Happy 10 years!
And thank you for once again, in your letters column, giving us an instructive lesson on how to turn a petty squabble into an edifying and complex moral dilemma.
Go at it! oh, fearless ones, and reserve me a ring-side seat at the circus!
My compliments on your Tenth Anniversary Issue. It is not adverse criticism for me to note that some of your celebrating writers, most of whom appear to be younger than I am, seem to disagree with each other and with me on significant beginning dates in the history of libertarianism.
Rothbard says, "Ten years ago, all the libertarians in the country could fit comfortably into a medium-sized living room." In fact, by that time my living room had accommodated more libertarians at different times than it could accommodate at one time. Of course few had moved all the way to Rothbard's extreme, but they were all far enough along not to be shocked by the idea.
He says, "Ten years ago, the public school system was above criticism; anyone even mildly critical was treated as a social leper." In fact, my wife and I began seriously criticizing them after only a few months experience in 1946 when we put our oldest child in the first grade of an Ohio public school. We were advocating total abolishment of public schools at least as early as 1952. Admittedly we didn't have too many supporters but neither we nor any of our six children suffered any ostracism because of that or our suit against public school religious practices here in the Bible Belt. See Carden v. Bland, 199 Tenn. 665 (1956).
He says, "Ten years ago, the Social Security system was right up there with public schools in the public hagiography." We don't have many hagiolators in Tennessee, but I even knew some people who did worship saints while denouncing the government's Ponzi scheme.
He says, "Ten years ago, the FBI and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, were literally revered in America, and were beyond public criticism." As a newspaperman as early as 1947, I made some fun of FBI agents' antics and J. Edgar's publicity gimmicks in print in a Republican newspaper without raising a managerial eyebrow.
And so with his other categories, except that I claim no personal public advocacy in those fields before 1968, but I had been reading and hearing libertarian arguments on them in my efforts to improve my understanding of the requirements of liberty for many years.
And now to the word, "libertarian," itself.
Nathaniel Branden, who, if I recall correctly, first met Ayn Rand in 1950 at the age of 19, reports:
"I remember when the word 'libertarianism' first came out, and it's very interesting. I said, 'Hey, Ayn, the word is new. It's a bit awkward, but I like it.' She said, 'I don't. I think it's a terrible word. It's a coined word.'"
In fact, my wife and I began calling ourselves "libertarians" along about 1953.1 first ran into it in some of the first literature I received from the Foundation for Economic Education after I discovered its existence in 1952. At that time I was still trying to hang onto the label "liberal" in its European sense as against the claims of the New Deal tories. But I looked up "libertarian" in my 1934 edition of Merriam-Webster's unabridged and found a beautifully brief entry in the column next to a long entry for "liberal" encrusted with centuries of misuse. The entry said:
"liber-tari-an…n. One who holds to the doctrine of free will; also, one who upholds the principles of liberty, esp. individual liberty, of thought and action.—"liber-tar-i-an, adj.—"lib-er-tar-i- an-ism.…n." [my emphasis]
My wife and I have called ourselves libertarians ever since.
On reading Branden's and Rand's comments, I checked further and learned that, according to the Oxford English dictionary, the word had been around since at least 1789.
And, of course, it is no more a "coined" word than any English derivatives of Latin root words—including Miss Rand's coined word, "objectivism."
But I'm delighted to see all those youngsters pushing libertarianism (even if Leonard Read has dropped it) without worrying from whence it came. That's why the future looks bright to me. No other movement I know about has advanced as much in three generations as libertarianism has in my lifetime.
Go get 'em, tigers!
Philip M. Carden
It sounds as though Murray Rothbard has fallen out of his tree (onto his head). His congratulations to REASON on its 10th birthday included a disparaging reference to a little-known item called Libertarian Connection. To quote Dr. Rothbard: "Your 10th anniversary makes you the longest-lived libertarian publication, longer even than the Libertarian Connection (if one calls that a publication)."
Why did Dr. Rothbard make this remark when, had he said nothing about it, only a hundred or so hard-core LCers would know about it? Perhaps he is secretly on our side. I presently lean to the theory that his statement stems from a toxic effect due to not taking enough vitamins!
Co-publisher, Libertarian Connection
Los Angeles, CA
Just finished reading the whole of your Tenth Anniversary Issue of REASON. It is one of the best you have ever published. Absolutely delightful reading and nostalgic. I remember having a subscription to it in the early days when Lanny Friedlander first began publishing REASON. The content was excellent but the physical set-up left much to be desired. You have come a long way. Congratulations!
I thought Dr. Branden's Banquet Speech a most moving one and a rational approach to the "Ayn Rand Problem." If it was moving in print how much more so in audio. I sincerely hope that enough interest is shown in Branden's speech that a tape will be made available for purchase.
Robert L. Schultz
West Hill, Ontario
Two statements in Dave Nolan's article, "The Road to Liberty," [May] need correction. Dave states that YAF leader John Sainsbury was "amiable" and that he "was inclined towards peaceful coexistence with libertarians." In truth, he was neither.
Several months before the 1967 National YAF Convention there was a Mid-Atlantic Regional Convention in Philadelphia. At that convention, I proposed a whole series of resolutions that would have libertarianized YAF; among them resolutions to do away with appointed officials at all levels of YAF—County, State and National—and resolutions to conduct an audit of National YAF and publish the results.
Sainsbury opposed all of these resolutions. In the weeks before the Mid-A Convention I organized several meetings in New York to drum up support for the resolutions. Sainsbury did all that he could to disrupt these meetings. As a result of his actions, a sizeable contingent of Brooklyn/Queens YAFers, including myself, quit the organization. Sainsbury's subsequent "pro-libertarian" posture was simply an expedient to help (he hoped) his political ambitions.
One additional observation should be made. Since 1974 libertarian activity has again been on the upswing within YAF. After several years in NRC and successor organizations, many of the libertarians—including myself—who had earlier quit YAF rejoined the organization. In 1975 libertarian Jeff Kane was elected as YAF National Chairman; to be followed, in 1977, by libertarian John Buckley.
YAF's National Office Staff, however, continues to be Trad dominated. A guerrilla war is currently being fought for control of the organization with Buckley, basically backed by the libertarians, fighting the National Office Staff, basically backed by the Trads. Increased libertarian participation within YAF could decisively affect this contest.
Joseph L. Gentili
Libertarian Republican Alliance
What a humorist Alan Bock is. In "Washington Watch" [May] he reports that Libertarian Advocate had proposed "…a flat-rate income tax, and a tax 'ballot' which would allow taxpayers to designate which government programs their money could be spent on.…"
While a flat-rate income tax would be a better alternative to the morass that we have now, it would still be completely statist. Who, for example, would determine the magnitude of the "flat-rate"; and who would decide when it needed to be changed? Would the same IRS gestapo be used to collect it that now does? And with the same methodology?
The tax ballot is even more ludicrous. Just imagine an army of government statisticians (probably exceeding the current HEW hoards) busily running Student-T's, Chi-squares, etc., ad infinitum…just to see what programs the folks back home consider relevant. What if they don't like the answers that they get? Maybe some statistical game-playing!
Does anyone (LA included) seriously believe that the federal bureaucracy would become one gigantic bookkeeping system merely to spend the citizens' taxes as they wished them spent? Currently, one federal dollar is completely indistinguishable from all others.
No, Mr. Bock, if Libertarian Advocate is lobbying for this kind of tax system, they're advocating more of what we have now…all of which are wrong. I really wish they would STOP!
Barry J. Hildebrand
Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
Bravo for Edith Efron's Viewpoint columns. These lucid and hard-hitting articles are refreshing in the way that they both display shortcomings of the libertarian movement and also offer constructive solutions to said defects. Keep up the superb work!
As a nomination for REASON's candidate for the image on the new "dollar," why not pick out some prominent historical whore, since we are being so effectively screwed by the government, and this should be honored in such a coin.
Thomas S. Booz
I'm surprised by Bill Birmingham's being "grateful to Ms. Efron for proving that there is no such thing as unprintable rubbish." I think Bill has already done a good job of proving that in "Brickbats."
Professional courtesy, I guess.
Guy W. Riggs
Need for Defense
I have followed the Libertarian arguments in REASON for several years. I have found much that I agree with and have added to my own philosophy. I do not understand most libertarians' opposition to military defense forces. It is my opinion that national defense is one of the few proper functions of government. The arguments that we do not need a national defense are, perhaps, theoretically valid. However, some of the assumptions that the theory is based on must be false, because the theory has not worked out in practice. For example, when the Nazi government pulled out of Pomerania, there was no government at all. Freedom! It did not take long for the Russians to move in and set up a tyranny. Later the Russians pulled out and left a Polish Communist regime, which remains.
The arguments Robert LeFevre presents in "Return From the Stars" [May] are typical and have, in my opinion, a fatal flaw. "If the Cordonites covet what we have in this country they can obtain it more cheaply and readily by keeping us gainfully employed at producing and then trading with us. Our borders are open." If the Cordonites, or whoever, have the motivation to maximize profit (standard of living) then they will have a free enterprise government themselves and will not wish to threaten anyone. The threat comes from countries led, or misled, by tyrants who either want to maximize their power or are too stupid to realize that prosperity would be greater without the tyrannical government, or both.
John G. Tietz
Abortion and Emergencies
In the April issue, Karl Pflock said abortion is permissible in life-threatening pregnancies and cited from a Libertarians for Life leaflet a statement concerning the privilege of self-preservation in emergency situations which permits the taking of innocent life. That statement should not be interpreted as necessarily sanctioning abortion in these cases since, even there, children may be perfectly capable of surviving if not aggressed against. As the LFL leaflet also says, "Pregnancy is not (an emergency) situation in the normal case. Were it so, in extraordinary cases, the mother would have a privilege to defend her own life through abortion.…The privilege of self-preservation arises only in those situations in which the lives of two or more equally innocent persons are in jeopardy, and not all of them can be saved." (Emphasis added.) Life-threatening pregnancies pose difficult philosophical problems which LFL does not have definitive answers to. We believe, however, that the answers do not affect the merits of the basic arguments against abortion, and that, unless we correctly decide the normal cases first, we have no solid basis for deciding the extraordinary cases.
Besides normally having no right to kill our children, as Pflock said, LFL argues that whether we are willing or not, we also have the obligation, not just moral but under justice, to care for them. Just as our assent isn't necessary in order to incur the universal obligation not to initiate force, assent isn't always necessary in order to incur a particular obligation to a particular person, e.g., as when we intentionally steal or when we unintentionally cause an accident.
Two conditions must be present for a particular unsought-for obligation to arise: (1) direct and positive causation by the actor, and (2) lack of assent by the person affected. In the pregnancy case, the parents are the actors, and the child is the person affected. How else can the cause of the existence of a child and his long-term needs be explained except by recognizing the role of his parents in creating both these things? Nature can't be held responsible since it is the sex act that triggers the reproductive functions of the sperm and ovum. Children can't be held responsible since children don't cause themselves. They are not trespassers or uninvited guests but are captives in a situation imposed upon them without their assent by their parents. The inability of parents to obtain their children's assent is not relevant since the burden of obtaining assent is always upon the actors.
How can a situation which we are responsible for causing give rise to a right to kill the non-assenting person affected? Since when do we have a right to unilaterally terminate our obligations to others, especially by dismembering or burning them to death and then evicting them from a place in which they have a right to stay?
LFL hopes REASON will continue to air the debate.
P.S. It was nice to see my name publicized in REASON, but the article attributed to me was actually written by John Walker.
Consent and Abortion
I found the debate on abortion [April] extremely unsatisfactory, especially Mr. Pflock's contribution. To take only the most salient of my objections, the applicable libertarian principle is not "non-aggression" but rather the one that governs the exchange of values between persons. This principle states simply that such exchanges, in order not to violate the freedom of either party, must necessarily entail the voluntary consent of both participants. Libertarians have held that this rule is not affected by the relative importance of the value to one's own existence, so that the consent of the donor of values is required just as much in survival situations as in any other. It is this principled rejection of the argument that one person's need, however authentic and pressing, creates ipso facto a rightful claim to its fulfillment by others that forms the root of libertarian opposition to welfare, food stamps, national health plans, Social Security, etc., and on the international scene, to the thesis that the United States has a duty to succor the rest of the world.
The logic is irresistible, therefore, that the donor's consent must be obtained also when the donor is a woman, the donee a fetus, and the value transferred is nurture. Or in other words, a fetus, even if it is considered human from the moment of conception, still would not possess the right, any more than an adult, to be sustained by means of values obtained involuntarily from another. It would follow that a woman's consent would be continuously necessary in the provision of nurture to her unborn child up until the time when she can be replaced in this function by other consenting person—that is, when the fetus is independently viable, and can be given up for adoption.
An argument of this nature will be persuasive neither to persons unused to the consistent application of moral principles to human affairs, nor to those whose principles derive from revelation. But for libertarians, whose principles are justified in logic and whose hallmark is precisely such consistency of application, this argument should be decisive. For one must either concede that dire need does indeed generate a rightful claim upon resources owned by others, in which case we can have no objection in principle to the essential rationale of the welfare state or else recognize that the State cannot rightfully force a woman to nourish a fetus in the absence of her consent.
While this argument speaks to the moral and political issues, there remains the medical problem of when a fetus is to be considered independently viable. I am not competent to give advice here, but I would like to offer the thought that if a free market in babies existed so that potential mothers could be paid for deciding to go through with a pregnancy, then the incidence of late abortions (and these are the most problematic, since these fetuses may be independently viable, though with the risk of permanent damage) would be much reduced, perhaps even to zero if a mechanism for attaining market-clearing prices were in place. It is probable that such a market would be much more effective than an outright ban in reducing the true frequency of abortions, especially late ones.
William R. Havender
Walter Block's article [April] is excellent! I'd like to extend his reasoning and offer a rebuttal to Karl Pflock.
Consider this example. Jane lies in a hospital dying for lack of a kidney function. Sherlock, a desperate friend of Jane's, goes out on the street and abducts Victoria. He proceeds to hook up her kidneys to Jane's unconscious body. Jane's life is saved.
The police break into the room and arrest Sherlock for kidnapping and assault. Victoria sits up. An attendant warns her, "There are no machines and no volunteers. If you disconnect the tubes from yourself Jane will surely die. She's been unconscious for days and had nothing to do with your abduction. She is the involuntary benefactor of your body. Since she is involuntary and innocent she has the right to continue to use your body."
"Not so!" replies Victoria. "Being involuntary or unable to communicate does not and should not expand her rights beyond the rights of those who can communicate and act voluntarily. All individuals have the equal right to freedom, and I'm going to exercise my freedom to leave this place. It's unfortunate that Jane's body isn't self-supporting. But I have my own problems and my own life to live." With that remark she disconnects the tubes. Jane dies. The police arrest Victoria and charge her with murder.
This case is analogous to the rape-caused pregnancy. The fetus, like Jane, is involuntary, unable to communicate, and incapable of sustaining its life without biological support of another body.
Well, readers, what's the verdict on Victoria?
Perry S. Lorenz
Potential vs. Actual
In his essay "The Morality of Non-Interference" [April] Dr. Machan executes considerable verbal gymnastics in an attempt to lead his readers to the conclusion that a fetus is not a human being but his analogies do not bear up under scrutiny. True, it is the power of reason found uniquely within our species that sets humans apart from the lower order of animals but one with a lesser talent for reasoning is not less a human being than the balance of his class of being. Human life can be a culture of skin cells kept alive in a test tube but such life cannot be considered a human being since skin cells can only produce more skin cells. A human being is genetically complete from the instant of fertilization and is on the way to being a reasoning adult. Dr. Machan would have to admit that a month-old infant is still not capable of rational thought and choice. With this acknowledgment, the criteria he has invented for defining a human being begins to lose shape. The fetus, the embryo and the infant are more accurately labeled human beings with potential than potential human beings.
His analogy of the fruit trees further strips his logic of sound foundation when he suggests that a sapling could be called a young fruit tree only because it is closer to the fruit-bearing age than a seed recently germinated. The peach seed which has not germinated has the potential of becoming a peach tree but if not germinated, it will decay. At the moment it germinates, however, it is a peach tree even though it has not broken through the surface of the earth. To call it a "sprout" in order to more clearly define its stage of development doesn't mean that it isn't a peach tree. It is genetically complete upon germination. It may, however, grow up and never bear fruit but, alas, it is still a peach tree.
Moral vs. Political
While commenting on Walter Block's article on abortion [April] I shall refrain from making any criticism of his claim that a fetus is a human being, for I believe Machan, in his article, has adequately disposed of that claim.
What needs to be said here about Block's approach to the issue of abortion is that it is politically sound but morally objectionable. Not everything that is politically right ought to be the case. Thus, when Block argues that even "if voluntary pregnancy is interpreted as an 'invitation' to the fetus, the mother is not compelled to stretch out the invitation for the full term," he can only be speaking strictly politically. It is far from evident that one can voluntarily enter a helping relationship in which a human life is at stake and be morally justified in severing it at any time for any reason.
Granted that in a free society morality is a private, personal issue, it does not follow that defenders of freedom are for everything that is politically admissible in such a society. Freedom is not the only value—nor can it be. Either we stand for liberty because it is the means to a moral, human community or we stand for liberty for its own sake—which is nothing.
I am convinced Block's defense of abortion exemplifies the latter approach.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".