There has been an interesting series of blog posts at LRC, a series / exchange between Walter Block and Michael Rozeff. This exchange offers an opportunity to further develop a conversation around the question posed in the title; it is a question I have introduced earlier.
Needless to say, Block epitomizes the “libertarianism” side of this discussion. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his interpretation and application of the non-aggression principle, there is no doubt that purity in libertarianism is the target at which Block aims. Someone has to do this, and despite my couple of (significant) disagreements with him, few do it better than Block.
Rozeff struggles with Block’s work in this regard. The dialogue begins with Block answering a question posed to him via email. The topic is child abandonment, and the writer describes Block’s position as follows:
In your discussion on Lew Rockwell, you state that the parent has no obligation to feed or even keep their child alive. You state that the parent does have an obligation to notify someone that they have no desire to care for the child…
The writer wonders where responsibility and duty have a role in Block’s position. Block responds:
I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I regard the no positive obligations as an integral part of libertarianism.
Now, I take strong exception to the idea that one raising one’s own child is a “positive obligation” in any sense consistent with the underlying premise of the non-aggression principle – this is not at all a logical statement – but I do not want to distract from the conversation. Suffice it to say, when one voluntarily takes on an obligation, there is nothing “positive” about it.
Rozeff picks up the conversation:
I agree with [the writer]. [I] try to “save” the non-aggression principle (NAP) by arguing that it does apply to the case of parents starving their children to death, which it has been said is because they have no obligation to feed them under the NAP. In contrast, I argue that parents assume that obligation when they bring children into this world. This elaboration of circumstances saves the NAP. Surely, if starving one’s baby or child to death is not murder, then nothing is; and if the NAP cannot address such a case, it’s sorely and surely defective.
Suffice it to say I agree whole-heartedly with Rozeff. I do so for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, my objective is liberty and not purity of libertarianism; I do not see liberty long-lasting in a world that ignores responsibility for one’s own actions.
Second, my grappling with this idea of “liberty” (as opposed to libertarianism) is bringing me to a place to consider as necessary the place where natural law, Christian ethics, and the non-aggression principle all converge. In the place where these converge, I believe we will find liberty. In this convergence, avoiding responsibility for one’s own child is unthinkable. A society that finds this acceptable is a society with no future, and no future equals no liberty.
Rozeff goes on to introduce an addition concern: “Some actions resist application of the NAP, however.” He cites as an example the New York Times repeatedly printing falsehoods about Block, describing him as a racist, etc. Rozeff considers this morally wrong, and if the NAP cannot deal with this then it is too restrictive:
The ethics of liberty is supposed to be based upon natural law, and it seems problematic that the NAP in this case, at least as it has so far been interpreted by Rothbard and Block, fails to be in accord with a natural law obligation, which is that one does not misrepresent what service one is providing.
I don’t believe all libertarians base their views on the natural law, but it is the place I am landing. Foundational to natural law is truth. In this regard, sustained liberty requires that truth is valued and defended. Specific punishments and remedies are beyond the scope of this post; I am only after this distinction of libertarianism or liberty.
Rozeff continues, regarding a man’s reputation:
A man’s reputation is not less important to him than his body. Men work hard to build up a good reputation. A lot is riding on one’s reputation.
Of this, I have no doubt. Yet many libertarians will argue that a man does not own his reputation; his reputation is held in the mind of others. This is true as far as it goes, but what happens when a third party constantly lies about me, damaging and even ruining my reputation – destroying all possibility of work, relationships, etc.? Well, of course, under the NAP I am entitled to neither work nor relationships, so maybe I should just shut up! But I won’t….
The non-aggression principle (NAP) rests on physical invasions or threats thereof. But must all crimes in a free society be restricted to physical invasions of property? Can’t law encompass more than such property invasions?
Rozeff offers Frank van Dun (PDF), who is after justice and not merely purity of theory – therefore he extends the idea of crime beyond these restrictive boundaries.
Without some superior justice authority based upon and actively implementing some notions of justice that go beyond the NAP, a “free society” that allowed all sorts of lies and false accusations would degrade into a free-for-all.
Well, it would not if all men were saints. But that is for the next world, not this one; that is for utopians, not those who are seeking liberty in a world made up of human beings.
In defense of this, Rozeff falls into an unfortunate pit; more specifically, he uses unfortunate language. Accepting that Block’s position is the correct anarcho-capitalist position, Rozeff concludes:
It is one of several problems that make limited government an attractive option, despite its flaws. I refer to protection companies who have different laws and attract different clienteles.
I really don’t like the word “government” in this context; I strongly prefer governance – and yes, something or someone will always exist to provide governance. In case you believe I am being too harsh, Rozeff continues:
Without a government over them to keep the peace, there almost surely will be war. Hobbes has a point.
I don’t believe Hobbes wrote of private protection companies or any such voluntary (or relatively voluntary) scheme.
Block offers a simple response to Rozeff’s views on falsehoods, libel, reputation, etc.:
There is only one question that interests the libertarian, qua libertarian, regarding libel law: should malicious, lying libel, gossip, be prohibited by law. And, there is only one answer: no. For a compelling case on this matter, read what Mr. Libertarian has to say about it.
This may be true as far as a “libertarian, qua libertarian” goes, but what of the individual who is after liberty? Rozeff suggests:
The NAP may be too restrictive to handle certain cases. Its restriction buys definiteness, perhaps, although one can think up hard cases where lines must be drawn, but it’s still arbitrary and not necessarily a basis for a COMPLETE set of laws. The objectivity of its application is by no means assured. Not everyone, including all libertarians, will buy into it.
Truer words have never been spoken – most specifically regarding the last sentence. How much of what libertarians debate – and even largely agree upon – will be handled in a reasonably voluntary, decentralized society? They won’t care about Block’s or Rozeff’s or my definition or interpretation, and they will be perfectly happy in their liberty.
Walter, you cannot define libertarianism by restriction to the NAP.
Here, I will disagree with Rozeff. We need not confuse libertarianism; we only need recognize that it is not sufficient for liberty.
Hans Hoppe has offered a subset of the Decalogue as beneficial toward liberty, despite the fact that some of the cited commandments reach beyond a strict interpretation of the non-aggression principle. He sees these commandments…
…as even an improvement over a strict and rigid libertarianism - given the common, shared goal of social perfection: of a stable, just and peaceful social order.
An improvement! Is it our objective to purify libertarian theory, or is it to find liberty?
Hoppe recognizes that the issue for the libertarian as libertarian is one of punishment, noting that violations of some subset of these commandments…
…may be punished only by means below the threshold of physical violence, such as social disapproval, discrimination, exclusion or ostracism.
There is no lasting liberty in a society that places no responsibility on its members beyond “don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff.” We know what a society looks like when no responsibility is taken for children. I will offer two examples: first, America’s inner cities; second, the privileged social justice warriors of the middle and upper classes.
There is no lasting liberty in a society that does not place a cost on purposely and continuously working to falsely destroy another’s reputation. We know what a society looks like when truth is not valued and defended. Look at America.
The convergence of natural law, Christian ethics, and the non-aggression principle; I believe this is where liberty will be found.
The referenced Block and Rozeff blog posts: