An article in the Australian by a “libertarian social-democrat” sparked a debate among friends about the idea of left-libertarians. It seems to me that this badge is used in two different ways, and it’s worth drawing the distinction between “good” left-libertarians and “bad” left-libertarians.

1. Libertarians who identify with leftist culture, “left” issues and a communitarian moral philosophy. This group believes that human interaction should generally be voluntary, but they want to stress the importance of community groups instead of businesses, they care relatively more about civil liberties, gay equality and drug legalisation, and they have a communitarian vision of how people will voluntarily coordinate. I think this is clearly libertarian, and in my old age I’m starting to shift closer to this vision of society.

Because of the difference in culture and priorities, this group can sometimes appear in conflict with “right-libertarians”. I’ve seen plenty of debates between “left” and “right” cultured libertarians, where both are convinced the other is a political enemy. When I “translate” for them, it becomes clear that they mostly agree on politics. This problem is exacerbated in Australia where we don’t have a strong libertarian tradition and so many people identify with “left” and “right” and learn to see things through that framework.

2. And then there are socialists with the wrong name. This group seems to use “libertarian” because they want to be associated with liberty, but then they prefer policies that destroy liberty and involve an authority group using violence/coercion to over-ride voluntary action.

To try and defend their oxymoronic mix of coercion with liberty, this group is forced to do intellectual gymnastics. Their basic trick is to try and define voluntary non-violent behaviour (such as trade or homesteading) as involuntary, and so they are allowed to use retaliatory force to take what they want. Literally, the only way they can do this is to say “voluntary is involuntary”… which takes us to “war is peace” and “slavery is freedom” types of idiocy.

Of course, an honest statist could argue that liberty (meaning voluntary human interaction) is a bad or silly idea and that people should be controlled. Or they could argue that liberty leads to chaos, inequality and poverty and so it should be over-ridden by the coercive power of an authority group. Those are coherent arguments, and while I think they are wrong, at least we can have an honest debate.

But to argue that “voluntary non-violent actions are involuntary and violent, so I’m allowed to use violence in response” is just plain dishonest.

Libertarian ideas are not the opposite of leftist or communitarian ideas, and it makes sense for there to be a strong (and long standing) left-libertarian tradition. And the libertarian tent is large enough for a range of opinions, from moderates to objectivists to anarchists to classical liberals to minarchists and others. But the unifying feature is that libertarians generally prefer voluntary action to involuntary action, and consequently prefer a small government. That excludes socialism (meaning government control of economy/life), no matter what you call it.

100 thoughts on “Left-libertarians

  1. Fair enough, there’s nothing un-libertarian about supporting communitarianism, provided it is truly voluntary. Even the most rabid individualist has to work as part of a team at some point. That would be the ‘Fraternity’ bit in the famous French slogan.

    Now let’s talk about the other two – Liberty and Equality, and whether they can co-exist.

    I’m assuming left-libertarians believe they can. But the author of the article doesn’t answer the question about how the Left’s vision of ‘equality’ can be achieved without compromising libertarian principles – are people supposed to voluntarily redistibute their income?

    Or do left-libertarians abandon the traditional leftwing ideal of economic equality, and focus on equality of opportunity instead?

  2. As was the point of my above post — there are two types of “left-libertarians”.

    My type believes that as people get richer, they will spend an increasing proportion of their income on community pursuits and charity, and that as people get richer they will put a relatively lower value on money and so will pursue leisure and do less work. Both of these trends (which are already evident in western society) will lead to greater equality.

    Equality of opportunity is an evil concept… pretty much the same as equality of output. It is “equality under the law” that should matter to a libertarian.

  3. You need to distinguish between equal opportunity, and equal outcomes. The tribal impulse is to impose equal outcomes, and cut down tall poppies.
    I thought humphries was an Anarcho-Capitalist? That is, a total decentralist? This might be compatible with communes, but only if the communes are very small.
    I think i’ll call myself an Xcentralist from now on. “My land, My Law!”

  4. Surely a moderate libertarian is a socialist if you are going to call a left-libertarian that believes homesteading is a violation of rights socialist?

    The geolibertarian (which is one brand of left-libertarian that believes in redistribution) does not believe that homesteading is a just acquisition.

    They believe that all individuals have a right to not only acquire unowned land, but an innate right to an “equal share” of land. They do not see unowned land as unowned, but rather see it as common property which can only be taken as private property if it undergoes equal distribution or if compensation (usually in the form of a Land Value Tax) is paid to those who receive less than an equal share.

    It requires a strict reading of the Lockean proviso to reach this conclusion, but I believe it can be seen as in keeping with libertarianism.

    1) Libertarians believe that violence is okay to defend ones rights and property. A libertarian thinks it is okay to use force to reclaim property from a thief.
    2) The Geolibertarian believes that everyone has a right to an equal share of the common property. Taking unowned land beyond an equal share is theft because it deprives others of the the land that was previously held in common.
    3) Because the geolibertarian sees the transformation of common property into private property (beyond an equal share) either compensation needs to be paid or it can be seized by those it is due (ie. everyone else who jointly had a right to the common land).

    I don’t accept the second point, I believe that land can be unowned. The geolibertarian does not- instead believing that all land in the beginning was jointly owned and held as common property. I don’t believe that view is wrong- the process by which someone can claim free land or resources is reasonably arbitrary after all. But whilst not agreeing I think the geolibertarian’s reasoning does work. They are only using violence to enforce their (believed) property rights, just as a libertarian reclaiming stolen goods.

  5. Nuke — equality of opportunity means we all have to have equal access to education, health, transport, parents etc… otherwise our opportunity isn’t really equal. It’s an evil idea.

    Communes are 110% libertarian, so long as they’re voluntary. I had you in mind when I mentioned a “right-libertarian” who doesn’t understand the language of “left-libertarians”.

    Shem — if you think that “voluntary is involuntary” then you’re probably a socialist and certainly a moron. I don’t think most moderate libertarians fall into either category.

    And the sentence “unowned land is not unowned” also deserves to join the “war is peace” list. Things are either owned, or unowned. The dishonesty of these people is astounding.

    They want a political system based on violence and continual involuntary redistribution. That is the opposite of a political philosophy that believes in non-violence and voluntary interaction. The “geo-fascists” have done exactly what I explained in my post: they define voluntary behaviour as involuntary so they can justify their violence.

  6. I honestly cannot see how you can get a left-libertarian, John, as the gulf is far too great. There are of course a lot of left leaning posers who refer to themselves as libertarian when they’re nothing but. The intellectually dishonest American current affairs program host Bill Maher comes to mind as he’s about as libertarian as Hugo Chavez…. obviously with more sophistication than that fat buffoon.

    One of the guiding forces for the left is “equality” through government intervention and that sort of thing is like pointing a silver cross to libertarian types.

    Libertarian philosophy is a beautifully cascading set of ideas which can’t really be short circuited with leftism.

    I think it’s nice in theory but that’s about it.

  7. I think economic liberty is very important which frequently gets me tagged as a right wing capitalist pig. And if I’m honest I feel slightly more cultural identification with the right rather than the left. I cherish what conservatives call “family values”. I recoil somewhat at the extremities of hedonistic libertine lifestyles even though I’m quite capable of tolerating and even enjoying the company of those that pursue such choices. I have very little respect however for parents that put their own pleasures a long way above the welfare and emotional well being of their children. Are these right wing values? I’m not sure.

    Having said that I am instinctively inclined to think of people as social beings within communities and the description of left-libertarians that John outlines in version 1 is a description I could be reasonably comfortable with. Civil society and good communities are things I regard as important. I like knowing my neighbours. I like knowing the shop keepers. I get annoyed by litter in the street or graffiti.

    Recently I posted an article that included a speech by Noel Pearson. I thought he did a very good job of identifying what is great about the liberal, conservative and progressive traditions. A little bit of praise for everybody.


  8. Terje – Im regularly (and unfairly!) painted as either a ‘right-wing capitalistic pig’ or a ‘tree hugging lefty pinko’, depending on what Im talking about.

    I think that its fairly natural for libertarians who find themselves in a world suffering from the intellectual cretinism that is the left/right political dichotomy.

    I dont think it is too far off the market to say that, in the popular imagination, the left has something of a monopoly on ‘social justice’, while the right has a monopoly on ‘economic freedom’. As libertarians, we argue for both, often at the same time. This is simply beyond the imagining of those raised on the teet of the Liberal/Labor partisan divide. We may as well be Martians.

    The real challenge we face is not convincing others of the merits of our views, but rather getting them to see past the deceit that is the left/right dichotomy. Many believe that we are presented with fascism at one extreme, and communism at the other, and that we must somehow negotiate a comfortable middle between the two. Obviously, this is utterly false, and the choice is not between communism and fascism, but statism and liberty; yet it persists in the popular imagination.

    I always find a little comfort in Reagan, who seemed to understand the problem: “You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream — the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”

  9. My type believes that as people get richer, they will spend an increasing proportion of their income on community pursuits and charity, and that as people get richer they will put a relatively lower value on money and so will pursue leisure and do less work. Both of these trends (which are already evident in western society) will lead to greater equality.

    All of these points are true, but they’re just another way of saying that raw unadulterated capitalism is actually good for you, gives you the time and wealth to pursue the life you want, lets you do lots of good for others like lift them out of poverty while creating wealth for yourself, and results in there being so much wealth going round over time that people don’t have to focus their lives on on creating it like in the bad old days.

    The problem with left libertarians is that while they’ll defend the communitarian option with vigour, an expression like ‘raw unadulterated capitalism’ still makes them upset. Right libertarians are happy for voluntary communities, too many left libertarians aren’t happy with voluntary trade.

  10. JC — I would feel comfortable with the tag “left-libertarian”. Do you think I’m a libertarian? It is not true that a left-wing person must agree with government redistribution.

    Michael — you are correct, but you are saying this in a way to please a “right-winger” and intentionally antagonise a “left-winger”. Unless your goal is to drive people away from libertarianism, there is no harm in talking about issues in a way that appeals to different people.

    So long as a person doesn’t want to use violence to promote their preferred world, then I have no problem with adjusting my semantics to fit the audience. I can’t see the value in misunderstandings based on different use of language.

    I have seen cases where left-libertarians, who basically believe in volunteerism, are shifted closer to socialism because mindless libertarians shout at them using a nomenclature they don’t understand. In contrast, I have convinced self-described communists that they are actually libertarians before… simply by explaining things without the antagonistic “you must be a capitalist” line.

  11. I know left-libertarians who absolutely hate trade and businesses… but wouldn’t ban them. That’s fine with me. I hate tuna, but I don’t want to ban that either.

    Libertarianism doesn’t require universal love of everything. Just tolerance of voluntary behaviour.

  12. Michael — you are correct, but you are saying this in a way to please a “right-winger” and intentionally antagonise a “left-winger”. Unless your goal is to drive people away from libertarianism, there is no harm in talking about issues in a way that appeals to different people.

    So long as a person doesn’t want to use violence to promote their preferred world, then I have no problem with adjusting my semantics to fit the audience. I can’t see the value in misunderstandings based on different use of language.

    John – I’d only say that on a site like this and I think it’s important to point out the inflexible nature of the left that contradicts their claims to tolerance. I like your approach, especially with how you handled the tax churn argument, and made Perfessor Disneyland sound a bit like the inflexible intolerant type he is. (Didn’t seem to garner any favour with that radio announcer though, who just sounded like every word was dripping with sarcasm.)

    Having said that, I do try to stand firm in my general dealings, including objectively pointing out contradiction, just not in an antagonistic way.

  13. Humphrey’s whole private charity take on left-libertarianism is one thing, but most of the other examples cited, particularly that Kevin Carson ‘free-market anti-capitalism’ link, seem to be some variant of idealistic anarcho-communism.

    I seriously think these dudes are in la-la land. The see some sort of utopia where everyone will voluntarily redistribute their income and be all communistic and give each other group hugs. All this with no state coercive powers. Yeah, right.

  14. As a left-libertarian my philosophical starting point is that private property is theft. To “own” a parcel of land and to exclude others from requires violence. Such violence is conducted by the state and is thus a form of statism.

    All men are born to roam free, but everywhere we are bound by the chains of property theft.

  15. Skull.

    Where do you live as I wanna walk through you house or apartment whenever I feel like it, or does that just apply to you doing it to others?

  16. So who are these left libertarians and where do they hide?

    I think it is worth clarifying the term ‘left-libertarian’ as it is used within libertarianism. It seems to me that there are two different, but in many ways not incompatible, definitions.

    Some left-libertarians are radical market anarchists. This includes agorists, some voluntaryists, left-Rothbardians, and mutualists. While mutualism is probably the closest libertarian form to socialism, left-libertarians influenced by Rothbard frequently support views on property that seem to be firmly on the ‘right’. The ‘left’ prefix here seems to denote the view that libertarianism, in the tradition of many early individualist anarchists, is a movement of the left. Anti-corporatism, support for non-statist unions, opposition to intellectual property, alliances with other social movements, and a commitment to abolishing the state are all common elements in this form of left-libertarianism.

    A newer form of left-libertarianism is that of the analytical philosophers Peter Vallentyne, Michael Otsuka, and Hillel Steiner. Tied closely to analytical political philosophy, this form of left-libertarianism, like all forms of libertarianism, supports a strong commitment to self-ownership combined with an egalitarian view of natural resources. These left-libertarians take a strict interpretation of Lockean property rights, maintaining that natural resources are subject to some form of equal distribution or ownership. There are differing views on how this should work. Geoists, for example, argue that those who claim more than an equal share of natural resources should compensate others to the competitive value of the resources used, often in the form of a resource rental (often incorrectly called a land tax).

    Roderick Long(left-Rothbardian) and Kevin Carson(mutualist) are both good examples of the former. I’m more the latter, but there are many philosophical left-libertarians active in the first group as well.

  17. “Private property is theft”

    What a tautological non starter that is. Go back to school FFS. Don’t go near a law school because they will pillory you for your stupidity.

    There is no theft without property. What do you think theft is? Property rights are not some gift from Government. They can be enforced by Governments, but usually arise as a convenient and economically efficient polite social convention. Read the literature if you don’t believe me.

    “what would make a communist state tolerable to you?”

    To cease to exist.

  18. Even though I completely disagree with it, I can understand a political position like Skull’s. It stems from the romantic notion of tribal societies, where they had no fixed dwellings and no concept of private property. I wouldn’t call it left-libertarianism though – I’d call it anarcho-communism, as it’s a fairly extreme position on property rights.

    To me private property rights are inherent in libertarianism. But presumably Skull believes that private property reduces liberty to the extent that it justifies state intervention/coercion, hence he/she feels the term libertarian is justified. Just like classical liberals/minarchists think that a legitimate role of the state is to protect property rights, by coercion of necessary.

    Whatever – if I have to call myself ‘right-libertarian’, classical liberal or pro-propertry libertarian to distinguish my opposing stance on property rights to it doesn’t really bother me.

    So while I think Skull’s philosophy is wrong and completely unworkable in real life, at least I can comprehend it. I just don’t get this Roderick Long bloke. He says “I’m an Aristotelean/Wittgensteinian in philosophy and a left-libertarian market anarchist in social theory.” He’s pro Murray Rothbard and seems to have a favourable view of Ayn Rand. All that to me suggests a strong belief in private property rights.

    I simply don’t get where the word ‘Left’ fits in with Long. He’s a regular anarcho-capitalist ‘righty’ who just thinks the word ‘left’ sounds cooler. Either that or, like a lot of these purely academic philosophers, he’s trying to reconcile two completely opposing viewpoints, something that can only be done in the ivory towers of academia. Kevin Carson does the same thing but he seems to be an anarcho communist who’s chucked the word ‘free-market’ in there even though he doesn’t believe in it.

  19. “It stems from the romantic notion of tribal societies, where they had no fixed dwellings and no concept of private property. I wouldn’t call it left-libertarianism though – I’d call it anarcho-communism, as it’s a fairly extreme position on property rights.”

    I’d call them primitive, brutal and pulverising absolute monarchies.

    It’s not just unworkable or logically inconsistent or an invitation to the wrong kind of anarchy. The concept is based on a historical myth, and legal & economic nonsense.

  20. I’d call them primitive, brutal and pulverising absolute monarchies.

    And you’d get absolutely no argument from me – I’ve never subscribed to the Noble Savage myth, and I hate how it’s used by the left to keep the Aborigines in absolute squalor.

    Just seeking to understand where such an extreme political view comes from.

  21. Humphries! How could you!??
    You called ME a right-wing libertarian!
    Please, allow me to correct you. I am a private-property libertarian, of minarchist colour, and I am only different to Anarcho-Capitalists in one way- I think that something will end up owning the roads, so we should decentralise down to the county level, and let counties make rules for public properties, such as roads.
    I also think we could all time-share governments and their functions, thus getting rid of professional politicians.
    Right-wingers are authoritarians inspired by the past, and left-wingers are traumatised by the past. Neither description fits me.

  22. *I’ve never subscribed to the Noble Savage myth, and I hate how it’s used by the left to keep the Aborigines in absolute squalor.*

    Garrett’s last intervention in Aboriginal affairs (banning crocodile hunting safaris) is egregiously racist and will keep traditional owners poor for longer.

  23. Skull fits into the “socialist pretending to be a libertarian” category.

    The sentence “property is theft” makes no sense, and this seems to be based on a confusion about the meaning of “property” or “ownership”. This is the same mistake made by Ben Payne.

    To “own” something simply means to be the controller of that thing, and determine it’s use when there are multiple different uses.

    This only need apply to things with effective scarcity. If there is no scarcity, then there is no need to choose from between multiple options and so no decision maker is necessary. But once there is effective scarcity and a choice needs to be made about the use of a resource, then this necessarily requires that a decision making creature make the decision. The ultimate decision making entity is the “owner”.

    To put it simply, if somebody made a decisions about how something was used, then there is ownership. The only way to have a political philosophy that doesn’t have ownership is either (1) nobody ever does anything; or (2) there are infinite amounts of everything. Neither is viable. So when somebody tells you they don’t believe in property, what they mean is that they don’t understand the concept of property, and they should subsequently be ignored until they learn some basic english.

    The only options available in real political philosophy are regarding how ownership is transferred. Broadly speaking, there are two options that are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, and the distinction is fundamental — property can be transferred voluntarily or involuntarily. Involuntary action includes initiation of unwanted violence, coercion or fraud (including breach of contract).

    Payne’s suggestion that everything should be equally distributed is nice… but the only way to achieve it is through involuntary actions — violence & coercion. As I’ve been trying to explain to Payne for a while now, involuntary is not the same as voluntary. You can’t say you support “violent non-violence” or “involuntary voluntariness”.

    You might not like the fact that I found or bought a rock… but if I found/bought it voluntarily then I have done nothing wrong. I now have ownership of that rock. If you use violence/coercion/fraud to take it from me, then it is you that has created an involuntary transfer of ownership. Perhaps you can justify it on some ground that you have a god-given right to that rock, or the rock will bring you more utility than me, or whatever other excuse… but none of those excuses will change the fact that my actions were entirely voluntarily and included no initiation of violence/coercion/fraud… while your actions did involve violence/coercion/fraud and led to an involuntary transfer. No word-trick will change those facts.

    Perhaps some initiation of violence/coercion is a good thing. Many people justify government action on the grounds that they are making the world a better place. While I disagree with them, they are at least making an honest and rational argument. But the self-styled “libertarian socialists” are not making an honest or rational argument, and their entire philosophy is based on a cheap word-trick.

  24. Papa (and others sceptical of the “left” tag) — in my opinion, “left” and “right” are little more than social tags that indicate moral preferences and culture. They certainly don’t seem to be consistent or coherent political positions. There are more sub-versions of “left” and “right” than you could count.

    I put it down to culture, with their own nomenclature and style. Yes, these different cultures can lead to certain political conclusions and many culturally left people (and culturally right people) end up as politically statist… but I think it is still fair for a person to culturally identify with the left and believe in liberty.

    In my opinion, it is very wrong to associate the word “right” with “liberty”. The word “right” is more often associated with conservativism, nationalism, tradition, religion and other things that aren’t necessarily about liberty. Most “right-wingers” of the 20th and 21st century were supporters of big government. But once again, I think it is still fair for a person to culturally identify with the right and believe in liberty.

    Australian libertarians often hale from the “right” (including me), which can bias their assessment of the meaning of “right” and “left” and lead to us to speak “right-friendly” language… but that doesn’t have to be the case.

  25. So the proposed strategy is to talk nicely so Mr/Ms Lefty so that he/she will think things through properly and then become a good libertarian comrad that will help us fight political battles and liberate the aussies. Or are we just trying to make more friends?

  26. Convincing people is nice.

    But I’m talking about situations were people are already basically libertarian, and because we use such different language and treat them like the “enemy” to start with, we encourage them to go become a socialist.

  27. John I’m sceptical of a ‘right’ label too, because of its connotations with facism (even if completely incorrect it’s commonly understood)

    I think all this stuff proves is that left and right are rather meaningless these days. I don’t think you could even tie it down to cultural prefences, if anything I still see them as purely economic ‘socialist vs capitalist’ labels, but I appreciate that others don’t.

    I realised that left-right had lost their meaning when I did one of those political compass grid quizzes and I came out as a ‘far right, culturally liberal social libertarian’. Despite the fact that if a BNP or Front National member did the quiz they’d probably come out diametrically opposed to my position

    Time we ditched left and right. They are 300-year old terms from the French Revolution anyway.

  28. Like John I think the idea of property can be taken back to very basic observations about human existence.

    eg/ Do you own the clothes you wear or the food you eat?

    Everyone would have to at least concede that material objects are unavoidable to human existence.

    If you ate some food, I think you can say that this food belongs to you, either because you grew it, or paid for it or it was given to you and it is now inside your body.

    So could the idea of ownership follow from these facts?

    Or perhaps ownership simply follows from proving that people have a right to their life?
    The founding fathers of the US said this was an “inalienable” right that was taken as “self-evident”.
    I have a material body and I control this body and I therefore own it.

    These types of facts could be the starting point for then convincing someone of the value and importance of property ownership.

  29. Tim R – in primitive societies food, shelter and what clothing they had were all communal assets. You only really ‘owned’ food once you ate it. They were ‘nice’ about sharing it but only to a point – e.g. old people were sometimes left to starve if they couldn’t keep up with a nomadic tribe.

    Some neo-communists actually use this tribalism to justify a view that communism has in fact worked at one point in history. I even read one post claiming that the start of the agricultural age was the start of human enslavement, and even post feudalism we are still enslaved.

    I asked him if he was really willing to give up his million dollar Northcote house and Blu ray player to be a nomadic hunter gatherer (nothing stopping him after all) and unsurprisingly got no response.

    If you want to convince someone like Skull why private property is a good thing try this little potted world history lesson (with apologies to Geoffrey Blainey I’ll call it an Extremely Miniscule Nano History of the World.)

    For millennia human civilisation didn’t really advance because tribal societies communal ownership of everything, anfd there was no individual motivation to advance. It could be argued that they didn’t need to advance and lived ‘in harmony with nature’, but it’s debatable, and undoubtedly it was a brutal existence with tribal warfare, infanticide, starvation etc.
    Civilisation mad a big leap started to advance with the agricultural age when the concept of private property was crystallised. It wasn’t ideal as there was no universal liberty, aqnd you often had tyrannical rulers.
    Things then really kicked along when slavery (i.e. preventing some people from acquiring private property) was abolished. Other shifts in the direct of reason and rational thought helped – see the reformation, industrial revolution etc – a lot of this was driven by the desire for private property
    It went downhill again when private property was restricted in various communist anbd other dictatorial countries, but post communism many of these have emerged specatcularly e.g. most of East Europe

  30. I think you may have to go right back to primitive humans with no capacity for reason before you got to the fully communal situation.
    ie: Highly primitive cavemen who haven’t developed any language and who were probably quite similar to intelligent chimps.

    My food example may not the best considering all animals eat food but only humans should be granted property rights.

    Maybe better examples for the necessity of property to the survival and functioning of the human animal could be:
    The spear you made, the hut you made to house your family, your loincloth or the bearskin from the bear you killed, that type of thing.
    I suppose it’s possible tribal humans were sharing loincloths on some rotation system or via some kind of party game but I hope not!

  31. All that to me suggests a strong belief in private property rights…I simply don’t get where the word ‘Left’ fits in with Long. He’s a regular anarcho-capitalist ‘righty’ who just thinks the word ‘left’ sounds cooler.

    As I stated above, some left-libertarians support very strong accounts of property rights. The ‘left’ tag comes from their opposition to political reformism, identfication with social movements, and anti-corporatism.

    This only need apply to things with effective scarcity. If there is no scarcity, then there is no need to choose from between multiple options and so no decision maker is necessary.

    Agreed. If resources were infinite there would be no need for property rights.

    The only options available in real political philosophy are regarding how ownership is transferred.

    Do you not mean that the difference between a just and unjust transaction is how ownership is transferred? Most political philosophers (including Nozick) would, I think, say that political philosophy is chiefly about the just distribution of resources. Nozick simply thinks that a just distibution is when resources are acquired and transferred between agents without fraud or coercion.

    ‘Payne’s suggestion that everything should be equally distributed is nice… but the only way to achieve it is through involuntary actions — violence & coercion.’

    I agree with you that the left-libertarian account of resource distribution is not usually voluntary. But virtually all libertrians support some coercive activity as long as it is just. For example, most libertarians believe that just defence of self-ownership though punishment, compensation, or both are acceptable. Same goes for just distribution of resources for left-libertarians.

    You might not like the fact that I found or bought a rock… but if I found/bought it voluntarily then I have done nothing wrong. I now have ownership of that rock. If you use violence/coercion/fraud to take it from me, then it is you that has created an involuntary transfer of ownership.

    This is similar to a Rothbardian/Nozickian account of property. Nozick, however, supports a weak form of the Lockean proviso. Left-libetarians, ask why, when no human agent created natural resources, the lucky person who first claims rights over a natural resource should reap all the benefit that the resource provides? For a political philosophy that strongly endorses initial equality it seems strange that resources should be distrbuted by chance.

  32. Payne — No, I don’t mean the difference between “just” and “unjust”. If you think involuntary redistribution is “just” then clearly it is just to have involuntary redistribution. But that is irrelevant to the current discussion. The point is that involuntary behaviour is not voluntary.

    As I’ve said several times, if you want to justify involuntary behaviour for some reason (such as pursuing your version of justice) that is a reasonable political position. But that does not take away the fact that involuntary acts are involuntary acts.

    Later, you finally accept that involuntary actions are involuntary and that violence is not non-violent. This is progress. You then point out that many libertarians support some sort of government intervention, and I totally agree. Many are minarchists or moderates, not anarchists. I’m not arguing for or against any position here… I’m just arguing that people should not lie about their position by pretending involuntary is voluntary.

    But, alas, then you go on to confuse self-defence with initiation of violence/coercion. Self-defence is central to the concept of voluntary action. It is not the opposite, or an exception to the rule. It is the same rule. Being allowed to control yourself includes the right to defend yourself.

    And you continue with the blatant dishonesty by pretending that land tax is “compensation” along the lines of self-defence. For something to be self-defence, there must first be an initiator of violence/coercion/fraud.

    So (once again, repeating myself, repeating myself, repeating myself) you are claiming that “voluntary behaviour is involuntary, and that justified my violence”. FFS Ben… stop and think.

    You then make a case for land tax, based on the idea that an authority figure will be able to distribute resources more “fairly” than voluntary behaviour. Fine. We can argue the case for or against another time. But first and foremost you need to understand that if the land tax is taken involuntarily, then it is involuntary. And coming up with an excuse for the initiation of violence does not stop it being an initiation of violence.

    Please understand that I’m not saying all involuntary behaviour or initiation of violence/coercion/fraud is wrong. Most people believe it’s good, and that is perfectly reasonable. I can see situations were it would be appropriate. Freedom (self-ownership & voluntary interaction) is valuable to many people, but it is not the only virtue in life — people also value outcomes. Many people believe we should give up some freedom for some better (more “fair” in your words) outcomes. Fine. Then we can have an honest political discussion.

    But it is impossible to have an honest, sensible discussion if you’re going to say that “an involuntary act is voluntary if I like the outcome” (which is exactly what you’ve said).

    I’m actually quite sympathetic to geolibertarianism. As Foldvary explains, geoanarchy would include land tax only on those places that agree to have it. Fine with me. I may even chose to live there as I agree that land tax is less obnoxious than income tax. I’d also be fine with a geo-libertarian state with a low compulsory land tax.

    But just because I like it, that doesn’t mean that involuntary acts are magically re-defined to be voluntary.

  33. Hey maybe you’re right Ben. Perhaps we should have taken the Aboriginals’ land and doled it out to whomever turned up.

    You mean instead of claiming it all for ourselves despite it being the prior property (on a right-libertarian account) of indigenous people?

  34. Libertarians (the real ones) recognise reasonable native title and the fiction of terra nullius. We also are big supporters of actually making native title meaningful. How wicked it is of us to actually want traditional owners to develop land and have very strong title over their land.

    What would have a “left libertarian” Captain Phillip have done?

    I assumed he would have doled out the land to everyone coming in on a joint tenancy basis. With no regard to Aboriginal land rights.

    Why would a “left libertarian” be any different now? Because it isn’t what the cool kids think is kosher?

    A “left libertarian” now who recognises native title is utterly confused or has attached themselves to some strange and contradicted soft and cuddly ideas.

  35. Ben,

    How would traditional owners get beyond *noble savages* (bar leaving their land or being perpetual welfare recipients) if you never let them develop their land, as the land’s possession of them is “theft” (to which they ‘must’ be rightfully deprived), if you stick to your definitions.

    Don’t let us tag you as a typical lefty by catching you out playing the-definition-changing-game.

  36. The point is that involuntary behaviour is not voluntary.

    I agree with you. My point is that virtually all libertarians support justifiably coercive activity in the enforcement of rights.

    You then point out that many libertarians support some sort of government intervention, and I totally agree.

    I was not saying that at all. I said ‘virtually all libertarians support some coercive activity as long as it is just.’ By this I mean enforcement of rights.

    Being allowed to control yourself includes the right to defend yourself.

    Yes, and such defence is necessarily coercive. But it is justifiable coercion. Many left-libertarians believe that each individual has a equal right to the benefits provided by natural resources. The enforcement of this right involves the redistribution of the financial benefits received from resource use. This is justifiable coercion.

    I assumed he would have doled out the land to everyone coming in on a joint tenancy basis. With no regard to Aboriginal land rights.

    Why would you assume this? Sure, left-libertarians do not believe that there can be a ‘traditional owner’. But that does not mean that any land would be taken away from anyone.

    If we maintain a right-libertarian account of strong property rights based on the homesteading principle then most of the land in Australia would have to be returned or compensation provided to indigenous people unless we accept a statute of limitations. Some right-libertarians, such as Rothbard, have (to their credit) supported this notion.

  37. I agree with you. My point is that virtually all libertarians support justifiably coercive activity in the enforcement of rights.

    Obviously the issue is where the rights come from and it’s not arbitrary. You have previously wanted to afford rights to animals and couldn’t justify it on a rational basis. Why don’t you work out the contradictions in your thinking on where rights come from and establish a clear ethical basis grounded in objective reality.

  38. Obviously the issue is where the rights come from and it’s not arbitrary.

    I don’t think so either, but it is contentious. On this issue I believe John and I are in sufficient agreement for the purpose of argument.

    You have previously wanted to afford rights to animals and couldn’t justify it on a rational basis.

    I think my argument is fairly sound, and I’m always happy to discuss animal rights. I can’t remember you presenting your own argument against the idea.

    Why don’t you work out the contradictions in your thinking on where rights come from and establish a clear ethical basis grounded in objective reality.

    I believe I have a reasonably defensible basis for a theory of rights. If you can help me identify any contradictions in my thinking, I would greatly appreciate it.

  39. Ben — with reference to liberty, the only right you have is the right to voluntary action. That is, the right not to have somebody initiate violence/coercion/fraud.

    Perhaps you want humans to have other “rights”, such as the “right to education” or “the right to 5 hectares of land in South America” or whatever. The list of potential “rights” is long… but these are not related to liberty (meaning self-ownership). Indeed, you must violate liberty to create these rights (ie use violence/coercion/fraud to achieve the “correct” distribution of education, food, land, whatever).

    Self-defence is not the same as initiation of violence/coercion/fraud. Self-defence is absolutely fundamental to the concept of non-violent human interaction. It is not the opposite. It is not an exception. It is the same concept. The concept is “that each person is allowed to do what he likes, so long as it’s voluntary”. If somebody tries to initiate violence, then defending yourself is a part of ensuring the continued existence of voluntary behaviour.

    Self-defence is part of liberty. Initiating violence/coercion/fraud is a violation of liberty. You can’t pretend these are the same thing. Once again, we see an absurd Orwellian “war is peace” moment, when you effectively have to say “attacking somebody is the same as defending yourself”. No. It. Isn’t.

    As for the consistency of your basis for rights… you *say* you support the right to self-ownership (ie right to voluntary behaviour), but then you also support the right to violate other people’s self-ownership (ie right to initiate violence/coercion/fraud, leading to involuntary behaviour, to achieve your preferred ends).

    Now, I don’t mind if you want to justify a bit of initiation of coercion based on some “good” end goal… but at least be honest enough to admit that initiating coercion to create involuntary interactions is a violation of the self-ownership of other people.

    (Regarding aboriginal land rights, while I don’t want to get into it, I think you will find it difficult to show effective ownership of most Australian land. Ownership only makes sense in a position of effective scarcity. In many parts of Australia, land was effectively not scarce and so there was no reason to establish ownership. In other words, much of the land wasn’t homesteaded. But as I said, I don’t really want to get distracted on this side-topic.)

  40. I think it is fair to say that libertarianism claims ‘agents initially fully own themselves and have moral powers to acquire property rights in external things under certain conditions.’

    Do you agree that agents can loose some (or all) rights to self-ownership if they violate the rights (initiate violence) of others?

    Libertarians also argue that self-owners can acquire natural resources in some way. Some right-libertarians argue that agents can unilaterally appropriate initially unowned natural resources as property (the homesteading principle). Rights over such property are enforceable.

    Left-libertarians, however, argue that natural resources are initially owned in some egalitarian manner by all agents. Left-libertarians like me argue that ‘one leave an equally valuable per capita share of the value of natural resources for others’. Rights over such property are enforceable.

    Where do I initiate violence? We simply disagree, for valid reasons, about fundamental libertarian principles. What is the use of unjustifiable force to you is to me justifiable force. Now, if you would like to argue that the right-libertarian account of property is more acceptable then we can have a coherent discussion.

  41. Left-libertarians like me argue that ‘one leave an equally valuable per capita share of the value of natural resources for others’. Rights over such property are enforceable.

    Your definition of property rights is unworkable and based in left-wing emotional attachment to the notion of equality.

    Let’s start here:

    What is my share of the world’s copper resouces? How do you quantify how much copper is in the world? If I’m a florist and not a miner, how do I access this ‘property’ that I own. When you ‘leave an equally valuable per capita share of the value of natural resources for others’ does that include all others in the future, or only those that exist now? What about copper that was mined in my lifetime and is in other people’s houses – do I own any of that?

  42. One more for starters:

    If I have to leave an ‘equally valuable per capita share of the value of natural resources for others’ what monetary value applies considering markets fluctuate? Is it the price at the time of mining? If I wait until the end of my life and copper (or whatever raw material) becomes scarce in it’s raw state, and therefore it’s worth to people increases, do I have any claim to the copper owned by someone who mined earlier because the value of theirl allocation has increased?

  43. Ben, if we all collectively own Uluru how do we sort out the competing uses? Maybe Fred wants to photograph it as it exists in it’s natural state, Nelson wants to crush it up and use it for road base, Mary wants to paint it pink. Ultimately somebody decides. Somebody controls this resourse. Fred, Nelson and Mary may all be sharing type people but we may still have a problem. Fred wants everybody to be able to take pictures of Uluru in it’s natural state, Nelson wants everybody to get some road base and Mary thinks a map should be created to make sure each person gets allocated a section to paint pink. They all want to share but in ways that are not compatible. Ultimately somebody is going to have to exercise control. And control entails ownership that is less than equal.

  44. Ben — I’m not talking about what libertarians believe. That is a slippery issue, and there are many legitimate differences of opinion.

    What I am talking about is the meaning of the word “liberty”.

    There is a deontological (relating to means, not ends) concept that says “you can do what you like, so long as it’s voluntary”. While people sometimes use “liberty” to mean “good” or “fair” or “having stuff”… I suggest that all of those are outcomes, and already have words to describe them. The traditional meaning of liberty, and the one generally used by libertarians (sometimes called ‘negative freedom’) is the deontological meaning regarding “being allowed to pursue voluntary behaviour”.

    Of course, many libertarians are willing to sacrifice a little liberty for another goal. But that doesn’t magically turn an involuntary action into a voluntary action.

    This “voluntary action” idea can be neatly explained in “ownership language” as saying that people “own themselves”. Ownership means being able to do what you like with something… and if you own yourself, then you’re allowed to do what you like with yourself. Of course, you don’t own other people and you don’t own what other people own… so “self-ownership” does not give you the right to do anything you like. Just the right to do what you like with what you own.

    Another way to explain this is with regards to what actions aren’t allowed if actions are to be voluntary. Initiating unwanted violence/coercion/fraud against another person is an obvious violation of “self-ownership” or the “voluntary principle”. And so libertarians quite fairly explain their position as being against the initiation of unwanted violence/coercion/fraud.

    As said already, they may violate this rule on occasions for the sake of better outcomes. But just because you believe the “no initiating violence” rule can be broken on occasion, that does not stop the action from being an initiation of violence.

    The reason you are allowed to acquire property through homesteading or trade is that those actions are voluntary. The reason you are not allowed to steal somebody else’s property is that such theft is not voluntary. What you propose is theft.

    Once again, for emphasis, I’m not saying that’s wrong. Most libertarians are willing to accept some deviation from the “voluntary rule” if the outcome calls for it. But it is dishonest to say that an involuntary action is voluntary if Ben likes it.

    Ownership, and defence of the voluntary principle, include the right to defend ownership and defend voluntary action. This is NOT a violation of the voluntary rule. This is the rule. To use “contract language”, when somebody has ownership the implicit contract with the world is “if you initiate violence, I have the right to defend myself”. If somebody then initiates violence, they have entered that contract.

    I don’t believe that it is possible to give up self-ownership. I believe it can be violated sometimes (crime exists; as does government) and I believe you can enter into agreements that diminish your everyday use of your own decision making faculties (contracts)… but this doesn’t take away your inalienable right to yourself. I don’t believe non-self-ownership makes any sense for humans, for metaphysical reasons that aren’t relevant here.

    You are now repeating the already discredited idea that “unowned things are owned”. No. Go back and check the meaning of the word “ownership”. It doesn’t mean just declaring the world to belong to you. It means being the effective controller of an effectively scarce resource when there are alternative uses. Clearly, that is not the case with resources that are not known to exist… so unknown resources are by definition unowned (unless you want to claim “god” as the owner). It is also not the case with resources that have no effective scarcity and so there is no conflict on their use (for example, breathing air… and I would argue land in some early human settlements).

    Each person is entitled to their own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. And the fact is that “ownership” has a meaning, and when things aren’t owned then they aren’t owned. Orwellian double-talk will not change that.

    To put this back into “voluntary language”… homesteading is voluntary. To put this into “violence language”… homesteading involves no violence. If it does — show me the victim of the violence, or the person who lost ownership (meaning effective control). You can’t lose control, if you never had control.

    We’ve gone through the cheap word-tricks one at a time. First you claim voluntary is involuntary. Wrong. Next you claim non-violence is violent. Wrong. Now you claim that lack of ownership involves ownership. Wrong.

    With absolutely no exaggeration, the only way for your to maintain your position is to lie. You have to simply assert, with a straight face, that “black is white”, “war is peace”, “up is down”.

    The rule you site, that apparently defines Paynian left-libertarians, is a rule about the *outcome*. You are confusing means with ends. You are confusing deontological philosophy with consequentialist philosophy.

    You ask where you initiate violence. You do so when you want to steal something that another person acquired without the use of violence/coercion/fraud.

    Now, perhaps you should steal the land. Perhaps the world will be a better place with a Ben-inspired authority that redistributes according to whatever rule you like. I imagine your state would be a lot freer than many states in the world. But it is not a legitimate disagreement to say that violence is non-violent. That’s just a lie.

  45. I would still challenge Ben to come up with answers for Aboriginal issues he feels comfortable with personally that are consistent with “left libertarian” philosophy.

  46. Left-libertarians, however, argue that natural resources are initially owned in some egalitarian manner by all agents.

    Well you’re wrong, Ben. Copper or Iron ore in the ground for instance is useless. In fact is about as useful to you or me as the space it occupies. It’s the three foundations of economics that provide useless rock like that utility to man (The capital, the labor and the land). All three are integral to getting that stuff out of the ground, processing it as semi raw material and then shipping to users.You can claim as much ownership to that as say a piece of software that you didn’t create.

    The engine block, steel girder or toaster is as far away from that original piece of rock as anything could be and to suggest you can claim ownership right to it because you were born human and not a dog or a cat is a sick joke frankly.

    It’s some person that figures out what to do with that useless (initially) bit of rock. it’s not you or anyone else collectively.

  47. Locke’s theory of ownership that Nozick expands upon basically says that private property is derived by man mixing his labour with natural resources. Turning iron ore into a horse shoe entails my labour, therefore the horse shoe needs to be my property. If it’s not my property it’s someone else’s and my labour is being used to created property for another without compensation. This is slavery (unless it has my consent in which case it’s charity).

    Nozick, however, while believing strongly in private property recognises the grey areas around property rights. It makes sense that if I pull something out of the ground I should own the end product that I laboured on. However- what gave me the right to mix the resource with my labour in the first place?

    Jc is right that raw materials themselves are worth nothing until they are mixed with labour. And a man should be entitled to the product of his labour (even a left-libertarian agrees with that). Where the left-libertarian differs from the rest of us, however, is that they aren’t convinced that we have a right to mix our labour with raw materials (beyond our equal share- whatever that means) in the first place. Just because we go around pulling all the iron out of the ground, that doesn’t mean we should get to keep it all as everyone else around us is now deprived of the ability to mix their labour with the resources that I now own. If everything is owned (as pretty much everything is today) then I don’t have much freedom to own things unless I exchange my labour for property. I am essentially forced to work.

    Of course at the end of the day there is no land of milk and honey. Everyone is forced to work. We are all slaves to our stomach. However in a world where unowned resources remain at least I have the capacity to choose the terms of my own labour. In a world where everything has become owned and the shares are unequal others often choose the terms of my labour. I think this is the sort of thing Chomsky is talking about when he says “wage slavery”. We do not get to choose the terms of our own labour because the original allocation of resources was not equal.

    Of course egalitarian resource distribution isn’t possible to achieve. Michael has pointed out what Nozick and other philosophers have already pointed out- resource distribution can only be egalitarian at a single point in time. It is impossible to have a continuous state of equal resource distribution and given how humans have evolved the idea of a “starting point” where resources were equally distributed is similarly absurd.

    The only way to ensure that equality continues through time is to constantly re-distribute resources every second of every day. And such a constant redistribution is not only inefficient but also unjust.

    Of course a land tax is a moderate view of how to conduct constant resource readjustment along egalitarian lines. A moderate land tax allows the market to determine how much your land is worth given how much there is and how many people there are to distribute between and taking a share of the land values allows that value to be redistributed back to those that “need” it or at least those that are owed it (whether through welfare, a citizens wage or other mechanisms).

    Personally I believe that Nozick’s narrow interpretation of the Lockean Proviso works quite well in practicality, though. Nozick says that we are entitled to lay claim to any natural resources we like provided that their acquisition does not make anyone worse off from the act of me owning them. If there is an unowned well that everyone draws water from I can claim it provided that I allow all that previously required it to live to continue accessing it for the same or less labour cost as when it was held in common. Nozick points out that the private property owner is likely to increase the efficiency of the well and ensure it operates sustainably so in this case acquisition of the well is just. But if the well is required to live and someone claims it, manages it poorly and charges higher prices (in terms of labour) than originally then you are morally entitled to violently take action against the well owner to guarantee your life and your freedom.

    Of course in the real world there will seldom be a need to protect our lives against private property owners that seek to deprive us of the necessities of life. Most private properties owners are more than happy to engage in trade. Private property also prevents the tragedy of the commons and usually leads to more sustainable outcomes. The free market is similarly the best at determining “worth” of resources, labour and services. We have more labour options in a free market than we do were everything held in common and while we don’t have the capacity to set our own terms of labour without prior holdings with relatively minimal investment we can reach a stage of autonomy where the amount of holdings we possess enables us almost total freedom even allowing us to be in positions where labour is unnecessary.

    Public ownership, state ownership, are far more likely to result in poor outcomes for people where the basic necessities of life are deprived. The state makes us more of a slave than “wage slavery” does simply because of the multitude of wage options available.

    I think that the left-libertarian and traditionally libertarian views of private property are both logically sound. But the traditional libertarian view and principles upon which it rests lead us away from the state to a society of greater realised freedom. The left-libertarian in aspiring to a different type of freedom empowers the state and in the end results in far less freedom. Chomsky and other left-libertarians seem to think the cause of freedom can be advanced through the state- just not the state we have now. The only state that can advance realised freedom exists in the imagination. Any state that exists here in the real world inevitably is corrupted and results in less freedom and worse outcomes than would be possible without it.

    Thankfully Ben is an anarchist and realises that the state will never be a solution that enhances liberty. But he is welcome to continue lobbying and advocating non-state means for pursuing his views on property acquisition. I don’t think his beliefs are contrary to libertarianism although they are contrary to capitalism.

  48. As for self-ownership, John, in the real world it is fairly straight forward. But there are hypothetical situations where self-ownership is somewhat cloudier.

    Self-ownership in regards to children is a more complicated topic. Are children the property of their parents? Or do they possess self-ownership. We seem to let the self-ownership of children slide and be a matter of degree as they age and finally reach adulthood and become “full self owners”. Foetuses are treated entirely as property by any society that accepts “pro-choice” as a valid approach to abortion. The discipline of children often voids their self-ownership. It is easy to say why children need adults to part-own them. But if you accept part ownership of other human beings the grounds on which you make the libertarian argument start to become shaky.

    Also is self-ownership merely the ability to do what I want with my body? If so does that mean a property owner has the right to exclude me from their property even at the expense of my life? What happens if all property is owned? Am I forced to go into space or be shot? How can such a scenario be seen as me having “freedom”

    Self-ownership should also mean that one has the right to defend their life. That means if I am starving I have the moral right to steal if there is NO alternative. In most situations there is an alternative (usually to trade my labour for food). But if the hypothetical situation allows only for me stealing or starving I believe a libertarian theory needs to recognise that it is okay to steal.

    Self-ownership to me means that we need to have the capacity to pursue life. Self-defence isn’t just valid against aggression, but it is valid against anything that would prohibit my ability to pursue life. I think it is moral to murder if I’m on a desert island and another person is the only source of sustenance.

    Self-ownership and liberty isn’t just about non-violence, but about the freedom to pursue life, and to pursue it on ones own terms. “Wage slavery” does violate this somewhat. But it is the lesser violation all things considered.

  49. Shem, you’re right but your transcending what is commonly understood as libertarianism and moving into other areas of philosophy. As you know, I usually argue them from an objectivist perspective but I’m pretty confident you’ll come in from another angle!

  50. Shem, I’m also going to link your first post and reproduce parts of it over at Dave Bath’s site. I think he’ll find it interesting as it deals with the valid components of the collectivist perspective but explains why the market alternatives and individual property rights still deliver a superior outcome – which is a common theme at his site.

  51. Shem — I don’t think Ben’s views are contrary to libertarianism or to capitalism, and I like his position.

    But it is not logically sound because it rests on the idea that “voluntary is involuntary”, or “violence is non-violent” or “unowned things are owned”… all of which are wrong by definition.

    To fix this problem all he needs to do is say “yes, involuntary is involuntary… but in this instance it can be justified” (the geo-libertarian position), or “I’m just talking about the rules that would exist in my voluntary community” (the geo-anarchist position).

    You’re confusing freedom with good outcomes. It is possible (such as in the absurd hypothetical you mention) for freedom to lead to a bad outcome, such as starving to death. I happen to think that freedom leads to good outcomes, but I don’t think the definition of freedom is “good outcomes”.

    Self-ownership involves the “right to life”, not a “guarantee of life”. It means nobody will take your life away. It does not mean you have a right not to die.

    Once again, you are getting confused about the very simple difference between “freedom” and “opportunity”. Just because they can both be good things, that does not mean they are both the same thing.

    And it is dishonest bordering on fucking stupid to say that “self-defence includes initiating violence if it is for a good reason”. No. That is just not what self-defence means. This game of “change word meanings” is getting absurd. Let me be clear, when Orwell spoke of “war is peace” he was not advocating those word games as a template… he was parodying them. It is naughty. Stop it.

    I know I’ve explained this hundreds of times, but I’ll explain it again because it is apparently a really difficult point to understand:

    *** Just because something is good, that does not mean it is “freedom”, and just because “freedom” can lead to bad outcomes, that does not mean it stops being “freedom” ***

    Perhaps you want to over-ride freedom (voluntary behaviour) for a good reason. Fine. Be honest and say that. But stop saying “if I over-ride freedom for a good reason, then I didn’t really over-ride freedom”. It’s just dishonest.

  52. Hi Shem,
    I think the answer to Nozick’s dilema may simply be what the Lockean inspired US founding fathers were expressing when they said the right to life was “self evident” and “inalienable”.
    What gives humans the right to use natural resources? I think the answer is simply that humans must use natural resources (like any animal) to survive and that every organism will (and should) naturally pursue it’s own survival.
    Nozick seems to be alleging that ownership should lead to a greater good by your description – however this is contrary to the reality of ownership. Ownership is a selfish endeavour and I think Novick may be unnecessarily confusing the issue.

    Personally, I think it’s more useful to think of labour as originating from a person’s mind. So you have a mental and a material aspect to production – not just a material and a labour component. And you can never separate the mental and the physical aspects of human life (despite philosophers attempting to focus on one at the expense of the other).
    I don’t think ownership necessarily requires production (or labour). ie: I think it’s OK for the law to protect land going to waste. Having said that, I do think that production should imply ownership. (eg/ I think legal property protections for mines and oil rigs could be increased).

    Shem I think all humans have a right to their life including children. However children have a limited set of legal protections until they have developed their cognitive faculties to their full human capacity. eg/ A 3 year old child cannot control his impulses and emotions and does not have a fully developed human brain (frontal cortex or whatever).
    Therefore the basic right to life is not a matter of degree (it is never OK to murder or molest your own child for example) But there is a matter of degree for the legal protections – depending on the nature of human development.

    In the case of the starving person, he could first ask for bread. If no one was around, then he might have to steal and this wouldn’t be immoral. But he’d probably try to make it up to the person he stole off at a later date. But these types of examples need more context. There’s no reason for being unproductive in a capitalist society because humans can always find problems that need fixing – that’s what they do naturally (unless a political system stops them).

    In the case of the well, the person that find’s the well could claim ownership but that doesn’t entail any legal responsibilities. If then (for some unknown reason) people wanted to suddenly use this previously abandoned but now owned well and if this well was (for some unknown reason) not maintained by the new owner, then in this highly unlikely scenario, what would stop the people who did not own the well simply digging a well next door to the unused but owned well?

    Some hypothetical’s are not realistic and simply not worth thinking about. eg/ Some people worry about one person (or corporation controlled by one person) monopolizing all of the world’s resources. This would be simply impossible given the number of resources and number of people and the span of one person’s lifetime, and what would be the point anyway? Or how some lefties worry about natural resources being used up. This is virtually impossible considering the tiny amount of land actually used for mining and the fact that mines only scrape the outer edge of the earth’s crust.

  53. Wikipedia typically only has a very brief entry on Nozick.
    But Wiki did have an interesting Nozick quote:
    “The comparable question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would.”

    I agreed with most of Novicks conclusion on politics (in the very brief description anyway). But this I do not agree with as an approach to politics. The law must have a “one size fits all” approach to protecting the right to life IMO and you can’t simply abdicate your right to your life.
    Can you imagine trying to prosecute for murder with the “but he wanted me to murder him” defense.

    ie: I think it was correct for the German government to prosecute and imprison that cannibal guy who advertised on the internet for someone to eat and succeeded in finding a voluntary participant.

    Anyway, I bring it up because it’s quite an interesting question.

  54. Personally I think consensual murder is not murder. I agree with Nozick that someone should be able to sell themselves into slavery. Morally anyway. Morally I also believe that brain-dead humans are not deserving of the rights we afford sentient humans.

    But practically it is hard to allow such grey thinking to intrude into law. Black-white thinking is possibly a better way to approach the law. Human is human. Killing cannot be consensual. Slavery cannot be voluntary. From a legal perspective this makes sense. I don’t think society is disadvantaged by having strict rulings in these cases, even though they seem to violate “freedom”.

    Nozick works within the framework set forth by Rawls. Rawls says “If the goal of epistemology is truth, then the goal of political philosophy is justice”. Freedom under Rawls’ schema is not an end of itself, but according to Nozick is the most effective means of reaching the end which is “justice”.

    John’s view of freedom is valid, but I think that freedom is more than just non-violence. I think freedom entails autonomy. I think that self-ownership entails certain capacities. I think that freedom and self-ownership means that you have the ability to morally ensure your own survival. What purpose is there to self-defence if not survival? So theft for the purpose of assuring survival fits within the definition of “self-defence”. I don’t believe that is redefining words. Freedom has a plethora of interpretations; it’s not like “tree”. To keep throwing the Orwell references doesn’t make me believe you any more, John.

    Tim, as for the starving person as a hypothetical it is a closed world scenario. Imagine there is me and one other person on a remote island devoid of almost all resources. The island has a single coconut tree. The other person harvested a number of coconuts from the tree and has therefore claimed ownership over it. But refuses to share them with me. I offer my labour and the very clothes off my back by way of exchange. I make appeals to the compassion of the person. But nothing works. For totally irrational and selfish reasons the person withholds the coconuts from me. I’ll starve to death within a week.

    Personally I think a libertarian position morally allows for the theft of a coconut. What is freedom if it is not the capacity to pursue life?

    Freedom as non-violence is a pretty narrow view. Other philosophical views of freedom include “non-domination” which is much broader in scope and would include freedom from manipulation and brain-washing. I’m not trying to say that slavery is freedom. I’m just highlighting that freedom can be a hard notion to pin down.

  55. Shem… there are concepts that are more than non-violence… but surely the idea of voluntary human action deserves it’s own word. As an amazing coincidence, people have used the same word for this idea for about 300 years. The word is “freedom”.

    To deny a word for this concept is wrong. The only purpose of denying a word for the concept of voluntary human interaction is to try and bias the conversation away from that concept.

    There are plenty of words for you to choose from that mean any other concept. Why do you need to distort and abuse the word “freedom” too?

    All you have done is play empty word tricks… and all you have achieved is the impossibility of rational discussion. Why?

    But if you insist on destroying every word that liberals have ever used… please tell me what word I’m allowed to use for this most important of principles, and then just replace that word into all previous discussions.

    The purpose of self-defence is not survival. The purpose of self-defence is to defend yourself. Seriously Shem, is it really that hard to understand? Survival is good. But that concept already has a word.

    My reference to Orwell is not a metaphor. You are literally doing exactly what Orwell referred to. You are literally re-badging words to mean the opposite of what they mean. Stop it. Every concept you want to discuss already has a word available to describe it, so you don’t need to play these cheap word games.

    As I’ve repeated several times (and I really don’t know how to dumb it down any more) I am not saying that “theft of a coconut” is wrong. Perhaps it is right. But it is theft. It is not voluntary. The concept of voluntary human interaction deserves a word… fair humans allow me to use the word “freedom”, but you can use whatever magic shem-word makes you happy… and theft violates that word.

    Initiating violence to stop “manipulation” (otherwise known as free speech) is also a violation of “freedom” (or whichever magic shem-word you want to use).

    But FFS Shem.. are you really going to make me type “magic shem-word” every time I’m using the very simple and very basic, long-standing concept of “freedom” (meaning, as I’ve been very clear about from the beginning, voluntary human interaction)?

  56. This is the simple point you refuse to face Shem… there is a deontological concept called “freedom” and there are many consequentialist concepts. You have decided to put “freedom” on a consequentialist concept and have consequently denied me the ability to easily describe a long standing deontological concept otherwise known as “freedom”. All you are doing is hiding discussion behind word tricks.

    If you don’t understand what I just wrote, ask me to explain it (again). But please please please don’t just ignore the importance of having a word to describe the hugely important deontological concept.

    [I will moderate any further word-games. Discussion is not possible with people who refuse to accept any constant and internally consistent definition of any term]

  57. Considering that we are discussing the ‘classification’ of a libertarian based upon a set of values, perhaps someone could clarify what those values are? I can see a distinct difference between libertarianism which is derived from a belief in absolute, or quasi-absolute liberty as a primary objective, or libertarianism which is a distinct interpretation of how that should be achieved? Under the former, anarchism and other anti-state ‘leftist’ movements would certainly fit. The latter leads to a new debate.

    I’m not convinced that the framework of “left” and “right” is useful in understanding the notions of libertarianism. There needs to be a distinction between political, cultural and economic interpretations. On a political and cultural level the ‘far left’ and the ‘far right’ tend to have more in common, and this is constantly shown in an ability to negotiate agreements on non-economic policies particularly around censorship, civil rights and the state. Working in non-partisan political organisations, this has also manifested itself in clear divides between libertarians/anarchists and the more ‘centre’ political viewpoints. I believe this was the first point stated.

    However, economic intepretation (where ‘left’ and ‘right’ come more clearly into play) is complicated. I’m not entirely informed about the micro-politics of the ‘right’ when it comes to the nuances of economic idealism. I can say however, this is where the ‘left’ becomes complex and splintered. If I had time to consider it more deeply, I’d be almost prepared to hypothesise that it’s in the interpretations that the differences between ‘left’ and ‘right’ libertarians become stronger, not necessarily in ideals.

    Like Ben commented earlier, there are strands of anti-state economic interpretations which exist within the ‘left’. However, as he also, commented they tend to be anti-corporate, and more local/communitarian. Within a left-wing framework’, I would consider the corporation to be a hinderance to true liberty because it is classified as an individual when it is in fact a conglomerate, creating deep economic and cultural power imbalances which of course comes from the state granting it rights. Ironically on a pragmatic level, the ‘centre-left’ then calls on the state to mediate this power imbalance and a cycle begins starting with government broadcasting and welfare states and ending in subsidization of private schools and hauling banks out of financial distress.

    Regardless of arguments surrounding the strength of arguments around anti-corporatism, I would argue that there are still undertones of libertarianism.

    If such a thing as ‘left-libertarianism’ exists then its main concern is with creating philosophies where economic liberty and equality can coexist. I’m not sure that this excludes it from the pantheon of libertarian ‘isms’.

  58. John- self-defence is not voluntary. Retributive justice is not voluntary. Compensatory justice is not voluntary.

    By your definition freedom does not include self-defence unless you change the meaning of voluntary.

    You might say self-defence is right, or good. But you cannot say that is it voluntary or free based on your definition.

    If you want to use the word “freedom” in such a restricted sense that’s fine. Maybe you’ll agree that self-defence is good, but it is not free. That is fine. If you want to define freedom as “voluntary” and define it as not including self-defense that’s a starting point I can agree to working from.

  59. Shem — I’ve already explained several times, and using small words, that self-defence is part of voluntary human interaction. Not an exception. Not a violation of the rule. It is the same concept. Go re-read this thread. Slowly. And then think about it. Carefully.

    I want to use the word “freedom” in the way I defined the term at the beginning of this discussion. I also defined terms to mean everything you wanted to say. But 67 comments later you’re still playing word-games. The only reason to play word-games is to avoid honest discussion.

    Honestly… if you can’t understand something the most sensible thing to do is say “I don’t understand… can you explain XYZ”. But constantly repeating the same already discredited anti-facts is more than a little frustrating.

  60. Usually, people of the left have tried to use government power to off-set business power, so they have usually favoured centralism of powers. Libertarians usually want less government intrusion, so the words left-libertarian joined together seem an uneasy partnership. However, in practice, this works out as communes, small-scale societies re-enacting tribalism- a reversion to philosophical roots, i suppose.

  61. Freedom exists outside of non-violence.

    We can talk about “free” or “liberal” religious that have less stringent codes of conduct.

    A teacher in a school environment can set a “free choice assignment” where students are free to pursue their own interests outside of the usual restrictions.

    We can talk about a freer contract than another contract. A freer job than another job.

    In all of these cases the “less free” alternative is still non-violent. But it is still more restrictive. Acquiescence to non-violent restrictions does not make a person free.

    Freedom in it’s ultimate form would require being omniscient and omnipotent. Freedom only exists where there are choices. Voluntary has the same stem as volition, volition is about making choices. Agency requires that an individual be the agent rather than object of a transitive action.

    Freedom is much broader than non-violence. I think that liberty is a more specific form of freedom that is best defined as “the freedom to live”. Violence contradicts liberty, but self-defence and securing life for oneself are crucial components of freedom to live. Liberty may include non-voluntary actions but only in the pursuit of life.

    You can’t set out a single definition for a word as nebulous as freedom. There is no word for non-violent, voluntary human interaction (although “liberty” gets close). Liberty, however, if allowing for self-defence has the potential to allow for a limited few other infringements of the non-violence principle.

    You talk about your idea of freedom as a distinct deontological concept. But I don’t see your view of freedom as being internally consistent. Why is it okay for me to act violently towards someone to prevent them from acting violently towards me? A violation of non-violence is a violation. Self-interest may make sense as an explanation of why we allow for self-defence, but it doesn’t act as a justification.

    You didn’t mention compensatory justice and retributive justice. But they are even less consistent with your concept of freedom. Do you believe that it is okay to claim compensation or enact retribution? If so how do you reconcile that with your non-violence principle? Self-defence at least has the potential of preventing violence or reducing the total sum of violence. But retribution and compensation can only increase it.

    Is violence okay to prevent a greater amount of violence? Are we allowed to act violently to prevent violence against others or only ourselves? Once you allow for self-defence you are no longer talking about a deontological concept and consequentialism starts to play a part in making judgements of act acceptability.

    How do you justify self-defence on purely deontonological grounds?

  62. I forgot to mention, John. But I’ve assumed that your belief in self-defence includes violent or coercive self-defence.

    If you believe only in non-violent defence then your argument is sound deontologically. But once you allow for violent self-defence you are required to make appeals to consequentialism.

  63. Shem, you’re hypothetical with the coconuts.
    Both people are going to die in that situation. If things are so bad that there is only one possible source of food (quite unlikely considering there are probably animals, fish, birds around, insects, leaves to collect rain water etc) then you’re stuffed no matter what.

    So why is this a useful hypothetical for discussing ethics and/or politics? Morality is a guide for living.

    I realise I jumped in halfway on your discussion with your disucssion with John. But I thought you were overcomplicating the rights issue because of Nozick.
    My position (Objectivism) is that I think human life is the standard for ethical theory and ultimately political theory.
    Novick’s question about why do humans have the right to use natural resources must imply that he does not consider human life as the standard of ethics. Why do I think human life is the standard? Simply because ethics means a set of principles to follow for whom? For humans. What is the subject of ethics? Humanity. Therefore one should start by examining human nature, the requirements for human life because the goal is human life.
    Most Kantian inspired philosophers divorce ethics from reality via their confusing epistemology which alleges that our processes of conception are inherently flawed or unobjective. Ethics ends up being ironically similar to the religious situation where you have duties. Obeying duties out of the context of your life may lead you to do stupid things eg/ to think honesty is still a virtue even when a child molester is asking you where your kid is hiding for example.

    However, I’ll look into Rawls and Nozick more. I have read about Rawls very briefly in the past but can’t remember anything.

    Back to your hypothetical, I’m not really sure what is moral here, but I’m not even sure if a moral judgement is possible in this invented scenario. There are many modern philosophers that use hypotheticals for testing ethical theories but I do not see any value in this. They justify hypotheticals saying they are Galileo-type thought experiments. But hypotheticals have a problem, because the rules of the hypothetical are invented in one’s mind. The hypotethical is unnatural by definition and will most likely not obey the rules of reality upon which morality is dependant. In addition, they remove all context from the situation. eg/ How did the two guys end up on the desert island? why didn’t they prepare better? etc etc. There’re hundreds of possible moral judgements prior to them even reaching the point of fighting over a coconut. Most likely they are probably irresponsible morons who deserve their fate.

    Lastly, I agree freedom is a hard term to “pin down”.
    I doubt most people would be able to define the word “freedom” if put on the spot.

    The optimal conditions for achieving freedom are by no means universally agreed upon. One example is the huge scope of different philosophical beliefs amongst libertarians.

  64. TimR — I gave a simple, constant and internally consistent definition of “freedom” for this discussion. Using that definition, there is absolutely no ambiguity about the necessary conditions.

    If words are meaningless, then discussion is meaningless.

  65. Assume neither person needs to die. The coconut tree produces coconuts infinitely and the coconuts contain all the nutrients essential for human survival.

    A hypothetical doesn’t need to reflect reality, but it does help us determine whether our intuitions are based on sound principles. Philosophical principles, in my opinion, need to be universal. Morals, knowledge, etc all lose their value if they are only context specific. Everything becomes relative. Which makes it possible to justify any behaviour or to claim anything as truth.

    I’m not an objectivist and I don’t believe that anything has innate value. But I do believe that things can have values that are universal, or at least universal to humans. Stretching the bow a little further I’d even say universal to life.

    Rawls was not libertarian, but he is highly respected in political philosophy because of how he framed the discussion of politics. He tries to capture universal judgements and sets these up as a neutral framework to which we can apply context specific information.

    Nozick is a libertarian- his works cited in Anarchy, State and Utopia include Friedman, Hayek, Rothbard and Rand in addition to other well know political philosophers like Locke, Kant, Rawls and Peter Singer. He advocates for a night watchmen state as being the maximally permissible state and argues against anarchy, explaining why private protection agencies will end up as having a local monopoly over force in a given area that will inevitably result in them acting as minimal states anyway.

    As for ethics, I think that a consequentialist approach works best in most cases as it factors in context. But not acting should not be seen as unethical or immoral. I’m fairly utilitarian, but I think that utilitarianism needs to factor in degrees of responsibility and limited knowledge. I think that we should try and perform actions that will, as far as we know, give the best outcomes to the most people. But giving a “less positive outcome” is not immoral, only giving a negative outcome.

  66. John I haven’t had time to read your comments, I was specifically interested in Shem’s derivation of the right to life, that’s all. The post was about left – libertarians and I didn’t think I should be discussing that. I just thought Shem’s specific pondering on Nozick’s question (something like “why do humans have a right to natural resources?”) had a simple answer.

    Of course I don’t think words are meaningless, there’s no need to write that.

    Shem! Are you messing with me! I’m not assuming impossible coconut trees in a hypothetical. The standard of what can be invented in your head, or another example would be the standard of omnipotence, are not useful because they are impossible and are not reality.

    “Philosophical principles need to be universal”
    Absolutely agree. That means they need to come from within the realm of existence and the universe.

    I agree with your statement, “things can have universal value to humans”. eg/ food, O2, shelter.
    The primary universal value is a human’s own life.

    Objectivists do not believe in innate value. It reads as if you were saying this.
    Divorcing ethics from the valuer is exactly the problem Objectivists have with both religious ethics or more modernly Kantian ethics, although these types of discussions go right back to Plato’s world of the forms and Aristotle.
    Very basically, ethics is plagued by the dichotomy between religion and subjectivism. IMO it’s a false dichotomy that philosophers generally accept to some degree – even though they are simultaneously trying to formulate partial solutions or understandings.
    Just because omnipotence and God are impossible and non-existent doesn’t mean we cannot objectively identify principles of ethics.
    Exactly what you are saying I think.

  67. Tim- I guess it’s what you see the role of ethics as. I see the universals applicable to humans as subjective. They are likely conditioned by evolution and applicable to all rational humans. But I refuse to call them objective as to me objective implies that there is some higher standard against which things must be measured.

    I think objective ethics would need to apply to alien races we’ve never met. And to robots that achieve sentience. I’m not sure that the universals I’m talking of would be seen as applicable to other species or to sentient robots.

    You described the role of ethics as being a human question made by humans for humans. My understanding of ethics is that is a concept that sits above that. Ethics can be applicable to anything that has sentience.

    I never knew much about the objectivist philosophy so apologies if I mischaracterised it. I still find that from what I know of Rand’s views she was quite prescriptive and doesn’t allow for people that have a high time-preference.

    I don’t think that reality can be proven to exist so I’d disagree with Objectivism on that point. On practical philosophy I’d agree with most Objectivist judgements, but in terms of epistemology, I’m inclined to disagree. I think that reality is irrelevant to our consciousness even if the world is illusory.

    And while the specifics of the coconut tree hypothetical are impossible, the scenario can be constructed in a way through continual refinement so that it is not. Say the desert island has a number of trees which can have their fruits harvested in a sustainable fashion and the other person has claimed them all as private property and refuses to gift or trade them to me.

    Impossible hypotheticals are crude ways of stripping away the periphery of a philosophical problem so that a judgement can be made. They can simplify the context so that only the relevant factors are included even though those same factors can be expressed in the real world, but in another way.

    Basically my hypothetical is meant to show that in a world of finite resources if I am not granted access to enough resources to guarantee my survival it may be morally permissible for me to act violently to secure enough resources to survive. Which could imply that it is legitimate for government to tax its people in order to guarantee the survival of people that would otherwise perish provided there is no non-violent solution.

    In other words a minimal welfare state may be justified even on libertarian grounds. Though given the fact that the state usually contributes to starvation rather than aiding it I wouldn’t take my solution as being entirely hole proof. A left-libertarian may be more optimistic that the state can stop the starvation of people that would starve without state intervention and use similar logic to mine to justify said minimal welfare.

  68. Shem’s lifeboat example is similar to other examples given to argue against an absolutist moral rule against involuntary action. I think Shem is right, and I think it’s a fairly easy case to make. David Friedman does a similar thing with some other dramatic examples. And there is the common “person dying of thirst in the desert while another person refuses to give them water” example.

    I can think of instances where I would break the rules of voluntary behaviour.

    This concept also applies to political philosophy, addressing the question of whether we should accept some institutionalised sacrifice of freedom for a better outcome.

    This is a fair question, and then the debate just comes down to the issue of whether an authority figure is actually able to produce better outcomes that a purely voluntary approach.

  69. OK Shem, well your metaphysics sound subjectivist.

    I don’t understand “subjective universals”.
    I say all principles need context but this doesn’t make them subjective.

    In addition, I also don’t think that “reality can be proven to exist” in the sense of a normal proof.
    Objectivism states “existence exists” as an axiom. You can’t step outside of existence to proove it. You just have to take it as self evident. All proof assumes that existents actually exist, are real and behave according to their identity.

    John, yeah, there are exceptions, but they are probably not even genuine moral choices. Because the scenario removes the possibility for genuine choice by setting up pre determined outcomes eg/ 1 person must die.

    However, it’s not as simple as attempting to determine what “produces better outcomes”.
    eg/ An Islamic extremist thinks destroying the twin towers was a good outcome both morally and practically.

  70. You don’t need to be Objectivist, just objective – re: the veil of ignorance – in infinite lifetimes, how many of us would see the 9/11 attacks as beneficial?

    Here we are simply applying utilitarianism to subjective values to come to the same conclusion as Objectivists – that the 9/11 attacks were obviously and patently bad.

  71. Tim, here’s one subjective universal- haven’t we all said, at one time or another, “Nobody understands me!”? I’m sure there are others.

  72. Mark, I don’t understand how you are actually supposed to do Rawl’s thought experiment to lift the “veil”. The requirements seem impossible and imply that these requirements are necessary (this itself is highly arguable).

    I don’t know what the “infinite lifetimes” thing is?
    But again this sounds like an impossible standard.

    How can you be objective without a standard for what is good or for what works and what doesn’t?
    My example was meant to show that to a highly religious person (as one example), the most important thing is getting into heaven. Therefore if I showed that person how capitalism gave people greater prosperity, they wouldn’t be impressed because to them, human prosperity is not the standard for anything. Their standard of what is good and/or practical is what gets them into heaven. This world is short and fleeting and insignificant to them.

    While my example is deliberately taken to a logical extreme, the fact is that there are currently probably millions of people around the world that think the 911 attacks were both practical and moral.
    These attacks were not “obviously patently bad” to these people.

    I never said anyone has to be an Objectivist, but you still need to be objective (if you are claiming it’s possible to determine what’s best ethically and/or practically).

    Nuke, “nobody understands me” is a popular saying or cliche, it’s not a universal principle of any ethical code (the context of Shem’s comment).

  73. A gentle reminder for those who think that the left and/or socialists are attempting to colonise/steal the word ‘libertarian’.

    a) The first person to identify as a libertarian in the political sense was Joseph Déjacque, an anarcho-communist and signatory to the First International.

    b) The first periodical to identify with libertarian politics was “Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement social” which was a hot-bed of anarchist, socialist and communist thought.

    c) To this day in the United States, the first political organisation to use the named is the Libertarian Book Club, which distributes anarcho-syndalist and council communist texts.

    And, of course, yes to what everyone has already said about Geolibetarians and Mutualism.

  74. Quite true… socialists were the first people to use the word “libertarian”.

    I imagine some really did believe in voluntary human interaction. But unfortunately some believed in voluntary human interaction except when it annoyed them, and then they believed in campaigns of violence & coercion to enforce their preferred and approved form of human behaviour.

    These people have absolutely no belief in liberty, and so should just stick with the word “socialist” or “totalitarian” or “fascist” or whichever version of statism they prefer.

    The same applies for the word “anarchist”. Simply saying it doesn’t make it true. Some “left-anarchists” are simply not anarchists. They hope for no government, but if people behave “wrong” then they want a system that uses violence to stop the “wrong” voluntary behaviour”.

  75. John,

    If I were you I would do some careful reading on what constitutes the state, how that is different from governance, and especially how ownership of natural resources itself is a form, and indeed a foundation of the State and of state-enforced violence.

    You can start with Dan Sullivan’s essay Are You A Real Libertarian or A Royal Libertarian?.

    After this I would submit to you that there is a continuing tradition of libertarian socialism, in the form of council communism and mutualism which you seem unaware of. These do not require the intervention of the state, and nor do they engage in any campaigns of “violence & coercion to enforce their preferred and approved form of human behaviour”. It is simply the economic management of firms by the voluntary association of individuals. You may know these as co-operatives, mutual societies and so forth.



  76. Lev,

    Some land may be given out like this, and the statists may have a preference for it – but some land is created, homesteaded and some property rights are recognised by social convention as an economically productive institution/legal rights.

    John Umbeck showed how property rights evolved voluntarily in the Californian goldfields without any central authority, simply because they were utilitarian.

    Look up google scholar on this or J STOR for more.

    I don’t think it is right to conclude that someone is a “royal” as opposed to a “real” libertarian because they do not make presumptive mistakes about how property rights emerge and so don’t support the idea of windfall tax. (However, such a tax ranks amongst the least damaging of taxes).

  77. Hey, Lev, the old chestnut: where do property rights correctly end? If I build a house is the land it’s on mine? If I collect a natural resource for my food is it mine? Does it become mine once I’ve got it into my mouth? What about my personal effects like my clothes? What about the natural resource that is my own body?

  78. Hello Mark and Michael,

    For whatever reason I have not been receiving notifications to this thread, so my apologies that my responses are late.

    The quote by Mark (and in answer to Michael) “some land is created” puzzles me. Not even the Dutch “create” economic land, they have merely added an improvement. As Alfred Deakin correctly stated:

    “The whole of the people have the right to the ownership of land and the right to share in the value of land itself, though not to share in the fruits of land which properly belong to the individuals by whose labour they are produced.”

    The contribution of labour to the value of a good or service is the legitimate ownership of the provider. However as economic land is a priori to any contribution of labour, none can justify said ownership (regardless of how common this is). Indeed, it is theft of the worst sort and any who claim to be libertarian and yet support private and monopoly ownership of natural resources are simply a cryto-statist on crack.

  79. G’day Lev,

    Your mistake lies in your definition of “ownership”. The first thing you need to realise is that all effectively scarce things are owned. The only choice you have is how ownership is transferred. And broadly speaking, the only options there are (1) voluntarily; and (2) involuntarily. As the names suggest, these options are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. You have to make a choice.

    I’m not ruling out “libertarian socialists” but they often have such a confused understanding of key terms so they get caught in logical circles. The council or mutualist approach to society is similar to my preference (and mutualism is a central part of my current research project)… but the key issue is whether human interaction will be voluntary or not.

    I know that some “libertarian socialists” simply want councils and mutualism and are happy for human interaction to be voluntary and for people to choose between a range of competing peaceful societies… in which case they are simply “anarchists” with a different name, and they are on “my side”.

    I am all for “voluntary communism”, and I’d probably live in a hippie commune for a while myself after the revolution. 🙂

    But some “libertarian socialists” have less tolerance for diversity and difference, and ultimately want an authority figure to force people to live the “correct” way. In this case, they are simply “socialists” (with no libertarian) and they are not on “my side”.

  80. Lev, you may be a Deakinite, but I prefer a Lockeocracy, where property-owners have their rights protected, and public matters are decided democratically, but limited to public lands (like roads, etc.).

  81. My goodness a lot of people who apparently haven’t read the link I posted previously. It is a almost a little silly having to answer these questions, when the answers have already been provided.

    To Mark Hill, yes you can and actually, yes you did. Unless you deny your own capability of action.

    To John and Nuke, there is no confusion over ownership, merely a debate over legitimacy. Acquisition of natural resources is never voluntary; it always requires state enforced violence to be established and maintained.

    As the previously provided reference described:

    “AFTER conquest and confiscation have been effected, and the State set up, its first concern is with the land…. In its capacity as ultimate landlord, the State distributes the land among its beneficiaries on its own terms.”

    Surely, as well-versed libertarians the people here are familiar with Albert Nock? Surely one of Australia’s earliest and most well known libertarians, Max Hirsch?

  82. You seem to think the state is everywhere! People can, and do, trade without the state, or any government interference. I buy goods without a policeman watching over me every second of the day.
    It is true that people have often relied on governments in the past, but that doesn’t mean they need to- they simply decided to do so. And it is possible to imagine a society where there is no state mechanism to rely on, unless you count an existing owner as a state, and any trade thus automatically being between states.

  83. I am a libertarian socialist, and I am sympathetic to anarcho-capitalism, I think that in a free market, co-operative firms will naturally whither away capitalist firms, without all its privileges, as workers will have higher bargaining power.

  84. Mondragon Cooperative Cooperation, is the most successful cooperative business, and it achieve success without the help of government privileges.

  85. Proudhon, one of the first to claim himself an anarchist, was the proponent and defender of a truly free market, he (debatable) defended private property, but he was against “capitalism”, understood that time as the symbiosis of businesses and the State, in the expense of the majority, the working people. Left liberatarians sees that the current system of actually-existing-capitalism, is oppressive and a threat to freedom. Karl Hess (ghost speechwriter of Barry Goldwater) was a famous famous Rothbardian who agrees on this.

    Left-libertarians tend to see the Corporations as parasatic creatures of the state, damaging both freedom and equality of the general population. Check this out from LewRockwell,
    “Freedom is also inconsistent with a State’s imposing limited liability by statute on every corporation and disallowing it for other business forms. If unincorporated businesses such as partnerships and proprietorships must have unlimited liability and simultaneously must face different tax and other rules than corporations, then their freedom is diminished. This is because they have to choose a package of business features (liability, tax and regulatory).”

  86. “Mondragon Cooperative Cooperation, is the most successful cooperative business, and it achieve [sic] success without the help of government privileges”.

    Actually, that isn’t so, because of a subtle indirect effect. That part of Spain has historically had an economic boost from smuggling, which spilled over onto Mondragon. But the smuggling only enjoyed a premium because of government tariffs.

  87. Be that as it may, it still is a great proof that cooperatives can compete with capitalist firm even in a system which definitely facilitate a hell lot of State privilege to capitalist firms. In fact local cooperatives dominates the market in Emilia-Romagna (Italia-Bologna) and even are starting to replace Government’s provided social services, they have 10 times more enterprises than in New York city! Our actual-existing-capitalism is a result of massive State intervention and without the huge role of the State to maintain its dominance, it wouldn’t survive as it is now in a truly free market. In fact, Sheldon Richman, who also writes for Ron Paul’s campaign for liberty, created a group on facebook called “libertarians against capitalism”. When I use the word “Capitalism”, i always meant State Capitalism. I am sympathetic to the word “Capitalism” used by Rothbardians though. Ron Paul himself supported employee ownership act.

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