Thanks to all of you who responded to my simple question. Between that post and the several others I have written on this topic of punishment in a libertarian society, there have been over 180 comments to date (including a few of my own). In the end, I remain quite settled in my position regarding libertarian justice.
What was the point of my question? It is suggested that the only acceptable libertarian answer to determining punishment is for the aggrieved property owner to be completely sovereign – judge, jury, and executioner. Anything less and you are a statist – or minarchist.
As you all know well, I disagree with this view; yet, I wanted to test how far this idea of absolute sovereignty could be pushed – hence my examples, followed by the question.
To my simple question, “Are any of these permissible within a consistent application of the thinnest interpretation of the NAP?” I received the following response from Matt@Occidentalism.org February 8, 2016 at 8:48 PM:
I have two answers for you.
The first: No, it isn't [permitted] if the NAP is a sufficient condition for liberty. Or 2: Yes, it is permitted but NAP is not a sufficient condition for liberty.
I will split this one down the middle: I conclude that none of my examples are permissible within a consistent application of the NAP; at the same time, the NAP is not a sufficient condition for liberty. Allow me a moment to explain…
One of my long-time on-line friends asked a question – it seems appropriate to introduce it here (as I chose not to answer it at the time):
gpond February 5, 2016 at 6:20 PM
Do you have an opinion on thick vs. thin libertarianism, and if so, what is the difference?
Is there a difference? What is it?
I know gpond knows I have an opinion on this, so I suspect something in what I have written has caused some confusion or consternation (his “WOW” gives this away). I will answer the questions as best as I can.
Yes, I have an opinion. Libertarian theory is thin – it is the non-aggression principle. I express my opinion vociferously when I read someone who suggests that libertarian theory MUST include something more than this – be respectful, be nice to Martians (as I do not want to offend anyone reading this post), perform gay marriages. This is thick. This kind of stuff is mostly found in what is known as left-libertarian writing.
Then there is Hans Hoppe – when challenged with confronting him the way I do those on the left, I came to some new understandings. Libertarian theory is one thing; how to achieve and maintain a libertarian society is another.
Libertarian theory is the non-aggression principle. Therefore, while I believe certain personal behaviors are unhealthy or even destructive, it is inappropriate for me to initiate force to try to change this. What you do in your house or to your body (or the body of a willing participant) is your business.
Libertarian theory doesn’t have room for these types of musts – neither of the left or right. But to achieve and maintain a libertarian society? More than the non-aggression principle is necessary…I believe.
It is true enough to say: in a society where people generally respect private property, private property will be respected. It is true enough to say: if all people just followed the non-aggression principle, the non-aggression principle would be followed. But we live in a world of humans – each with their own subjective value scale, some with very evil intent on their heart.
Consider the statement: a society where people generally respect private property (and in this, I inherently include the body). Consider all of the things that must be generally agreed “around these here parts” before you can even know if all the people generally respect private property in the same way that you do.
- Define property.
- Decide where mine ends and yours begins.
- Define “aggression.”
- Decide who initiated the aggression.
- Decide on proper punishment and / or restitution.
General agreement on each of these items (and many others) is necessary before one can say with some confidence that a given society generally respects private property.
Walter Block has similar concerns:
- “…how do we get to private property rights in the first place?”
- “How do we settle my claim…?”
- “Where do we get the NAP and private property rights from?”
- “…who says he owns himself in the first place?”
How will these be decided? Who will decide them? I offer:
- The property owner will – in a vacuum;
- The property owner will – taking into account local cultural norms;
- Others will – with the property owner’s consent;
- Others will – without the property owner’s consent.
Each one of these is possible in a world populated by humans – I cannot think of another possibility. There is no inherent violation of the NAP in the first three – they can conform quite nicely to the NAP; the fourth – not so much.
- The property owner is certainly capable of deciding who is guilty and executing punishment – all in a vacuum; an absolute sovereign.
- The property owner follows a local cultural norm, for example talking to the child’s parents and letting them know of the theft.
- The property owner’s insurance company (and other associated private governance institutions) will handle this.
- Others decide for the property owner – who never signed that contract!
In which situation is a libertarian society most likely to survive and thrive?
- In the first, not likely if others don’t agree with the conclusions of the property owner.
- Quite likely.
- Quite likely
- By definition, no.
The result of the first method if there is a disagreement (shooting a child for stealing an apple, for one example) will be chaos, gangland, and intergenerational feuds. What happens to the libertarian society in this case? Where is the NAP?
Returning to Block:
“Our intellectual enemies claim that free market anarchism, or anarcho capitalism, would be chaos. You [not me] are playing into their hands.”
Do you want to achieve and maintain a libertarian society? Certainly, the non-aggression principle must be respected; generally accepted cultural norms will set boundaries for what is and isn’t acceptable; finally, institutions of governance are necessary.
I have referenced before, and will again, Ryan McMaken’s recent post. Anarchy does not mean infinite choices; anarchy does not mean perfect choices. Anarchy means finding the situation that best fits your choices. This means decentralize political power everywhere, always. With each decentralization push for the next one.
So, in short, governance is the rule and order that comes from people voluntarily submitting to the rules, social norms, expectations, etc of cultures and groups with which they voluntarily affiliate that provides some level of guidance and direction to interactions.
Differing from government, wher[e]in the association is not voluntary and enforced top-down.
Or something like that.
Something exactly like that.
The farmer shooting the child violates the non-aggression principle.
The resultant chaos will end the libertarian, private property, society.