NB: check below for updates to this post
My comment posted at Target Liberty:
To start: I will set aside the situation where the property owner has clearly specified rules and penalties for violations regarding his property. I will also set aside the implication of this to the child taking the apple – libertarian theory is very incomplete when it comes to many questions about children.
From everything I gather, I believe it is correct that libertarian theory does not answer the question: what is the proper punishment / restitution / whatever for violation X?
It is possible that this means that libertarian theory offers that the victim is allowed to determine the punishment. I imagine it is also possible that this is not a logical conclusion. If libertarian theory doesn’t answer the question, the logical conclusion might just be that it doesn’t answer the question – and that the answer must be found elsewhere.
Subjective value is a truism for humans – in economics and in all human action. I don’t know that this suggests subjective value is a libertarian concept. It is subjective value on which Robert rests. This might be one way to answer the question: “what is the proper punishment for violation X?” But it isn’t the only way, and I don’t know that it is inherently the libertarian way.
There are many issues of human action and human interactions that are not addressed by libertarian theory and the NAP – which only address the issue of initiating violence (of course, against property or person). Punishment (after the cessation of the initial violent act) is not an initiation of violence.
How does a theory that addresses the initiation of violence address something that isn’t the initiation of violence?
Robert might be right, however I remain in the box that this question can only be answered by what is acceptable in a given culture. Fortunately or unfortunately this leaves a somewhat wide path for “acceptable” punishment – but, I would argue, not as wide a path as the one offered by Robert’s position.
Whatever might be correct in libertarian theory (and again, I do not believe libertarian theory offers an answer), communities want to avoid blood feuds (I have a post that will be published tomorrow that touches just on this point, an example from today’s world).
The decision of punishment will not be left solely to the victim to decide. And I do not see this as contradictory to libertarian theory.
From the Mises Institute:
The non-aggression principle is an ethical stance which asserts that "aggression" is inherently illegitimate. "Aggression" is defined as the "initiation" of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense.
Or, as Rothbard put it:
The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the "nonaggression axiom." "Aggression" is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.
In other words, libertarians maintain that the only way to violate rights is by initiating force — that is, by committing aggression.
So, define aggression. A child stole an apple from the orchard and ate it. He is now sitting at home peacefully when the farmer barges in the door and shoots him. At this particular moment, is the child committing aggression, or is the farmer?
Following the definition offered at Mises: certainly what the farmer did was “violent.” Can it also be described as “self-defense”? At the moment the farmer shot the child, the child was not threatening the farmer’s life or property.
The answers to these questions are self-evident. What about punishment, restitution, or retaliation – to Bob’s comments? Can the farmer’s actions be justified in this light?
Kinsella offers thoughts on this as well:
(Libertarianism also holds that, while the initiation of force against another person's body is impermissible, force used in response to aggression — such as defensive, restitutive, or retaliatory/punitive force — is justified.)
Exactly how much “retaliatory/punitive force” “is justified” and how much is the initiation of aggression? At what point is the line crossed from “justified” to “aggression”? Is it only the farmer who decides? I suggest that nothing in libertarianism answers this question.
Yet, I might be incorrect on this; further, from Kinsella:
For the foregoing reasons, libertarianism may be said to be the political philosophy that consistently favors social rules aimed at promoting peace, prosperity, and cooperation. (Emphasis in original.)
If what Kinsella suggests that “may be said” about libertarianism can actually be said about libertarianism, then there is nothing in libertarianism that would support the shooting of the child in retaliation or punishment for the theft of an apple – even if this was “just” in the farmer’s subjective value scale.
Conclusion (so far)
So if I am correct – that libertarian theory does not answer the question of how much punishment is appropriate punishment – then looking to libertarian theory is a dead end. If Kinsella is correct that libertarianism favors social rules at promoting peace and cooperation, then shooting a child for stealing an apple is not a remedy that can be justified within libertarian theory.
Kinsella offers the possibility of retaliatory/punitive force. But how much is too much? How much is punitive and how much is the initiation of aggression? I see no answer from Kinsella (if he offers one, I would appreciate a link), and I suggest libertarian theory doesn’t offer a distinct line of demarcation.
So who decides? I say culture.
Second Comment posted at Target Liberty
As I think about this more, I keep returning to a couple of thoughts:
1) When does "penalty" cross the line into "initiation of aggression"? Libertarian theory does not hold an answer to this question, to my understanding; we even cannot settle on a definitive line regarding what "aggression" is in the first place (not that I find it necessary to do so).
2) Subjective value is not a concept that flows from libertarian theory, at least not in any way that I see. Therefore, one could presumably justify a penalty code based on subjective value, but I do not see how it can be built on the foundation offered by the NAP.
Any light / links on either matter would be appreciated.
Separately, this idea put into practice is seen in gang wars and the relationship of Israel / Palestine, among other places where blood feuds are normal). If it is valid in libertarian theory (which, so far, I do not see) it is not conducive to a civil society and would certainly result in the welcoming of a monopoly fixer of all grievances.
A libertarian society could not survive this practice.