Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wenzel Develops Theory That Could Never Survive Practice

It is also a theory that violates the theory he claims to be defending.

Robert has posted a response to several comments regarding his view that a property owner is justified via libertarian theory for shooting a child who stole an apple.  I will only focus on his replies to my comments.

To set the stage, general descriptions regarding my earlier comments, as offered by Robert:

…[bionic] has left the world of anarcho-capitalism and entered the world of limited government.
…you are, at least, a limited government advocate.

These because I suggest culture would have a role in society.

Now, you sound like a total government propagandist….

This because I used the decades-long fighting between Israelis and Palestinians as an example of a blood-feud – ongoing, retaliatory violence. 

Now, on to his comments in some detail.  Regarding my views on culture:

I am not sure Bionic Mosquito realizes it here, but he has left the world of anarcho-capitalism and entered the world of limited government. The moment there is a central party, be it culture or whatever, that sets the rules that overrule the desires of a person on his property, it is a central power, that is, it is government. Regardless of how modest the desires of such a ruling power that is what it is. It is no longer anracho-capitalism.

Please note: culture = government according to Robert.  I guess I have a different definition of “culture” and / or a different definition of “government.”

When “culture” has a monopoly of a police force and military, courts and taxation, when culture allows for those with badges to live by different rules than those without, I will bow down to Wenzel.  To describe “culture” as a “central party” or “central power” akin to a monopoly provider of force completely misses the point, or purposely distorts it.

I have written often about the difference of “government” and “governance.”  There will always be governance – else there is no civil society.  It is to governance that I introduce and discuss culture.

I am talking about a society where people mind their own business and respect private property….

So why write a post entitled “Additional Comments on Penalties for Violators of the Non-Aggression Principle”?  If “people mind their own business and respect private property,” why speak of penalties?  Why speak of violators?

It is easy for a political theory to sound good in a world made up of “people like me.”  Unfortunately, there will always be individuals who do not “mind their own business and respect private property.”  So Wenzel must be speaking of a world made up of non-human beings.

The following questions come to mind:

Is there a point to advocating a political theory that ignores human nature?  Some would call this “mental masterb…” well, you know the term.  Of course, Wenzel will distort this into suggesting that I advocate for monopoly government (see above).

Does a common, unifying culture increase or decrease the likelihood for the demand of the service of a monopoly fixer of all things?  I say decrease.  Is it “central planning” to point this out, or merely a recognition of human nature?

Is it “government” when neighbors voluntarily agree to abide by a certain code of conduct despite not being pleased with every single clause?  No – it is called life.

But there is a more basic question: Is it possible for a property owner to initiate aggression on his own property?  The answer, of course, is yes (I hope this doesn’t need explaining or defense). 

Looked at another way: Is it possible for a penalty to cross the line into the initiation of aggression?  Again, yes. (This isn’t self-evident to Robert, but perhaps one or two others might read it and say “duh, how stupid does bionic think we are?”)

Wenzel suggests shooting a child for stealing an apple is not initiating aggression.  In any civil society – meaning any society that has some reasonable chance of putting libertarian theory into practice – he would be wrong.

Picture the scene: the child, dead in a pool of blood; the parents, neighbors, and other community members show up.  Wenzel says “that dumb kid stole my apple, so I shot him.  You have to respect my property rights.”  Everyone says “you know, that Wenzel guy is right.  Let’s buy him a beer.”  And the child’s father picks up the tab.

On what planet?

I place the half-life of this “private property society” at about six months.  Thereafter it will be gang-style warfare and blood feuds. 

Shooting a child for stealing an apple is initiating aggression.  Robert advocates that a political theory that disallows the initiation of aggression allows for the initiation of aggression.

Wenzel’s theory of punishment could never survive practice; what good is such a theory?  Further, his theory of punishment violates that very theory which he claims to be defending – the non-aggression principle; he has to destroy the village in order to save it.

All of Wenzel’s dancing around the issue cannot change these realities.  His theory on punishment is wrong in theory and will never function in practice in any place populated by human beings.

Did I mention, the title of his post is “The Current State of Anarcho-Capitalist Theory.”

Let’s hope not.


  1. In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard wrote, “we have advanced the view that the criminal loses his rights _to the extent_ that he deprives another of his rights: the theory of “proportionality.” … “it should be clear that the proportionate principle is a _maximum_, rather than a mandatory, punishment for the criminal.”
    Bionic Mosquito is far closer to Murray Rothbard than is Robert Wenzel.

    1. Hmm, an "eye for an eye" comes to mind...

  2. I agree with your main point for sure, and have tried to say it anytime a discussion on theory comes up. If you can't live it, it's garbage.

    I have tried to keep up with both threads,(yours and Roberts) but have been out of cell service for a couple days so maybe I missed this if it's been brought up.
    It seems like in all these discussion threads we are assuming people will all live in one big community. Whatever happened to secession?
    IF Robert lives in a community where a kid can get shot for stealing an apple and he and the community he lives in is fine with that, well, fine. I won't live there because I have 8 kids, and that seems too dangerous of a place for them. I would live in a community where the norm is what I am more agreeable to. If, and I pray for it every day, the State collapsed and we had a new world without it, I see socialist communities being formed,(although they won't last long), religious communities, "minimal government communities, semi-libertarian communities, and all out Free communities. Be free to choose which one you want to live in.
    The main thing we should hope for in the event of the glorious collapse of the State, is the freedom of movement, and with that, secession. As long as we have secession, we needn't bicker about what kind of societies there will be, because there will be many many different ones, I hope.
    Secession should be what we are talking about, constantly. And in the absence of the State I think the freest communities would be the most well sustained ones because of it. Other societies would wither and die out.

    1. Joshua

      I have considered the idea: can a given community agree to be bound by and subject to rules (for lack of a better term) that are in violation of the NAP? It seems to me, yes (as an individual property owner is also entitled to make his rules for his property, a group of owners can voluntarily band together and do the same).

      So, what would this mean for a community who decided that the punishment for theft of an apple by a child is death? Two things off of the top of my head:

      1) My guess is that it would not be a very nice place to live. If people are this callous toward life, how much will they respect my NAP boundaries?

      2) Culture, culture, culture. A community adopted a code that they all agree to live by - I may not like the code, but if they chose it and live it voluntarily, that's their business.

      But if the code is imposed - either by a group against a few or even one property owner against all child apple stealers - without agreement: blood feuds. No civil order. No chance for a continuing libertarian community.

  3. It is possible that there be a culture, let's say martian-islamist-presbyterian hybrid, where it is a cultural norm for harsh punishment to be imposed on apple stealers [and everybody knows it]. The NAP would not prohibit this punishment, and in this case the cultural norm would suggest that it was fine and dandy. In other words, it was just. It is the subjective sensibilities of the culture.

    There could be another culture, one more similar to the ones us westerners are familiar with, in which it would be seen as an egregious act - an extreme over-reaction to the stealing of an apple to "murder" a child. This, again, is the subjective reaction of the local "culture". [And is generally understood.] The local cultural norms would judge it as a violation of the NAP.

    Culture matters in that the farmer may intend to continue to live in that local culture, and he may need to consider the subjective reactions of his neighbors and weigh it within the context of local cultural norms. Whether that act was a violation of the NAP [or not?], (whether it is considered "aggression" given that there was a trespasser and thief on his property) is not as *objective* as it may at first seem.

    Local cultural norms, one would assume, would also have a say in which contractual provisions are offered by various private adjudication suppliers. They would not have a say in any authoritarian central government way, but rather would be a function of what the free market says is profitable... Given the cultural norms........

  4. The scenarios that would evolve under Wenzel's PPS would mean it would not survive even it is would magically come into being.

    I Wenzel's conception people are just interchangable economic units without individuality and once a PPS is declared (by who?) then everyone, even black lives matter protesters or Muslims that believe their duty is to form a state, is going to go along with it.

    The misunderstanding of human nature revealed by this idea is far worse than what the communists promoted.

    1. Matt, this is what bothers me the most about this dialogue. Wenzel is normally quite good on this stuff, but either I am missing something or he is. I am not sure I like either answer.

      He has promised me a reply to this post in the next day or two. Let's see what comes.

  5. Not necessarily. Stealing food can carry the death penalty during extreme food scarcity

    1. You are missing the point. What we are talking about is the property owner being able to choose any penalty or retributive measure for any offence. Presumably under a PPS a kid that trespasses on a property to retrieve a ball could be executed at the discretion of the property owner. Instead of killing someone for stealing or trespassing, the property owner may decide to have sex with the thief instead.

  6. Pardon me for thinking [illegal?] thoughts here, but I have never understood the endless, repetitive, "libertarian" individuals preoccupation with constantly fantasizing about their particular vision for a "libertarian society", in their entirely imaginary, perfect world in the future where everyone has suddenly, mysteriously been persuaded that the personal "libertarian vision" of any particular fantasizer is "the way to go" .

    It makes no sense, and is a waste of the individuals time, as far as I can see.

    That time could be more productively used by the individual to try to find ways to live a freer life in the world _as_it_is_ now_, instead of waiting for a day that will never come when there is some sort of imaginary perfect "libertarian" society/community, [however defined/imagined], when every one is supposedly free according to a particular fantasists own personal "libertarian" standards.

    But I guess I'm just not "libertarian" enough. :-)

    Regards, onebornfree
    Personal Freedom Consulting

    1. Well, BM, it is indeed your time to waste.

      However, if you ever want to move on from all of the time wasting, and instead explore practical ideas to help you to live a freer life _now_, regardless of what happens to the world, maybe get in contact with me.

      Regards, onebornfree
      Personal Freedom Consulting

  7. I am starting to think that many so called libertarians are actually clinically autistic and their belief on an NAP (of sorts) results from them not knowing the difference between right and wrong. The result them having very strange ideas about the NAP or the applications of the NAP. For example, someone that acts as a spotter for a murderer by pointing out locations of potential victims is not violating the NAP, just exercising free speech!

    Once you realize where their thought processes are coming from you realize why they can't grasp the problem with a farmer murdering a child for retrieving a ball from the farmers front yard.

    Read the comments in this other target liberty thread and see for yourself. These guys are literally autistic.


    1. Matt

      I don't get hung up an the commenters, unless they have some credibility in the libertarian community. Who knows who they are? Certainly there are many who are willing to smear the libertarian name.

      I do make a point to go after the work of known libertarians who peddle ideas in contraction to the simplicity of the NAP.

      So in this current conversation, the commenters matter little. Wenzel matters.

      In the meantime, I will await his promised reply to this post.

  8. BM, I pointed out this thread because you have engaged one of those commenters in the current thread at Target Liberty. So it is useful to know where he is coming from if only to ignore him.

    I agree with you that it is Wenzel matters. Libertarianism is already associated with all sorts of degeneracy in the public mind. Adding killing kids to that would be the nail in the coffin.

    1. I actually went a looooong way to make my point to the commenter in question in that link you posted...I promised myself I would never go that far again...lol

      I wish I could get my time back as I'm not sure it mattered. Can't we just pretend that link doesn't exist? It's like ripping off an old scab for me.


    2. Matt

      I do not fear a nail in the coffin. There is and always will be value in the proposition of the non-aggression principle grounded in private property.

      The entire school of work is, what, 50 years old if you start with Rothbard, or a few hundred years old if you want to start with classical liberals.

      Christianity is 2000 years old, and the debates about doctrine rage. Yet, Christianity isn't dead.

      This, too, shall pass.

  9. Wenzel has never impressed me. Quite the opposite. I found EPJ entertaining for a couple months, until I listened to this intellectual property debate with Kinsella. It's downright embarrassing for Wenzel. Kinsella is a good sport for sticking it out as long as he does. A painful experience. Just jump around a few minutes at a time. No need to hear the whole thing. I lost respect for Wenzel as a thinker and as a "grown-up" listening to this.

    Note the title: "Kinsella Crushed! -- Robert Wenzel Debates IP with Stephan Kinsella"

    I follow your blog, because I've learned a lot and seen a lot of nuanced perspectives on issues I thought were cut and dry. But frankly, I think you may be wasting your time thinking you can debate or engage any new territory with RW. He struggles to grasp how all this theoretical work still has to function in the real world, hence the culture/government distinction he doesn't grasp.

    1. Patrick, thank you for the kind feedback regarding my writing.

      I am willing to take one more run at him on this topic once he replies. I am not expecting it will do any good with him - he is in way too deep on this one. However, it will give me a chance to more succinctly organize my thoughts.

    2. Seems you have your reply...

      Bob grasps this material loosely at best. His idea of the NAP can only work in the world of robots. He doesn't seem to grasp the human aspect of society, the part where freedom implies difference of opinion. The park bench money test is another frustrating example of this. Perhaps he needs to hear his God, Rothbard speak on theory and practice:

      "In the first place, we must challenge the very idea of a radical separation between something that is "true in theory" but "not valid in practice." If a theory is correct, then it does work in practice; if it does not work in practice, then it is a bad theory. The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one." ~ from "Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature"

      His theory will most definitely never be proven valid in practice.

  10. We claim to support the idea that the free market would provide appropriate adjudication (including punishment as needed) for some theoretical society that adopted AnCap. [And I support that, to be clear.]

    Then we flame-war back and forth over what the *exact* punishment would be with acute pinpoint specificity. As if the developing free market would not figure it out. When we do that we attempt to become *the* central planner with the exactly right plan.

    I do waste my time reading and thinking about these things. But that doesn't make it *not* a kind of waste of time. And I don't see what it contributes, trying to get too specific about what an AnCap society would "choose", to the overall longterm project towards liberty.

    The point of AnCap society is that we indeed trust that they will work it out, given a free market and lack of coercion.

    To name names, Rothbard was guilty of over-specificity. Block does it. Possibly Wenzel, too. Is the in-fighting necessary?

    If the free market exists alongside a culture, who are we to pre-specify what they decide is right? Isn't that the whole point? NAP plus property rights. The rest is a kind of noise that we need not speculate upon with excess specificity. Trust the free market to eventually work it out? Yes, or No?

    1. To be more clear, my post above is not intended as a complaint against BM. I named the names I meant.

    2. gpond, an emphatic "yes, but..."

      I cannot say what is proper punishment for violation X in every society in every situation. No one can. Or should.

      But I can say what is a wrong punishment. When this came up with Wenzel whenever - several months, a year ago, whatever - I believe I was the one who tossed out the example of the child and the apple. I did it for a reason.

      I thought such an egregious example would put a stop to this idea that Wenzel is advocating.

      So I cannot (nor should not nor will not) say what is the right punishment for violation X. But I know a wrong one when I see it.

      And I know it is wrong in principle because it violates the NAP.

      And I know it is wrong practically speaking because such a society could never maintain its "libertarian-ness" if that's a word.

  11. BM: "I cannot say what is proper punishment for violation X in every society in every situation. No one can. Or should."

    I applaud you!

    BM: "And I know it is wrong practically speaking because such a society could never maintain its "libertarian-ness" if that's a word."

    But what if they did accept it? A trespass and a theft certainly violate the NAP. What if that culture accepted harsh punishments in that case - not YOU - but that culture? Another poster mentioned the situation where food is scarce. I don't specifically posit that case, but rather that there are cases we haven't considered. Including that one, and perhaps a semi-infinite (oxymoron alert!) number of other cases.

    By saying all of this, all I am doing is trying to tease things out. To tease thinking out. You know it when you see it. What if others don't? Free market? Or your "know it when you see it"? Or *my* "know it when I see it?"

    Should I join forces and intervene? [Just having some thought-provoked fun here, and stretching a little.]

    1. "...what if they did accept it?"

      It remains a violation of the NAP.

      "Should I join forces and intervene?"

      We face this possibility today and every day. There are many violations of the NAP around us. We each decide to intervene in a manner of our choosing or not (we have no duty to intervene).

    2. You say it violates the NAP. Where is the line? Is it objective? Or is it the subjective: I know it when I see it? Does any punishment at all violate the NAP? A spanking? A talking-to? Grounded? Prison for 3 months? Lose a hand?

      This is difficult stuff, for me at least. I don't see it as settled in any regard. Would I find it abhorrent? Yes, I would.

      Do we expect an AnCap society to be able to work it out to their own satisfaction without compulsory government?

      I do.

    3. gpond, we have already established that different cultures have different punishments. In Muslim countries the hand of the thief is removed, and this penalty is widely accepted as a just punishment. Why so harsh? Possibly because in these cultures any punishment less than removing the hand lacks the power to discourage theft. We punish differently in our culture but it is appropriate for our mentality and conditions.

      Robert Wenzel said the property owner had an absolute right to determine and carry out the punishment (yeah, due process doesn't exist either - back to barbarism). Gpond, if you can accept that the farmer can choose to kill a child, let's say 8 years old for arguments sake, as punishment because the property owner had the right to determine the punishment, then what if if the farmer decided that he would rather have sex with the child as punishment instead? In the principle given by RW there shouldn't be any problem with it. I have asked RW a number of times about it but he keeps on dodging the question by saying it couldn't happen in his Private Property Society.

      So the question here is not the severity of the punishment but the absolute authority of a property owner to decide the punishment no matter what it is. The easiest way to work it out for yourself is asking yourself if a farmer could have sex with a child as punishment for stealing an apple. If the answer is no then you disagree with RW.

    4. gpond

      Did I say anything about compulsory government? Please don't do what others are doing on this subject.

      Yes, it is subjective; no, I do not know where the line is. There is, however, a point where punishment crosses that line and becomes the initiation of aggression.

      If we libertarians cannot say that shooting a child for stealing an apple crosses that line, libertarianism is a dead philosophy.

      Did I say that "managing" this (for lack of a better term) requires compulsory government? Where?

    5. Thank-you very much for your thoughtful reply.

    6. I had a comment written out questioning the validity of the claim that voluntarily consenting to these rules would be a violation of the NAP.

      I'd like you to know that by merit of you raising this point, it gave me a moment to pause, consider, and realize that you very well could be right.

      Thank you

  12. There is a post at Target Liberty in reply to BM specifically and it is a complete non-answer. Voodoo libertarianism.

  13. I have just realized that when you combine Wenzel's theory of Intellectual Property and his Private Property Society together, intellectual property holders could execute people that download music or TV shows. Since there is no due process they don't even need proof.

    Seriously, voodoo libertarianism is a thing.