No, he didn’t say exactly that. Except that he did.
This is a very sad post for me to write. If Wenzel is right, then libertarian theory is a dead theory to me. If he is wrong, he is clearly demonstrating how little he understands about both expanding the non-aggression principle beyond its simple form as well as the application of the non-aggression principle to various real-life situations.
I will enjoy neither option. I lose something either way.
It is difficult to read his post. He doesn’t understand culture. He doesn’t understand governance. He doesn’t understand the beneficial (and I say necessary) qualities in both toward developing and maintaining a libertarian society. It is full of strawman arguments. He accuses me of advocating government force when I have not. It is written as if he has not gone past the first grade in libertarian studies.
Or maybe I have not gone past the first grade. But if Wenzel is right about this, I will certainly not bother to enroll in the second grade. If libertarian theory justifies death for any violation of the NAP, I will drop out. Read the last sentence again; Marx and Engels did not spawn as evil a child.
First a few thoughts.
Libertarian theory is a fairly young philosophy. One could easily say that it was nothing more than randomly-found ideas scattered in various philosophies before Rothbard began his prolific work. This would place it at 50 years of age, more or less. One could go back to some of the eighteenth and nineteenth century liberal and anarchic writers. I don’t think you can go back much further – at least not for any identifiable, unifying theory.
I point this out because – being such a young theory – there are many things that libertarian thinkers have not yet worked out. There are many questions on which many of us disagree, or that many of us believe libertarian theory cannot answer. Someday there will be consensus on more issues; there will always be disagreements on some issues. Christianity is two-thousand years old, and there are varying interpretations on many topics even here.
One such issue within libertarian theory is the issue of punishment / retaliation / penalty / whatever. What punishment is consistent with libertarian theory? Are there objective answers, or only subjective? What I have read on this topic from libertarian writers offers guidelines, but no definitive, objective standards. That doesn’t mean there will never be definitive, objective standards (although I strongly doubt that there will, because I doubt there can be). There certainly aren’t today.
There is another question: What punishment is inconsistent with the non-aggression principle? Again no way to draw a definitive line; however I know one punishment that is not. Wenzel believes it is consistent with the non-aggression principle for a farmer to shoot and kill a child for stealing an apple. I am certain this is inconsistent with the non-aggression principle.
Wenzel offers to me a definition of the non-aggression principle:
Here is the NAP as defined by Walter Block:
"The non-aggression [principle] ...is the lynchpin of the philosophy of libertarianism. It states, simply, that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another."
I am glad he chose Walter Block; I will be calling on him shortly.
Now, this definition says nothing about the penalty for a violation of the non-aggression principle. The statement merely offers a roadmap – guidance – toward what one might properly conclude on this matter. One must start to build upon this definition in order to come to some conclusions.
There are many words even in this short statement that require definition and interpretation – necessary in order for the statement to serve as the bedrock of a political theory. I will offer one: initiate. What does it mean to “initiate” violence?
I do not intend to go into a full discourse here. I only offer my conclusion: There is a point when penalty crosses the line into initiate. Wenzel disagrees.
Wenzel identifies that a child stealing an apple from a farmer has initiated violence and for this he basks in his libertarian purity; I suggest that the farmer shooting the child as penalty for this violation also is initiating violence and he calls me a statist.
I recall he posted something on this topic several months ago. Maybe it was longer; it isn’t terribly important. His claim is that the property owner can name the penalty for a violation on his person or property, and that this is the only possible answer if one is to remain consistent with libertarian theory and anarcho-capitalism. He bases this on the idea of subjective value – who besides the victim can say what rectifying the violation is worth to him?
Now, the first part of this statement is factually correct: the property owner can name and even execute the penalty for a violation – if it is within his power to impose the penalty, he can do what he likes. Gangsters on the street do this every day. This does not mean that the penalty conforms to the non-aggression principle or conclusions reached therefrom; this does not mean that subjective value ( a concept not deducible from the non-aggression principle, to my understanding) is the only means by which one can determine the penalty consistent with being an anarcho-capitalist.
I think I was the one who introduced the thought experiment at the time – but it may have been someone else; again not very important. Is a farmer justified, under the non-aggression principle, to shoot and kill a child who stole an apple from his tree? Certainly he has the ability to shoot and kill a child for stealing an apple. I do not deny this. The question: is he justified under the NAP to do so?
To make a long story short Wenzel says yes, I say no. For this, Wenzel is the puritan and I am a statist of some sort.
It gets better (or worse). Following Wenzel’s logic through, the victim is free to independently a) decide what is and isn’t property, b) decide what property is his property, c) decide what is aggression, and d) decide who it was that did the aggressing. All on his own – no one else can have a say in this, else you are now a statist. Only after each of these steps is it possible to decide the punishment – also, all on his own. Wenzel could very well argue this point – saying that he doesn’t hold these positions – but he would be inconsistent.
On to some comments in his post. I will not go line by line; there are too many strawman arguments, misperceptions and misunderstandings to do this. But there are a couple of things worth touching on.
I often write in a method that I have come to learn would be described as Socratic. I will put concepts or questions in my writing for a couple of reasons: first to engender critical thinking in the audience and second to separate the wheat from the chaff in the audience – am I dealing with someone who can think along. The subjects of “culture” and “governance” and the value of each in a libertarian society I find to be good tests.
I use the term “governance” and distinguish it from “government.” This, apparently, is too much for Robert to grasp:
Bionoic [SIC] goes on to reveal that he buys into the myth that "governance" is needed in a society…
“Reveal,” as if this is some dark corner that I would wish remained hidden. “Myth” as if it isn’t true.
I will offer the most simple and basic example – being too much for Robert to grasp on his own. I will suggest that it is a form of governance – voluntarily and happily complied with every single day in the lives of everyone with the means and wherewithal to be reading this post. It is done so today; we need not wait for libertopia to see this example in work.
The price system offers governance. Profit and loss offers governance. Any business entity that is something more than a sole-proprietorship requires governance; even a sole-proprietorship requires governance amongst and between the company, its customers and its suppliers.
Think about the “governance” required to fill your grocer’s shelves every day. (For some, this will obviously take longer than others; if the first thought that comes to your head is “bionic is advocating for the FDA,” you are disqualified from further participation) No men with badges and guns required. No taxation. No coercion.
“The market” is a very simple example, yet “governs” a large portion of human relationships in the division-of-labor world. To Robert, despite also writing at “Economic Policy Journal,” the governance provided by the market is either a myth or it is made possible only by government force.
I could also suggest the church, social clubs, community organizations – all offer governance, voluntarily organized, voluntarily financed, voluntarily joined. But to explain this further is much beyond my purpose or desire here.
When I say governance, did I say government? Did I say force was required or even desired? I said no such thing. But Wenzel cannot conceive of the idea of governance without thinking of the big, bad monster we all deplore.
Reread his statement: it is a myth that governance is needed in society. The lack of understanding on this point is not my limitation.
On to culture – and forgive me for the more extensive copy from his post, as it all makes for difficult reading:
BM: …because I suggest culture would have a role in society.
RW: But Bionic just doesn't mean a general culture could be recognized by almost all. He means a society where the rules of a culture could not be ignored by anyone who chooses not to go along on his own private property.
I wrote no such thing. Anyone with the ability and desire to shoot a child for stealing an apple can certainly ignore the prevailing culture if he likes. It is inconsistent with the NAP and watch out for the consequences. I say nothing more.
RW: He clarifies in a comment to my post on such culture
BM: I will go one step further: if a community decides that the penalty for a child stealing an apple is death, so be it. But if it is imposed by one individual without agreement by the others – no matter how great the theory sounds – further and escalating conflict will ensue.
Further and escalating conflict will ensue – is this a controversial statement?
BM: But this is my point: if the community accepts the death of the child as payment…it is their culture – it has nothing to do with the NAP.
I have found a need (based on feedback) to clarify these words. If a community decides on the death penalty for a child stealing an apple, it does have something to do with the NAP. It is a violation. Penalty has crossed the line into the initiation of aggression, I say.
RW: It is here where he has left the anracho-capitalist camp and entered the world of government.
Remember: Robert says stealing an apple is a violation of the NAP and he is the pure libertarian; I say shooting the child-thief as penalty is a violation of the NAP and I am the statist.
We each claim a violation of the NAP, yet only I am the statist. Why? Where did I enter the world of government? If the farmer wants to shoot the child, go ahead and shoot. I only say two things:
1) It is a violation of the NAP because the murder of the child goes beyond penalty and into the initiation of aggression.
2) The farmer is free to suffer the consequences – especially at the hands of those who have not reached the enlightened state of libertarian thinking (if you can call it that) of Wenzel.
Neither of these calls on a government to do anything. The second of these two things will likely bring down plenty of voluntarily joined and financed governance on the head of the farmer, especially if the local community does not hold to the same culture as does Wenzel. Too much of the shooting-children-for-stealing-apples-and-the-retaliation-that-follows kinds of things and the people will start clamoring for an actual government to do something about it.
Wenzel has titled his post “Bionic Mosquito: Anarcho-Capitalism Could Never Survive In Practice.” He claims this because I said that a community that allows for the death penalty for any and every infraction of the NAP will not long survive; it will be a community of never-ending blood-feuds – never-ending, that is, until there was little blood left to feud.
Such a community will not survive in practice. I won’t spend much time on this. I can say that there are many, many places in the world that prove this point. Spend any time with inner-city gangs?
I mentioned that it was good that Wenzel cited Walter Block. Walter is uniquely qualified to weigh in on this question. The main reason is that he is an expert at defending the undefendable; it doesn’t get much more undefendable than this (although, as Matt offers, what if the farmer wanted to rape the child instead? Would this be OK? I will add, what about three times a day for a year? I mean if we are going to get to it, let’s get to it. Go ahead, Walter – defend that!). For another, I believe I have seen Walter write that he believes Wenzel is one of the best libertarian thinkers out there today.
I will add a third reason: I have written extensively about the many fallacies of so-called left-libertarians. I consider their thinking harmful to the libertarian message. Walter has asked me in the past to co-author a book with him on this topic – while humbled by the request, I graciously denied.
Why do I tell this story? Walter must also believe I have a half-decent brain when it comes to understanding and writing about libertarian theory. Also, I tell it because I find Robert’s ideas on punishment infinitely more harmful to the libertarian cause than anything I have read from the left-libertarians – the subject on which Walter asked me to co-author a book.
So here you go, Walter. Shooting to death a child as penalty for stealing an apple: is it consistent with libertarian philosophy and the non-aggression principle?
Now, Wenzel and some of you might think this is a cop-out on my part. You are, of course, free to believe as you like. For me, it is something much different than this and something much more fundamental – and I mentioned it up front and will repeat it again: If Wenzel is right, then libertarian theory is a dead theory to me.
My point is: I will not spend any more time or energy on this topic. So, Walter, a simple yes or no will do – and be unequivocal, please. I will not require or ask for an explanation either way; no need for a line-by-line critique of any of Robert’s comments or mine. If it is a dead theory to me, I have no reason to spend any more energy on libertarianism.
I will have to come up with some new name for what it is I write about. I write about the non-aggression principle where it is possible for a penalty to cross the line into initiation of aggression. But I need a better name for this. Maybe “Rothbardianism,” because it sure sounds a lot like what Rothbard has written on the topic (based on his guidelines). With the damage done to the libertarian name by the likes of Cato, the left-libertarians, Rand Paul, and now Wenzel, maybe it is time to quit and start over anyway.
However, if Wenzel is wrong, this needs to be confronted now and harshly. Any errors committed by left-libertarians pale compared to this: libertarian theory supports the possibility of the death penalty for any and every violation of the non-aggression principle. That is the message being delivered. If it is true, this will be the end of libertarianism. And someone like Walter has far more invested in libertarianism than do I.
So that’s enough of my energy on this topic. I am done writing on this. I will not post a link at the subject article at Target Liberty; I will not comment at the site. I do not care if Robert sees this reply – his view on the matter is irrelevant to me. Unlike Robert, if you can’t tell I do not find this a minor disagreement about an arcane point of doctrine.
I will ensure Walter sees this post. I will post any comments / emails (you have been notified beforehand) by him or others. Beyond this, I will not get into further debate on this topic.