Philosophy

Libertarianism: About Property, Or Something More?

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reason contributors spar about the definition and proper focus of libertarianism. A dividing line: is libertarianism (or should it be?) about property rights, or about the exercise of freedom more widely conceived?

This blog entry from Todd Seavey, along with its accompanying links and the comment thread, is a good start to dive into this ongoing round in a debate that had run through the self-conscious libertarian movement for a long time. Seavey is sure that his property rights-based version is both the customary and proper one–while the likes of Will Wilkinson, Kerry Howley, and Roderick Long all think that freedom is bigger than property rights. 

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  1. Threatening force to deny another person use of one’s land, or one’s house, is coercion. A system of private property is a system of coercion. It may be justified coercion. It is justified coercion. But then the question is: What justifies it? The coercive protection of property is justified because people do better with it than without it. If people do better in a system that defines rights to property a bit less strictly, and coercively guarantees an economic minimum, then that is justified coercion. It’s not really a philosophical question whether it is or not. Justified coercion, like the coercion in the protection of property, isn’t wrongfully liberty-limiting, but it does limit liberty.

    This sounds helluva lot more like Herbert Marcuse than it does like Murray Rothbard.

    I don’t think there’s any problem with defining libertarianism. The problem is that it’s become fashionable for people who are actually liberals to identify themselves as libertarians. Political cross-dressers such as Howley, Wilkinson and Long could spare themselves any confusion just by owning up to what they actually are.

  2. If respect for property rights is all it takes for a system to qualify as Libertarian, the Inca Empire was a Libertarian paradise. The Sapa Inca was the owner of every piece of land in the empire, along with every person and animal living in it, and he disposed of his property in the way he deemed fitting. In the United States, defining Libertarianism as respect for property rights works pretty well because everyone owns their own body, most people own their own home, or at least have money in the bank account, and wage earnings account for 70% of national income. But how we define property rights, who we decide gets what, is essential to determining whether our society is Libertarian or not. And when it comes to things like land, which no one has a natural right to (e.g. nobody made it), there isn’t an obvious property rights answer about what to do.

  3. If respect for property rights is all it takes for a system to qualify as Libertarian, the Inca Empire was a Libertarian paradise.

    Now don’t go bringing foreign policy into this at the same time. It’d be way more than the traffic can stand.

    What we really need here is a debate about what the true faith is, and how we’re going to insure libertarian impotence well beyond our own life times.

  4. Brian,

    A dividing line: is libertarianism (or should it be?) about property rights, or about the exercise of freedom more widely conceived?

    I read your links but I’m somehow not on the wavelength….I mean, what’s the point?

    Many would say that the first axiom of libertarian philosophy is the non-initiation of force rule. Rationale being that your first basic right, is the right to your life, and that this is the source of all other rights.

    So if I have a right to my own life, and in the process of taking care of it I produce, buy, or otherwise appropriately aquire “property” (by libertarian standards, and property is in whatever the form — dollar bills, land, buildings, whatever) then — how can I not have a right to this property?

    How can you argue that someone has a right to their own life, but not to the property they require to maintain their life (assuming they acquired it appropriately)? This just looks like an oxymoron right out of the gate.

    Am I missing something? Are we talking here more about “The Commons” than what individuals own?

    Rough paraphrase of Aristotle from _The Politics_: at the extremes the people of the state may share nothing in common, or they may share everything in common, or they may share some things but not others. Now clearly they cannot share nothing in common, for at minimum they must share the name of the state they are to live in…..

    I can see how things held in common can become grey area and debatable. But surely we aren’t talking here about turning all property over to The Commons? We’d hardly be speaking “libertarian” anymore.

  5. If libertarians want to become relevant, which is not a forgone conclusion — then one of the things that needs resolving, is the anarchist-classical liberal divide. Because it is a divide.

    Limited government vs none or virtually none, are two very different and essentially incompatible propositions.

  6. I don’t know about that. Both want to drastically limit government and can cooperate until the minarchist state is reached. That is the point that the two factions would have to part ways.

  7. Eb—the intramural libt debate I’m flagging here isn’t about how one derives property rights, or whether rights to life necessarily imply rights to property–it’s about whether EVERYTHING about libertarianism, or the struggle for freedom broadly conceived, can be reduced SOLELY to property rights, as in the general Rothbardian libt model Seavey embraces; or if the freedom-lover must recognize and fight against deprivations of liberty that have nothing directly to do with defense of life and property.
    You may, justly, be uninterested in these sorts of meta-strategic questions about the libt movement; but I dig ’em and I think at least a few others around here do as well.

  8. I was confused from the headline. Everything is derived from individual property rights, beginning with property and rights.

  9. Well, to address this nagging meta-strategery … isn’t this a bit of the “chicken vs. the egg” debate? Libertarians of all stripes and persuasions should be able to accept both (property rights and the broader panoply of rights related or unrelated to property) as both meaningful and crucial to the core of libertarianism.
    We can debate all day long as to which is the proper or correct way to view this matter. I think its an exercise in futility …
    this is not to say that I do not take issue with what either side has declared. I am a bit annoyed by the Howley/Willkinson proposition that we can negate certain rights in favor of others so long as it benefits the greater pursiut of freedom – seems a bit too utiltarian for my taste. On the other hand, Seavey seems to suggest that all rights are derived from and subsumed by the right to property – an interesting though IMHO flawed idea.

  10. Property rights are the foundation for the other rights. If the individual’s right to acquire and control property is curtailed it makes the exercising of other rights probematic at best. How effective is your right to free speech if you are not allowed to purchase the materials to disseminate your speech? How free are you to travel if you limited by law in how much you can purchase in tickets?

    “Freedom” in general may be sexier and easier to sell but you punch holes in the load bearing walls of the libertarian house at you peril.

  11. It seems to me that to claim that libertarianism is based on something other than respect for property rights, one must have in mind one of two different situations:

    1) Private property rights and something else don’t conflict, but without this something else society is not libertarian.

    2) Private property rights and something else do conflict, and that the something else takes primacy in conflicts between them or else society is not libertarian.

    I think the first notion is ridiculous, since in the absence of aggression, people would be ordering their lives with whatever quality or amount of the something else that suits them.

    The second notion on the other hand also seems problematic. What’s the enforcement mechanism? How do we sort out how the something else takes primacy? How do we get consensus on what the something else is?

    Property rights, flowing from Lockean notions that the first person to take control of a heretofore unowned asset and start making use of it, minimize such conflicts. Add a something else that conflicts with this, and you have to introduce aggression into the society.

    Thus, I think that second notion fails, because it mandates aggression by some against others.

  12. Under Todd Seavey’s definition of libertarianism, corporation X could (theoretically) own every piece of land and control every job, and as long as the government protects corporation X’s property rights, the population would be “free” even if corporation X prohibited free speech, right to travel, etc., on its lands. Heck, corporation X could institute communism on its lands and it would be considered libertarian.

  13. good points tarran … I still believe that the idea of libertarianism being based *only* upon property rights is fundamentally unsound.
    What about the right to worship?
    The right to assembly?
    Do either of these naturally and unquestionably flow from any notion of property?

  14. Personally, I always argue libertarianism on the grounds of the non-use of force. Property rights are just one way to limit the State’s use of force. Arguing it this way almost makes it a moral argument, which is easier to defend than the “property rights” argument. Overemphasizing property rights opens libertarians up to the stereotype of just being greedy.

  15. Well, John Locke`s statement “Life, liberty, and property” implies that property is one of several important rights/values and not the foundation of all values. I suspect to argue otherwise, one would have to take some very broad definition of property which goes beyond the usual use of the word.

  16. from Kerry’s blog:

    libertarian cocktail party critiques of feminism are utterly insipid and incoherent.

    I wasn’t aware that libertarians had cocktails, parties, or females (feminists or otherwise). I guess I’m hanging out with the wrong group.

  17. Not everyone gets interested in libertarianism because of property rights. I don’t understand a lot of the federal reserve stuff, or some of the more esorteric (not necessarily in the perjorative, but in the abstract technical sense) economic arguments – I initially found it interesting because of the libertarian stance on freedom of speech, and other social issues. While I understand why property rights might be a bedrock issue, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that not everyone subscribing to reason or interested in putting an “X” next to Ron Paul’s or Bob Barr’s name is doing it because they studied Milton Friedman at some point in their lives.

  18. More to the point – I reckon I sympathise with the – lets call it – strict construction of libertarian principles from the individuals right to life. Property rights flow from this as do others.

    For many libertarians, property is the right most often disregarded in today’s collectivist tax burdened society. Additionally, property rights are a uniquely libertarian issue – one which gets short shrift from every other party. It is right that libertarians focus on property, since they justifiably believe that no one other party will protect their rights in this regard. Reproductive rights have the Left, and Gun rights have the Right – but both camps have equally greedily abused eminent domain, confiscatory taxation and spending policies, and oppressive regulations that interfere so much with ones use of property that they amount to takings.

    All that said – while libertarians may be the only voice crying in the wilderness for property rights – I agree that it is counter productive to focus on them overmuch. In the market place of ideas, property rights are not big sellers. Libertarians should adopt popular loss leaders to bring those otherwise uninterested in libertarianism into the fold. To focus monotonically on a losing issue simply because no one else is yet willing to sponsor it, is to display a death wish unworthy of the rest of the rest of the movements ideals.

  19. Oh, libertarianism goes far beyond mere property rights. There’s actually a pretty good definition it here, with some chuckles.

    Not only that, but in order to make it more appealing to the masses, you have to define the ideology in broader terms than property.

  20. What about the right to worship?
    The right to assembly?
    Do either of these naturally and unquestionably flow from any notion of property?

    Good question! Yes they do.

    1) If you own some land and decide to build a meeting place on it and call it a church, you and your guests can do whatever you want in there, so long as all the participants consent to what goes on in there.

    2) If you own some land and decide to build a meeting place on it and call it a meeting hall, you and your guests can do whatever you want in there, so long as all the participants consent to what goes on in there.

    As to implied questions, such as the question of whether an employer can fire you upon discovering that you are Catholic, in a libertarian society that would not be an act of aggression. Just as you can chose to boycot Domino’s Pizza because of the political activities of its founder (bankrolls the anti-abortion movement), your employer (who is really a customer for your labor services) is free to boycott your labor services because he is opposed to your church. One hallmark of a libertarian societal order is that people cannot be compelled to do business with someone against their will.

  21. It’s not really about property rights at all.

    At the Seavey blog, the first example of “thick” liberty trumping property rights that is brought up is property discrimination. The second example is pornography.

    By employing these examples, the “thick” libertarianism advocates expose themselves immediately as arguing, “I am not free unless you are forced to associate with me, specifically in the area of employment and trade. I am also not free unless I can attempt to control what you think about women by trying to limit the books that you read.” Come on, people, it only takes grade school analytical skills to see that the advocates of moving “beyond property rights” want to decrease the liberty of their enemies.

    One has liberty to the extent that one is not accountable to the state or the courts for one’s non-violent actions. Being accountable to the opinion of others is not a limit on liberty per se, because to evade that accountability one would have to trample the liberty of those others. The only way to preserve a sphere of life where one is not accountable to the state, but is accountable only to the opinion of others, rigorous property rights are necessary. If I have money in my pocket to spend on employing people, I have liberty if I can spend that money without having to account for my choices to the state, and I do NOT have liberty if I do have to. If I have money in my pocket to spend on books, I have liberty if I do not have to account for my choices to the state, and I do NOT have liberty if I do have to. There’s really no other way to look at it.

  22. The phrase “so long as all the participants consent to what goes on in there” implies that there values other than property rights at play here.

  23. Sorry, the above should have read:

    At the Seavey blog, the first example of “thick” liberty trumping property rights that is brought up is employment discrimination. The second example is pornography.

  24. tarran … I see what you are saying. However… what about public worship?
    Public assembly?
    You are correct in saying that *if* I decide to build a place and worship/assemble, that property rights have enabled me to do so.
    But the desire to worship, assemble, etc. precedes or is concomitant with my desire to own any property. Thus, I should be able to exercise any or each of these rights independently of each other.
    One of my rights is to self-negate these associations – ie, living as a bum on a park bench while kneeling in prayer in front of the same.

  25. As to implied questions, such as the question of whether an employer can fire you upon discovering that you are Catholic, in a libertarian society that would not be an act of aggression.

    The problem with this and other forms of strict construction libertarianism is that people fundementally don’t feel like the right to be an a-hole is worth defending. Freedom of association applies to NAMBLA too – but no one is exactly falling over themselves to defend them. Same with racist businesses and employers. This falls into the catagory of “idealist libertarianism” which is certainly not in the realm of the “possible” which is, after all, what politics is the art of.

  26. How do the rest of you explain libertarianism to newcomers? I usely mumble something about it being based around the concept of self-ownership, i.e. you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t screw with anyone else. Then I get funny looks and drop the subject. So I’m thinking there’s gotta be a better way.

  27. Derrick,

    Emphasizing the absolute ownership of your own body works well with mild lefties; gun rights and low taxes for the right.

    But really, libertarianism will never be popular because it would require people to give up the “right” most find utterly precious: The right to tell other people how to live their lives.

  28. Justified coercion, like the coercion in the protection of property, isn’t wrongfully liberty-limiting, but it does limit liberty

    This is asinine. Is it coercion if I shoot someone who is trying to kill me? Defense of property is the same as the defense of the self, in that you own both. Does self-defense limit liberty? I guess in Wilkinson’s world, I’m limiting the liberty of my attacker. But you know what, Will? I don’t fucking care.

    I was all set to hammer Kerry on her piece after reading some of the posts above but I can’t find anything I disagree with. You shouldn’t be grouping her piece in with Wilkinson’s, because they have nothing to do with each other.

  29. Same with racist businesses and employers.

    The only way to even approach this argument is to attempt to demolish labor’s special place in the popular imagination as a unique item for sale. This is hard to do because most people are not employers.

    If the average person was subject to discrimination litigation over their everyday purchases – if I could look at the money you spend on orange juice or gasoline or lettuce or whatever, and then sue you if I thought that those purchases had a “disparate impact” on members of a protected class, or if you passed up “the most qualified” orange juice in favor of the “wrong” orange juice – the average citizen would very quickly realize that such a situation was absolutely intolerable and a gross offense against both liberty and justice. But because these same citizens don’t ever directly purchase labor, if that gross offense against liberty and justice is directed at employers they don’t give a shit.

  30. The right to life is the source of all rights-and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

    Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values. -Ayn Rand

    Any questions?

  31. I was all set to hammer Kerry on her piece after reading some of the posts above but I can’t find anything I disagree with.

    Kerry’s post relies on the concept of false consciousness, which is a liberty-negating concept. She considers women who voluntarily chose to live in certain ways “oppressed”, even if that’s how they want to live, and if they go out of their way to arrange their lives to live that way. I find it really easy to disagree with that.

    Basically it is saying that someone who accepts a moral argument Kerry doesn’t accept, or who asserts preferences different from Kerry’s, or who adopts the “wrong” religious beliefs, is just as “oppressed” as I am when the state uses force to compel my obedience. And that’s just plain wrong.

    Her comparison of the voluntary choices of “women who aren’t Kerry” and citizens subject to smoking laws is not apt. If a “Surrendered Wife” wakes up tomorrow morning and decides to walk out of her house and get a divorce, under our system of laws she gets to do that. If a non-smoker decides tomorrow morning to take up smoking at the restaurant they own, the state will come and fuck them up. We can’t compare two states where the subject initially agrees with the terms of the rules in play and call them equally “oppressed”; we have to measure their oppression by comparing what happens if they change their minds.

  32. Is this that hard?

    I own myself. I own my future, present, and past.

    My future is represented by my life, my present by my liberty, and my past by the property I have justly acquired through intelligent use of my liberty. As long as I violate nobody else’s ownership of their life, liberty, and property, I have done no wrong.

  33. Basically it is saying that someone who accepts a moral argument Kerry doesn’t accept, or who asserts preferences different from Kerry’s, or who adopts the “wrong” religious beliefs, is just as “oppressed” as I am when the state uses force to compel my obedience. And that’s just plain wrong.

    No where do I see her suggesting using government force to correct what she sees as “oppression”, Fluffy. I totally hear what you are saying, but there is nothing inherently wrong with her considering certain people “oppressed” if she does not propose applying force to negate that “oppression”.

    You are taking issue with the way she defines oppression. Fine. But many of us will disagree on that definition. You are making the same mistake as the one you accuse her of in that you are also sure that you know what really defines oppression.

    Realize that I actually agree with your definition. But I have no problem with Kerry having a different one, because she will not force it on us.

  34. No where do I see her suggesting using government force to correct what she sees as “oppression”, Fluffy.

    OK, that’s true. I am jumping the gun. I am just used to the idea that if people use rhetoric like this:

    If Todd wants to argue that women aren’t oppressed because they accept their assigned roles, he’d better be willing to accept the idea that governmental authority is not oppressive because most people don’t complain.

    – that the next step is state action. Because usually when people argue that private action is just as coercive as state action, it’s to prepare the ground for arguing that we should use state action to prevent the offending private action. But since it’s Kerry, maybe we can assume she won’t take that next step.

  35. I don’t think there’s any problem with defining libertarianism. The problem is that it’s become fashionable for people who are actually liberals conservatives to identify themselves as libertarians.

    FTFY. This happens every time the image of the Republican party goes down the shitter.

  36. I don’t think there’s any problem with defining libertarianism. The problem is that it’s become fashionable for people who are actually liberals conservatives to identify themselves as libertarians.

    FTFY. This happens every time the image of the Republican party goes down the shitter.

  37. If Todd wants to argue that women aren’t oppressed because they accept their assigned roles, he’d better be willing to accept the idea that governmental authority is not oppressive because most people don’t complain.

    The people who don’t complain, or rather, who don’t have the urge to complain, aren’t oppressed.

    E.g. people who think that drug use is wrong aren’t oppressed by the drug war.

    Kerry’s argument is further flawed by the fact that ‘women’ in the first clause isn’t qualified by ‘most’, while ‘people’ in the second clause is so qualified.

  38. I liked Karry’s post. Although, I would like to see feminism considered an extension of libertarianism, or at least as a liberation ideology. Unfortunately, this would require certain feminists to stop equating the strong welfare state with “fairness.” Like many on the left they refuse to honestly evaluate the question: “Fairness for whom?”

  39. But since it’s Kerry, maybe we can assume she won’t take that next step.

    I think that is a reasonable assumption, and is why I have no issue with her article.

    Wilkinson, however…

  40. Punk7

    What do you mean by publicly worship? Publicly assemble?

    From my admittedly extremist perspective I don’t think there is any such right; to worship, you must worship somewhere & to assemble, you must assemble somewhere.

    If you are asking whether you have a right to walk on to someone else’s property and assemble there without their permission, I would say no.

    If you were to ask about public property, I would say what’s this “public property” thing you’re talking about? 🙂

    In my worldview there is no such thing as public property, only owned and unowned property. The state owns the roads. In my extremist vision, road companies would own the roads and permit or forbid marches as they saw fit. Since the state owns the roads right now, you are as free to assemble upon them as the state decides to permit. The notion that the state somehow is duty bound to permit you to do so automatically is a charming normative notion. The state, however, behaves like a criminal gang (in fact to me, it is just like the mafia – only more brazen in the thefts and murders it commits). Thus, I am pleasantly surprised when they do offer to let you march around on their property…

    As far as the philosophy behind differentiating privately owned land into two categories (private places and places of public accommodation) go, I view that just as rationalizing the use of force to make property owners who want to do business on their property to behave in ways that the state wants to force them to do.

    As far as wanting to do these things even if you have no property to do them on, I am sure that you and a like minded bunch of friends can band to gether to collectively buy what you need. In fact, I am sure that there are people out there who would love to make their property open to you since they agree with your religion/political views.

    If you have none of those things, you are SOL: you have no right to commandeer other people’s stuff for your purposes.

  41. Of late it seems that fiscally conservative and socially liberal folks have been labeling themselves libertarian. According to Seavey, they are no such thing. Those of us who engage in hijacking the terminology (me included) try to get around it by making a distinction between Libertarian (big L) and libertarian. I’ve also used the distinction between “practical” libertarians and the “tin foil hat” libertarians.

    I’m at a point where the philosophy and ideology behind property-only libertarians seems woefully naive, the GOP is caught up in God, gays and the “real” America, and the Democrats…well heck, they are the only predictable party these days – assume they’ll spend more than they take in and you won’t be disappointed.

    So maybe Seavey is correct, and that libertarianism is purely about property rights. It just means I need something to call myself other than “practical, non-tinfoil hat wearing libertarian.”

  42. How do the rest of you explain libertarianism to newcomers?

    I usually say something about how they probably know how to live their lives perfectly well without some bureaucrat telling them what to do and how to do it.

    If that gets a positive response, the usual follow-up is something along the lines of how they expect the bureacrats to leave them alone if they have the authority to bother everyone else.

    It rarely gets much further than that, but its hard to talk for long about libertarianism without talking about the difference between negative rights (the right to be left alone by the State) and positive rights(the right to have the State force others to give you what you want).

    I believe it is a category error to define State protection/enforcement of property rights as a positive right.

  43. I thought Nick Gillespie was dean of the “libertarianism is a broadly applicable metaphysics” school. He first introduced the idea to me.

    But even before I began to apply libertarian principles to the larger culture, it was a political ideology. And even in that limited understanding it encompassed more than property rights.

  44. The people who don’t complain, or rather, who don’t have the urge to complain, aren’t oppressed.

    You have to be careful about that, because once you say this, it can be turned around on you and used to prove that certain popular laws aren’t oppressive, except to “cranks”.

    I think it’s better to say, as I did above, that the test of whether something is “oppressive” is what happens when the acquiescent subject changes his mind. A cigarette smoking ban therefore oppresses even the non-smoker and even the aggressive anti-smoker, because in the event they changed their minds, the state would respond and would back up its response with violence or the threat of violence. The point of oppression is where the state defines the acceptable choice; this means that the law oppresses even those who would have voluntarily acted the way the state wishes.

  45. It’s interesting to me that in practice much of the anti-discrimination thought arose from the need to make government intervention palatable. Freedom of transit and assembly is important precisely because so much of the country is publicly owned. Likewise, it’s important that employment discrimination is illegal because the government is such a huge employer. This line of thinking has become so pervasive that the distinction that the distinction of opposing only government restrictions on individual rights has been largely dropped as a matter of public policy.

    Purist libertarians take the line that the government is too large: reduce it and privatise it’s functions. The extreme of this has been well detailed in other posts. The practical matter, however, is that the minimalist state – however attractive – is not exactly right aroud the corner. In it’s absence, Libertarians have a duty to expand liberty in whatever ways are practically possible. Attacking the many aguments that use the idea of public policy to restrict liberty is possible on a case by case basis – but probably not in the aggregate.

  46. The point of oppression is where the state defines the acceptable choice

    Woo, Fluffy!

  47. “Purist libertarians take the line that the government is too large: reduce it and privatise it’s functions.”

    Let’s say we have a government that allows no liberty, i.e., full police state. That government then privatizes all of its functions except the military (and the military is never used for policing) and the courts that protect the property interests of the private businesses that now own the interests in the government’s former activities. No change is made in any of the oppressive, liberty denying government programs except their ownership. Yet, according to Seavey, this is libertarian because the state’s only objective is to protect private property rights. People across the land are just as oppressed as the day before the privatization, yet the term libertarian now applies, and people are supposedly free.

  48. It’s too bad that we can’t have a thread on the basis of property rights, since I think that’s a more fruitful topic, and one that is necessary to address before deciding whether it should be or not be considered the centerpiece of libertarianism.

  49. It’s not property rights which define libertarianism. It’s guns.

  50. Don Mynack,
    Works for me. And since Bob Barr was the most strongly pro-gun candidate, I voted correctly.

  51. Actually, ammo is also an important issue.

  52. economist,

    The Pistol-Whipping Caucus would like a word.

  53. SugarFree,
    Just because I favor free commerce in ammo doesn’t mean that I would deny the pistol-whippers’ right to pistol-whip intruders in their home.

  54. economist,

    Just making sure you weren’t one of those “Guns are used to shoot people, not bash their eyes out of its socket” hippie-types.

  55. Property rights… if you consider your person and your speech effectively, “your property”, then that sort of trumps it, right?

    I think most lay people however would equate “property rights” to the = my god given right to own weasels and bazookas and to shoot people for steppin on my yard kind of libruhtarianism

  56. good points tarran … I still believe that the idea of libertarianism being based *only* upon property rights is fundamentally unsound.
    What about the right to worship?
    The right to assembly?
    Do either of these naturally and unquestionably flow from any notion of property?

    If all property is private, and no one can impose upon your use of that property so long as you aren’t inflicting harm upon anyone else by using that property as you see fit, then obviously you can use that property to allow like-minded others to assemble there, or worship there, whether that property be a piece of land, a newspaper, or a blog like H&R.

    Re: the porn comment above, a piece of porn is property, and so if you have inviolate property rights to share that porn (featuring only consenting adults) with other consenting adults, then property rights lead to the right to view porn.

    Anybody else want to * TRY * to give an example of some freedom not ultimately derived from secure property rights, with that securing underpinned by the NIOF principle?

  57. Tastes great!

    Less filling!

  58. My view of property rights falls somewhere in between Locke and Nozick (as expressed in Anarchy, State, and Utopia). Will Wilkinson seems to make the mistake of assuming that property rights exist only for social utility and do not flow from any existing rights. Not that this isn’t a legitimate argument, but it’s not something to treat as axiomatic when making another argument. Or, in other words, it can’t be “just so”.

  59. Well, John Locke`s statement “Life, liberty, and property” implies that property is one of several important rights/values and not the foundation of all values. I suspect to argue otherwise, one would have to take some very broad definition of property which goes beyond the usual use of the word.

    I would agree with this and I would argue that Locke ordered these three items in a hierarchy.

    Right to life leads to right to liberty & right to property.

    Anytime there is a conflict between right to life and right to property, right to life wins (non-aggression rule).

    Right to liberty clearly includes many non-property related issues which may or may not conflict with the right to control your own property. It seems to me right to liberty (control of your own body, actions) trumps property rights just as clearly as right to life does.

    So, if libertarianism is primarily about property rights, it is mislabeled and it should be called “propertarianism.”

  60. Liberals are for pot and promiscuity; conservatives are for guns and tobacco; libertarians are for all four plus pornography.

  61. Neu Mejican,

    Should all political parties and ideologies start calling themselves by what they really stand for? Truth in advertising is a fun game for everyone to play… 😉

  62. Sugarfree,
    Republicans: christian socialists
    Democrats: democratic socialists

  63. Right to life leads to right to liberty & right to property.

    Anytime there is a conflict between right to life and right to property, right to life wins (non-aggression rule).

    I absolutely disagree. The right to life is dependent on the right to liberty and property. Locke is saying “you have the right to life, and the things that makes this life necessary are the right to liberty and the right to property (that you earn)”

  64. I’m inclined to agree Seavey’s point more than Long or Wilkinson.

  65. AO,
    Obviously, you’re one of those vulgar propertarians! Everybody knows that the most important freedom is the freedom to make others give you what you want!

  66. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.

    That’s all well and good, but it seems to justify property rights only up to a subsistence level.

    My future is represented by my life, my present by my liberty, and my past by the property I have justly acquired through intelligent use of my liberty. As long as I violate nobody else’s ownership of their life, liberty, and property, I have done no wrong.

    That’s all fine, and I like the formulation. I think, though, that it begs the question of how your life, liberty, and property are to be protected. If, as a minarchist, you say the state has a role in this, then you have state action that will, presumbly, limit the life, liberty and property of others.

    For example, if someone commits a crime (theft or murder) and is locked up for it, isn’t the state limiting their life and liberty? If they are fined, isn’t the state limiting their property?

    In turn, I think this sets up the question of how we define life, liberty, and property, which in turn leads us back, especially in the case of property, to the state, which establishes these definitions (at least if you are a legal positivist).

  67. It seems to me right to liberty (control of your own body, actions) trumps property rights just as clearly as right to life does.

    Can you come up with a circumstance where this would be true? And one that would not swallow property rights entirely?

  68. I don’t think a plain reading of Locke is easy to misunderstand.

    Life = No one should be able to kill you

    Liberty = No one should be able to dictate to you how you have to live your life

    Property = No one should be able to take what you have earned or inherited from you.

    Everyone having the same rights takes care of the negotiation of human interaction. Editing and obviating these rights for those who refuse to respect the rights of others is fine in a minimal state.

  69. “It seems to me right to liberty (control of your own body, actions) trumps property rights just as clearly as right to life does.”
    So if I walked naked into your house, you’d be okay with that?

  70. That’s all well and good, but it seems to justify property rights only up to a subsistence level.

    Not really. “Life”, as most Enlightenment-oriented philosophers used it did not equal “survival”. There is a big difference between living and merely surviving.

  71. And seriously, Seavey’s right. If you quote Catharine MacKinnon you’re really stretching libertarian creds.

  72. Strict contructionist libertarians use the idea of property in ways that are not compatible with the existing legal framework. It’s all well and good as a philisophical argument (one which I welcome, to be sure) but falls flat as a political underpinning.

    Libertarians tend to strive towards a Grand Unifying Theory of liberty. I think it must have something to do with the scientist personality that libertarians tend to have. I guess I have become less engendered with this in recent years, as it is totally obvious that massive systemic change is not taking us in the direction of more liberty, but rather less. Arguing over dogma has never been less relevant, or more counterproductive.

  73. TAO,

    “you have the right to life, and the things that makes this life necessary are the right to liberty and the right to property (that you earn)”

    So your life exists to serve your property?
    That doesn’t seem to be a coherent interpretation.

    But it is more coherent than the idea that your life exists to serve your liberty.

    Can you come up with a circumstance where this would be true? And one that would not swallow property rights entirely?

    Rather than an example, I’ll elaborate.

    Since liberty (control of my body/actions) is primary, but does not allow me to use force against you, property disputes can create conflicts that are based in two active free agents making different decisions. Resolution of those conflicts will involve force unless property rights are defined and recognized. The property rights, then, serve to facilitate the right to life and liberty, not the other way around.

    That’s a bit clumsy, but I think you get the idea.

  74. Not really. “Life”, as most Enlightenment-oriented philosophers used it did not equal “survival”.

    Even in the 1700s?

  75. economist,

    “It seems to me right to liberty (control of your own body, actions) trumps property rights just as clearly as right to life does.”
    So if I walked naked into your house, you’d be okay with that?

    Not necessarily, but I don’t think I have a right to kill you to get you off my property. My argument is not that property rights are not real, just that they derive from the right to life and liberty. Someone has property rights because they have a right to life and liberty, not the other way around, as TAO has formulated it.

    I think Sugarfree’s formulation is pretty clean.

  76. “Threatening force to deny another person use of one’s land, or one’s house, is coercion.”

    Sounds backwards to me.

    It is threatening to expropriate use of another’s property that is coercion.

  77. So your life exists to serve your property?

    No. Constant abrogation of property rights makes life (note: Not survival) pretty much impossible.

    Right to life is necessarily sustained by liberty and property. They aren’t a hierarchy; they’re branches of the same concept.

  78. Neu Mejican,
    Let me put it another way: Would you have the right to do anything to me if I walked into your house (we’ll leave out the naked part), without violating my liberty (by your formulation)?

  79. “Threatening force to deny another person use of one’s land, or one’s house, is coercion.”

    Sounds backwards to me.

    It is threatening to expropriate use of another’s property that is coercion.

    Both are coercion because coercion is about what you do to the person, not what you do to the property.

  80. Coercion is an attack on liberty, not an attack on property.

  81. Also, saying that property rights exist solely to “settle disputes by two free agents making different decisions” fails, as such a settlement could arbitrarily assign property rights with no relation to what rightful claim either individual has over them.

  82. “Anybody else want to * TRY * to give an example of some freedom not ultimately derived from secure property rights, with that securing underpinned by the NIOF principle?”

    The right to vote?

  83. Neu Mejican,
    So if the government seizes your house while you’re out, that’s not coercive? I’m just wondering.

  84. economist | November 17, 2008, 11:22am | #
    Neu Mejican,
    Let me put it another way: Would you have the right to do anything to me if I walked into your house (we’ll leave out the naked part), without violating my liberty (by your formulation)?

    Now we are getting down to it.
    Rights are a way to resolve conflicting claims.

    If you claim the right to come into my house and I claim that you don’t have that right, then we have conflicting claims. Resolution of those conflicting claims will require that the validity of the varying claims are assessed by an impartial arbiter or process. Initiating this process is what I can “do to you” in a community with a process/system of government. In anarchy, I left with force to validate my claim and you are left with force to validate yours.

  85. Lamar,
    Epic Fail. There is no *right* to vote as such. We fall then into the classic flaw of democracy, “Would it be okay for 51 people out of 100 to…”

  86. economist | November 17, 2008, 11:25am | #
    Neu Mejican,
    So if the government seizes your house while you’re out, that’s not coercive? I’m just wondering.

    Not until I get home and the restrict my freedom to enter my house.

  87. “Resolution of those conflicting claims will require that the validity of the varying claims are assessed by an impartial arbiter or process. Initiating this process is what I can “do to you” in a community with a process/system of government.”
    How do you know, however, that that “process” is legitimate?

  88. Yes, but even with two competing claims, one claim must necessarily be correct and the other must necessarily NOT be correct.

    We cannot simultaneously say that you have a right to be on my property but also say that I have the right to keep you off.

    If we say you have a right to be there, you’re attacking the concept of ownership and the term “property” becomes meaningless.

  89. NM,
    We’re arguing in circles. Why don’t we have the government tell citizens they have to house homeless people? After, that’s not really “coercive” by your definition, if the citizen already has a house.

  90. “We cannot simultaneously say that you have a right to be on my property but also say that I have the right to keep you off.”
    Certain studies of quantum mechanics suggest that you are wrong.

  91. economist | November 17, 2008, 11:24am | #
    Also, saying that property rights exist solely to “settle disputes by two free agents making different decisions” fails, as such a settlement could arbitrarily assign property rights with no relation to what rightful claim either individual has over them.

    Only if the delineation of property rights is somehow “arbitrary.”

    Recognition of property right allows me to “rightfully” restrict your liberty, but only to a degree needed to maintain those property rights. A system of conflict resolution will define what steps I can rightfully take to limit your liberty in this domain.

    The problem, it seems, comes from some misconception that “rights” have some sort of external reality outside the process of assessing various conflicting claims.

  92. Man. Look at that navel. I could just gaze into it all day.

  93. Limited government vs none or virtually none, are two very different and essentially incompatible propositions.

    Isnt virtually none the same thing as limited? Actually, none would be the same thing as limited, only with the limit set at zero. But, more seriously, Limited means positive but small, which seems to me the same thing as “virtually none”.

  94. So if I walked naked into your house, you’d be okay with that?

    That depends. Are you an attractive female?

  95. RR – come on…his handle is “economist”. What do you think?

  96. RR,
    No. I’m an overweight middle-aged male. This was a use of hyperbole, to illustrate a fatal flaw in NM’s formulation of the relationship between liberty and property.

  97. “RR – come on…his handle is “economist”. What do you think?”
    Now, really, what’s that supposed to mean?

  98. When these kind of things start getting discussed, my mind always drifts to Godel.

    Non-trivial formal systems have limitations. They cant describe everything completely.

  99. Man. Look at that navel. I could just gaze into it all day.

    QFMFT

  100. Come now, economist. The most prolific female economist used to be a man.

  101. RR,
    Agree with you on navel-gazing. Ultimately, the only right that matter in the real world is who can bring more force to bear in a conflict.

  102. AO,
    Point taken.

  103. navel-gazing n. Slang. Excessive introspection, self-absorption, or concentration on a single issue

    Can one really have excessive concentration on the issue of liberty and property rights, given the simultaneous import and pure chaos of most theories out there?

    “Today’s unchallenged nonsense is tomorrow’s operative premises” – Ayn Rand –

  104. TAO,

    The Angry Optimist | November 17, 2008, 11:29am | #
    Yes, but even with two competing claims, one claim must necessarily be correct and the other must necessarily NOT be correct.

    This would require that they are subject to a process to determine correctness. The reason there is even a discussion here is that that process will, as a human invention, always be imperfect.

    We cannot simultaneously say that you have a right to be on my property but also say that I have the right to keep you off.

    That is not the nature of the competing claims. The intruders claims is “I have a right to control my body and take it wherever I desire”, your claim is that you have the right to use force to restrict that liberty to maintain control of your property.

    If we say you have a right to be there, you’re attacking the concept of ownership and the term “property” becomes meaningless.

    I have no problem with anything you say here.

  105. domo,
    Pardon my ignorance, but what does QFMFT stand for?

  106. domo,

    which is certainly not in the realm of the “possible” which is, after all, what politics is the art of.

    Bah. Politics is the art of abusing power to get what you want. Sayings like “Politics is the art of the possible” is just one of the ways politicians enable the abuse of power.

  107. Quote For MotherFucking Truth (i.e. I strongly agree)

  108. NM,
    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. You said in a post upthread that liberty *always* trumps property. Now you’re saying it sometimes doesn’t, subject to a particular process for deciding whether or not it should.

  109. Politics is the art of using force on people without them realizing it.

  110. And getting some poontang while you’re at it.

  111. economist,

    Politics is the art of beating baboons in a way that the marks don’t show. And then convincing them they asked for it.

  112. I think we can all agree to the right to poontang.

  113. SugarFree,
    Yes, that’s true. But I really think the poontang is the most important part.

  114. TAO,

    If we say you have a right to be there, you’re attacking the concept of ownership and the term “property” becomes meaningless.

    Let me expand. If we say that you do not have a right to keep me from your property, we are negating your claim that control of that property extends to restrict my liberty. Since we recognize property rights, we recognize that control of property by one individual leads to a restriction on liberty for another. This recognition can be the basis for an imperfect process to resolve conflicting claims. Those claims will only be important when they involve “actions” by the individuals involved. The claim is about the legitimacy of one person’s actions (trespassing) versus another person’s actions (use of force to prevent trespassing). If my claim that you have no right to trespass is recognized by you when I communicate my desire that you leave, you will leave, and there is no conflict. If you claim the right to stay, I now have a choice. Property rights help to define which choices are allowable and which are not. But the conflict is between my liberty and yours, not between my property and your liberty.

  115. RR,
    Question: If we all have a “right” to poontang, does that mean that women are obligated to provide it?

  116. Sorry. I meant the right to the pursuit of poontang.

  117. economist,

    I will stipulate to that being why they beat the poor beasts so terribly.

    “Tell me about the oranges, Lily.”

  118. Sorry. I meant the right to the pursuit of poontang.

    Does that imply that lesbians have the right to marry, but not gay men?

  119. NM,
    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. You said in a post upthread that liberty *always* trumps property. Now you’re saying it sometimes doesn’t, subject to a particular process for deciding whether or not it should.

    I don’t think I said “always.”
    In fact, a quick check of the thread shows that I didn’t. I said “clearly trumps.” Maybe a poor formulation.

    I think liberty is the more important principle and that property rights are about how to resolve issues involving conflicts of liberty. Property provides a motivation for individuals that can lead to conflicting claims of liberty, so property rights can be used to help resolve those conflicts. If property rights are undefined, then your claim to liberty and my claim to liberty may be equally valid and there would be no way to decide how to resolve the conflict.

  120. robc,

    No, the pursuit is nonjunknominational.

    Wikipedia page with naughty words.

  121. I don’t think there is any disagreement here, based on what you’ve said above, NM.

  122. “Epic Fail. There is no *right* to vote as such.”

    See, for example, the Fifteen Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

    Or the Nineteenth, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not
    be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

    The Twenty-fourth, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any
    primary or other election . . . shall not be denied or abridged . . . by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

    Twenty-sixth, “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”

    According to the US Gov’t: “The right to vote, therefore, is not only an important individual liberty; it is also a foundation stone of free government.”

    From SCOTUS (Smith v. Allwright (1944)), “The United States is a constitutional democracy. Its organic law grants to all citizens a right to participate in the choice of elected officials without restriction by any State because of race.”

  123. An interesting exchange. I resolve the conflict by taking that position that it’s perfectly legitimate to fight social coercion, just not by resorting to the state.
    I’m totally fine with Gay pride parades and stagings of ‘The Vagina Monologues’. And any number of other social efforts to normalize alternative lifestyles.
    These tend to bleed over into tollerance for all sorts of other personal idiosyncracies. These are things that libertarians should be fully enthusiastic for. They are non-statist methods of fighting non-statist forms of coercion.

    The only problem really is how to make the case – to the liberal side – that the state shouldn’t be involved.

  124. Maybe i am misremembering but didnt Tocqueville talk about this at length?

  125. Further thoughts …

    There are some points one which libertarianism exclusively relies on social coercion to right certain social wrongs.

    Racism, for instance. The standard libertarian solution generally is for society to ostracize racists rather than relying on the state to legistlate against them. I think this is the correct solution.

    But at what point does legitimate social coercion become illegitimate social oppression?

    Take, for instance the racent case of the Mormon compound raided in Texas. From one perspective the female children (for that matter, all the children) were being subjected to systematic oppression designed to coerce them into subservient roles. Isn’t there a libertarian interest in freeing them from that kind of social coercion? On the other hand, by seizing all the children, isn’t the state really oppressing people who wish to live a certain type of traditional religious lifestyle? Leave the state out of it. Even if society ostracized extreme Mormonism, wouldn’t that kind of constitute social coercion in itself.

    I don’t see a legitimate role for the state in this, but I do see some thorny unresolved issues for libertarianism, over when and where social coercion is permissible or impermissible.

  126. “Both are coercion because coercion is about what you do to the person, not what you do to the property.”

    No I don’t think so.

    If someone tries to kill me and I use force to stop them, that isn’t “coercion” it’s self defense. The other party is the one using coercion.

    The same principle holds true of my property. Preventing someone else from taking it is self defense of my property rights. The other party is guilty of coercion.

  127. Gilbert,

    If someone tries to kill me and I use force to stop them, that isn’t “coercion” it’s self defense. The other party is the one using coercion.

    You have coerced them into not killing you.
    Self-defense is the reason you have coerced them, but your action is coercion just as much as theirs is. Again, this is a conflict between your liberty and theirs. Your right to life motivates a restriction in their liberty…in this case even to the point of allowing you to take their life if they attempt to take away your most basic right: the right to life.

    A thought experiment: You own a piece of land near a volcano. It has erupted and a flow of lava encroaches exactly to your property line, but no further. No lava on your property. People fleeing the lava to save their lives have taken refuge on your property. You tell them they are trespassing and must get off your land, but doing so would require them to step in the lava and die.

    Does their right to life and liberty trump your property rights here? Do you have a right to force them off of your land?

    Do they have a right to use force against you to stay on your land?

  128. TAO,

    I don’t think there is any disagreement here, based on what you’ve said above, NM.

    Cool.
    I do think that formulating property rights as the basis for other rights leads to incoherent thinking about what rights are and are not. Property is meaningless without the concept of liberty, but liberty is still meaningful without the concept of property…just more likely to lead to conflicts.

  129. I do think that formulating property rights as the basis for other rights leads to incoherent thinking about what rights are and are not.

    I disagree. You can do whatever you want with your own property(possessions) and on your own property (land). However, you do not have that right with any other person’s possessions or land. When dealing with other people’s possessions or land, you are limited to whatever the owner permits.

    but liberty is still meaningful without the concept of property

    How so? If a person cannot be seen to own his own self, how is he free to do anything?

  130. TAO,

    In other words the common formulation of liberty being a species of property rights (you own your body and so, like other property, you have a right to control it) warps things into unworkable knots.

    You don’t “own” your body.
    You are your body.

  131. Neu Mejican,

    If I don’t own my body, who does?

  132. “You have coerced them into not killing you.
    Self-defense is the reason you have coerced them, but your action is coercion just as much as theirs is.”

    Nope – I don’t accept that premise.

    What I would be doing is successfully resisting THEIR coercion.

  133. “Does their right to life and liberty trump your property rights here? Do you have a right to force them off of your land?”

    Of course I do.

    All of my rights are unconditional and absolute.

    Also, the right to life and liberty are negative rights – not affirmative one’s.

    I am only required to refrain from actively killing someone – I’m not required to provide shelter to someone to save their life from a situation that I did not create.

  134. “If libertarians want to become relevant, which is not a forgone conclusion — then one of the things that needs resolving, is the anarchist-classical liberal divide. Because it is a divide.

    Limited government vs none or virtually none, are two very different and essentially incompatible propositions.”

    -Ebenezeer Scrooge

    Tibor Machan seems to think this split is only apparent since the anarchists (except the most radical) accept the need for protection agencies of some sort — and some believe that private protection would back its way into an acceptance of limited government for protection since private protection would be too confusing to manage.

  135. The issue is not stuff. The issue is violent aggression.

    The word “property” is–or at least should be for libertarians–merely a short hand way of saying, “Hypothetically, if there was to be a violent dispute over some stuff I am pretty certain that I know who I would judge to be the innocent defender–a.k.a the person I will label the owner of the property–and who to be the defender–a.k.a. the person I will label as the thief.”

    Same with “contracts”… both are conclusory labels that depend on a factual analysis of potential acts of aggression.

  136. Lamar,
    I’m not really a constitutionalist. I think it can be useful for protecting individual rights, and for practical purposes I support a republican form of government, but I don’t confuse the vested privilege of voting with a natural right.

  137. “If I don’t own my own body, who does?”

    TEH GUBMINT!

  138. ok … how about the right for me to say “kiss my ass” to the government? Or the right to end my own life? Just food for thought . . .

  139. “I’m not really a constitutionalist. I think it can be useful for protecting individual rights, and for practical purposes I support a republican form of government, but I don’t confuse the vested privilege of voting with a natural right.”

    Perhaps this is a better explanation than claiming “epic fail”. You are talking about abstract principles and I am talking about the rights we have in [longstanding] practice, i.e., the ones you call vested privileges.

    What exactly does “epic fail” mean? The only times I’ve had it used against me, the other person was easily disproved, or talking about something different without clarifying. I guess it means “misunderstanding” more than it means “incorrect”?

  140. Does their right to life and liberty trump your property rights here? Do you have a right to force them off of your land?

    Yes, but unless my land is the only other space in the universe, there should be a direction where I can push them off my land that doesn’t involve feeding them to the lava.

  141. “Epic fail” mostly because I’ve gotten too many people arguing that a bad policy is OK because it was instituted “democratically”. After the fifth time I decided to ridicule anyone who appealed to voting “rights” or “democracy” in an argument. Sorry you didn’t get the memo.

  142. Once again, another dicussion which reminds me how many so-called “libertarians” are simply divorced from reality.

    I am only required to refrain from actively killing someone – I’m not required to provide shelter to someone to save their life from a situation that I did not create.

    You can run your mouth, all you want, about how you have no obligation to feed a starving person, but at the end of the day none of those arguments is going to stop a starving man attempting to do what he has to do to stay alive – even if it means stealing or even killing.

    Stomp your foot and call it “wrong” all you want …

  143. Lamar,

    FAIL generally equates with “you have not proven your case” and/or “you have not done what you set out to do” and/or “Sweet fuck, what an idiot.” It originated in lolspeak.

    EPIC FAIL is just an emphasis intensifier.

    The Fail Blog puts the common uses of the phrase in context. (SFW)

  144. Once again, another dicussion which reminds me how many so-called “libertarians” are simply divorced from reality.

    I think most libertarians acknowledge that, though people have the right to keep those fleeing lava from their property, they would choose to allow people on their property instead of watching them die.

  145. You can run your mouth, all you want, about how you have no obligation to feed a starving person, but at the end of the day none of those arguments is going to stop a starving man attempting to do what he has to do to stay alive – even if it means stealing or even killing.

    As an aside to the discussion, that’s not really true, you know.

    If it was true, every famine situation would turn into an anarchy, and that doesn’t happen.

    One surprising thing about famine is the fairly passive way many people just lay down and die.

  146. “You can run your mouth, all you want, about how you have no obligation to feed a starving person, but at the end of the day none of those arguments is going to stop a starving man attempting to do what he has to do to stay alive – even if it means stealing or even killing.”

    I don’t ever expect arguments to stop anybody.

    A few well placed shots with a .357 magnum will, though, in most circumstances.

  147. “I think most libertarians acknowledge that, though people have the right to keep those fleeing lava from their property, they would choose to allow people on their property instead of watching them die.”

    This is the kind of esoteric crap that makes mainstream people never look twice at libertarianism. We are great apes – social animals that survived the millenia through superior cooperation. Culture and society have allowed us to thrive and advance further than (perhaps) any other life in the universe. Libertarianism at its best is a set of rules that allow us apes to interact with each other peacably and productively without hurting each other. At it’s worst it is used as an excuse for racism, meanness, and uncharitability.

    Why not just admit that the “right to life” provides one with at least some minimal obligation to help fellow humans in dire need? Why take it to the extreme for the sake of logical consistency? I am against government coercion – but who amoung you could hear a story of some guy refusing to let your reletives on his land to avoid lava flows and not want to take revenge for failing to save their lives with some simple costless act of charity?

  148. One surprising thing about famine is the fairly passive way many people just lay down and die.

    Having seen concentration camps in asia, I can say it’s because being hungry just takes the fight out of you.

  149. Gilbert Martin | November 17, 2008, 1:37pm | #
    “You have coerced them into not killing you.
    Self-defense is the reason you have coerced them, but your action is coercion just as much as theirs is.”

    Nope – I don’t accept that premise.

    What I would be doing is successfully resisting THEIR coercion.

    By coercing them to stop.
    You don’t get to make up your own definitions of words. Coercion is the act of forcing someone to do something against their will. That may involving stopping someone who wants to kill you/steal from you…you are coercing them to stop against their will.

    Gilbert Martin | November 17, 2008, 1:41pm | #
    “Does their right to life and liberty trump your property rights here? Do you have a right to force them off of your land?”

    Of course I do.

    All of my rights are unconditional and absolute.

    Then your list of rights is so trivial that there will never be a case where they need to be used to solve conflicting claims.

    Also, the right to life and liberty are negative rights – not affirmative one’s.

    I am only required to refrain from actively killing someone – I’m not required to provide shelter to someone to save their life from a situation that I did not create.

    Your action, refusing them access to your land is an active step taken by you that results in their death. So by your own formulation, you do not have the right to kick them off of your land in the thought experiment.

    Yes, but unless my land is the only other space in the universe, there should be a direction where I can push them off my land that doesn’t involve feeding them to the lava.

    Sure. Until that becomes possible due to a change in the context, you are talking about a different situation. Rights are based on actual actions and actions always take place in a specific context. If your actions to push someone off your land involve their death do you have a right to take those actions solely to protect your land rather than protecting your life? Do they have a right to protect themselves against your actions that will lead to your death even if they are trespassing on your land without threatening you personally?

    If I don’t own my body, who does?

    Nobody owns your body.
    You are your body and nobody can own you.

  150. All of my rights are unconditional and absolute.

    Then your list of rights is so trivial that there will never be a case where they need to be used to solve conflicting claims.

    This is precisely the pathway by which extreme purist thought renders libertarian thought irrellevant.

  151. “FAIL generally equates with “you have not proven your case” and/or “you have not done what you set out to do” and/or “Sweet fuck, what an idiot.” It originated in lolspeak.”

    Thanks for the heads up. From the looks of the blog, the term is supposed to be a humorous statement of the obvious. Unfortunately, economist’s claim that there is no “right to vote” is far from obvious, especially since it appears that [s]he was talking about abstractions in the ether and I was talking about the written law under which we actually live.

    Perhaps this is why libertarians are seen as such kooks. You can’t even mention how the world actually is without getting some condescending response.

  152. “You don’t get to make up your own definitions of words”

    I get to do whatever I please – including not accepting YOUR version of any word’s definiton.

    “Then your list of rights is so trivial that there will never be a case where they need to be used to solve conflicting claims.”

    Not on your say so.

    “Your action, refusing them access to your land is an active step taken by you that results in their death.”

    No it’s not.

    This is easy, all I have to to is refuse to accept your premise on anything and everything.

  153. You are your body and nobody can own you.

    But, in a society that makes constant claims on my body as if it was something that could be owned, is it not better for the moral principle to be that I own it to the exclusion of everyone else? A tragedy of the commons situation seems likely in absence of established property rights.

    Isn’t being treated like property why I have to claim to own myself?

  154. If your actions to push someone off your land involve their death do you have a right to take those actions solely to protect your land rather than protecting your life?

    Yes.

    I would argue that allowing the volcano refugees access to your land would be gracious and praiseworthy – but it would be praiseworthy precisely because you are under no moral obligation to do it. That would be my argument for ALL acts of charity.

  155. Fluffy,

    I dig a lot of what you say and I have heard you make this moral claim before. Why is it – given the messy contextual nature of most of real life – that you think the protection of someones life by a de minimis charitable act should never be obligatory. Do you honestly think walking on by is morally neutral? I personally cannot accept such a conclusion given the evolutionary imperative of our species. You’ve answered this before, I presume…

  156. Why not just admit that the “right to life” provides one with at least some minimal obligation to help fellow humans in dire need? Why take it to the extreme for the sake of logical consistency?

    Because in the absence of that logical consistency there’s no actual liberty at all.

    The number of “dire needs” is potentially unlimited.

    If I took seriously the proposition that liberty was less important than a “minimal obligation to help fellow humans in dire need”, I would be forced to conclude that the proper course of action to take would be to enslave you all to provide for starving Africans. We possess such liberties as we currently have only because at one level or another we ignore your “minimal obligation”.

  157. Sugarfree,

    Sure, but by allowing the idea that you can be owned into the discussion, you allow an ownership claim to be made. If there is NO valid ownership claim on a person, then the claim is always invalid.

    Gilbert Martin,

    I reject your premise that you can reject my premises and still have a conversation. If you are just writing notes to yourself, then reject away. If we agree on your private definition of coercion, we can have a conversation based on that, but you comments were an attempt to delineate what the publicly accepted meaning of “coercion” should be. There is no need to redefine the public meaning of coercion…it already have a meaning.

    “Your action, refusing them access to your land is an active step taken by you that results in their death.”

    No it’s not.

    Then they are not actively violating your rights by ignoring your demand.

    Your move.
    You must take an action that removes them.
    That action, in the confines of the thought experiment, will result in their death.

    The reason a starving man can’t use his starving as an excuse to steal is that there are other options available to him to get the food. In the rare case where there are not, the act of stealing can be supported with a self-defense claim.

    Similarly, your use of your gun to protect your property is premised on the idea that there is not another option. Until the non-deadly options are exhausted, your claim to have a right to use deadly force are invalid under your own claim that you are obligated not to take actions to remove someone else’s right to life and liberty.

  158. Neu Mejican should stop now…so many grammatical errors and typos. Too many to address.

  159. Because in the absence of that logical consistency there’s no actual liberty at all.

    Liberty only flows from well formulated rules?

  160. Sure, but by allowing the idea that you can be owned into the discussion, you allow an ownership claim to be made. If there is NO valid ownership claim on a person, then the claim is always invalid.

    I can accept a chicken/egg argument.

    But does that mean that here, in our current system, where I am treated like property in the sense that others make claims, that the proper remedy to that situation is to claim ownership of myself and defend my body as belonging to me and no one else?

    (I’m going for a “hate the game, not the playa” defense.)

  161. that you think the protection of someones life by a de minimis charitable act should never be obligatory.

    If that is true, then we are all slaves to the needs of others. That is completely incompatible with liberty.

  162. Sugarfree,

    I guess I am having a hard time construing these claims on you in our current society? Who is claiming to own you again? What is the consequence of that? What actions are they taking to enforce that claim?

  163. If I took seriously the proposition that liberty was less important than a “minimal obligation to help fellow humans in dire need”, I would be forced to conclude that the proper course of action to take would be to enslave you all to provide for starving Africans. We possess such liberties as we currently have only because at one level or another we ignore your “minimal obligation”.

    Fluffy, You are intentionally using inflamatory language to make your point – which is fine but doesn’t help me resolve my question which I am asking seriously without prejudice. You have presentedd a slippery slope argument – equateing offering some de minimus charity such as safe passage through land to avoid death with actively enslaving people. I’d say that’s quite a jump. Why does giving an inch result in taking a mile?

    Clearly the current legal framework embraces some standard of forced charity that most people on this forum find unacceptable, and would agree that rolling back that standard was right and proper. Why isn’t some different standard intellectually acceptable?

  164. If that is true, then we are all slaves to the needs of others. That is completely incompatible with liberty.

    Silly argument.

    It assumes that people are not interdependent.

    People ARE interdependent.

  165. So…

    It seems we have two clear camps here in this discussion on rights.

    Camp one seems to feel that rights exist in a context free manner and that if we allow context to play a role in defining them, they are meaningless.

    Camp two would reject this idea and say that rights are meaningless unless embedded in a context consisting of conflicting claims. A right is mechanism for determining which claim is valid and which is invalid. Claims are always in this context directly related to specific actions (past or future).

    Does that get to the heart of the dispute?

  166. If that is true, then we are all slaves to the needs of others. That is completely incompatible with liberty.

    “We all need somebody to lean on”

    -bob dylan

    I would argue that the requirement that we subjugate our own needs to those of the tribes predates the idea of Liberty by several evolutionary steps. Liberty is a better idea, but a new one. As such it is additive to the human condition – not a precursor.

  167. So under what circumstances is it justifiable to compel someone else to act for the benefit of someone else?

  168. RR,

    nice try – but I’m not the one trying to create an entire moral code from one idea!

    I put myself in NM’s second camp and say – it depends on the context. I allow that different societies will answer this question differently, but that the best societies minimize the number of circumstances and hold liberty as an ideal second only to survival of the species.

  169. Why is it – given the messy contextual nature of most of real life – that you think the protection of someones life by a de minimis charitable act should never be obligatory.

    On one level, the issue is definitional. I would think that any act that you are morally obligated to undertake would be part of the virtue of justice, and not of the virtue of charity.

    [Joe and I have argued about this at length. Joe asserts that the requirements of charity are part of the requirements of justice, but I don’t think this stands up to basic scrutiny. I think that most people would agree that going beyond one’s literal obligations to do something nice for someone is virtuous, and the common-sense label most people would apply to doing so is “charity”.]

    I think one area in which your critique of “logical consistency” is apt is in the area of the virtues, since I think a couple of the Socratic dialogues demonstrate pretty effectively that virtue itself, and thus the “good”, is composed of many different fragments that don’t fit together well and often appear to contradict each other.

  170. Neu Mejican,

    Excessive taxes are theft of the labor my body performs, restrictions on drugs deny me use of my body, and, in the case of abortion, rights of bodily integrity are restricted or abolished.

    You may not recognize all of these, but I’d prefer these things be established as mine and no one else’s. Then discussion of what parts of me belong to someone else on the basis of “moral” duty can begin.

  171. You have presentedd a slippery slope argument – equateing offering some de minimus charity such as safe passage through land to avoid death with actively enslaving people. I’d say that’s quite a jump.

    No, it’s not.

    If we are obligated to do even the minimum necessary to make sure that no one experiences dire need to the point where they die [or if, alternately, our property rights are void if maintaining them will result in someone else dying who could have used our property to survive] then our obligation is open-ended and is not vitiated until no one is in potentially fatal need, and our property claims [including claims to the proceeds of our labor] are all void until no one is in potentially fatal need.

    I don’t think I’ve made a jump or progressed down a slippery slope. I’ve just taken your statement literally.

    If I have no right to my property if the guy being chased by lava needs it, then I should also have no right to my property if someone in Africa needs it. The only difference between the two is that the lava guy is right there in front of me, and the Africa guy isn’t, and that doesn’t seem like much of a material distinction to me.

  172. Does that get to the heart of the dispute?

    No.

    I can concede that no truth outside of context is possible.

    I just don’t think “need” is a factor in determining the justice of my claims of self-ownership and therefore of property ownership. Some others here think it is important and even determinative, and I don’t. Some facets of our joint context will be relevant, and some won’t be, and need is one of the won’t’s.

  173. Fluffy,

    I can see how the discussion can devolve into semantics pretty quickly. I guess I think that human life is valuable enough a priori that some expectation of “species loyalty” should be enforceable as a matter of law. This is also why I can be for some (very limited) restrictions on abortion even though it restricts a womans use of her own body. The right to life is higher than all others and deserves better protection.

  174. Fluffy,

    So you are saying that a claim can’t be based on “need.”

    Do we need liberty?
    Do we need life?
    Do we need control of our property?

    I am not sure I follow your argument.

    Camp one and camp two are split on whether the right exists in the context or a claim or not.

  175. that is

    “in the context OF a claim or not”

  176. Sugarfree,

    SugarFree | November 17, 2008, 3:37pm | #
    Neu Mejican,

    Excessive taxes are theft of the labor my body performs,

    They seem more to be theft of the income you derived from your labor. I don’t see how this is a claim of ownership on your body.

    restrictions on drugs deny me use of my body,

    This is a restriction on liberty, not an ownership claim on your body.

    and, in the case of abortion, rights of bodily integrity are restricted or abolished.

    This is the issue at the crux, but even here the dispute is not over whether a woman owns her own body, but whether or not the fetus is part of the mother or an independent person…and, per the minimal obligation discussion above, whether the mother is obligated to provide protection to the fetus’s life once everyone agrees that the cells have moved from fetus to “child.”

    You may not recognize all of these, but I’d prefer these things be established as mine and no one else’s. Then discussion of what parts of me belong to someone else on the basis of “moral” duty can begin.

    I guess you can conceptualize your actions and choices as part of yourself, but I prefer to think of them as actions and choices.

    Again, there is more force, imho, to a claim based on liberty than one based on property.

  177. part of yourself = part of your self

  178. So you are saying that a claim can’t be based on “need.”

    Do we need liberty?
    Do we need life?
    Do we need control of our property?

    I am not sure I follow your argument.

    Camp one and camp two are split on whether the right exists in the context or a claim or not.

    I think that I absolutely own myself and my own labor, and have the absolute right to exchange my labor with others.

    The expression of that right in a social context can be complicated because of the layering of consecutive acts of exchange, because of imperfect knowledge about the soundness of the claims of others to items being exchanged, because of the impact on the system of past injustice or violent override of sound claims, the somewhat questionable history of title to real property essentially worldwide, etc.

    But that one of those possible complicating factors isn’t “Well, you don’t absolutely own yourself and your own labor, because these guys over here need the proceeds of your labor more than you.”

  179. They seem more to be theft of the income you derived from your labor. I don’t see how this is a claim of ownership on your body.

    Transitivity.

  180. Actions and choices mean nothing if I’m not free. Self-ownership is the basis of everything to me. It’s the condition by which I assert liberty. We can disagree on this point.

    Again, there is more force, imho, to a claim based on liberty than one based on property.

    Which is more threatened in modern America: pure concepts of liberty or your house? The government fucks with liberty constantly and blithely. They mostly recognize you own your house. It’s really just a pragmatic claim.

  181. I claim a moral system based on the right to happiness (not just the pursuit of) instead of life or property.

    My property makes me happy – I have a right to it.
    My coke and hookers make me happy too.
    Killing stupid people makes me happy, but interferes with their right to be dumb happy people more, so I guess I’ll have to put up with it.

    Clearly it’s possible to start with any single asserted right and derive a logically consistent bunch of others. It doesn’t mean the system wouldn’t fall down upon close examination or in practice because it runs counter to some inherent evolved predilection.

  182. They seem more to be theft of the income you derived from your labor. I don’t see how this is a claim of ownership on your body.

    Transitivity.

    But once the labor of the body is separated from the body – taking it is not the same. Consider that taking someones life (or time through enslavement) is irreversible – while taking someones property can be reversed. Seems that a wrong that can be remedied is less wrong than one that cannot. I don’t think simple transitivity passes muster for me.

  183. Having seen concentration camps in asia, I can say it’s because being hungry just takes the fight out of you.

    Physical limitations are different than moral limitations.

    No person with the energy to act is going to sit back and choose to just die or let his wife/children die. Obviously, however, if he is already woefully malnourished to the point of being unable to assert himself, then he has no choice to make….

    Libertarianism at its best is a set of rules that allow us apes to interact with each other peacably and productively without hurting each other. At it’s worst it is used as an excuse for racism, meanness, and uncharitability.

    DOMO,

    Yes. Real-world libertarianism is about finding a workable framework that optimizes liberty in this world. Waste-of-time libertarianism is about postulating absolute moral precepts and then arguing over how to apply them to thought-experiments without regard for the consequences that would follow in the real world.

    I am against government coercion – but who amoung you could hear a story of some guy refusing to let your reletives on his land to avoid lava flows and not want to take revenge for failing to save their lives with some simple costless act of charity?

    It’s not just family and friends. If my neighbor displayed such callous indifference to life, even if no one I loved was ever in danger, it would cause me to re-evaluate how willing I was to defend his so-called “rights”.

    “Rights” are not immutable things that are made inviolate by divine intervention or other unanswerable power. Furthermore, despite how much we all eventually make appeals to picking up guns ins in self-defense, the fact is that in this world, one man’s ability to defend himself completely alone are laughably limited. A would-be murderer with patience and discipline can almost always find a time and place to strike which make the theoretical option of lone self-defense a pathetic joke.

    What this means in the end is that all “rights” are NEGOTIATED. We are essentially unable to defend our “rights” without the help of others who agree to recognize and help protect my “rights” … in return for something from me, of course. Often this will be my likewise commitment to recognize and protect their rights, although it may also include other stipulations.

    Since my body is my “property” then I have a fundamental right, at any time and for any reason I choose, to REFUSE to help someone else protect his rights. I have the right to tell my neighbor “Since you decided to be an asshole, You are NITHING – a non-person – to me. I do not recognize any value to you, your rights, or your life. As far as I am concerned, anyone with the ability to kill you or steal from you can do so with no fear of retaliation from me”. Futhermore, since a community is made of individuals, it is also perfectly within the rights of a community to do this to someone as well. Once this happens, the nithing can complain about his “rights” all he wants, but without enough people to help him enforce them he is essentially screwed.

    So there, if my body is my property and my rights to my property are sancrosant, then I have the right to REFUSE to help someone enforce his rights. If he is capable of doing so without me then fine, but at some point a person is simply going to be, practically speaking, incapable of sticking up for himself.

  184. Damn open italics tab……

    The point is that, at the end of the day, you have to convince people to enforce your rights.

    Its really annoying to listen to so-called libertarians pontificate on their own right to refuse someone aid while implicitly demanding that other people help them enforce that right.

  185. Libarbarian,

    Rights are moral claims. That means one’s practical ability, or inability, to enforce one’s claims aren’t relevant to the question of whether or not they exist.

    The Jews who died in Auschwitz had a right to life. Their tormentors did not recognize it, but it existed.

    Therefore discussion of rights as being negotiated is not appropriate. You’re right that no one individual can be sure to have the power to enforce his rights against any possible attack or usurpation, so he is forced to enter into a social “negotiation” to try to get his rights protected and recognized. That’s what polities are for. But the rights exist outside of the outcome of any social negotiation, and a particular polity can either recognize those rights and be legitimate, or it can not recognize them and not be legitimate.

  186. But the rights exist outside of the outcome of any social negotiation, and a particular polity can either recognize those rights and be legitimate, or it can not recognize them and not be legitimate.

    Nothing is true and everything is permitted.

  187. But the rights exist outside of the outcome of any social negotiation, and a particular polity can either recognize those rights and be legitimate, or it can not recognize them and not be legitimate.

    This makes as much sense to me as the claim that there are objective standards of “beauty” that transcend personal opinion.

    There aren’t, and insisting that there is only serves to convince me that the speaker mistakes his own subjective option for objective reality.

  188. Libarbarian,

    Ultimately, you have just assumed a position of complete moral nihilism.

    If your argument is true, the Jews who died at Auschwitz have no complaint to make. They simply failed to negotiate well enough.

    Moral truths either do exist, or they do not. It’s OK if you think they do not – that is a quite defensible philosophical position to take. But if they don’t exist, then they don’t – and you should refrain from ever again offering any opinion here with any moral or normative content whatsoever.

  189. I don’t think simple transitivity passes muster for me.

    Nor for me.

    I think part of my problem with Sugarfree’s framing of the issue is it depends upon an implicit dualism separating the self and the body that I don’t buy into…a Descartes’s error of sorts.

    one of those possible complicating factors isn’t “Well, you don’t absolutely own yourself and your own labor, because these guys over here need the proceeds of your labor more than you.”

    Again, I think conceptualizing the rights claim in terms of property leads to the logical problem. The rights claim isn’t about ownership, but about your liberty to act in a certain way. The claim that someone makes on your property is about whether or not they have the right to act in a certain way with a certain piece of property. Property rights may be used to justify an act by you to prevent them from having access to that property for that use, but the rights claim resolves the conflict between the validity of your claim to act in one way to prevent them from acting in another.

    It is not an issue of how absolute your control of your property is, because nothing is absolute in the sense that you seem to be claiming. This becomes clearer to me if you try and think of acts that you could take that do not have an effect on others. Conflicts arise out of the interaction of the consequences of your action in the context of others actions.

    If the rights are absolute, context can’t impinge upon them and they become useless for resolving conflicts since conflicts always occur in a context of actions.

    Yadda yadda.

    Morality, it seems, is always about what should or should not be done. Not about who owns what. It is about conduct, not property. Property rights may help clarify whether a particular act is justified (right, morally correct), but they do not form the basis of the right since rights are moral claims, which are claims about conduct/action.

  190. Okay Brian. Not that I had time to read through this whole thing after work today, but wow. Looks like you hit pay dirt on this one.

  191. no one caught it but this bothered my last night when i realized my error:

    “We all need somebody to lean on”

    -bob dylan

    should have read:

    “You gotta serve somebody”

    -bob dylan

  192. a Descartes’s error of sorts.

    Insults are a sure way to know you’ve won an argument. 😉

    I’m on board with a oneness of being. The me I own is me. I assert that I own my memories and thoughts as well.

  193. Morality, it seems, is always about what should or should not be done. Not about who owns what.

    Strictly speaking, it is a matter of political morality, which is not merely a question of what should or should not be done, but a matter of what moral authority exists to compel another to take some act or refrain from some act.

    Those spheres of moral authority are what we call ownership.

    The issue is not “What should Fluffy do with his body, his mind, and his labor?” but rather “Who has the moral authority to decide what Fluffy should do with his body, his mind, and his labor?” In areas where the moral authority is mine, I can be said to “own”. And this is why your paradigm of “competing claims” is not compelling to me – to me, there should be a level of analysis which is precise enough that our various spheres of moral authority are exactly defined, in which case they do not conflict or compete.

  194. to me, there should be a level of analysis which is precise enough that our various spheres of moral authority are exactly defined, in which case they do not conflict or compete.

    That sounds nice, but I don’t buy that it is possible.

    “Who has the moral authority to decide what Fluffy should do with his body, his mind, and his labor?” In areas where the moral authority is mine, I can be said to “own”.

    Of course you can be said to “own”, but there is already a term for the moral authority to decide: liberty. Why conflate this clean concept with ownership? Ownership is about the moral authority to decide what happens to something outside yourself. It is a distinct concept and useful for the reasons discussed above, imho.

    I still hold that rights adhere to claims about actions rather than existing in a context free state waiting for application. As such, they are never able to exactly define your moral authority since the extent of your moral authority dynamically interacts with others in a particular context.

  195. The issue is not “What should Fluffy do with his body, his mind, and his labor?” but rather “Who has the moral authority to decide what Fluffy should do with his body, his mind, and his labor?”

    FWIW, I don’t think this is well formulated.

    Rights, it seems to me, define the kinds of actions you have the moral authority to take, because rights are about community and human interaction, not your actions in isolation from others.

  196. “The Jews in Auschwitz”
    Did you have to Godwin the thread? Really?

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