Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ignoratio Elenchi

Ignoratio Elenchi (irrelevant conclusion): the fallacy of proving a conclusion not pertinent and quite different from that which was intended or required.

Aristotle believed that an ignoratio elenchi is a mistake made by a questioner while attempting to falsify a respondent's argument. He called it an ignorance of what makes for a refutation. For Aristotle, ignoratio elenchi amounts to ignorance of logic.

…it should be the victim (via the rules of the property owner where he finds himself) that determines the penalty when he experiences/suffers because of a violation of the non-aggression principle

It should be kept in mind that this is where the discussion started.  The topic is determination for penalties in a libertarian society.  In case you missed it, I will repeat: the topic is determination for penalties in a libertarian society.

What happens when you know you are riding a losing horse?  You change horses.  What happens when you know you have presented an illogical argument?  At least some people pretend it never happened, and merely attempt to subtly shift the conversation to a different topic – and then claim victory when they “prove” it!

Ignoratio Elenchi.

I still check in on Wenzel, specifically to see where he is taking his Private Property Society.  About a week ago, he declared progress in his ongoing debate with Walter Block.  In this post, he describes private security and insurance agencies.  He describes how these would be used to adjudicate disputes and determine penalties.  He describes the situation well.  Frankly, if he wrote this post in the first place a few weeks ago, I would have agreed heartily.

But it isn’t a few weeks ago.  This was not the topic a few weeks ago.  A few weeks ago he was advocating that the property owner had the sole right to determine the penalties for an NAP violation.  When confronted with the property owner choosing death as the penalty for an apple-stealing child, he did not clarify his meaning; he did not state that he was misunderstood.  He doubled-down.

This is no longer the subject, apparently.  No mention of total sovereignty as judge, jury and executioner in this post.  In case you are confused, please refer to the bolded sentence a few paragraphs up.

Ignoratio Elenchi

In any case, I have waited for Block’s reply.  It has been a week.  It normally never takes more than two or three days.  Maybe I have missed it; if so, someone please let me know.  I thought maybe Walter was sick, but have recently seen posts from him on other topics.  Maybe Walter is as dumbstruck as I have been for the last week….

It gets better (or worse)…I now read this from Wenzel, in discussing the libertarian view on prohibition and prostitution:

First of all government interventions are not in any way a stool, they are always hammers (If not machine guns).

I agree.

Second, the libertarian perspective does not state that any act must be allowed on any property. It is about respect for private property, which can include the banning of prostitution on a property by its owner.

I agree.

At least that's the view of libertarians who subscribe to a Private Property Society perspective. Maybe Callahan is thinking of libertarians who believe in some sort of over-ruling body based on "culture" etc.

Do you think he is referring to me, as I have introduced the value of culture?  Yet, why?  On what basis is he dragging this comment about “culture” into this topic of prostitution and prohibition?  My comments had nothing to do with these.  My comments were specific regarding the individual victim solely determining punishment.

In case you are confused, please refer to the bolded sentence at the top of this post.

Ignoratio Elenchi

Wenzel isn’t the only one playing this game.  As he often will do, Walter Block is offering responses to questions posed to him from various corners (NB: it is the questioner that is ignoratio, not Walter), for example:

In a private property society (PPS), the Castle Doctrine would be the rule- the owner would not be prohibited from acting with deadly force in protection of his property.  This upsets some, who in the words of Robert Wenzel, “…do not truly understand the logical road such a view leads to and I am sure that many recoil… to the punch in the gut as to the true nature of PPS.”  Discussions of proportionality answer the wrong question.

The referenced article is Wenzel’s response to me.  I am the upset “some” in the question.

Please note, from the question: “the owner would not be prohibited from acting with deadly force in protection of his property.”

Regarding the topic to which Wenzel was commenting, did I write anything about being “prohibited from acting with deadly force in protection of his property”?  No, I did not.  If you are confused, please go to the top of the post and read again the bolded section.  The topic was determination of punishment.  The topic was not self-defense or defense of property.

Ignoratio Elenchi

Now for some wisdom.  From the same Q&A, Walter offers:

In general, read this, THE best essay ever written on libertarian law (and on environmental issues too):

To what is Walter referring?  Rothbard’s Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution.  There is a section regarding the determination of penalties:

…punishment and defense of person or property are not the same, and must be treated differently.  Punishment is an act of retribution after the crime has been committed and the criminal apprehended, tried, and convicted.

Perhaps some might do well to keep this in mind.  Punishment and defense of person or property are not the same.

…there must be some rational standards of proof for libertarian principles to operate….From a libertarian point of view, then, proper procedure calls for rational proof about the guilt or innocence of persons charged with tort or crime.

“Rational standards”…“proper procedure”…“rational proof”…“charged with”….  I don’t read anything here about the individual being judge, jury, and executioner.

The presumption of every case, then, must be that every defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof must be squarely upon the plaintiff.

Wow!  Not only is the victim not judge, jury and executioner – the burden of proof is on the victim!  Of course, there is no burden if he only has to prove it to himself – but this would make a mockery of the term, would it not?  For some reason, I don’t believe this is what Rothbard had in mind.

A more satisfactory criterion, however, is that the trier must be convinced of the defendant's guilt by “clear, strong, and convincing proof.”…Conviction of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” appears to be the standard most consonant with libertarian principle.

It is the “trier” that must be convinced.  Not the victim.  There will be other people involved – not solely the victim.

Go back and look at the bolded sentence at the top of this post.  Punishment and self-defense are two different things.

Ignoratio Elenchi


The remainder of this post may seem somewhat off topic.  It is not.

A Discussion Worth Sharing

Well, at least I say it is…

I had a meaningful exchange with a regular reader and valued contributor.  It was in response to my post, Musings on Anarchy. Apparently there was a time this individual felt strongly that the NAP was a very objective principle or perhaps that the application could always be objective (and I offer here only a portion of the discussion):

Nick Badalamenti February 15, 2016 at 9:05 AM

But the thing that has come out of this whole kerfluffle [being the Wenzel / bionic disagreement] for me personally has been that I'm far less sure of myself and the NAP (though still a believer) from an objective standpoint.

bionic mosquito February 15, 2016 at 6:01 PM

One reason I came out so strongly against Wenzel’s position is that I felt if he was correct in his view (correct meaning consistent with libertarian theory), then libertarian theory is a dead theory. Talk about raising doubts in my foundational political belief.

But as to being sure or not about the NAP – objectively, subjectively, whatever…and again, speaking just for me…

I remain a firm (and sure) believer and advocate because I don’t expect more from the NAP than what it offers. Don’t initiate aggression. What a wonderful political concept.

As we find, sometimes the application is difficult. But as a political theory, it is beautiful in its simplicity.


The progressives have found no substitute for virtue. They can offer only such morbid stopgaps as contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. The Dark Ages understood virtue built a civilization; the progressive age doesn’t understand virtue and is tearing down the civilization it inherited. Euthanasia is a fitting symbol: the last sacrament of a society that cannot aspire to heaven, but only to painless annihilation.

One need not believe in heaven or sacraments to accept the value in this statement.  It is a statement applicable to all those who dismiss the value of culture in developing and sustaining a more libertarian world.  Just because something is allowable in libertarian theory does not mean it is conducive to achieving and maintaining a libertarian world. 

Does this mean libertarian theory is somehow faulty?  Not to me.  The NAP isn’t God, it isn’t even a god.  It doesn’t hold the key to every door, the answer to every question.  The NAP cannot define itself; the NAP cannot apply itself; the NAP cannot defend itself.  The NAP doesn’t insist that it is defined, applied, or defended in exactly the same way in every situation, every time, everywhere on earth.  I don’t expect it to deliver heaven on earth, a utopia – the NAP won’t even get very far without a lot of help

It is a political theory, nothing more.  Don’t initiate aggression.  It is beautiful in its simplicity.  It can only fail those who expect miracles.


  1. BM:

    I've been following this discussion, as well as your other thoughts as of late, with great interest. Since this topic is still here, I feel compelled to offer a thought or two on these subjects. Mind you, they are just thoughts from the anarchist kiddie table, but.....

    Throughout these discussions, invariably the poor ghost of Lysander Spooner within me starts clawing away, insisting that anyone finding themselves subject to adjudication had better have consented to being judged in that venue to begin with. Otherwise, it makes pinpointing the wellspring of aggression problematic.

    Take the NAP lovin' libertarian kid-killing apple tree owner, for example. If he was a part of that society (be it a village, a county, or state), he should have understood that shooting a ten year old for stealing an apple was not justifiable for any reason. He should have been able to predict with utter certainty his fellow libertarians reactions when they came to burn him out of his house ,taking him away for a ten minute discussion about guilt - before hanging him.

    If he was a member of that society, that is.

    That's not mob rule. That is the whole of whatever society you agreed to live in judgement against you.

    Deal with it before your neck breaks.

    If he didn't belong to that society - that he was accustomed to and acted as a soveriegn entity unto himself - then he should be treated accordingly. This is where things get fun, right? If a child wandered off of one reservation onto another reservation and stole an apple from their community apple tree, after which he was judged a thief and shot five minutes later, what would the appropriate reaction be then?

    Let's assume for the fun of extremism, that THAT reservation is known for shooting ALL apple thieving kids - the end result, while still horribly wrong, is hardly surprising. It's what THEY do! That being the case, every child from the time they take thier first steps should be taught to never go anywhere near that reservation EVER (a wall might be Nonassociation and discrimination would be justified based on 'cultural' norms.

    If they are known for just shooting YOUR apple thieving kids, then I believe you might have found some wiggle room under the NAP for a response. In the case of Mr. NAP lovin' libertarian kid-killer, they are all YOUR kids - expect a response, and...

    Deal with it before your neck breaks.

    As to punishment, there should be a restorative aspect and a punitive aspect. both of which are balanced. I call it 'Double for the Trouble'. The apple thieving kid should have been taken to some forum and judged. The punishment should have been the return of one apple (or it's comensurate value) AND the cost of another apple. The farmer was made whole by the return of one apple, and the kid realizes the loss the farmer would have incurred because of his actions. The victim comes out ahead. The guilty party come out at a loss. Neat. Simple.

    Im sure there are a lot of circumstances that can gum up the works, but the key here is simplicity.

    The NAP is brilliant because of it's simplicity - harm no other. Libertarian theory is brilliant because it doen't operate in spite of human behavior, but rather because of it. One doesn't need to manufacture a mechanism involving private security and insurance arbitrators to make this work. People will do all that themselves they way they want it. You can associate with those people - join thier private property society or 'culture' (lulz @ semantics) or not.

    It's your call, and it is of no concern to me which you choose.

    Thank you for letting me air that out. Please keep up the excellent work.

    With regards,


    1. "Let's assume for the fun of extremism, that THAT reservation is known for shooting ALL apple thieving kids - the end result, while still horribly wrong, is hardly surprising."

      On a theoretical basis, I cannot disagree with any of this. However, humans being human, at some point the families of the shot children might decide they have had enough.

      No one will care about libertarian theory at that point. If pressed, the parents will freely admit that they are violating the property rights of the apple-owning reservationists.

      The picture you describe can be perfectly applied to gang turf and gang warfare – a never-ending cycle of violence for a guy walking across even a well-defined line.

      Let me be clear – one is justified under the NAP to defend his property. Period. Further, it seems to me one cannot be required to put up signs or anything else under a strict interpretation of the NAP.

      My point – and my ONLY point on this specific issue – is that if the affected parties do not feel reasonably settled with the outcome (whether as defense during the act of the theft or as punishment after final adjudication of whatever sort), further violence is possible and eventually likely.

      They won’t care about your well-known practice of shooting thieving children. They won’t care about this aspect of a “Private Property Society.” They won’t care about Lysander Spooner. They want to put an end to their children being shot for such a minor transgression. They will take whatever steps necessary to do this. Some of these steps might be violent.

      Then where is your libertarian society.

      Yet, all of this could be avoided…if….

  2. I note that Walter Block says that slant drilling for oil is fine, yet in Texas slant drilling is enough to get you shot. Who then decides who is right? In Wenzel's PPS no one decides and even established convention has no pull.

    I am inexorably moving away from the "libertarian movement" because it is full of people that advocate things that are least likely to result in liberty. The open immigration thing is the biggie, and the issue that is going to bring about the downfall of Western civilization. The libertarian impulse is found only in western civilization and nowhere else. Once open borders libertarians achieve their goal of open boarders the prospect for liberty will be extinguished forever.

    1. “The open immigration thing is the biggie…”

      I was thinking about this in my reply to Anonymous February 18, 2016 at 11:26 PM. The residents of the reservation with the children could put up a wall between them and the farmers – a wall that would preclude the children from going to the other side. A Trumpian wall!

      But then this would cause the open borders libertarians to scream.

      Yet it opens another glimpse into why a common and voluntarily-respected culture enhances the possibility of achieving and sustaining a libertarian society.

    2. Hello Matt,

      I remember the statement you made the other day that included "in my country", would you mind sharing with us what country you're from? (for perspective for me personally, I'm curious- I hope you weren't being facetious, lol)

      Thank you.

    3. Hi, Nick. I'm from Australia. It's not like America at all. No free speech etc. Libertarians are called fascists. It's a tough place to believe in freedom.

    4. I'm sorry to hear that Matt-

      Thank you for letting me know.

  3. The way Rothbard, Hoppe, Friedman, the Tannehills, and others have envisioned and written about a free society, it is just that - a full-fledged *society*. A free society is not a return to the state of nature, but the removal of imposed tyrannical, monopolistic, unethical institutions.

    What these writers describe is the marketplace being free to operate in the realms of justice and security whereas we now live under state monopolies of the same. A simple way to understand this is to imagine that instead of giving your vote to a politician and/or party in the monopoly society, you would be free to give your "vote" by actually giving your hard-earned dollars to companies, associations, federations, clubs - whatever it might be called and however it may be organized - in order to provide these services voluntarily. When law is exposed to a free marketplace, we will all find out exactly what rules people can rationally, ethically - and get this - economically support and enforce.

    The dominant model for a pure anarchic system is an insurance model because an insurance company (it could also me a mutual insurance non-profit association)is what the market has already produced to deal with all kinds of risk. This sort of institution can easily insure and enforce contracts using financial and reputation-based incentives. It can provide arbitration. It can cover loss from theft or other crimes when the perp cannot be apprehended. It can sub out or provide in-house security forces for recovery or restitution. It can negotiate with other similar institutions to create an ethical system of adjudication and appeal. It's a very robust model, and it's based on what we already see operating in the real world today.

    The other major model is the retention of territorial institutions under constitutions which provide for local home-rule in a vastly decentralized and declawed state or quasi-state (i.e., city state) system. This represents the devolution of politics down to manageable levels while also providing people with tons of alternatives to find a territory which most matches their preferences. This could literally be done tomorrow if people wanted to do it.

    It either case, it is likely that the best and most time-honored rules and regulations are what would prevail in any burgeoning free society. It really isn't rocket science. It's rather pedestrian actually. The real challenge is not figuring out what would happen to child apple-stealers and the nuts who gun them down(what a ridiculous distraction!), but getting people to see how monopoly would be replaced by rational economic choice and free institutions. Such institutions would necessarily have to CATER TO the public, so they MUST solve problems rationally, peaceably, and economically. To fail to do so is to lose ones subscribers and lose market share or go out of business altogether.

    Chaos has no place in a free society. No one wants it. No one wants unchecked vigilantism. No one wants endless strife in a structure-less jungle of tribal warfare. This alone insures that people will happily pay handsomely in order to insure smooth business relations and peaceful environs which deal effectively with criminals and other troublemakers. A fully free society would be the very opposite of a free-for-all street-fighting vigilante nightmare scenario. It would be highly structured and "regulated" to the nth degree; it would just be structured and regulated voluntarily according to free market principles, that's all. Yes, there could be outlaws and gangs and crazies here and there, but that's par for the course. We have that now, so what's the fuss? I hate to see these silly, irrelevant, extreme-case scenarios causing people to question the logic of the NAP or the viability of a free society.

    1. Hear! Hear!

      Very well written.

      Kudos to you.

    2. I used to live in a private community in Northern California. One night some high school kids from outside decided to rip off some of my neighbor's pot plants. He heard their activity, came out of his house yelling and they took off. Fortunately, the stupid little buggers drove the wrong way into a cul de sac. By that time we neighbors were up and at it and blocked the only exit with a truck. The kids sheepishly walked towards us with their hands up. They were offered the opportunity to re-plant the plants, or get an ass whuppin'. So plant they did, and MOST of the plants recovered. In a truly free society, they could have been sued for compensation, but what are ya gonna do?
      Anyhow, communities can provide their own (superior) policing as they have for millennia.

    3. Millionth

      This is a thoughtful comment, thank you for sharing it.

      I wanted to give it some considered thought before deciding if I had some reason to reply. In this, I offer the following:

      “I hate to see these silly, irrelevant, extreme-case scenarios causing people to question the logic of the NAP or the viability of a free society.”

      May I ask how you suggest handling this situation? A relatively well-known and seemingly respected libertarian advocate (Wenzel) proposes the acceptability within libertarian theory of such a scenario – a scenario not only unlikely but also contrary to the NAP.

      Before answering, consider: to most people out there – meaning outside of the reasonably mature-thinking libertarian community, such chaos is EXACTLY what will occur in a society not governed by a coercive monopoly. They “know” this and now they read someone like Wenzel go ballistic in defense of this.

      Because you see, most people not as well-read and thoughtful as you will read Wenzel’s aggressive defense of his position and it will cause them “to question the logic of the NAP or the viability of a free society.”

      So, what do you suggest? Do you let it stand? Ignore it? Assume that anyone who might read this – not all of whom are as deeply versed in libertarian thought as you appear to be – will understanding both the fallacy in libertarian logic and the small possibility of such a situation coming to pass?

      Your considered response will be appreciated.

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  5. This divide reminds me of the science experiments where feathers and bowling balls fall at the same rate of acceleration in a vacuum. Then there is the reality of air in the outside world.

  6. The apple stealing kid did violate but did not agress. The apple/property owner's shooting of kid did agress but did not violate (JITex's vacuum). Human complexity can find resoulution acceptable to all parties as "fair" if desired...or not (JITex's air). Fair?