of its machine through citizenship as a legal concept. Qui shows that democracy, contrary to leftist propaganda, only makes this worse by providing an otherwise absent appearance of legitimacy. He correctly recognizes the futility of localism as an ultimate strategy, as it fails to account for the supremacy of higher levels of government. But his contention that “corruption within the state is nothing other than the people who are creating the illusion themselves being aware of the illusion” is misguided; one can have this knowledge without weaponizing it into corruption, and one can be corrupt without such an awareness.

In The Role of Co-Operation in Competition, Qui refutes several myths about capitalism. First, he proves that capitalism is not as anti-social as its critics claim. Second, he corrects the misconception of competition as being necessarily aggressive in nature. Third, he explains how competition can actually be a form of cooperation, in that individuals or groups can agree to compete in order to find out which methods are superior. Qui segues into several examples of cooperation that are not strictly competitive, such as food companies co-marketing with drink companies and agreements between private road companies. To complete the argument, he examines how the contrapositive is also true; namely, that removing competition also removes an incentive to cooperate. He finishes with a brief discussion of cartels and makes the insightful observation that a labor union is not commonly recognized as a cartel, despite functioning much like one.

It is only in Reverse Claims to Property that Qui truly goes off the libertarian reservation in his thinking, though he admits at the beginning that he may be doing so. Here, he tries (and fails) to invent an inverse of property rights to resolve questions of state-occupied property and wilderness areas. Qui again neglects other libertarian theories on how to deal with pollution. This un-ownership would, as he suggests, legitimize rights violations in some cases.

In Who Watches the Watchmen, Qui explores the libertarian answer to this age-old question, namely that the watchmen (in the form of private defense agencies) all watch each other. Here he enters an off-topic though informative discussion on the impossibility of eliminating the state by democratic means. He then returns to the topic to find that re-establishment of a state is the worst case scenario in a stateless society, but all economic and military incentives work against it. That it is the worst case means that all other outcomes must be better, setting this particular objection on its ear.

National Defence Without Coercion is the last essay in the second part, and it deals with the subject at length. Qui begins by noting the common fallacy committed by statists: using a state to defend people against other states does not change the fact that people are subjugated by a state; it only changes which state is in control. He covers the basics of how a private defense agency should function, but is a bit too enamored with nationalism. His comparisons between a private defense agency and an insurance company make one wonder where such arguments were in earlier essays. The latter part includes some novel thought on how the facilities of a private defense agency might be employed in other ways during peacetime. The conclusion discusses the difference between pre-modern gentlemen’s war and modern total war, with libertarianism likely to end modern warfare and return us to the less destructive pre-modern type of warfare. This essay and the previous essay could have been combined.

The final part consists of one much longer essay titled Examining Cultural Destruction. Qui examines the causes and symptoms of cultural decay, then proposes solutions. The role of the state and central banking in reducing time preferences is explained, then Qui shows how capitalism makes this worse not by being bad in and of itself, but by amplifying whatever inputs it receives. Egalitarianism is blamed in the Rothbardian sense of a revolt against nature, as is the loss of autonomy and identity that statism causes. Symptoms of these causes are identified as the demonization of productive work, the collapse of stable interpersonal and family relationships, the loss of spiritualism and hierarchy, the ascent of shallow materialism, the prevalence of escapism, and the expansion of empiricism into inherently rational disciplines. To solve these problems, Qui recommends absolute private property rights, abolition of central banking and as much of the state as possible, and a restoration of traditional values.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘incomplete.’ Qui lacked an editor for the book, and it shows. The grammatical constructions and punctuation are frequently in need of revision, and each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography. But the thoughts expressed therein are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 4/5

Authority, Anarchy, and Libertarian Social Order

On May 8, Fritz Pendleton published an article at Social Matter in which he argues that liberty is best preserved by authority rather than anarchy. He then proceeds to launch a misguided attack against libertarianism, all while misunderstanding authority, anarchy, liberty, and the nature of a libertarian social order. Let us examine what is wrong with Pendleton’s case on a point-by-point basis.

Stateless In Somalia

Pendleton begins with the old canard of Somalia-as-libertarian-utopia, though to his credit, he does not invite all libertarians to emigrate there. His description of the situation is essentially correct:

“It is a patchwork of warlords who have each parceled out a slice of mud to call his own, to rule according to his whims and fetishes. There are the Islamic warlords of al-Shabaab in the south, the government strongmen who collaborate with al-Shabaab when it suits them, the Somaliland separatists who want a separate nation in the north, and a thousand other men of questionable loyalties.”

Pendleton claims that “it takes a certain type of idiot to look at Somalia and see something promising,” then that “it requires an idiot of some erudition to see promise in a failed state like Somalia.” These are not equivalent. To look at Somalia and see something promising is to examine the entirety of their culture and find that there is at least one idea which could be adopted elsewhere to improve another society. To see promise in a failed state like Somalia is to believe that the situation in that particular place can be greatly improved in the foreseeable future. The former endeavor makes far more sense than the latter.

Though he is correct to say that “libertarians are interested in Somalia primarily because its central government is weak and has no effective presence throughout most of the nation,” his assertion that anarchy is not an effective solution to much of anything is confused. An absence of rulers is not meant to be a solution to anything in and of itself; its role in libertarian theory is to remove the statist intervention in the market economy that inhibits and/or prevents individuals from working together to find effective solutions to problems. Pendleton’s passing mention of human biodiversity is also misplaced, as the best means of analyzing anarchy in Somalia is to compare it to statism in Somalia, not to anarchy elsewhere or statism elsewhere. We are thus considering the same thede under different conditions rather than different thedes under the same conditions. His claim that “whatever the merits of decentralization in theory, in practice it mostly involves being subject to the whims of the local warlord and his cadre” is particular to the current cases of failed states. There is good reason to believe that a controlled demolition of a state apparatus by people who wish to impose a libertarian social order would not be like this because the people would have the will and means to disallow it. Even so, a nation-state government is essentially a warlord writ large. Localizing this evil and reducing its strength makes it easier to bribe, escape, or overthrow, which is a definite improvement.

Pendleton claims that a libertarian must search hard to find supporting evidence in Somalia, but the evidence is clear. Before Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime fell in 1991, the annual birth rate was 0.46 percent, the infant mortality rate was 11.6 percent, the life expectancy was 46 years, the annual death rate was 0.19 percent, the GDP per capita was $210, the adult literacy rate was 24 percent, and 35 percent of the people had access to safe water. The most recent measurements are that the annual birth rate is 0.40 percent (2016), the infant mortality rate is 9.66 percent (2016), the life expectancy is 52.4 years (2016), the annual death rate is 0.133 percent (2016), the GDP per capita is $400 (2014), the adult literacy rate is 38 percent (2011), and 45 percent of the people have access to safe water (2016). The telecommunications and money transfer industries have also improved to offer some of the best service in Africa.

It is easy to argue, as Pendleton does, that these improvements are negligible from his relatively cushy first-world environs, where such improvements on either a real or a percentage basis are barely noticeable. But in the third-world hellhole that is Somalia, such improvements can be the difference between life and death, not to mention the difference between having some basic quality of life or not having it. His claim that anarchy is not much different than communism is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence.

The Case of Tudor England

Pendleton seeks to contrast the anarchy of Somalia with the historical Tudor monarchy of England. His contention that giving people more freedoms is not a prerequisite for a well-run society is technically correct but beside the point. The fact is that a society need not be ‘run’ at all in the sense of top-down management by a ruling class. People can (and in the absence of interference, do) form voluntary associations to solve problems without being ordered around at gunpoint by government minions. That people have flourished in times of gentle oppression, a strange phrase indeed, says more about human resilience than it says about the merits of oppression.

He continues,

“Henry VII and VIII set in motion a series of clever reforms that reached a climax during the rule of Elizabeth I. England had finally found its stride. It must be noted that Elizabethan England, despite its relative freedom, was not keen on handing out legal recognition of liberties to its people. The era was one of unapologetic centralization. The crown’s subjects were given no guarantees of free speech at all; in fact, the censors worked hard and fast to clamp down on anything they perceived as dissent. Freedom of speech was still very far over the political horizon. And yet, despite the book burnings, despite the cages, despite the severed heads around London Tower, the Elizabethan era gave us Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spencer, Jonson, and Bacon. Imagine an era that gave the English language so much genius and not one assurance of free speech to go with it!”

One must ask whether this occurred because of oppression or in spite of it. It is possible, of course, that the great writers of the day produced such memorable works because the adversity of censorship forced them to innovate novel speech patterns in order to evade the censors. In an earlier age, Chaucer gained a lasting place in the canon of English literature for doing just that. But one must wonder, what potential was wasted? What great works were never penned because their would-be-authors feared for their lives? Perhaps the literary marvels of Elizabethan England were due to its relative freedom rather than its censorship, and more liberty would have been better.

Pendleton asks us to consider that the Elizabethan era was when the British Empire began in earnest, but does not explain how this happened. Spain, Portugal, and even France were ahead of England in colonizing the New World and expanding trade routes in the latter half of the 16th century. It was not until Elizabeth died and James VI and I became King of Scotland and England that the English shifted their attention from attacking the colonies of other nations to the business of establishing their own overseas colonies. The burdensome regulations of the day may disappoint a contemporary libertarian, but the English trade policies were about as good as there were at the time.

Chile and Singapore

Next, Pendleton presents Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore as examples of anti-libertarian success stories. Both pursued economic liberty while restricting social and political liberty; as Pendleton says of the left-libertarians, “a libertarian would rather choke on his bow-tie than defend [their political policies].” Though left-libertarians tend to recoil at such measures, a reactionary understanding of libertarianism provides quite a different view. The libertarian reactionary understands that the desired goal of a libertarian social order can only be achieved by physically removing the state from power. Doing this, however, requires a critical mass of the population to use self-defense against the current system. If such a critical mass is absent, then those who seek liberty must turn to other methods. Those libertarians who are capable of checking their autism and doing what is necessary within context may come to support a Pinochet- or Yew-type for the purpose of restoring a balance of political terror. The idea is for libertarians to use a reactionary authoritarian approach in order to suppress leftists and reverse the damage they have done, overthrow the regime once the left is defeated, then maintain the power vacuum by continuous application of defensive force. Furthermore, a libertarian social order will not necessarily offer a great deal of social and political liberty, especially to those who do not hold allodial title over private property and/or disagree with anarcho-capitalism. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society. In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.”[1]

This is quite similar to the standard of no voice and free exit advocated by Nick Land and some other prominent neoreactionaries. The only real difference is that the libertarian reactionary is especially concerned with making the sovereign units as small as possible. It is worth noting that both proposals blend anarchy with authority, in that there is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns who have authority within their private properties.

Pendleton wonders how Singapore would have preserved liberty in the midst of conflicts between the various ethnic groups present there without Yew’s rule, and how the various religious groups could have been kept from fighting in England without Elizabeth I’s despotism. The possible answers to such questions are the same in each case. First, groups may hire neutral third parties to resolve disputes. Second, the groups may voluntarily segregate themselves so as to avoid contact with each other. Third, some groups that cannot get along with others may have a mass exodus. Fourth, a troublemaking group may be forcibly exiled by all of the other groups. Fifth, each side may be armed to such an extent as to create peace through mutually assured destruction. Sixth, the groups may simply choose to fight it out, as some hostilities reach a point of no return. In the first five cases, the preservation of liberty is maximized. The sixth case is far more troublesome, but such quarrels can be formalized and separated so as not to catch innocent bystanders in the crossfire. A system of dueling has filled this role in many historical societies. There are thus many options other than authoritarianism for preserving liberty; the only question is whether people care to utilize them.

Libertarianism and Reaction

Pendleton writes,

“The reactionary and libertarian both agree that small governments are good. But the reactionary feels that small governments are made not by relinquishing authority, as the libertarian would do, but by strengthening it. Liberty is too precious to be entrusted to anarchy in the same way that diamonds are too precious to be entrusted to one’s doorstep.”

Here, he misunderstands what a libertarian would do, at least those who are not leftists. A libertarian reactionary seeks not to relinquish authority, but to make it as absolute as possible in the hands of the private property owner within that person’s private property. And contrary to Pendleton, liberty requires anarchy because the freedom to do as one wishes as long as one respects the right of other people to do likewise and commits no aggression against them is violated by a state apparatus by definition. If a state is present, it will fund its activities through taxation and civil asset forfeiture, take private property through eminent domain, and restrict the use of property through intellectual monopoly, zoning, and environmental regulations. Its officials and agents will choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof, meaning that they rule the law and not vice versa. Its enforcers will initiate the use of violence against people who are known to disagree with government statutes and acts upon their disagreements, thus presenting a constant threat to peace. Its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do, and the system is set up to keep them from being held to account. It will force people to associate with it regardless of whether they want to use or pay for its services. Therefore, it is clear that liberty cannot be protected by state authority; such a threatening protector is a contradiction of terms.

Final Arbitration

Next, Pendleton presents a case to make the ‘final arbiter of disputes’ criticism of libertarianism:

“Suppose we have one of those highly attenuated legal battles where the details of the case are complicated and emotionally charged. Let us suppose that a drunk driver crashed into a tree and his passenger was killed when she flew through the windshield; she had not worn her seat belt. The grieving husband of the passenger demanded compensation from the driver to help take care of his kids in place of his now deceased wife. Daycare is expensive these days, after all. The driver apologized profusely but pointed out that the passenger was just as responsible for her death because she was not buckled into her seat. The husband countered by saying that the belt would not have been an issue if the driver had not been drunk and crashed into a tree.

Since these men live in a libertarian utopia, there is no superseding legal authority to arbitrate: a third-party arbitration company will have to be hired. Now let’s suppose that one of these arbitration companies is owned by a brother-in-law of the driver, and not surprisingly, the driver only agrees to hire that company. The husband refuses. The driver in turn refuses to pay any compensation whatsoever. The furious husband now threatens to kill the wife of the driver to make him understand what it feels like to lose a loved one.

How can any libertarian who sings the praises of anarchy not see how this situation will only continue to escalate? How can there be any justice for the woman who lost her life in the original crash and what about the violations of liberty that will ensue when this conflict devolves into a family feud? If there had been one authority to take control of this dispute the liberties of everyone involved would have been much more safely guarded. In a world where emotion forms the greater part of human action, liberty requires authority.”

This situation may be resolved in advance through contracts. The owners of the road set the conditions for operating vehicles on their private property, with violators subject to physical removal not unlike the traffic stops, arrests, and impounding of vehicles today. They may demand that everyone using their roads have arbitration services which do not involve such conflicts of interest, and contrary to some myopic analysis to the contrary, are almost certain to frown upon drunk drivers. They might even have all cars on their roads driven by robots, which nips this scenario in the bud. Failing this, a person who has committed an offense and refuses to make restitution can be ostracized from society until compliance is gained. Furthermore, such a person may rightly be forced to make restitution because an unrepentant aggressor is not subject to the non-aggression principle through his continuing violation of it. The driver’s wife, however, is an innocent bystander unless she was responsible for getting him drunk and/or making him drive while intoxicated. Threatening her absent these conditions makes the widower an aggressor to be subdued. As a libertarian society would have several private defense agencies available to handle such applications of defensive force and almost everyone would have a protection policy with one of these companies, an escalation is quite unlikely. Even if this kind of situation does escalate, it pales in comparison to the carnage wrought by the one authority that Pendleton defends. States were responsible for 203 million democides and war deaths in the 20th century alone. This is hardly a price worth paying to stifle a few family feuds.

More generally, a final arbiter of disputes cannot exist because no person or institution can absolutely guarantee that any issue will be resolved forever with no possibility of review. The way that disputes ultimately end in any social order is that some party finds the dispute to no longer be worth continuing. Everything else, whether statist courts and legislatures or anarchic arbitration services and private defense agencies, is simply window dressing on this immutable truth.

Of Rules and Rulers

Pendleton writes,

“A libertarian who is honest with himself has to ask why even jungle tribes have a chief and why high schools have hall-monitors. Human beings require authority, and if authority is to mean anything at all, it requires the power of compulsion; liberty cannot last long in a nation that thinks of its authority as a polite suggestion.”

It is important to understand the true meaning of anarchy. Anarchy comes from Greek ἀναρχία, which is typically translated as ‘without rulers.’ More precisely, it means ‘without beginning to take the lead.’ This is not the same as ‘without rules’ or ‘without leaders.’ Having a ruler means that there are no rules because the ruler has authority over the rules and not vice versa. That the lead is not taken does not mean that no one can lead because leadership can be freely given. This is well-understood in every aspect of life other than politics. In the words of Mikhail Bakunin,

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. …But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.”[2]

Additionally, compulsion and initiatory force are not equivalent. This is because compulsion may take the form of defensive force or of less violent means such as shaming and ostracism. Thus, if human beings require authority (and Pendleton does not prove that they do), a libertarian social order is quite capable of compelling people through contract law, ostracism, and private military forces.

Mischaracterization

Pendleton laments that not many libertarians will be swayed by his arguments, but does not understand why. It is not the case that libertarians are “far too busy sketching intricate political systems on paper to be bothered with considerations of human psychology.” Libertarianism, properly understood, is anti-political; its primary interest in political systems is in finding ways to destroy them without causing unnecessary damage to the social fabric. As for considerations of human psychology, they should lead one to reject the state as an enabler and multiplier of evil in the world. Ultimately, libertarians are not swayed by his arguments because they are easily refuted, as shown both above and below.

The Definition of Liberty

Pendleton writes,

“Liberty, as we now know it, is a set of unquestionable boundaries that are owed to all citizens: the right to peaceable assembly, the right to free speech, the right to a free press, and so on. The problem with these ‘rights’ is that they are very enticing ideas that are very murky in their specifics. They exist in the minds of Americans as a hazy bundle of entitlements, as things that they are owed, rather than things that they must earn.

The greatest problem with this notion of liberty as an entitlement is that once citizens start declaring rights as ‘universal’ and ‘God-given’ there is no mechanism to stop them from continually inventing new ones. The ‘right to privacy’ or the ‘right to universal healthcare’ are muddled ideas that our founding fathers never anticipated. Jefferson and Madison almost certainly would not have approved of them, but they are ideas that have as much legitimacy as America’s own Bill of Rights: if Madison can conjure up new rights with a few quill strokes there is likewise nothing to stop Supreme Court justices from doing the same thing. And so the list of entitlements owed to Americans steadily grows longer as its list of responsibilities dwindles.”

He correctly criticizes the contemporary understanding of liberty in liberal democracies. As I have explained elsewhere, these rights belong to private property owners within the spaces that they own. No one has a right to assemble, speak, print, and so on within private property if the owner disagrees with such activities. Those who would do so are trespassing and thus subject to physical removal. The current problem is that the state has greatly interfered with private property. This is a problem of the commons, and the only solution is to eliminate the commons and return it to private ownership.

From here, as Pendleton realizes, it only gets worse. When people fail to connect rights to logic and ownership of property, or more simply, to thought and action, they confuse negative rights with so-called “positive rights.” These positive rights cannot be valid because their provision violates the negative rights of other people. For instance, a right to healthcare implies that someone must be forced to provide healthcare, even if it against the provider’s wishes to serve that person.

But though he correctly identifies the problem, Pendleton proposes an incorrect solution. He seeks to restore the ancient Roman ideal of liberty rather than to correct the errors in the practice of modern liberty. The Romans viewed liberty in a collective sense, as imposing responsibilities to the state in eschange for individual rights. In truth, liberty is neither a list of entitlements nor a reward for serving society or the state; it is the result of gaining and defending private property. With this understanding, it is not ironic at all that libertarians would condemn a system which subordinates the individual to a collective as fascism (or more appropriately, as communism).

Rationalism and Empiricism

Pendleton claims that the Roman notion of liberty has the example of Singapore while the libertarian has no compelling models; only fantasies and Somalia. Implicit in this claim is a sort of historical determinism that demonstrates a lack of courage and imagination to look beyond what has been and see what is possible but as yet unrealized. As explained above, Somalia has shown improvement without a state. And fortunately, libertarians have more than fantasies; we have a priori theory. In the words of Hoppe, “A priori theory trumps and corrects experience (and logic overrules observation), and not vice-versa.”[3] This is because one may use rationalism without using empiricism, but one cannot use empiricism without using rationalism. That rationalism is independent and empiricism is dependent establishes a clear hierarchy between the two ways of knowing. Of course, this will not convince a strong empiricist of the historical determinist variety, but this has no bearing upon the truth value of the argument.

That being said, it is worth considering why there are no empirical examples of a stateless propertarian society in recent times. The obvious answer is that states initiate violence to sustain their operations, and libertarians have yet to suppress this aggression with enough defensive force to stop it. The other, less obvious explanation is that those who govern in statist systems know at one level or another that their institutions are unnecessary for the functioning of society, but that most people are more empirical than rational in their thinking. It is for this reason that they cannot allow a working example of a stateless society to be created, as this would permanently turn the masses against the state. They thus use force not only to maintain their power, but to ensure that most people never consider alternatives which do not include them.

Conclusion

Pendleton closes by contemplating the issues on the horizon for America, from racial tensions to Islamic terrorists, though he says nothing of the various economic issues. However, the “furious, explosive derailment” he fears is not only unavoidable, but necessary. The current system cannot be fixed; it must end in either a controlled demolition or a chaotic collapse. In any event, the answers are to be found in the restoration and enforcement of private property rights and freedom of association, with physical removal for those who challenge these norms. It is best to work toward emerging from this chaos looking neither like Singapore nor like Somalia, but as something completely novel in time memorial: a functional stateless society of covenant communities.

References:

  1. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 218
  2. Bakunin, Mikhail (1871, 1882). God and the State. Mother Earth Publishing Association. Ch. 2
  3. Hoppe, p. xvi.

On Libertarianism and Conquest

The institution of private property is a fundamental aspect of economics and social interactions. It serves the practical purpose of avoiding conflicts over scarce resources so that efforts may be put toward better purposes. Theories concerning the creation, acquisition, trade, inheritance, and defense of private property form much of libertarian philosophy. What has gone largely unexplored in libertarian theory thus far is the role of conquest in the determination of property rights. Almost all inhabited land on Earth has been conquered by one group of people or another at some time in the past, so as long as this remains unexplored, libertarianism will be left open to attacks from all manner of enemies of private property rights. Thus, it is necessary to examine conquest from a libertarian perspective.

Man vs. Nature

The starting point for all of libertarian philosophy is self-ownership; 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 leads to a contradiction.

Because each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, it is wrong for one person to initiate interference 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. This works because one is responsible for the improvements that one has made upon the natural resources, and it is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves.

In a sense, all property rights are based on conquest, in that property rights are created when man conquers nature by appropriating part of nature for his exclusive control and use. This is a powerful antidote to the contention of many opponents of private property that property titles are somehow invalidated by a history of conquest, of people taking by force what is not rightfully theirs. But we can do even better than this, as the next sections will show.

Man vs. Man

As stated earlier, property rights are useful in practice because they minimize conflicts over scarce resources by establishing who rightfully controls what territory. This results in a significant amount of loss prevention, which allows the people who would have died and the property that would have been damaged in such conflicts to instead survive and prosper.

But what happens when such norms are not respected? Let us consider the simplest possible example and extrapolate from there. For our first case, consider a planet which has only two sentient beings. Let us call them Archer and Bob. Archer has mixed his labor with some land and thus acquired private property rights over that area. Bob wants the land that belongs to Archer. That Archer has a right to defend himself and his property from the aggressions of Bob by any means necessary, and that Archer has the right to retake anything that Bob takes is not disputed by any reputable libertarian theorist. But what if Bob kills Archer? In that case, the property does not rightfully pass from Archer to Bob in theory. But Bob now has exclusive control over the property and there is no other sentient being present to challenge him. Thus, Bob becomes the de facto owner, even though this is illegitimate de jure.

The above case is interesting but trivial because social norms are irrelevant if there is neither a community to observe them nor a mechanism to enforce them. As such, we will spend the rest of this essay adding complexity to the first case to arrive at meaningful results. For our second case, suppose that there were another person present to challenge Bob. Let us call him Calvin. Because libertarian theory is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. To violate the rights of another person while claiming the same rights for oneself is not consistent. Hypocrisy of this kind cannot be rationally advanced in argument; it has the same effect at the subjective level that a performative contradiction has at the objective level. In other words, all people do not lose the right to life because someone somewhere somewhen commits a murder, but the murderer does. This means that Bob cannot claim a right to his own life or to the property he occupies because he murdered Archer and stole his property. Thus, there is no moral prohibition on Calvin killing Bob and taking the property from him. With Archer and Bob both dead and Calvin the last sentient being on the planet, Calvin is now the de facto owner of the property. But unlike Bob in the first case, Calvin is also the de jure property owner because he has exerted effort to remove property from the control of a thief and the rightful owner died without an heir.

Another level of complexity may be added by giving Archer a rightful heir, whom we may call Delia. Let our third case proceed as the second case; Bob murders Archer and steals his land, then Calvin kills Bob to eliminate a murderer and take stolen property away from a thief. But with Archer dead, Delia is now the rightful owner of Archer’s land. However, without Calvin’s labor in killing Bob, Bob would still be occupying Delia’s territory. Thus, both Calvin and Delia have legitimate property claims. They may resolve this issue by one of the two methods available to anyone: reason or force. With reason, they may negotiate a fair settlement in which Calvin is compensated for his efforts and Delia reclaims her property minus the compensation. With force, they may fight, which will end in the first case if one kills the other. Short of this, fighting will only alter the particulars of a fair settlement or lead to the fourth case described below.

Family vs. Family

Because the moral limitations of groups are no different from the moral limitations of individuals, we may now extend these results to consider conflicts between small groups. For our fourth case, let us modify the third case by giving spouses to Calvin and Delia. Let there also be other people somewhere who can procreate with the aforementioned people, but do not otherwise involve themselves with the property concerns at hand. Suppose that Calvin and Delia do not resolve their issue, and Calvin continually occupies the property. Calvin and Delia each have offspring, then several generations pass such that Calvin and Delia are long dead. The descendants of Delia wish to reclaim their ancestral homeland from the descendants of Calvin. But do they have the right to do so? Calvin and his descendants have spent generations occupying and laboring upon the land, thus continually demonstrating and renewing their property rights. Delia and her descendants have not. One might argue that an injustice was done to Delia by Calvin, but the responsibility for crimes dies with the people who commit the crimes, and debts do not rightfully pass from one generation to another. This is because the descendants were not involved in the disputes between their ancestors, being as yet unborn. Therefore, they are not responsible for any wrongdoing that may have occurred, being non-actors in the disputes of their ancestors. The answer, then, is that the descendants of Calvin are now the rightful owners and the descendants of Delia have lost through abandonment the claim that Delia once had.

Man vs. Society and Family vs. Society

Next, let us consider issues that may arise when a single person has a property conflict with a large group of people. Though it is not a priori true that a single person will always be overpowered by a group, this is the historical norm, and it has occurred with sufficient frequency to take this as a given for our analysis. For our fifth case, let us reconsider the first case, only now Bob is replaced by a society. Let us call them the Bobarians. The morality of the situation does not change; if the Bobarians physically remove Archer and occupy his land, then the Bobarians who occupy the land are guilty of robbery and possessing stolen property while those who willfully aid them in doing so are accessories to these crimes. If the Bobarians demand that Archer obey their commands and pay them tribute, then they are guilty of extortion. Archer has a right to use any means necessary to reclaim his liberty and property, however unlikely to succeed these efforts may be. If the Bobarians kill Archer either during their conquest or afterward, then those who kill him are guilty of murder and robbery. But if Archer is dead without an heir, and there exists no other group of people capable of holding the Bobarians accountable for their crimes, then the Bobarian conquest of Archer’s property is valid de facto even though it is illegitimate de jure.

For our sixth case, suppose that Archer does have surviving heirs who wish to take back the property which has been stolen from them by the Bobarians. All of these Archerians have been wronged by the Bobarians, and thus have a right to reclaim the stolen property. But just as before, this needs to occur within the lifetimes of the conquerors and their supporters because descendants are not responsible for the crimes of their ancestors. Note if the Archerians had a timeless right to return to their ancestral lands or collect reparations from the Bobarians, it would encourage the Bobarians to finish exterminating them in order to prevent an effort to retake the land in future. A standard which encourages mass murder is questionable, to say the least.

Society vs. Society

The last set of issues to consider concern conflicts between societies. For our seventh case, let us consider what role might be played by another group who wish to hold conquerors responsible for their murder and thievery. Let us call them the Calvinites, after the role of Calvin discussed earlier. Suppose they witness the Bobarians kill Archer and all of his relatives to take their lands, as in the fifth case. What may the Calvinites rightly do? Of course, they may denounce the conquest and engage in social and economic ostracism of the Bobarians. But this is hardly sufficient punishment for the Bobarian aggression, nor does it do anything to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains. As per the second case, there is no moral prohibition on the Calvinites physically removing the Bobarians from the former Archerian lands by any means necessary. All Bobarians who took part in the conquest or aided the effort are fair targets for defensive force, and any innocent shields killed in the process are acceptable losses. Should the Calvinites succeed in removing the Bobarians, they become both the factual and rightful owners through their labors of justice.

For our eighth case, let us modify the seventh case by having some Archerians survive the Bobarian assault. With many Archerians dead and the rest in exile, the Calvinites intervene. The Calvinites succeed in removing the Bobarians from the Archerian homeland. The Archerians seek to return to their land. As in the third case, the surviving Archerians can come to terms with the Calvinites to resettle their lands and compensate them for their efforts in removing the Bobarians, try to remove the Calvinites by force, or let the Calvinites have the land and go somewhere else. A war between the Archerians and Calvinites will only result in alternate terms of negotiation or the Archerians leaving unless one side completely exterminates the other. If the Archerians leave and the Calvinites stay for several generations such that the original disputants die off, then as per the fourth case, the Archerians lose the right to return because the Calvinites now have the legitimate property claim.

The ninth and most important case to consider in terms of real-world occurrence is that of incomplete conquest, in which a conqueror does not exile or exterminate a native population, but instead conquers them for the purpose of ruling over them. Suppose the Bobarians seek not after an Archerian genocide, but only to annex them into the Bobarian empire. Of course, the Archerians have every right to resist their new rulers; there is not even the illusion of consent of the governed in such a case. But unlike the cases discussed above, a state apparatus initiates the use of force for as long as it operates. Whereas a forced exile or extermination is a crime typically done by one generation of people, a long-term occupation for the purpose of collecting taxes and/or breeding out the natives over the course of generations is a continuing criminal activity. In such a case, the Bobarian occupation will never become just and the Archerians will always have the right to declare independence and remove them. This only becomes difficult to resolve to the extent that Bobarians intermarry with Archerians and produce mixed offspring, but the historical norm is that cultural and genetic vestiges of an occupation remain with a people long after they declare independence from and remove an occupier. After all, the individuals born of such conditions cannot help their lot, the actions of particular individuals are not necessarily representative of the state apparatus, and carefully excising such a cultural and genetic legacy is generally impossible without committing more acts of aggression.

Conclusions

Through application of these nine cases to real-world circumstances, one can theoretically resolve most of the property disputes between population groups, however unlikely the disputants may be to accept these results. What cannot be justified through these examples, however, are the interventions of the state concerning instances of conquest. Any good that a state may do by punishing conquerors is fruit of a poisoned tree, for the state acts as a conqueror over its own people, extorting them for resources and demanding obedience to its edicts. Instead, this is an appropriate role for individuals and private defense agencies who may free oppressed peoples and take payment either in monetary terms or through property claims over territory that has been conquered and liberated from occupation. The libertarian must be wary of state efforts to imitate the market by hiring private contractors or issuing letters of marque and reprisal for the purpose of bringing conquerors to justice.

There is a legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied, and the libertarian analysis of conquest shows that this is doubly true; not only does a delay in the provision of justice allow injustice to persist, but given enough time, it renders the plaintiff’s grievances invalid. This amounts to a natural statute of limitations and statute of repose, meaning that the arbitrary and capricious statutes of limitations and repose imposed by statist legal systems is generally unnecessary, at least with regard to the property crimes and crimes against the person involved in conquest. In this sense, the libertarian theory of conquest naturally stresses the urgency of seeking justice in a way that statist legal systems can only attempt to simulate.

Another legal expression reinforced by this analysis is that possession is nine-tenths of the law. The idea is that the current possessor or occupant of physical property is assumed to be the owner unless a stronger ownership claim by someone else is proven. This must be the case because the only other consistent position would be to assume that the current possessor or occupant of physical property is not the owner, which quickly leads to absurdity as claims rush in from people who wish to take all manner of property and continually redistribute it ad infinitum.

Finally, one might misconstrue the above analysis to say that libertarian theory defends the idea that might makes right. But in order to believe this, one must ignore all of the arguments in favor of defensive force to separate conquerors from the spoils they have taken. Rather, the libertarian theory regarding conquest recognizes and respects the fact that might makes outcomes. This is a fact which will never change; the only thing that changes throughout space and time is who will have might and how much power disparity will exist between opponents.

Fake Libertarianism Revisited

A significant portion of my work consists of critiquing arguments, decisions, and statements made by other people. But sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such is the case for an article I wrote three years ago about the nature of fake libertarianism. In retrospect, I failed to accurately present the structure of libertarian philosophy, and thus erroneously defined what it means to be a fake libertarian. Let us see what is wrong with my former case and make the necessary corrections.

Just as before, we must first have proper definitions for “libertarianism” and “fake” in order to consider the issue of fake libertarianism. Libertarianism is the philosophical position that the proper use of force is always defensive in nature. Initiating the use of force is never justifiable, while using force to defend against someone who initiates the use of force is always justifiable. A fake adherent of a position is either a person who claims to believe in that position while explicitly rejecting the premises of that position or their logical conclusions, or a person who misrepresents the premises of that position. Note that this does not compel action; a person is free to choose not to respond to initiated force with defensive force. Nor does this constrain one’s entire ideology to a single position; one may believe in additional premises beyond a certain position which are not in contradiction with that position without being a fake adherent, but to falsely represent such premises as being contained within that position does make one a fake adherent.

In my previous attempt, I argued that a fake libertarian is a person who claims to be a libertarian but does one or more of the following:

  1. Supports initiating the use of force for any reason;
  2. Rejects a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle;
  3. Claims that another principle can trump the non-aggression principle;
  4. Claims that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain, or vice versa.

Points (1) and (4) are sound, but points (2) and (3) require some revision. The non-aggression principle is neither an axiom nor the basis of libertarian theory, as my previous attempt would suggest. 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 over one’s own body, it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control over their body without that person’s consent. It is clear that self-ownership trumps the non-aggression principle on the grounds that the independent principle overrules the dependent principle. One may also reject a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle if doing so is necessary in order to accept a logical conclusion of self-ownership.

The above would be true but trivial if there were no cases in which the non-aggression principle came into conflict with principles of higher rank, so let us consider three such cases.

Innocent Shields

Strict adherence to the non-aggression principle would suggest that innocent shields held captive by an aggressor are non-aggressors and that harming them is immoral. But if this is true, then anyone who is being more harmfully victimized by the aggressor is doomed. Additionally, considering an aggressor who hides behind innocent shields to be an illegitimate target would provide a means for an aggressor to escape punishment and restitution. Another means of dealing with such a situation is provided by Walter Block’s concept of negative homesteading. To quote Block,

“A grabs B to use as a shield; A forces B to stand in front of him, and compels him to walk wherever A wishes. A then hunts C in order to murder the latter by shooting him. C also has a gun. Is it legally permissible for C to shoot at A in self defense under libertarian law?

[…]

In ordinary homesteading, or what we must now call positive homesteading to distinguish it from this newly introduced variety, it is the first person upon the scene who mixes his labor with the land or natural resource who comes away with the property rights in question. It is the first man who farms a plot of land, who becomes the rightful owner. A similar procedure applies to negative homesteading, only here what gets to be ‘owned’ is a negative, not a positive. This concept refers to some sort of unhappiness, not a benefit such as owning land. The ownership of misery, as it were, must stay with its first victim, according to this principle. He cannot legitimately pass it onto anyone else without the latter’s permission.”

The homesteading principle is a direct corollary of self-ownership, just like the non-aggression principle. This gives them equal standing in libertarian philosophy, meaning that a conflict between the two must not give the non-aggression principle supremacy over the homesteading principle or vice versa.

To use the theory of negative homesteading, we must identify the first homesteader of the misery. In Block’s example, this is B. It is impermissible for B to transfer this misery to C. Thus, the theory of negative homesteading permits C to shoot A and risk hitting B even though a strict view of the non-aggression principle would not. None of this is to say that concern for the innocent shield should be disregarded; only that if an aggressor is too dangerous to ignore and it is impossible to subdue the aggressor without harming innocent shields, then the innocent shields are expendable in order to reduce the overall amount of aggression committed.

Reecean Proviso

The theoretical basis for private property rights in libertarian theory also starts with self-ownership. Because one is responsible for one’s actions, one gains an ownership claim over one’s improvements upon natural resources. It is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves, so property rights over external objects in a state of nature are established through mixing one’s labor with them. As property rights are established and maintained by exercising self-ownership, they are dependent upon self-ownership. As with non-aggression, self-ownership overrules private property in external objects because that which is dependent is subordinate to that upon which it is dependent.

Next, let us note that all sentient beings are equal in their self-ownership, in that all sentient beings have property in their own physical bodies through exclusive direct control over them. Although the nature of their bodies and minds will almost certainly result in different beings appropriating different quantities of external resources and in different beings having more or less capability to defend those resources from challengers in practice, the theoretical strength of a particular property right over an external object by one sentient being is equivalent to the strength of another particular property right over another external object by another sentient being. Applying this to the fact that self-ownership stands above private property in external objects, we get the result that the self-ownership of one sentient being stands above the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being.

A strict view of the non-aggression principle would not allow any appropriation of another person’s private property without their permission, but a case in which self-ownership is in conflict with private property could allow for this. Although this is subject to so many caveats in practice that the appropriate lifeboat scenario may never arise, the theoretical possibility for a situation in which a person is justified to appropriate a small amount of resources from someone else’s property in order to stay alive does exist.

Unrepentant Aggressors and Agency

Because libertarian theory is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. For private property rights, the non-aggression principle, or indeed even self-ownership, to apply to a person who has violated another person’s rights of the same kind is inconsistent. As such, a thief has no standing to claim property rights, an aggressor has no standing to claim non-aggression, and a murderer has no standing to claim self-ownership until restitution is made for their crimes. In the latter case, restitution is impossible because a murder victim cannot be made whole. An unrepentant aggressor may be attacked in ways which would violate the non-aggression principle if done to a non-aggressor because the aggressor’s actions demonstrate a rejection of the non-aggression principle.

One might protest that a bystander lacks agency in a matter between an aggressor and a victim, but the concept of agency has been shaped in a world dominated by states. Thus, private citizens are discouraged (and sometimes prohibited) from interfering in certain matters between other people because the state claims sole authority to resolve such matters. In a society organized in accordance with libertarian theory, there is no such monopoly on the creation and enforcement of laws, or on the final arbitration of disputes. The concept of agency in a libertarian social order would likely impose fewer limits on an individual’s conduct, thus leaving one free to use force against unrepentant aggressors even if not in an immediate self-defense situation. The possibility of becoming an outlaw subject to the every whim of anyone who cares to attack an unrepentant aggressor presents a strong deterrent against committing acts of aggression.

Strategic Thinking

A separate but related problem is that of libertarian purists denying the context of a situation and refusing to consider less than perfect alternatives. There are situations in which an option which adheres to libertarian principles is not politically viable and libertarians are not willing to do what would be necessary to make such an option viable. In such cases, there will be several options and all of them will involve acts of aggression. Navigating these situations requires us to figure out either which option is most likely to result in the least amount of aggression or which option is most likely to move society closer to a libertarian social order. Advocating for one such option over the others, or ranking them from best to worst, does not constitute an endorsement of aggression because one is not choosing an aggressive option as an ideal or because one wants to, but as a least evil and because there is no good option.

Parts Unchanged

The definition of what constitutes a fake libertarian was in need of correction, but the when, where, and why remain as they were. Fake libertarianism is still a widespread and growing problem. As before, the reasons for being a fake libertarian are to gain recognition in a smaller field of competitors instead of trying to compete directly with more powerful establishment commentators, to destroy the libertarian movement from within by being an entryist, and to gain capital through false representation of something valuable.

Taking a slightly softer tone with some of those identified instead of calling them fakes and running them off may be sound strategical advice in some cases, especially with respect to the anarchist-minarchist debate. But any movement that wishes to take political power for any purpose, including the destruction of said power, must beware of holiness spirals. Libertarian groups have a twofold problem in this regard; that of strictest adherence to libertarian principles and that of leftist infiltration. Those who reduce their circle of allies to only the most ardent libertarians will lack the numbers to accomplish anything. Meanwhile, leftists who infiltrate libertarian circles and fill them with progressive nonsense can manage to run off real libertarians, which helps to explain the growth of the alt-right movement. Both of these problems are dangerous to the goal of liberty and must be countered whenever they present themselves.

Conclusion

There is no better way to conclude than by restating the closing paragraph from the original piece:

“Just as counterfeiters do not make copies of worthless banknotes and forgers do not falsify meaningless signatures, political charlatans do not pretend to hold a position if doing so has no potential benefit. Thus, true libertarians should take heart. The very fact that there are fake libertarians means that true libertarianism is worth something, and that defending it against those who would falsely assume it and attempt to destroy it is worth doing.”

A Libertarian Social Order In The Garden

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have engaged in agriculture. For millennia, gardens have been a source of nourishment, recreation, and social status. As such, many metaphors have been developed which refer to agricultural concepts to make a point about another subject. Examples can be found in both religious and secular texts from every culture. Therefore, it is only fitting that such a metaphor be made for libertarian philosophy in practice. Let us see how a garden can serve as a metaphor for a libertarian social order, as well as what insights this metaphor can provide for the creation and maintenance of such an order.

The Garden Kingdom

A garden is created and maintained by a gardener. The gardener rules the garden as an absolute monarch rules his kingdom, as there is no power within its bounds to challenge the gardener’s authority. The legitimacy of his rule is established like that of any private property owner; he mixes his labor with unowned natural resources to gain ownership of the improvements made. Ownership of the improvements is impossible without ownership of the things improved, so the gardener’s labor entitles him to the land of the garden and everything growing in it. He uses his sole dominion as he sees fit, determining which crops to plant where, which plants may remain where they are, which must be relocated, and which must be removed. He chooses which insects or other animals to allow to remain, which to import, and which to remove. All plants (and other lifeforms) that remain within the garden do so at the pleasure of the gardener, and they serve his needs and wants in exchange for his merciful provision and protection.

A kingdom is not worth much without its productive citizenry, upon whose production the king relies for sustenance. For the gardener, this role is fulfilled by fruit and vegetable plants, as well as pollinating insects. The gardener sows their seeds in the correct season and provides them with good soil so that they may be successful. This is necessary because unlike humans, the crops cannot optimally manage their own affairs and stand in need of a central planner. If the rain should be insufficient, the gardener irrigates the crops. If the plants need fertilizer, the gardener gives them some. If the plants are attacked, the gardener defends them. If the plants produce too much foliage and not enough crops, the gardener prunes them. If the plants drop seeds in an improper place, the gardener cleans up after them. If the plants cross-pollinate against the gardener’s wishes, he separates them further. In time, the plants will feed the gardener in exchange for his good stewardship of them.

Unproductive Citizens, Immigrants, and Threats

But sometimes, the citizenry are not productive. In some cases, this is because their particular environments are not conducive to their well-being. Some plants fare poorly in one part of the garden but would do well in another. But unlike human citizens in a kingdom, the plants cannot move themselves; the gardener must dig them out and move them. And as the gardener has legitimate powers of eminent domain as well as subjects without any human rights, there is nothing wrong with moving them. Other plants may not produce in the garden’s climate, no matter their location within it. If this happens, the gardener may choose not to replant them and instead buy seeds for new crops, just as a king might allow in immigrant workers to perform necessary tasks which no current citizens can perform. Should the new crops prove successful, the gardener may naturalize these new crops as permanent residents of the garden. If not, then the gardener will keep looking for a different crop to fill the void.

In other cases, the citizenry are not productive because they are under attack. Just as in human life, there are many threats to the safety of a fruit or vegetable plant. A kingdom will contain a criminal element which preys upon the productive citizenry. If a king has a duty, it is to safeguard the citizens from attack. The domestic criminals and parasites of the garden consist of weeds and some animals. Weeds deprive the crops of the nutrients that they need in order to thrive. Left unchecked, they can crowd out the crops, depriving them of sunlight. Some will even wrap around crop plants and strangle them. Rodents and other wild animals will eat the crops and sometimes even the entire crop plants, depriving the gardener of his just rewards.

A kingdom must also be guarded from external foes, as foreign invaders and terrorists can be just as devastating as the domestic criminal element should they be allowed to immigrate into the garden. Harmful insects play this part in the garden. They typically live somewhere outside the garden, but enter to prey upon the crops. They damage fruits and vegetables, destroy leaves, and even chew through stems to destroy entire plants. Left unchecked, they can reduce a gardener’s harvest to zero and leave behind eggs which will hatch new insects to do the same to a future year’s crop.

Defending The Realm

These aggressors are not amenable to any sort of reasoning. One does not ask a weed not to grow or a beetle not to eat, as it is against their inherent nature. The only way to deal with such a criminal element is through physical removal, and escalating to a full extermination is frequently necessary. Fortunately, the gardener has many tools at his disposal to deal with such problems, just as a king has guards, sheriffs, and armies. Weeds may be pulled, hoed, tilled, or sprayed with herbicides. Rodents can be handled with traps or by their natural predators, such as cats and snakes. Larger animals that attack the crops, such as deer, can be shot to feed the gardener as well as eliminate a threat to the garden. Insects can be thwarted by natural predators, traps, or a wide variety of insecticides.

Where are such plants and animals to go, if they may not stay in the garden? It is not the gardener’s concern. They are threats to his property, the fruits of his labor, and perhaps even his livelihood and survival. He is justified in using any means necessary to eliminate the threat and defend his property.

In the worst cases, insects may damage a plant beyond repair while marking it with chemicals that signal more insects to come. When this happens, the gardener must make a sacrifice for the greater good and remove that plant from the garden. Allowing that plant to remain and bring pestilence to the healthy plants of the garden will only cause further damage.

Collateral Damage

Like any tools, those that the gardener uses to defend the garden can be used in such a way that causes collateral damage. An errant blow from a hoe can destroy a crop plant, as can a gust of wind that blows herbicide where it should not go. Insecticides can kill bees as well as harmful insects. Fortunately, such mishaps only negatively affect the gardener’s harvest, and do little other noticeable damage. Although crop lives and bee lives matter to a competent gardener, no gardener has to worry about being retaliated against by the crops or bees in any meaningful way should he accidentally slaughter a few. This is partly because of the nature of non-sentient lifeforms, and partly because a gardener has none of the concerns about popular support that a democratic ruler has.

Conclusion

A garden is not a perfect metaphor for a libertarian social order, as none of the residents of the garden are sentient beings on par with the gardener. But this metaphor does illustrate the creation and maintenance of a libertarian social order according to individual preferences in a simplistic case of black and white morality. This example can be expanded and filled in with nuances as needed to extend it to tenants in a covenant community, which are the building blocks of a flourishing libertarian society.

The Libertarian Case For Private Nuclear Weapons

Whenever statists push for restrictions on private ownership of firearms and libertarians defend the right to keep and bear arms, some statists will attempt a reductio ad absurdum in the form of asking libertarians whether it should be permissible for private individuals to own nuclear weapons. The libertarians will usually back down, after which their inconsistency allows the statist to win the argument. But there is no need to do this. Let us explore why private ownership of nuclear weapons not only fails as a reductio ad absurdum in the gun control debate, but is actually essential for the creation and maintenance of a stateless society, along with other benefits.

Background

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 initiate interference 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. Furthermore, the theory of negative homesteading allows one to harm innocent shields if one is under attack and it is impossible to defend oneself without doing so.

Theoretical Objections Rebutted

Now that a logical framework is established, let us consider the issue of private ownership of nuclear weapons. Note that there are two cases which must be considered concurrently; that of of private ownership versus state control, and that of private ownership versus nuclear-free. Following the essentials of libertarian ethics, one may rightfully own anything if one creates it by laboring upon unowned natural resources. Furthermore, one may trade or gift anything one owns because an inability to do so would not constitute exclusive control. The burden upon the opponent of private nuclear weapon ownership is to show that mere possession of such a device inherently constitutes an act of aggression against people and/or their property, that state control is superior to private control, or that a free society would not have such weapons in the first place. Many arguments have been made to support this position, so let us examine them.

First, there is the argument that nuclear weapons were created through state programs and would not exist otherwise. This response attempts to deal purely in theory while remaining devoid of any context or practical application, all while claiming an astounding level of prescience concerning a counterfactual world in which no states survived into the 20th century. In reality, science and technology march on regardless of government involvement, albeit along a different path. While one may reasonably assume that a stateless world would have no Manhattan Project, it is entirely possible that the economic growth possible in the absence of statism could have funded scientific research and technological innovation to such an extent that nuclear technology could have been discovered earlier. It is quite implausible that no one would have discovered the possibility of nuclear weapons and tested it by experiment by now, and all but impossible that this would never become an issue in the future. A variant of this argument is that nuclear weapons are too expensive for individuals to develop, purchase, or maintain. This is also highly suspect because wealth levels tend to increase over time, meaning nuclear weapons (and everything else) will be more affordable in the future, if they are not affordable now (which is doubtful).

Second, some will argue that unlike small arms, a nuclear weapon is always pointed at someone. The implication is that such a device cannot be stored safely, and so must not be stored at all. The problem with this argument is that it confuses risk with aggression, accident with intent, and incompetence with malice. This argument also demonstrates a misunderstanding of the construction of nuclear weapons; like small arms, they may be stored in such a condition as to be unavailable for immediate use. We also cannot take this argument to its logical conclusion, as doing so would prohibit any activity which potentially endangers someone, such as flying aircraft or spacecraft, transporting hazardous materials by rail or pipeline, or even driving cars. However, there is one legitimate concern raised by this argument; that of radiation pollution from improper storage. But a free society could deal with radiation pollution by much the same procedure as it would use for any other form of air or water pollution.

Third, there is the argument that nuclear weapons necessarily kill innocent people because of their area and duration of effect. This argument, like the first, requires an impossible kind of knowledge, as no one may know precisely what area and duration of effect that a weapon may need in order to stop some future aggressor. Without such knowledge, this argument would set an arbitrary and capricious limit upon weapon ownership, as every weapon has some area and duration of effect. Furthermore, this argument is a straw man because even if this argument were completely valid, it would only prohibit the use of nuclear weapons, not their manufacture, possession, or trade. This is because the mere possession of an object cannot constitute aggression; only the use or threat of use in a manner which may harm innocent people and property constitutes aggression. Finally, under the theory of negative homesteading, killing innocent people can be acceptable if they are being used as human shields by an aggressor and it is impossible to subdue the aggressor without harming the human shields.

Fourth, there is the possibility that a mentally unstable person who would seek to use one in anger may acquire one. This is a serious concern, but there is no answer for it now that such weapons exist. While it is in the rational self-interest of everyone who is mentally stable to keep such munitions out of the hands of those who have a first-use policy, and it would be justified to use any means necessary to prevent those who have a first-use policy from obtaining and/or using nuclear weapons, there can be no guarantee that this disaster will not happen. A notable subset of this problem is that of the nuclear extortionist who says, “I want X or that city over there gets it!” But everyone who understands economics or psychology knows that subsidized behavior will become more frequent, resulting in more extortionists and more payments. We can therefore expect that the proper response of extermination of anyone who makes such threats will be used. Even if this results in a few uses of nuclear weapons, it is far better than the alternative. Furthermore, this scenario does not depend on nuclear weapons, as conventional explosives can easily be scaled up to sufficient size to cause this problem.

Fifth, there is the argument that technology will march on and render nuclear weapons obsolete. This argument does not address the issue because whatever technology would replace nuclear fission and fusion (e.g. matter-antimatter reactors) would have even more destructive potential if weaponized.

Sixth, there is the argument that nuclear weapons exist on a scale that makes mass murder and destruction too easy. But this can be true of any increase in firepower. (And who shall draw the line between what is too easy and what is not?) As military technology marches on and increases in scale, so does peaceful technology. That which would have eliminated an ancient tribe of hunter-gatherers may go almost unnoticed in a modern community, and a nuclear explosion may go almost unnoticed in an interstellar civilization. That which seems too powerful today may be laughable in the future.

Finally, there is the argument that a nuclear weapon is too powerful for a civilian to own, and thus the state should maintain control of them. But states created this issue in the first place (at least in our timeline), immunize themselves from responsibility for their pollution, suffer no serious consequences from threatening innocent people with nuclear weapons, are harder to stop from delivering nuclear weapons to those with a first-use policy, and are subject to the same mutually assured destruction as would be a private owner. As such, state control is actually the greater of two evils given that nuclear weapons exist. Note that in order to be consistent, one would also have to oppose private ownership of non-nuclear devices of equal or greater strength, even if used for peaceful purposes such as mining. As for the level of strength, this argument would set another arbitrary and capricious limit upon weapon ownership at the minimum possible yield for a nuclear warhead.

The Positive Case

With the theoretical arguments against private nuclear weapons rebutted, let us consider the good that private nuclear weapon ownership can do. First, nuclear weapons have a history of preventing total warfare, the most destructive statist activity. Before nuclear weapons were invented, rulers could invade other countries with little chance of being personally affected by the violence. When only the United States had nuclear weapons, Truman was able to use them against Hiroshima and Nagasaki with impunity. But once the Soviets exploded RDS-1 on August 29, 1949, the monopoly on nuclear capability was lost, never to be regained. The advent of mutually assured destruction meant that anyone who dared to use nuclear weapons could expect to be hit with them in return in a matter of hours (minutes with modern delivery systems). While the ruling classes used the funds they extorted from their populations to build shelters to survive a nuclear exchange, they knew that such survival would not truly be life; they would have no useful territory to control and no people to rule upon emerging from their bunkers. As such, the creation of nuclear weapons has led to a more peaceful world, at least in terms of major wars between world powers. It stands to reason that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by private individuals or defense agencies would take all-out warfare off the table for them as well, as the incentives which apply concerning nuclear-armed states also apply concerning nuclear-armed private individuals or defense agencies.

As a corollary of the first point, possessing nuclear weapons allows one to spend less resources on maintaining conventional military forces, thus freeing up resources to be used for other purposes. Just as the United States has generally lowered its military budget as a percent of GDP since nuclear weapons were invented (with a few exceptions for wars), a private defense agency can also lower costs by maintaining a small number of nuclear missiles rather than a much more numerous conventional arsenal. This also means that military equipment providers will have less influence over the society than they otherwise would, thus lessening the likelihood that they can start a conflict for their own profiteering.

Third, the transition from statism to anarcho-capitalism will almost certainly not occur overnight. There will almost certainly be a period of time in which some parts of the world still have governments while other parts of the world are anarchist control zones, regardless of the means used to circumvent or abolish existing states. When this happens, the stateless people will have economic advantages over those who live under the burden of government currency debasement, regulation, and taxation. Eventually, this will lead to conflict as rulers blame the anarcho-capitalists for luring away people and resources that governments need to continue functioning. States in this time period will be dealing with an existential threat of a sort that they have not faced in time memorial and to which they have no answers other than to abolish themselves or use violence. Those in power who are unwilling to give up violent dominion and live peacefully with their fellow human beings could consider this situation worthy of using nuclear weapons, and if the anarcho-capitalists wish to survive and win this conflict, they will need to wield equal or greater firepower themselves. In this sense, private ownership of nuclear weapons will be vitally important for the effort to abolish statism.

Fourth, private nuclear weapons have peaceful uses, such as mining, excavation, asteroid deflection, and propulsion. Looking forward, humanity must form a space-faring civilization if it is to survive long-term, and it is in this final frontier that nuclear devices have their utmost potential. Nuclear weapons are capable of providing a powerful defense against an asteroid which could threaten all life on a planet, whether they are used to alter its course or to blast it into pieces which are sufficiently small to burn up in the atmosphere before impacting the surface. Short of destroying or deflecting such an object, nuclear weapons could be used to excavate asteroids for the purpose of mining their interiors for valuable metals which are not commonly found elsewhere. Nuclear weapons can also be useful for getting to such an asteroid, as well as more general space travel. A series of nuclear explosions detonated behind a ship designed to absorb the impact and be propelled by it is the most primitive effective method of achieving the velocities needed to make long-distance space travel feasible.

Practical Objections Rebutted

Although there is a strong positive case for private nuclear weapons, some people still have difficulties with the practical aspects of their ownership. As such, it is necessary to consider some practical objections to their ownership.

First, there is the argument that in a stateless society, private individuals or defense agencies would not have an incentive to have nuclear weapons. But no nuclear-armed state has ever been invaded by a foreign power, and this cannot be said of any other class of weapon. This perfect track record is an extremely powerful incentive for a private individual or defense agency who seeks defense against invasion. Private defense agencies would also realize economic benefits from maintaining a nuclear deterrent versus maintaining a much more numerous conventional military force to achieve the same purpose.

Second, there is the argument that regardless of the theoretical soundness of private nuclear weapon ownership, people will view nuclear weapon owners with suspicion and seek to destroy them in order to eliminate the potential danger posed by them. The problem with such an effort is that aside from it being aggression against people and property, it greatly increases the likelihood of a nuclear weapon being used, especially if its owner is vastly outgunned or has no other weapons available. Note that assassination markets are not an answer, as a nuclear weapon owner could respond to the possibility of assassination by connecting the launch mechanism to one’s vital signs and programming the weapon to activate if one’s vital signs terminate in such a way as to indicate murder. As such, it makes far more sense to only target nuclear weapon owners who actually make threats of their use.

Finally, there is the concern that a person or defense agency in possession of a nuclear weapon can make demands of everyone else because of their power. This concern is a variant of the mentally unstable person who would seek to use one in anger discussed earlier, and is subject to the same rebuttal as well as the threat of mutually assured destruction.

Conclusion

Socrates once said,

“I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good.”

It is hard to imagine a greater embodiment of this idea at present than privately owned nuclear weapons. The logical case for their ownership is clear, and the objections in favor of either state control or complete elimination do not withstand scrutiny. While the prospect can be terrifying, the alternative is even worse, as the only way to prevent private nuclear weapon ownership from becoming a reality someday is to endure statism in perpetuity while bringing all innovation to a complete standstill. This would eventually result in a purposefully engineered Malthusian catastrophe on par with the most gruesome horror fiction, and the death toll would certainly be greater than that of a society which embraces freedom and nuclear technology. Fortunately, we will escape that fate because those who accept nuclear weapons for their legitimate uses will have an advantage over those who do not. In the words of Foo Quuxman,

“The ones who use it will inherit the stars. Those who don’t will be left to scratch out an existence on a single rock until something wipes it clean.”

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.

References:

  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

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.

References:

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