Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What Was the Point?

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 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.


  1. Boy, Bionic, you really can put a fine point on an issue.
    But basically, I agree. The NAP ***legal*** institution is one thing. The ***social*** norms are another. Much like in the all too inferior situation today.
    Say a guy dating my daughter grabs her titty without permission. Well, this is technically "sexual assault", which entails massive police and court actions to rectify. Or, I could just got over to his house and punch him in the nose.

    1. In the libertarian community where I would live, you would be free to punch him in the nose!

    2. I should add...unless it was my son, in which case I would punch him in the nose.

    3. In Wenzel's PPS the guy dating your daughter could simply make an assertion that your daughter violated the NAP, and that touching her breasts was just retribution.

  2. I am in substantial agreement with bionic mosquito.

    In "The farmer shooting the child violates the non-aggression principle," it all depends on the circumstances.

    Was it plain light of day, that the trespasser and violator was an unarmed child, that indeed it was a child, that it was an isolated event, infinite etceteras.

    Chances are that I would not be that farmer but to what degree does the NAP requires an individual to put himself in possible jeopardy and in his own property?

    1. The long-running narrative - the backstory, if you will...

      Wenzel claims that the victim of aggression is the sole person to determine punishment.

      I offered (at least I am pretty sure it was me) the example of a child stealing an apple. Is the farmer justified via the NAP to exact the punishment of the death penalty?

      I don't recall that I developed the example further - was the theft and shooting in the dark of night, was the theft one day and the shooting the next day - in broad daylight and without jeopardy to the farmer, was the child carrying a toy that was mistaken for an AK-47, did he aim this toy at the farmer?

      I offered none of these. Others have made this more complex - not me, I am a simpleton. The question is simple: if the victim has the sole right to name the punishment, what if the victim chooses the death penalty for stealing an apple?

      Is this consistent with the NAP (theory)? Separately, would such an action be conducive toward achieving and maintaining a libertarian society (application)?

      Simple questions; no need to complicate this.


  3. I agree with NAP but it is guided and constrained by my Christian belief.

    Unless a society has enough common beliefs and culture, the chances of adjudicating NAP violations are nil. After all, it is in the handling of the violations that we find the friction.

    I think it is the point you have been making for a long while.

  4. BM: The farmer shooting the child violates the non-aggression principle.

    Unless apparently it's the farmer's culture to permit shooting children, then BM is okay with it? Does this make you a "culturetarian" (need to invent a word I guess) not libertarian?

    "Cultural governance" makes no sense to me. What am I missing?

    1. It is a violation in any culture.

      "What am I missing?"

      Who said anything about culture or governance with disregard to the NAP?

    2. ===
      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.

      Something EXACTLY like that.

      Emphasis added. The implication here for your position is that the NAP is culturally relative so long as there are "voluntary affiliations"... except children can't because they aren't able to give their informed consent to be "honor killed."

      So for instance, under the "cultural governance" arrangement honor killing a 13 yo girl is permissible and not a violation of the NAP.

      I believe culture must conforms to NAP not the other way around. And for that, there has to be the state to enforce it. Ideally voluntary, but not necessarily... because the NAP applies to children too.

  5. Although I never stated it, I did not agree with Mr. Wenzel’s idea that only the ‘victim’ of the aggression is fit to decide the punishment. He argued that since value is subjective [an economic concept] that only the victim understands how much he valued the apple and/or that his property was trespassed upon. I find that a rather weak argument and a policy, as has been pointed out, that would lead to infinite mischief to say the least.

    Somewhere in this saga of threads I shifted and began asking about a different case, which I think is more interesting. In my scenario the ‘justice’ was not addressed later as a punishment. But rather the kid was caught trespassing and stealing red-handed. In this scenario the farmer uses deadly force on the spot - not as a punishment, but rather to directly protect his property from aggression as it was occurring.

    I admit this is a different scenario than the one originally in dispute. I still find it to be an interesting scenario. What of the supposed use of excessive force in this new libertarian world?

    Still I’m muddying the waters, as this was not the scenario under review.

    1. gpond

      How would this be adjudicated? Facts would have to be gathered, evidence introduced, etc. Some individual, tribunal, or jury would weigh the evidence and circumstance - then render a decision.

      There are dozens of factors to be understood. I don't even want to start to list these.

      If deadly force is used to stop a clear-cut case of a child stealing an physical threat to the farmer, etc...what verdict would you offer? What verdict would be consistent with your interpretation and application of the NAP?

    2. If I could completely answer questions like this, I guess I would have to start my own blog. ;)

      Going strictly by the NAP and considering property rights and NAP as the highest values I can not rule out a verdict of innocent. The one exception for using aggression is when one or one’s property is being aggressed against. Shocking, I know.

      Obviously no one would wish an outcome such as this. Man shoots boy (or girl) for minor trespass. And you have pointed out repeatedly, and rightly so, that such a ‘society’ would not long exist.

      Where I always come back to is this: I have a great deal of faith in the free market to provide solutions to situations such as these. Smarter and wiser men than I will be able to offer solutions to situations such as these, and do so at a profit, or go out of business. Furthermore, I think that these kinds of mental exercises lead to a conclusion that these solutions will need to exist *prior to* a fully AnCap society coming about. Otherwise it would not be viable.

      At the risk of putting words in your mouth, perhaps a form of voluntary tribalism as alluded to be your writings (and Hoppe’s I think) would end up being the best we are capable of achieving. However, I believe that the free market, with competition in solutions and ideas, may surprise me with innovative ‘answers’ to these problems beyond anything I may have thought up. So I don’t think we have to centrally plan all answers to all questions at this point in time. Cop out? … Maybe.

    3. I recently read a very good libertarian science fiction novel by L. Neil Smith called The Probability Broach. One innovative solution employed in the book was for the protagonist to publicly challenge the antagonist to a duel. To answer the challenge and participate in the duel was completely voluntary. The loss of face in declining was tangible.

    4. gpond, I am not in search of a solution or answer. People will either figure it out or they won't.

      In the meantime, I would be happy to start at "voluntary tribalism" and thereafter see how we might further improve toward a libertarian ideal.

    5. bm: "In the meantime, I would be happy to start at "voluntary tribalism" and thereafter see how we might further improve toward a libertarian ideal."

      I second the motion! All opposed!?