Sunday, November 24, 2013

More Libertarians and Grayscale…When is a human Human?

A few days ago I posted regarding libertarians attempting to live a life in accordance with the non-aggression principle in this world of institutionalized aggression.  This post was prompted by an article by Eric Peters.  I will summarize: Peters states that taking a job working for the government is always wrong; I suggest that being pure in this muddy world in not so simple, and drawing a line where Peters does is arbitrary.

Why am I returning to this?  Well, I am not…exactly.  The comments at Peters’ post number in the hundreds, and somehow have taken a turn toward the topic of abortion – I don’t recall how, I think someone said this issue of abortion was his libertarian litmus test – favoring abortion was his proper libertarian conclusion.  This prompted many comments on each side.

Some of the discussion was rather…interesting?  Is an unborn child a life; thereby fully subject to the philosophical protection of the NAP?  What about minor children?  Some suggest that these be considered property of the parents, thus the parents are pretty much free to do as they please with the children.  Interesting.

I have previously written regarding my view on the subject of abortion; while I consider it to be morally wrong, and certainly a violation of the NAP, I wrote on the basis of Walter Block’s concept of evictionism.  In other words, I tackled the subject based on real estate law and contract law – concluding that the unborn child has property rights in the womb.  Abortion violates the unborn child’s property rights.

But what of this slippery slope – from conception until reaching majority, the child is property of the parents, and the parents are free to deal with their property in any manner they decide?  Or perhaps, stated more appropriately…until a child reaches majority, does it have the full rights inherent in the NAP?  This is a moral question, begging for a consistent application of the NAP and requiring reason both consistently and objectively applicable.

I will try – being my first real attempt at taking this approach, let’s call this my work in progress.

I guess to tackle this it is first necessary to address: is an unborn child human?  This seems to me a clear yes.  On the day it is born, there is no doubt about this.  So what about the day before, while still in the womb?  Is it something else?  This seems illogical – only one day before, could it be a zebra?  A tree?  Obviously not.

Then what about one week before?  One month before?  Eight-and-one-half months before?  I will quote Block (as cited in my above-referenced post), who, while supportive of the woman in evicting the child, nevertheless recognizes that the unborn child is human:

At what point does human life begin?  There are really only two reasonable possibilities: at conception or at birth; all other points of development in between are merely points along a continuum which begins and ends with these two options.

So which is it? Does life begin at the beginning point of this nine-month continuum or at the end of it? We take the former position. We maintain that the fetus is an alive human being from day one onward, with all the rights pertaining to any other member of the species.

I will come back later to address “with all the rights pertaining to any other member of the species” later, as I do not completely agree.  However, if one concludes that the unborn child is human on the day before its birth, where does one draw the line in the preceding nine months?  I suggest there is no line to draw other than conception; as Block does, all points between conception and birth are arbitrary – one end or the other must be chosen.  In this, I agree with Block – the unborn child is human from the time of conception.

Dr. Paul also agrees:

If the life of the fetus may be destroyed while within the body, there is no consistent argument against the same mother destroying that same life the minute or the week after birth in it is in the mother’s home. Whether the baby is four centimeters below the skin or lying in a crib within the home, the right should be the same according to this argument, for both the body and the home are the property of the mother.

Next – is the unborn child viable?  If “evicted” (to use Block’s terminology and concept), can it survive?

Here again, I will ask: is a newborn infant, one day old, “viable”?  Is it able to survive without support from an adult?  Of course, no – and only in degrees is it more or less “viable” than it was the day before or eight-and-one-half months before birth.  Upon which “degree” is the abortion proponent willing to draw the line?  On what basis?

Again, citing from my earlier post:

…Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the abortion king who personally performed 1,500 abortions and supervised another 60,000, then subsequently changed his mind about the procedure….

An important point that convinced Nathanson abortion should be rejected was that “every good argument for abortion is a good argument for infanticide.”

A day before, a day after – it’s all the same on this point: the child, born or unborn, is equally dependent on an adult for care.  In either case, one must conclude that the child is not “viable.”

So, I conclude it is human from conception, as any point thereafter is arbitrary.  Conception is the only point where a solid line can be drawn logically – any point after conception and until birth and even thereafter – until the child reaches majority – is grayscale; arbitrary. 

Therefore, if a parent has some right to terminate life prior to birth, the parent must hold the same right immediately after birth – and potentially until the child reaches majority (as some on Peters’ thread seem to suggest).  After all, the child is not “viable” until it is “viable.”

You might retort: viable and majority are not the same thing!  I suggest they are the same, defined as follows: viability is majority and majority is viability, meaning: a human who is able to function and survive in this division-of-labor-world via voluntary arrangements (voluntary within the muddy context of the state-coerced world in which we live).  Anything less than this is not viable and is not majority.

You don’t like this definition?  Well, I ask: where do you draw the line?  Explain how you do so logically.  Perhaps when a child is able to pour a bowl of cereal on his own?  But how did the cereal get in the pantry?  Perhaps when the child earns enough to feed himself?  But what about clothing and shelter?

How about when a child graduates high school?  College?  Eighteen years of age?  Twenty-one?  Are these not arbitrary?  Are these not arbitrary objective milestones for what is, in fact, a subjective event?

So what does this suggest – if a parent is free to do as he pleases to an unborn child (abortion), under what firm and fast rule does that freedom change until the child reaches majority?  Where is the line drawn?  I am open to suggestions.

Do I mean to suggest that a child, under the care of his parents, has full access to the wonderful world of NAP?  No, I don’t – and this is one point where I differ with Block’s statement above, if I properly understand his meaning.  There is always governance – not to be confused with government.  If we are to live in any form of a civilized world, there must be forms of governance – and one of the primary forms of governance is the family.  I expand on this concept in detail here, so I will not go further into it now.

But where does one draw the line?  How much NAP is a child entitled to?

Here again there is grayscale – and I do not intend to explore this in detail.  I will, however, suggest a bare minimum starting point; without this, there is no point: the most complete violation of the NAP is for one person to initiate aggression that results in the death of another.  Death is the ultimate separator from life and liberty (absent theological considerations, which are of no concern in this analysis).

However else a parent might be justified in violating the NAP with his child – and again, I do not intend to explore this at this time – it seems unequivocal that initiating an action that causes the child’s death is a violation of even a child’s rights under NAP.  This seems the minimum basic point that a firm line can be drawn; although I do not suggest that there are no other logical points elsewhere in the direction toward complete access to NAP.  I am open to counter views.

Therefore, I conclude:

  • A child is human from the moment of conception.
  • A child has at least partial protection under the NAP until it reaches the age of majority.
  • The concept of viability cannot be distinguished from majority for purposes of identifying the child’s ability to fully claim all of the benefits of NAP.
  • While the exact limit of access to NAP that a child (before reaching majority) can legitimately claim is beyond the scope of this analysis, it seems appropriate to conclude that the line can at least be drawn at some point prior to the child suffering death due to the initiation of force by the parent.

Where in my previous post on this topic I addressed abortion from a contractual basis – concluding that abortion violated the contract rights and property rights of the unborn child, it seems to me that morally, under a consistent application of the NAP and a logical consideration of human life and viability/majority, abortion is a violation of the NAP from the unborn child’s point of view – and that the unborn child has at least this minimum right under NAP.

If you object, please clearly state your views on the following as clear objections will require me to develop properly considered views in response:

  • Where do you draw the line of human / not human?  Why?
  • Where do you draw the line of majority / viability?  Why?
  • What are your views about NAP as this applies to an individual prior to reaching majority / viability?  Please explain.
  • What is your minimally required applicability of NAP to a minor?  Why?


  1. Another take on evictionism is that even if you think abortion is murder then so what? You're not obliged to murder what you feel is your own child or if you know others who do that then you're free to boycott but that's about it. If it turn that not enough people can boycott abortion seekers and providers to create change then tough luck. I suppose in a Libertarian society you could take matter into your own hands.

    The only argument that matters as to whether abortion is murder in a statist society is that those who seek the abortion (mother and maybe the father) and those who provide the service can be arrested and executed. If you think they should be free to do as they like or that the punishment shouldn't be that harsh then you don't consider abortion to be murder either.

    1. "...if you know others who do that then you're free to boycott but that's about it....I suppose in a Libertarian society you could take matter into your own hands."

      In theory, NAP leaves room for someone to take on the defense of another person if that other person would be otherwise justified taking action for his own defense. So it seems to me that in a libertarian society, one would be justified to do more than boycott.

      In practice, this is not so simple. The reality is that libertarians are quite split on the matter. So some libertarian societies might not agree with the idea of an individual coming to the defense of an unborn child. A similar disparity (from one libertarian society to the next) might exist with copyright law, for example – another area where libertarians hold opposite views.

      These disagreements point to the idea that different “societies” might come to different views about “law.” This was true in medieval times, when law was quite decentralized. It could certainly be true in a libertarian world. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with this – culture is always an important means of “governance” in any society, more so in a libertarian society.

      In the meantime, this is an area I intend to explore further – an area without consensus, obviously: When is a human human? At what point in the development of the human does he achieve full standing within the framework of NAP? Until that point, what minimum protection under NAP does the individual have? How does this develop over time?

    2. Once again if abortion is deemed murder then it should come with the harshest of penalties just as murdering a child or an adult would. A woman seeking an abortion should be charged with attempted murder. To say any less is to say a foetus is not really fully human.

      In a stateless society you're stuck with whatever people do is their own business - you're free to raise all the children you conceive while others are free to engage in gratuitous abortion and infanticide. Nonetheless Murray Rothbard was quick to point that parents are no obligation to care for a child whatsoever. Killing the child would be wrong but leaving it exposed is not. Such parents would be morally to offer the child up for adoption but they're not obliged to.

    3. “Once again if abortion is deemed murder then it should come with the harshest of penalties just as murdering a child or an adult would.”

      Maybe so – I am going to work my way through this issue (as presented in the handful of questions in my earlier response) before I decide if I want to deal with the penalty phase.

      "In a stateless society you're stuck with whatever people do is their own business..."

      Stateless (meaning without an entity of monopolized-legal coercion) does not mean lawless (meaning some form of sanction). Violation of the non-aggression principal will still mean something, and must come with some sanction if civil order is to be maintained. A libertarian society that is not based on some common moral and ethical code can scarcely exist.

      "...Murray Rothbard was quick to point that parents are no obligation to care for a child whatsoever."

      Rothbard is unparalleled in his contribution to libertarian, Austrian, and revisionist thought. But he wasn’t infallible and he wasn’t always right. In this, he is wrong.

      With freedom comes responsibility. Without this, there is no society – and absolutely no libertarian society. The burden of pregnancy (or childhood) is not a responsibility for the unborn (or born) child – it was brought on by the act of two adults. They have responsibility for the consequences of their action – up to and including raising the child to the point of maturity / viability (defined as I have in this post).

  2. I have to think that much of the infighting in libertarian circles is intentionally caused by several other philosophical orientations and their always deceptive organizations. RINOs may not be as much of a problem as LINOs. Leftists, Neocons, and corporations are all dividing us in many ways, some spur of the moment, others carefully planned and with multi-decade implementation. The idea that over-population will cause, or rather is causing, a world wide Malthusian disaster, has been insinuated into the minds of nearly everyone. David Rockefeller has put billions into controlling attitudes for more than fifty years; much of it concerning population. The idea that killing babies in the womb is both moral and necessary, has been cemented in the minds of many, just as strongly as the idea that water is wet. taxes

    1. I don't know that the differences are always due to "intentionally caused" actions. See my response to Gil above - if we ever move toward a society that values NAP, I expect there will be differences from one society to another due to reasons of culture, interpretation, etc.

    2. I would never imagine that all disagreements between libertarians was intentional. taxes

    3. taxes, a proper reading of your post by me should not have resulted in my paraphrasing as I did. Apologies.

  3. This is always one of the toughest issues for me and I love how you tackle things like this; but thoughtfully and without coming across as a demagogue of any kind, which always seems to be the problem on both "sides" of the abortion thing.

    I struggle with it constantly; my libertarian gut tells me its immoral; my logical thought processes require more than that ,however.

    1. Thank you, Marc.

      Over the coming days / weeks I think I am going to spend more time one this - perhaps framed around the questions I pose in the last paragraph in my reply to Gil above.

      And thanks for putting it up at Lions.

    2. Pretty much all ancient societies endorsed infanticide. I remember reading around 2200 years ago or so China was the first to make a law against it but it was still okay if the baby was deformed in some way.

    3. Gil, in ancient societies infanticide might mean the difference between starving to death, or not. The modern situation is, by some, by inference, being compared to that, but it is a lie. taxes

  4. Going to toss this on Lions this week, thanks for writing it and keep it up, as always!

  5. Thank you Jonathan but I think if either of us should ever apologize to the other it is I who should apologize to you.

    Having now read Gil's comment and your response, it strikes me that more and more people, are coming to the conclusion that we either defend our society or lose it. And that words will probably not be sufficient for this defense. And that some of these believe just as strictly in the NAP as anyone.

    I don't remember who said it, or the exact wording but some Brit (perhaps J. S. Mill) in the 1800s said something about being morally obligated to defend others against false arrest, even to the point of killing the police officer. There was a case where this happened, that was dismissed by the judge, even though police officers had been killed. Such being the case would certainly require defending the life of a baby that someone was going to intentionally kill. It not having been born yet being completely beside the point.

    Any such actions today would escalate till all civilians involved were dead or in custody. And result in most of the public thinking that all civilians involved were evil or insane.

    This leads me to where I was years ago. Not an anarchist, because we need a weak government, just to delay the advent of a strong one. Not so strictly a libertarian, as just angry that the conditioning of the masses to non-thinking, to being masses rather than individuals, employees if you will, has worked so well. taxes

    1. “…it strikes me that more and more people, are coming to the conclusion that we either defend our society or lose it.”

      I have come to the conclusion (although I use that term carefully as I hope I never feel smug enough to “conclude” anything – but on this one I feel pretty secure) that the taking of life is the ultimate form of violating the NAP, requiring very careful thought as to when such an action is justified.

      It was easy for me to use this conclusion to shape my thinking about war and empire. It was pretty easy for me to apply this to the death-penalty – before even considering that the state does more wrong than it does right (so why trust the state to decide murder as justice).

      As I conclude this about taking a life, I must grapple with the issue of abortion. Once libertarians conclude that one person has the right to take a life, a careful consideration of NAP and property rights is required. As to property rights in the womb, I have previously written my views on this. I will now work through questions of when is a human human and when does that human have some claim to protection under the NAP.

      “Any such actions today would escalate till all civilians involved were dead or in custody. And result in most of the public thinking that all civilians involved were evil or insane.”

      Yes, hence my reply to Gil – a society, and most certainly a libertarian society – cannot exist without some common moral / ethical code. In today’s world, government and culture have gone a long way in cheapening life – let alone in advocating for everyday acts in violation of the NAP. To act in complete accordance with the NAP on any issue today will likely result in the starvation or the murder of the actor.

      As libertarians cannot even agree on if/how the NAP applies to an unborn child, we could never expect greater society to come to agreement. So we are reminded, once again that we live on an earth of fallible humans.

      “Not an anarchist, because we need a weak government, just to delay the advent of a strong one.”

      This is why I am coming to use the term “governance.” Self, family, church, community…just no monopoly and no violation of the NAP. No government, just governance.

  6. These grayscale articles and the consistent disagreement of not just libertarians, but humans in general, have me considering Darwin's tautology: Who/what will survive? The fittest. Who/what is the fittest? The survivors.

    The answer to how a stateless society works, is the answer no one seems comfortable with: it will work out exactly how it works out.

    Then I am reminded of the story of Adam and Eve (my interpretation). Man's fall is precipitated by his hubris in believing that his reason is as or more capable or arranging things than god/s (the market/the Universe/Darwin's tautology). He makes his choices and suffers innumerable unintended consequences.

    So how does man/nature overcome unintended consequences? Infinite variations and reactions of the same principles work out to a kind of consistency.

    Now the NAP. Nature contends thoughtlessly with itself. Man thinks he can/should arrange nature. But nature contends thoughtlessly with man. Droughts, storms, earthquakes, solar flares, supernovas, black holes (supposedly) all happen and the fittest organizations of matter coalesce and a new kind of consistency is arrived at. Man's mind suffers these changes. Food becomes short so survive or die. Social organization is challenged. The fittest men go on.

    New ideas and social organizations develop and a kind of consistency develops. A never-ending process.

    The range of experience of men's minds is infinite. Some will say NAP. Some will live NAP. Some will seize the inevitable advantage that this confers for those who care not for NAP and only for their survival/their infinite experience.

    Grayscale. Who survives? The fittest. Who are the fittest? Those that survive. Survival is a kind of consistency overlaid on what seems to a conscious mind as infinite variation.

    To be more cogent, I 100% agree with BM's application of the NAP. Excellent application, IMHO, of the observations that the NAP and free trade confer the best of the physical world to the most people. But Nature is thoughtless and "unfair" things happen that tempt to stray from the NAP in all good conscience. Grayscale. I can't help but observe the intellectual battle with Nockian reserve/determinism. Who/what will survive?

    Sorry for the weird post, but the nature of these debates on how to live put my mind in the most metaphorical of places. If it's any consolation, I think NAPpies are well liked in general and sleep well at night. What more does a thinking being want from this paradox we experience?

    1. Alaska: very good, thank you for taking the time to post this.

      I like your Adam and Eve analogy - this might be worth an article, if you don't mind my using it!

      "But Nature is thoughtless and "unfair" things happen..."

      Yes, which often brings out the difficulty in the application of the NAP to the real world events. I guess what I am struggling with is to find the proper interpretation / application in the places where well-meaning libertarians strongly disagree. I am trying to work out, in my own mind, what the proper answer might be based on my application of NAP - as best as I can.

      Call it my own self-education process, on public display here for all to see!

  7. I thought I might have extended to far into the land of the esoteric but when fiddling with truth I find, more and more, that it's nature is elusive. However, I do not want to end up mimicking the syntax of A Man from Mars.

    The Adam and Eve parable has a number of interesting applications pertaining to human nature and what it means in terms of constructing an understanding of what we are/what we should try and build upon. I have no claim to that parable, so think away!

    To elaborate my point a bit more, a sticky situation for me would be a baby threatening the life of it's mother. No matter how you crack that nut it's a tough decision and I think a number of free, NAP-applying societies would approach it in more creative ways than I can feasibly list. Necessity and the mother of invention and all that.

    But in a stateless world, there would be a number of approaches, including ones that I and other NAPpies did not like, and people would be free to choose between them. Just as in a free marketplace of products, cultures seem to be the marketplace for ideas. As Jeff Berwick is fond of saying, there should be 7 billion governments. The hope would be that free markets would properly "win" but nature is always throwing it's infinite variability into human plans.

    To back track a little, the mother whose baby threatens her life: whose rights supersede whose?

    In my mind it's not about answering that question so much as having viable options for acting within the moral gray scale. Life is often a lot tougher than modern civilization likes to pretend. However, it is always a process of self-education and of course, I appreciate that yours is visible so the discussion can continue to grow as humanity moves ever forward,, backward, sideways...

    Cheers, also, any chance of some more medieval analysis of decentralized institutions?

    1. “But in a stateless world, there would be a number of approaches, including ones that I and other NAPpies did not like, and people would be free to choose between them.”

      I’m glad I am not the only one. I made some comment to this effect during a virtual discussion regarding IP – that different societies might choose different definitions of property. Marx or Krugman would have received a more courteous reply.

      “…the mother whose baby threatens her life: whose rights supersede whose?”

      It is due to questions such as these that it is easy to be reminded that we are only human, and life cannot be perfect; the solutions to such imperfections cannot be perfect either. In the meantime, I will lean on the experience of Dr. Paul when he says that in the course of delivering thousands of babies he has never come across such a circumstance. I guess we can be thankful that such dilemmas are rather rare.

      “…any chance of some more medieval analysis of decentralized institutions?”

      Nothing on the radar at the moment. However it was precisely from my reading and writing about medieval society that I concluded that it seems reasonable that different groups might come to different solutions (and certainly so in the gray areas), and it isn’t my place to judge as long as I am free to leave.

    2. I mentioned it awhile ago, but I was reading through Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth which takes place between 1123 and 1174. I finally finished it and though it was a bit plodding and went into dizzying detail on the construction of cathedrals there was an interesting dynamic between the two major towns.

      One town was run first by a "bad" Prior and second by a "good" Prior. The other town was run first by a "good" feudal lord and second by a "bad" lord.

      The fist Prior had a cathedral that was in disrepair and did not foster tourism and the order of monks were lazy and undisciplined. He died and the "good" Prior took over and instituted reforms. He had the monks producing surplus goods, he opened a market that drove in tourists to see the cathedral and generally life gradually became better for the average citizen.

      The first feudal lord was benevolent. He showed mercy on his serfs and fostered justice and oversaw a wealthy realm. He was overthrown and the "bad" lord took over. That lord taxed the serfs into the ground to pay for war and claimed their lands when they couldn't pay. He let them starve and he let the land grow fallow. Soon the realm was in dire poverty while the lords lived as if life had not changed at all.

      When the "bad" lord realized the marketplace in the "good" Prior's town was growing bigger and gaining more revenues, he attacked the town and set it to fire. Broken windows! Oh the wealth the "bad" lord must have inadvertently created! But it didn't. The Prior's town was just poorer and much worse off. But the Prior had faith and kept on and eventually rebuilt while the "bad" lord continued his short-term time-preferenced behavior and after a thousand pages, you can guess whose views worked out better for whom in the long run.

      Sorry if you were thinking of reading the book. I don't particularly recommend it but, if you do, then I have just recapitulated the main story arc and the strength of the book is more in the details of the characters.