Monday, April 25, 2016

Holding the Application of Libertarian Theory to an Impossible Standard

bionic mosquito April 23, 2016 at 6:59 AM

Continued decentralization is the desire. Increasing choice of types of communities is the objective.

Hoping that humans will become something other than what they have been in all of recorded history is a pipe-dream. This you have in common with communist theory - the belief in the possibility of creating a new man.

Have it your way: it is not libertinism. It is Marx's theory put into practice. Hell on earth.

You are then "out of a free market." And I have much more evidence in history on my side than do you.

Anonymous April 24, 2016 at 4:25 AM

Anon proof

@bm you are only telling me that free market and ancap are impossible. May be the case. I hope you are wrong.

My thoughts on this, as follows:

I am wondering why it is expected that application of libertarian theory (in its pure form) is held to a standard that no other political theory (in its pure form) has ever achieved or can ever achieve.

Further: no religion on earth – blessed by the gods or blessed by the God – has ever achieved such perfection in application, yet libertarian theory in application is held to this standard.  If such a religion has not achieved such perfection in application, why is it expected of libertarian theory?

The world is made up of humans – imperfect creatures with many flaws.  Yet, somehow, a political theory in application is supposed to make them each flawless gods?

I understand why enemies of libertarian theory attempt to hold the theory (and possible application thereof) to such a standard – to discredit a political theory that offers maximum liberty is a desirable objective for proponents of every other political theory.

I do not understand why the friends of libertarian theory hold it to such a standard in application.  They only serve to discredit the theory.

I have been clear before, but feel I must state again: libertarian theory and the non-aggression principle is beautiful; do not initiate aggression.  This is the theory, and it stands on its own.  It should always be defended as the inviolable aspect of the theory.  Anything else one suggests to be part of libertarian theory must stand to the test of the NAP and private property.

Debate the theory – it must be so, to refine it.  As Walter Block often says (something like): to get one-millionth of a degree close to the truth.  This is a necessary and valuable activity.

However, the application of the theory is not so easy in this world – and never will be no matter the fruits of the theoretical debates.  The term “aggression” does not define itself; the term “property” does not define itself; the term “human” does not define itself – certainly not when it comes to the application of the theory to children and others with less-than-reasonable mental capacities. 

We can debate these definitions all we want, but who is to say others will accept the results?  A society must define all these and more; who is to say that every society everywhere in the world will define these the same way?

No amount of debate between and amongst libertarian theorists is going to change what a tribal community in some far-flung corner of the world considers “property.”  Even if you get them to buy into libertarian theory, their view of what makes for “property” will likely always be different than yours.

Decentralization of political power, always and everywhere, is my view of the application of this theory – if application of the theory is ever to take root in some corners of the globe.  Voluntary agreements, always.

What does “voluntary” mean?  In theory, I get it.  In application?  It can only mean choice – and the more choices the more voluntary.  Even in the freest market, I do not get exactly the car I want, or the house, or the steak.  I do have enough choices where I am able to find one that is closest to my ideal.  It isn’t perfect.  Against a theoretical definition of “voluntary,” it fails to stand.  But in this world, it is more than sufficient for liberty.   

When I am able to choose from numerous possibilities in more and more aspects of my life, I increase my liberty.  The more numerous the choices, the better; the more numerous the more liberty and the closer I am to reaching voluntary perfection.

Inherently, property is exclusionary.  Conclusions can be drawn from this; these conclusions do not make all libertarians happy.  Some conclusions so upset some libertarians so much that they almost cannot be distinguished from communists. 

But they are valid conclusions as long as one accepts that property is exclusionary.  Of course, you are free to accept that property is not exclusionary – this also seems more like communism than anything else.  As I said to anonymous, this is Marx’s theory put into practice – hell on earth.

As long as all agreements are voluntary, political groupings for most issues of personal importance will remain relatively small and local.  Three-hundred-million bound by the same politics?  No chance, not voluntarily.  Even two-million?  Not likely.  Think Switzerland – and the smaller cantons at that.  Political groupings will likely be comprised of this size – people you know, people who have demonstrated that they are trustworthy.


I return to anonymous:

…you are only telling me that free market and ancap are impossible.

Perfection by humans in any endeavor is impossible. 

Libertarians should stop serving those who wish to destroy libertarian theory by holding the application of libertarian theory to a standard never achieved by any political theory or religion anywhere or anytime in the history of the world.

Which brings me back to decentralization.  Decentralization always and everywhere.  This is where libertarian theory leads in application in this world, a world made up of flawed humans.


  1. Limiting the state to a certain percentage of revenue it can extract from it's subjects would be a good start. If the state were limited to 10% of it's subjects wealth then a lot of the nonsense we see today would be gone.

    Some people think that we will go from these circumstances to full ancap somehow. I would rather focus on practical things that we can do to increase liberty now.

  2. This is why the NAP is not useful as a political principle in the world we live in. The NAP leads libertarians to political nihilists because "politics is aggression."

    BM, it would be great to see a shift in libertarian thinking that places priority on decentralization. This is why libertarians need to support European nationalism. It is against the empire and it moves the overton window towards smaller self determined nations.

    If Rothbard was around today I don't doubt he would be supporting Identitarianism. As I understand it he was a member of the League of the South (Southern Nationalism) when he died.

    1. "The NAP leads libertarians to political nihilists because "politics is aggression.""

      I find more libertarian organizations interested in - and actively supporting - politics than those which do not.

      " would be great to see a shift in libertarian thinking that places priority on decentralization."

      You have certainly seen this at LRC (and, humbly, here).

      And see this, as one example at Mises:

    2. You are right BM. I should clarify. Nihilism is just one of the possible outcomes. There are other possible outcomes. I just happen to have dealt alot with the nihilists.

      I will point out that the libertarian organizations are on average not very hardline. Do you consider Koch funded organizations to be libertarian? (I don't doubt that some genuine libertarians receive Koch money).

    3. Cato being the best-known, in my definition of "libertarian" (and even making allowance for all of the gray in applying theory to real life), no.

  3. Very interesting posts.

    I find the application of libertarian theory, adhering to the NAP and recognizing property rights, quite simple on a personal level. It's only when the theory is imposed on others, on a political level, that it becomes confused and conflicted.

    I agree decentralization provides the greatest liberty to the greatest number of people. I have mixed feelings on whether libertarians should attempt to influence it through political involvement, though I wouldn't fault anyone for trying.

    1. Jeff,

      Did you behave that way in your personal life before you read about "the NAP"?

    2. "Did you behave that way in your personal life before you read about "the NAP"?"

      I have to say no. I had what I believed were strong ethics, but there wasn't much logic behind them. Also, there are certain loyalties today, to family and friends, I would abandon the NAP to honor should they conflict.

    3. "I would abandon the NAP to honor should they conflict."

      Great little comment there.

      I struggle with that as well...for example, if someone walked up to my mother and said the most horrendous/vile things to her face with me standing there and I couldn't stop them verbally, I would punch them in the nose and be guilty of a NAP violation by most interpretations....

      I've never fully rectified that personally...most people say something to the effect of "sticks and stones" type philosophy in regard to the NAP...but I have to admit that I value my mother's honor above the NAP, though I prefer to do my best to follow the NAP. It's something of a performative contradiction for me.

      Along those same lines, I also believe that reputation (or "goodwill" in business accounting) is a form of property along the same lines as IP. I've made a logical argument to such as well and even once I'm pretty sure Block picked up on it and mentioned it in a debate with Wenzel(to which I was honored for even being acknowledged, but alas he didn't know it was me-lol).

      But setting aside that many people don't subscribe to Bastiat's definition of "property" and they don't recognize reputation as such...the issue of "honor" rears it's head.

      I wonder how many of those people might allow someone to berate their mother, wife, or daughter just to stay "true" the NAP....

      All interesting questions(to me anyway)...

    4. Nick, I think you have answered your own question. I also think that "property" and "aggression" will not be as narrowly defined everywhere in the world as many libertarians might want to believe.

      High-fallutin' theories about what constitutes aggression won't stop most people's fist from finding the nose of the individual guilty of verbal abuse.

      And I would not consider the nose-puncher any less a libertarian for it!

    5. " I also think that "property" and "aggression" will not be as narrowly defined everywhere in the world as many libertarians might want to believe.

      High-fallutin' theories about what constitutes aggression won't stop most people's fist from finding the nose of the individual guilty of verbal abuse."

      Excellent point, thank you.

    6. Defending someone’s honor with a little aggression wasn’t exactly what I thinking when I wrote I would abandon the NAP under certain circumstances. A little punch in the nose may or may not be considered aggression, it depends on the fist being thrown and how one defines harm. However assuming it IS aggression, violating the NAP doesn’t automatically require one to turn in his NAP card. There are avenues available to resolve conflicts including arbitration and restitution.

      Also, verbal abuse on public property in the non-libertarian world we have now is also considered aggression by the majority of people (“not so narrowly defined” as BM mentioned). A punch in the nose may be not only acceptable, but expected behavior in that situation. Not doing so may result in physical aggression from the abuser himself. Verbal abuse on private property would not be allowed assuming one picks his friends and associates carefully.

      What I meant by abandoning the NAP is that I have some loyalties as a side effect of living in this world that could supersede my ethics. Should someone I am loyal to aggress against others and do serious harm, I would still protect them if I were able regardless of the guilt or innocence of the individuals harmed. I bet most people can think of one or two similar loyalties. If they can’t, they have lead a very sheltered life.

  4. I think that the best way of examining the ability of ideologies to deliver the goods, so to speak, is to place them on a spectrum with the ends representing extremes. So for example, if socialist totalitarianism and free market anarchy as imagined by their true believers were placed on a spectrum, at one end all property would be privately owned and controlled and at the other all property would be owned and controlled by the state. Starting roughly in the middle which is where most of the world's economies already reside, as economic reality moved toward an end, everyone could observe the outcome for prosperity and general well being.

    Of course as repeatedly demonstrated by history, movement toward the free market end will produce an improvement in the general well being, while a movement toward the socialist end will produce increasing poverty and misery for all. As they always have, socialist partisans will argue that socialism is failing because it is being subverted by lingering reactionary activity and that their heaven on earth cannot be realized until all property and power firmly rest in the hands of the state. And so with each failure, socialists will double down on threats and brutality in their exertions toward the socialist paradise. Free market partisans, on the other hand, are not surprised by the improvement in the well being of all by even a modest movement toward their end of the spectrum.

    Libertarians should labor to move economic reality toward the freedom end of the spectrum knowing that each incremental move will improve life. This should be an inspiration to continue exertions even if the pure libertarian nirvana is never reached.

  5. Amon proof

    What are we talking about?

    - about libertarian or ancap theory? No. Neither of us say that theory requires banning homo or to follow other right culture claim. To be homo or h etero doesen't imply aggression per se, evidently.

    - about how to mantein a libertarian order in a dreamy scenario where all the world is libertarian and ancap? No. First to have that world is -true- impossible with man as they are. Second if we are dreaming why dream that homo must be banned? Dream that everybody can be ancap!

    - about a dreamy scenario where we have cutted the present world in little pieces of less than a milion members? So you are saying that in that world you want a gay free community? Ok. In that scenario many interpretation of what mean to be ancap and what must be done to mantein such an order would be experimented. I don't like yours, because i believe in individual freedom in relations, love, sex, etc.. And in pacific coexistence for homo and hetero, as i have seen it in many times and many places. But is no big problem.

    - about what can we do in this world in present time alias in reality? We can't trans form the whole world or create a New kind of man. We can't cut all the states we are livido in little pieces. But we can have some opportunity to build a libertarian community. As liberland. So, which criterion must we use to decide who include and exclude? The one proposed by Hoppe and right minded people is to use sexual orientation and sexual morality. To refuse homosexuals and libertines and people who seek alternative lifestyles. Sometimes thay want to ban also atheists. I think that there apre great libertarians that are also gay, althernative in lifestyle, atheist, libertine.. and that all this is not so important. I will ask not about sexual behavior, but about convinction on liberty and libertarianism. I can't create New man, but i can choose from the many the few that are radically libertarian. Those people whatever their behavior in all areas of human life, are the ones that would more probably mantein the more ancap order possibile and that will defend it culturally and phisically.

    1. "So, which criterion must we use to decide who include and exclude?"

      You have already answered the question: Hoppe has his criteria, you have yours. If you create a Liberland, it is up to Hoppe if he wants to compromise his choice in order to come into your community. If he creates Liberland, it is your choice to decide if you want to conform to his rules in order to join his community.

      In the end, property owners decide. And if the property owner wants no gays in his libertarian vision, will you use force to over-ride his authority regarding his property?

      It perfectly conforms to libertarian theory that a property owner can discriminate. The rest flows from this simple truth.

  6. For some reason my previous post is "Matthew" in this thread.

    This reminds me of these vaunted 'principles' we keep on hearing about. Supposedly the most 'principled' form of libertarianism is in Wenzel's PPS, according to Wenzel himself. In Wenzel's PPS child abuse can't be outlawed or even punished, but IP can be enforced and violations punished. What principles are being enunciated here? To my mind none at all. The only thing being revealed here are Wenzel's subjective preferences. Same goes for the anonymous homosexual on this thread. Instead of live and let live, according to anonymous all voluntary communities must integrate homosexuals. Presumably integrate or else.

    1. Anon proof

      Matt I have written in oter recents post of BM:

      - that one must be free to not associate with gay, but also to associate.. "Sorry. I must be free to not work for a gay people and to not sell my cakes to them, but also I must be free to work for them. If you condider a city, milions of people, family, business and apply your logic you will not have anything around liberty, but something more like an orwellian society. Becouse if you made a contract you have to force respect of it. And if the contract of your privatopia is one that concern personal, intimal, aspects of Life, dectating right and wrong about sex, love, relations, cohabitations and many many others, as you and hoppe wants, you will need a big brother."

      - that my point is freedom, free market, and anarchy: "A free market requires decentralization, liberty at a near individual level, and prosper on differences between people. A family, a business, have not a free market order inside them, and that is ok. But as libertarian, free market fans, and anarcocapitalists, we want a free market order for the ensamble of family and business. The market need that every unit remain free to choose as it want. People must be free to choose their business, their works, their houses, their food, their partners, to make their plans, and so on.."

      - that I consider absurd the war between gay and hetero

      "To be gay, to have gay relations, to have stable gay relations, to share life with someone of the same sex, is not in any way an aggression to eterosexuality, to traditional family, ad in fact is not an aggression on anyone or anything. From the fact that A is gay and have a gay stable relation of love with someone with whom share his life, B is not touched in his beeing etero, and having an etero stable relation with someone Who love and with whom share his life. Eterosexuality is the norm and will forever be. This idiotic war between etero and gay is nonsense."

      - that I think that the will to control personal relations, sex, love, etc.. will give us an unlibertarian community "Not every volountary community is ipso facto ancap. A community that abolish individual freedom in sex love relations is unlibertarian. You can do what you want in your home shop church business, but in a community of millions, as a city, you can't seriously think to control people relations and personal lifes so much and try to sell this as libertarian order. It will be more like talebanian order."

      - that I'm positive on every kind of voluntary community, also if i can't call every community under the sun libertarian or ancap, only because it is voluntary.

      Those are my concern. I don't want forced integraton for anyone, I never wrote that. But I want freedom for everyone that respect the nap, and I want a free market, as free as possile. I don't see this goal in Hoppe. Sorry.

    2. Anon poof,

      Which is it? Are exclusionary communities allowed to form, or must they accept homosexuals as a requirement under anarcho capitalism? You are taking two contradictory positions, one that people have freedom of association, the other that they don't.

      The fact is that even on a scale of millions of people it would be easy to form communities that exclude homosexuals. Extremely easy. You know this and that is why you want force to prevent that from happening.

  7. Interesting post (once again), bm.

    I believe that part of the issue, per the title of your post, lies in the fact that most people want to believe they are correct in their worldview. To admit otherwise would mean that they have to assess the truthfulness or falsity of claims they may hold near and dear, perhaps even sacred, and adjust their view(s) accordingly. And so, it is much easier to use misdirection/impossible standards to apply more stringent constraints on those who hold opposing worldviews. Moving the goalposts, as it were.

    Yes, it is intellectually dishonest, but, as you have noted, we are all frail humans interacting with other frail humans and this is to be expected.

  8. I have studied the ancient Greeks. They have a thousand polises (city-states) with wide differences in politics while maintaining a broad cultural unity. They also have thousands more colonies who were independent of the mother cities from the start. The Greeks didn't really create a empire (before the outsider Philips II) and yet their freedom of trade, their cultural unity, their martial virtues, their creativity allowed them to punch far above their weight. So much that both Alexander and Rome were colonized in their minds by the Greeks even if they dominated them.

    For me the best path is to break up the world into hundred thousand polises. Competition between the states and stronger peer pressure in the smaller units will go further in enlarging the freedom. The smaller populations will "boil off" various individuals as they move to another polis better suited to them, creating a stronger civil peace within and between the polises.