Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Impractical Ethical Ideas


From Rothbard:

The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith.

For background, see here and here.  The discussion regards classical liberalism / libertarianism: is the “ethical ideal” sufficient to “work” in practice.

So, working from Rothbard: I will not accept a separation between theory and practice; if an ethical theory cannot work in practice, it is a poor theory that should be discarded…

…well, I won’t be as unkind as Rothbard.  Maybe the ethical theory just needs some modification.

Some Definitions

Ethics: A set of principles of right conduct.  A theory or a system of moral values.

What is the definition of an ethical theory? Answered by Kevin Browne, 20 years of teaching experience in ethics and moral philosophy:

Ethics can be understood as the method for justifying these [moral] beliefs [of right and wrong] and the set of rules which guide us in applying them.

We can think of ethical theory as a decision model. The critical element in morality is the need to make decisions regarding fairly difficult issues. What we need is a well reasoned method for taking the facts and making the best decision we can in terms of our moral principles. This often involves the process of judgment.

Judgment?  On what basis are we to judge the facts and come to a just conclusion?  Browne makes a noteworthy statement not in reply to this question, although he does answer it:

Ethics and Morality: These two terms are often thought of and used synonymously. This is not entirely correct but there are similarities inasmuch as both words have their origin in common. One is the Greek and the other is the Latin word for “custom.”

Is this so?  Ethics and morality both are rooted in the word “custom”?

Ethics: The term ethics derives from Ancient Greek ἠθικός (ethikos), from ἦθος (ethos), meaning 'habit, custom'.


Morality: (from Latin: mōrālis, lit. 'manner, character, proper behavior') is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper.

This doesn’t clarify enough.  Let’s look up the Latin:

Mōrālis: From mos ‎(“manner, custom, way; law”‎). First used by Cicero, to translate Ancient Greek ἠθικός ‎(ēthikós, “moral”‎).

So, returning to Rothbard: for libertarianism to be considered an “ethical ideal,” it seems to me one must discuss something about the custom behind the ethic.  Further, perhaps this “custom” must be incorporated into the ethical ideal.

But Isn’t the NAP Enough “Custom”?

I have heard it said: as long as someone accepts the NAP, I really don’t care about their other customary and traditional practices.  But is this sufficient? 

Consider the debates even between well-meaning libertarians: immigration and abortion come to mind.  Each side believes it is properly applying the non-aggression principle to the issue.

Or consider any “continuum” problem.  What is the proper punishment for a crime?  How much land must be mixed with labor before one can claim to “own” the land? 

How would such things get worked out if all that the participants shared was the non-aggression principle?  No other means by which to come to an answer?

The answer is, they wouldn’t get worked out – at least not peacefully.

Or what about my favorite?  The front-yard sex-orgy guy moves into a community of church-going families.  Sure, they all accept the NAP, but maybe they “accept” some things even more.

Perhaps we need something more than “don’t hit first” if we desire the theoretical ethical ideal of libertarianism to find its way into practice.  Perhaps we need to find the proper custom.

My view?  I will not belabor it here as you all have heard it a few hundred times already: the old and good law – custom, tradition.  It is what people grow up with, what they are trained with, what they understand about how things work around here.  Mixed with Christian ethics, it gave the west the longest sustained libertarian-approaching society during the Middle Ages.

And…and…and…such a thing didn’t spring forward in any other society influenced by any other tradition.  Certainly not for any sustained period of time.

The thing is, others have touched on this before I have – bigger names.  Hans Hoppe need not even be mentioned – his shadow looms large over this topic.  But also Mises, as offered by Joe Salerno:

For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.

Liberalism (the forerunner to libertarianism) cannot be separated from the nationality principle (which I think Mises linked specifically to language – and, if so, I think he didn’t go far enough).

Rothbard took this idea further:

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one of several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. . . .

And these “specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions” fill in the blank spaces where the non-aggression principle cannot reach – because the non-aggression principle is not designed to reach these; it doesn’t have answers to many questions of “judgment.”

So, perhaps if we want to bring forward this ethical ideal of non-aggression into practice, perhaps we should take up the task of giving it the capability to do so.


From A Texas Libertarian:

Maybe we need someone to bridge the gap between politics and culture, to define praxeologically what culture is required to support liberty. Hoppe has already blazed a trail in this regard as well (ever the bridge builder), but I think there is further to go in placing the perfect libertarian theory securely onto the imperfect foundation of reality below.

Maybe it won't be a giant of liberty like Hoppe who does this. Maybe it will be lowly mosquitoes like us.

I guess this means you, ATL.  This idea overwhelms me.  Hoppe spent his entire career in training for this.  I already have a day job, and my education couldn’t have prepared me less for such a task.  To give some idea of how overwhelmed I feel regarding this, in my lifetime I will not understand this topic even to the point where Hoppe has already brought the discussion.

But yes, maybe someone needs to do this.


  1. Bionic, have you seen this book, "Hegel's Practical Philosophy," by Robert Pippin?

    It's a masterpiece and an enormous help in understanding Hegel's "The Philosophy of Right."

    Sometimes when I read your pieces (which are excellent, through and through), especially when you reveal a libertarian conundrum, I often say to myself, "I think could be of some assistance here."

  2. There has imo never been a fully formulated "libertarian" ideal. (Which arguably may be no longer libertarian...)
    However that has not stopped us (the west) from developing quite nicely. (So far)
    So why the need? Is it something we feel? An itch that we just cannot scratch?

    The true ethics or morality that is lived will probably never be described fully. It will also change every day as it is highly dependent on the environment. And in addition, a theory has (outside technology) never convinced anyone. We can only become convinced if our deeper mind (unconsciousness - but I dislike that word) is already aligned with the theory.

  3. "I guess this means you, ATL."

    Haha. Don't put it all on me! To call myself a mosquito may have been too presumptuous; a gnat is more appropriate. I too have a day job, and a family to attend to. This idea overwhelms me too, but so did economics before I dove in head first.

    I just thought: so what if I don't have a degree in economics from some prestigious university? This is too important for me to take for granted. So I dove in discovering Milton Friedman, David Stockman, Hunter Lewis, and then Rothbard and Mises. It was only years later that I came upon the quote by Mises that now serves to inspire me on my quest to understand how the world works and which matched exactly my sentiments when I began my journey.

    "Economics must not be relegated to classrooms and statistical offices and must not be left to esoteric circles. It is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man's human existence." - Mises

    The same can be said for the search for the cultural requirements for liberty. I suppose anthropology is the correct term for the study of human cultures, but it seems there is more relevant material to be found in history, religion, psychology, and sociology. It is certainly a multidisciplinary quest with a staggering and truly endless (in the context of a single human life) amount source material to cover. I do not think I have much of a chance of finishing first in this 'race,' let alone finishing at all, but I'm certainly going to run it. I know you will continue to do so as well.

    1. A gnat might also be too big. Perhaps a mustard seed.

    2. I can be happy as a mustard seed (at least in a metaphorical sense). Jesus had some good things to say about them.

  4. It is a very interesting and noteworthy find that the very term "ethics" is etymologically derived from the Greek word meaning "custom." How perfect in relation to the discussion you've been shepherding lately? You can probably successfully blame it on the Enlightenment, or the Reformation, for this 'divorce' in meaning in modern times, or why this wasn't obvious to us.

    It makes you wonder what else the ancients (or the medievals) understood that we have today lost.

    Part of what I think we have lost, and what I think is important in relation to the quest for definition of a libertarian culture is the recognition of civilization's primordial foe: chaos. Chaos is the formless, order-less, void out of which the world and all life sprang according to most (maybe all?) ancient myths. In these myths, a hero god (usually a storm God) fights against a chaos monster to restore order to the world. The chaos monster wants to return all life to the void, to death, whereas the hero god wants to protect order, and therefore life. Order fights against chaos and so life fights against death.

    If the ancients had this right, the true ethic of liberty or civilization should be that which is life affirming (which should be obvious), but more than this, it should also be that which makes life more certain in the future, or conversely, that which makes life less uncertain. I think it can be argued that all the primary virtues of antiquity, when practiced, can be said to reduce uncertainty either for others or for one's self.

    Now of course we can never win against uncertainty, disorder, and death (at least not in this world), but we can fight against it, and I believe this is the foundation of virtue.

    From Game of Thrones, Season Seven, "Death is the Enemy":

    Beric: I'm not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords.

    Jon: So, what are you fighting for?

    Beric: Life. Death is the enemy. The first enemy and the last.

    Jon: But we all die.

    Beric: The enemy always wins. And we still need to fight him. That's all I know.

    1. Coincidentally (or maybe not...) in my read through the book of essay in honor of Hoppe I am finding a few tidbits worth introducing in this conversation and along the lines you touch on here. I hope to get to these in the next several days.

    2. Texas: "If the ancients had this right..."

      We will never know for sure, since we don't have access to the ancients. But we don't need that, as even more important than what the ancients thought is the filtering done by history. And only those bits survived that are 'true'., or in your words "... should be that which is life affirming ..., it should also be that which makes life more certain"

      (I believe that this filtering effect of history is what makes the Jordan Peterson lectures so captivating.)

      The problem of course is that that which has been filtered out is now unknown. Unknown creates problems as we try again and again what has been rejected (possibly many times) before.

      To me this means that we should be very conservative in embracing new theories (like libertarianism) and try to keep as many of the old customs as possible. In case of conflict, the older customs should be given more weight than the new.

    3. BM,

      "(or maybe not...)"

      Yeah any insights that I have on this topic area probably a derivative (or creation) of Hoppe's thought. After reading your comment, I seemed to remember having read something about uncertainty in one of Hoppe's books. Here's what I found when tracked it down.

      In reference to man-made legislative law and the resultant uncertainty loosed on society, Hoppe offers the following:

      "Rather than being conceived of as something preexisting (and to be discovered), law is increasingly considered as government made law (legislation). Accordingly, not only will legal uncertainty increase, but in reaction the social rate of time preference will rise (i.e., people in general will become more present-oriented and have an increasingly shorter planning horizon). Moral relativism will also be promoted. For if there is no such thing as an ultimate right, then there is also no such thing as an absolute wrong. Indeed, what is right today may be wrong tomorrow, and vice versa. Rising time preferences combined with moral relativism, then, provides the perfect breeding ground for criminals and crimes-a tendency especially evident in the big cities. It is here that the dissolution of families is most advanced, that the greatest concentration of welfare recipients exists, that the process of genetic pauperization has progressed furthest, and that tribal and racial tensions as the outcome of forced integration are most virulent. Rather than centers of civilization, cities have become centers of social disintegration and cesspools of physical and moral decay, corruption, brutishness, and crime." Hans Hoppe, "Democracy: the God that Failed" p. 184

      So according to Hoppe, legal uncertainty promotes moral relativism and increasing time preferences, both sure signs of moral degeneracy and the decline of virtue in society. Perhaps a lack of common and stable customs promotes the same?

    4. Rien,

      "we should be very conservative in embracing new theories (like libertarianism) and try to keep as many of the old customs"

      The problem is which ones to keep. This is why the science of liberty is so important. Besides, law by consent is an ancient concept. Libertarianism is simply the most advanced form of it. I'm not saying we shouldn't be careful. Democracy was sold to the masses as law by consent, even as it was used to create the most centralized totalitarian governments the world has seen.

      This is why the libertarian conservative embraces decentralization by peaceful secession rather than the overthrow of an existing nation-state.

    5. "Perhaps a lack of common and stable customs promotes the same?"

      To the extent one equates the best legal tradition is one that is consistent with "custom," perhaps these are one-and-the-same.

    6. Re: common and stable customs, vs. uncommon and destabilizing customs.

      Read this one on Lew Rockwell by Jim Cox: Culture Matters.

      "Until PPS is achieved shouldn’t we prefer that government policies closely match what would likely be the rules when it is achieved?"

      Yes we definitely should.

      Don't know the exact phrasing but if I'm not mistaken Rothbard argued, at least in part, for something along these lines, i.e. apply rules to so-called "public space" as if it were privately owned.

    7. Sagunto,

      Yes Rothbard definitely held this opinion, though I do not remember where he spelled this out. Perhaps I read it in the collection of his RR Report contributions entitled, "The Irrepressible Rothbard."

    8. Hi ATL,

      Found it.

      The quote I was looking for, is from Making Economic Sense, a collection of essays by Rothbard, first published in 1991.

      In the section titled, "Politics as Economic Violence," Rothbard answers the question of "What to do until Privatization comes?" (page 146)

      "But what of the activities in Group A: carrying the mail, building and maintaining roads, running public libraries, operating police and fire departments, and managing public schools, etc.? What is to be done with them? In the 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith [..] noted private affluence living cheek-by-jowl with public squalor in the United States. He concluded that there was something very wrong with private capitalism, and that the public sector should be drastically expanded at the expense of the private sector. After four decades of such expansion, public squalor is infinitely worse [..] Clearly, Galbraith’s diagnosis and solution were 180-degrees wrong: the problem is the public sector itself, and the solution is to privatize it (abolishing the counterproductive parts).

      But what should be done in the meantime? There are two possible theories.

      One [..] is that so long as any activity is public, the squalor must be maximized. For some murky reason, a public operation must be run as a slum and not in any way like a business, minimizing service to consumers on behalf of the unsupported “right” of “equal access” of everyone to those facilities. [..] That the ACLU and left-liberalism eagerly promote this policy is understandable [..] But why do some libertarians support these “rights” with equal fervor?

      There seem to be only two ways to explain the embrace of this ideology by libertarians. Either they embrace the jungle with the same fervor as left-liberals, which makes them simply another variant of leftist; or they believe in the old maxim of the worse the better, to try to deliberately make government activities as horrible as possible so as to shock people into rapid privatization. [..] Hence, libertarians who might be sound in the remote reaches of high theory, are so devoid of common sense and out of touch with the concerns of real people (who, for example, walk the streets, use the public libraries, and send their kids to public schools) that they unfortunately wind up discrediting both themselves (which is no great loss) and libertarian theory itself.

      What then is the second, and far preferable, theory of how to run government operations [..]? Simply, to run it for the designed purpose [..] as efficiently and in as businesslike a manner as possible. These operations will never do as well as when they are finally privatized; but in the meantime, that vast majority of us who live in the real world will have our lives made more tolerable and satisfying."

    9. Sagunto,

      Yup you nailed it. Notice that this is a good justification for state managed borders as well, at least until we reach the point (God willing) where we allow the full functionality of private property rights.

    10. ATM,

      That's right. I already had a follow up ready for take off, but I didn't mean to flood this platform with my replies. So you beat me to it. Here it is:

      Now the abovementioned issue of "Why Culture Matters" and the need for stable customs, can be linked to Rothbard's views in the light of today's geopoliticized problem of mass immigration.

      Among the parts I left out, the following bit is quite useful to make the point that, in all probability, Rothbard would today be arguing in favour of the "populist" answer to the migrant crisis (thinking of Europe here, as it has been targeted for controlled demolition (like the Twin Towers), but also the US):

      "The government, in contrast to any private street or neighborhood owner, has no right to prevent bums from living on and soiling the street and harassing and threatening innocent citizens; instead, the bums have the right to free “speech” and a much broader term, free “expression,” which they of course would not have in a truly private street, mall, or shopping center. Similarly, in a recent case in New Jersey, the court ruled that public libraries did not have the right to expel bums who were living in the library, were clearly not using the library for scholarly purposes, and were driving innocent citizens away by their stench and their lewd behavior."

      The aggregate public space consisting, alas, of all of these government run operations also includes a nation's borders, right? So here we get a glimpse of Rothbard's probable answer to the question of "what to do [with our borders] in the meantime?"

      The public should demand from government not to "bring the rule of the jungle" into society because of some alleged "right" of "equal access."

      Cheers from Amsterdam,

  5. The front-yard sex-orgy guy moves into a community of church-going families. Sure, they all accept the NAP, but maybe they “accept” some things even more.

    If you understand libertarianism, the NAP and the market, you must also understand that the NAP is merely a framework, a procedural principle, open to all the outcome, at the condition that those come respecting the procedure. And that inside the NAP people and communities can live all kinds of different lives. So, “The market” in a libertarian sense is not an economic concept, but is the realm of peaceful, voluntary, actions.

    Ban aggression from this world by magic, and then? All others differences are there, exactly like before. You point to one: church-going families and front-yard sex-orgy guys. But we can imagine billions of cases of frictions and conflicts.

    The NAP and the market offers infinites solutions to those. Using property rights and contract, that are the foundational elements of the NAP and the market, you can perfectly manage the coexistence of all kind of different people and lifestyles.

    For example: how can a front-yard sex-orgy guy buy that house in that neighborhood? Why the community haven’t put clauses to refuse that type of guy? For example, if I (or the community) want to have some kind of rule in some kind of place, in a society based on property rights, I can buy the place, attach the rule, and sell or rent the place with rule attached. I can have the same result buying not the place, but the street/the market/the school/the parking area/the bars/etc..., want permission to use them? Play by my rules.

    Delocalize to individual level the possibility to free associate or not associate with everyone on whichever criteria. You will have people who associates in communities and communities that separate from one another, maintaining in the same time many kinds of relations.

    And also, you will have people that pass from a community to another, and communities that change, split, merge, expand, shrink, etc... How will this associating and disassociating come to light? And how will it change and adapt in time? Through property rights management via contracts.

    You will have a complex game of cross-discrimination. People will discriminate on the basis of their convictions, but also in response to other discriminations, creating a chain of successive discriminations (they already do, but it will be fully legal). People will create different layer of integration and separation: as they already do. For example, I work with some people, but I let my coworkers out of my private life. Those are two different realms. This is a kind of separation that does not imply living in different communities, but have different spheres in the same community. So which degree of separation is needed in every case to solve the conflict is also an open question: with different answers case by case.

    Also, technology will solve many problems, inventing new ways of aggregation and separation: what if you could exclude the orgy from your perception? What if you could not see and hear them do anything thanks to some tech trick? Give a problem to the market, and it will answer with a deck of different solutions.

    The free market is the best environment for managing the complexity and find solution to problems. The discrimination criteria will be in competition, and you will have a process of discovery: new and better criteria (or old and better if you prefer), new ways to discriminate, and new ways to coexist, will emerge. Some community will fail, and other will be successful. And we will also see that there isn’t only one sustainable criterion, but many, and maybe in contradiction.

    So what is needed to avoid conflict under the NAP is not common culture (aside for one trait: acceptance of the NAP), but understanding of the functioning of property rights, because the NAP is a framework that gives you all the instruments for peaceful cohabitation of different kinds of people. The essential function of clear property rights is to avoid conflict, after all.


    1. I always find my self frustrated in every interaction with you; I tell myself, "never again, just ignore him.". Yet, I am unable, sometimes, to control myself.

      There is a great scene in the courtroom of the movie "A Few Good Men." Not when Tom Cruise gets Jack Nicholson to confess, but before this.

      Cruise is questioning the marine private. He is holding the handbook for marines stationed at Guantanamo:

      "Show me, where in this book does it say where the mess hall is."

      "Well, it's not written in the book."

      "So... you didn't eat?"

      "No sir, I ate three meals a day."

      "Does the book say what time you should eat?"

      "No, it doesn't say that either."

      "Then how did you know when to eat?"

      "I guess we just knew."

      My point? I think it is silly to think that the infinite possibilities in life can all be captured by contract, yet you are not the most prestigious libertarian to suggest this. Almost all of our interactions are governed by custom, not contract. Peace is maintained when people generally follow the custom. It allows for life to flow, while at the same time avoiding the need for lawyers to draft millions of pages in order to attempt to capture every contingency.

      Now, it has been suggested to me that this could be handled via a clause in the contract, allowing for some kind of arbitration panel. Fair enough. But on what basis shall they decide a disagreement that is not covered in the contract?

      In my front lawn sex orgy example they could decide one of two ways:

      1) It wasn't specifically prohibited in the contract, so feel free to continue your orgies.

      2) Even though it wasn't specifically covered in the contract, such behavior is not customary here, therefore you must stop.

      One decision might be perfectly libertarian, yet it is the decision sure to cause further strife in the community. In other words, the perfectly libertarian decision will lead to a destruction of the peace. And with this, kiss your libertarian vision goodbye.

      We live our life mostly by custom, yet your model of libertarianism suggests that future-man will live by contract. What a hellish world that would be.

    2. The problem with fundamentalistic NAP thinking is that NAP does not cover all cases. Most especially the case where resource constraints limit survivability. Which btw is the case for societies in general.

    3. I would suggest, that while every excuse used to violate the NAP cannot be listed in CCR’s, such as bad language, trashing a Koran, having sex on your own property, doing drugs on your own property etc., not violating the NAP can and must be listed as the Primary Directive of the community.

      As a result, there is a third possible and IMHO, correct decision in your scenario.

      While the excuse used to violate the NAP was/was not listed in the CCR’s, the violation of the NAP most certainly was specifically listed and you religious zealots have violated it. GUILTY!

      Concerning proper “punishment” as questioned elsewhere, I have always believed it should be left to the victim or their heirs or assigns, with the goal to make the victim whole again. Hopefully, it will be proportionate.

      Love your discussions. Thank You!


    4. Than

      "Concerning proper “punishment” as questioned elsewhere, I have always believed it should be left to the victim or their heirs or assigns, with the goal to make the victim whole again. Hopefully, it will be proportionate."

      "Hopefully" doesn't cut it in the real world. Leave punishment to the victim and you will end up with people shooting children for stealing an apple.

      And still, having failed to come to an agreed definition and meaning of terms like "aggression," a clause stating that violation the non-aggression principle was not allowed would be meaningless.

    5. Bionic,

      I certainly agree that “aggression” needs to be defined. In my attempt to be succinct, I often overlook basic concepts. I apologize.

      I can agree with Rothbard: “"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. (For a New Liberty)"

      However, each community may define aggression differently but the above is where I wish to live.

      Concerning my use of the word “hopefully”, in describing “proportional punishment”, I again was too brief, however there will always be “reductio ad absurdum” concerning any aspect of attempting to apply philosophy to everyday life. The same absurdness can be applied to 100 homeless child immigrants approaching your 25 apple trees with the intent to strip you and your family of your only food source. In either case, the decision will have to be made by the owner and the consequences suffered by same, whatever they are.

      Regardless, I can find no one with a greater interest in deciding the consequences of a violation of the NAP than the victim. While the community or “society” may have an interest, it must be, in my opinion, subordinate to that of the person actually harmed, who will also have to live with their decision/reaction. Other people or communities may see it differently.

      As an aside, I will say that there might be a benefit in children growing up with the thought that there “might” be a chance of being shot for stealing, thus implanting in their young minds the basic concept of the NAP and the possible consequences of its violation at an early age.

      My main point in my previous post was to point out that it is not necessary to describe every possible prohibited activity but only to clarify that violently reacting to a repulsive (but non aggressive act) was not acceptable, unless of course your community describes such activities as prohibited, in such case the remedy should also be spelled out in the community CCR’s, whether involving 2x4’s or not.

      I trust I did not dig myself deeper. Thanks.


    6. Tahn, no, no further digging!

      As to the “reductio ad absurdum," as a prominent libertarian advocates for just such an outcome, I suggest that it is not so "reductio," although I will insist it is "absurdum."

      Of course, individuals will have to live with the consequences of their actions - even those not inconsistent with the thinnest of thin libertarianism applied.

      Yet... which path is more likely to keep the peace, that which conforms to generally accepted community tradition (talk to the parents), or that which violates this excessively (shoot the child)?

      And absent general community peace, the NAP will not survive.

    7. “Yet... which path is more likely to keep the peace, that which conforms to generally accepted community tradition (talk to the parents), or that which violates this excessively (shoot the child)?”

      Bionic, I totally concur with you here. Just because something is theoretically possible, does not mean it is mandated or even tolerable.

      I would however, invert your ending statement to “Absent the NAP, community peace will not survive”.

      We are all sinners and there will always be transgressors but the principle must remain superior. Just as there are those who hate, it does not negate the principle of “Love Your Neighbor”.


    8. BM,

      Stephan Kinsella has done some work in defining the proportionality of punishment along the lines of his estoppel principle, which is a principle that holds you to the standard of your prior actions and words.


      To me, a theory of just punishment can be derived straight from the nonaggression axiom: any violent action returned upon an aggressor over and above the initiated violence would itself be an aggression. I'm sure I got this from Rothbard, but I don't have the citation. In other words you violate the sanctity of your own rights to the extent you've deprived another of them, no more and no less. The take away is that you can't kill a kid for stealing an apple and remain within the bounds of the nonaggression axiom.

      I don't think it takes a leap of faith to accept this as a general norm. Though having a sound Christian faith would probably go a long way in this regard. =)

      The most precise definition of aggression, in my estimation, is: the use, abuse, or destruction of the person or justly owned property of another without the owner's consent. If I use my neighbor's lawnmower without his consent, I have not really committed violence, but I have still violated the rights of my neighbor, even if I clean it up and put it back. There are probably hundreds of legal scenarios we could go through concerning this lawn mower example, but I think the main point is that it is consent that is important, and culture often defines what is consensual when it is not spelled out in a contract and especially when it is unspoken.

    9. "...and culture often defines what is consensual when it is not spelled out in a contract and especially when it is unspoken."

      I think culture will also define punishment, and this is why I don't spend much energy considering the views of libertarian theorists on the matter.

      "To me, a theory of just punishment can be derived straight from the nonaggression axiom: any violent action returned upon an aggressor over and above the initiated violence would itself be an aggression."

      As a general guideline, I agree. As to specific application, I am stuck with that pesky thing known as... culture.

      "What is acceptable around here?" Left to their own devices, people will work things out with a view toward both justice and peace. I need not get hung up on precisely defining this for everyone else.

    10. Hi ATM,

      Just punishment should also include destabilizing transgressions which violate Natural Moral Justice, nevertheless excused by the NAP because they can't legally be considered to constitute "aggression".

      I mention Justice instead of Law, to highlight the difference between ius and lex (see Van Dun's articles).

      Historically, medieval libertarianism, because of the shared framework provided by the Church, went "a long way" indeed. Further than a legalistic and contract-based NAP society would.

      To me, the NAP constitutes a good example of "subtracting Christianity," as the great Joe Sobran could have characterized it. Don't know if he actually did though.

    11. Bionic, I agree that people or communities will tend to work things out on their own, thus establishing a custom. Whether arbitration, dueling, jury trial or personal retribution by the victim (or their heirs or assigns), having pre-established procedures for doing so would still be helpful.

      ATL, thank you for the link to Kinsella’s work! I have downloaded it and have started trying to digest it.

      Concerning your “theory that just punishment can be derived straight from the nonaggression axiom: any violent action returned upon an aggressor over and above the initiated violence would itself be an aggression”.

      If I am interpreting this correctly, if a perp. kicks in my door, I am not justified in blowing him back out the door with a shotgun? I would maintain that a reaction to the initiation of violence may not be exactly proportionate. Perhaps you are meaning after the fact, in which case, maybe, maybe not. If I lose an arm to an aggressive action, merely taking the arm of the aggressor does not mitigate my suffering and long term loss, although it does possibly cause him an equal anguish. No damages over and beyond?

      I contend that only the victim can accurately decide such penalty. The original violation of the NAP, leaves the perp at the mercy of the victim. Don’t like the consequences, don’t violate the NAP. Still, society and one's conscience will have to judge one’s actions.

      However, as Bionic says, these things will tend to work themselves out and will vary by community. I have learned much here in your community Bionic. Thank you.


    12. Tahn

      "If I am interpreting this correctly, if a perp. kicks in my door, I am not justified in blowing him back out the door with a shotgun?"

      It depends on the threat perceived from the invader, whether the threat was credible, and whether the invader is still in the act when you retaliate. What if someone busts down your door in order to get medical supplies to save their child nearby? It is best not to shoot first and ask questions later. Better to properly assess the situation before taking a life.

      However if an invader sees that you have a gun and still approaches you, I believe it is just to shoot to kill, because of the danger implied by his action: he may take the gun from you and use it on you. Lethal force, I believe, would also be just for any unwanted imminent threat of physical violence. Once an invader has pummeled you into submission, what is to stop them from taking your life in order to prevent you from identifying them later?

      It may seem that the punishment is disproportionate with the crime, but in these kinds of scenarios, the victim has the right to stop an aggression from continuing, or to prevent a perceived escalation in aggression that may otherwise occur.

      "However, as Bionic says, these things will tend to work themselves out and will vary by community."

      Yes the property owner who believes it is his right to shoot a child for stealing an apple will tend to find that retaliation is knocking at the door. The child's family may decide the punishment he chose was too severe for the crime and may choose themselves to avenge the death of their child by beating the property owner to death with his precious apples. In other words, what comes around goes around.

      In the end, Bionic is probably right that the culture or common custom of the particular time and place will ultimately decide what punishment is just. But this likely social and practical truth does not rule out the possibility of an objective praxeological truth, towards which we may strive, regarding law and punishment.

    13. Tahn

      “I would however, invert your ending statement to “Absent the NAP, community peace will not survive”.”

      I am not so sure about this. Even in a condition of horrendous NAP violations, most of us live in a state of community peace.

      Let me take this a step further: someday in the decentralized dream world of voluntarily formed covenant communities, most of these communities would not be considered "libertarian" by outsiders.

      The community could live within various generally accepted traditions: no pot smoking, no sex on the front lawn, church-going families only. Now…I did not say these were contractually stipulated; it is just that this is how, for quite some time, the people here chose to live. It never would have dawned on them that they needed a contract stating “ne sex on the front lawn.”

      Now...an outsider would say "look at all of these NAP violations. Why can't I smoke pot? Why can’t I have sex on my front lawn?”

      He decides to smoke pot WHILE having sex on his front lawn on a Sunday morning while the families are returning from church, because he sees that it is the community that has violated HIS NAP.

      Yet, who has broken the peace?

      A commonly accepted culture and tradition does far more for maintaining peace than does a thin application of the NAP. It seems to me that our job, as advocates of the NAP, is to identify the best intersection of these two (tradition and the non-aggression principle) that can best achieve a relatively libertarian outcome in the real world. It strikes me that the concept of “old and good law” offers this path.

      Otherwise we are just conducting mental gymnastics, writing hundreds of papers trying to explore the most hidden, theoretical corners about topics that culture and tradition have (and will) resolve without any help from any of us.

    14. Bionic,

      I replied to your May 2nd article before I realized that you had directed it to me here. Please feel free to move it. I apologize for the error.


  6. I've disagreed with your central premise that there is a certain culture or definitively necessary cultural traits for liberty for a while. I consider that most interactions in all cultures are NAP friendly, in fact most people on the planet are compliant with the NAP on a daily basis.

    I think it's actually something akin to centrally planning a culture for liberty, and perhaps at its worst, provides a method for cultural chauvinism that would be used as an excuse for NAP violations amongst "non faithful" cultures. This is the lynchpin for most of what the alt-right talks about when they talk about "peaceful nationalism", I can't easily come up with an non-chauvinistic, NAP friendly "peaceful nationalist" society. It's been said that "diversity + proximity = war", but I can't think of a non diverse, peaceful, friendly with its neighbors mono-national culture/country/territory either. Most become radically expansionary, so it's a bit naive to suggest that this is the right path, as I'm not familiar that it's ever worked. Remember too that nationalism formed in such a way that it rejected the divine right of kings, and kings and monarchs were seen as illegitimate expressers of the national will, and thus incompatible with the reforms that nationalist brought to Europe in the 19th century, wiping away all the "old and good" institutions to institute new styles of government, more in line with pure expression of the national will. So I think what you're playing with here is actually a pretty dangerous idea.

    It's also up for debate at which point your "good and old" law, or custom, is relevant or not. If you consider modern dating rituals (terrible that they are), I can't imagine a situation where, in order to achieve a more NAP friendly society, women would return to arranged marriages, which was the common, old and good "custom" for Europe for a long time. In fact, this regression would achieve the opposite. This is the result of an increased respect for individuals, and many other examples come to mind where "old custom" comes into class with liberalism and the NAP. How many other situations or problems exist now that couldn't be solved more efficiently outside of custom or tradition, for instance, with the use of technology. Arbitration is a good example of this. Another is the publishing industry, in the past it was customary that publishers and printers were gatekeepers that kept out controversial opinion, and yet now you have your blog. Should we return to this custom?

    There is a nostalgic appeal to what you're trying to say here, a kind of "everything worked better and can work better if we just act as we always have, we don't need the government." But that world is gone, it doesn't exist anymore, and its never coming back. I do applaud your attempt to find practical ways of achieving liberty.

    1. "in fact most people on the planet are compliant with the NAP on a daily basis"

      You cannot know this for sure. Its a nice enough assumption, but what drives you (a product of a certain culture) cannot be projected on others, especially other that do not live in the same culture.

      "I can't easily come up with an non-chauvinistic, NAP friendly "peaceful nationalist" society"

      Nope, that is because cultures are in an eternal darwinian strive with each other. NAP cannot be applied to that.

    2. “I've disagreed with your central premise that there is a certain culture or definitively necessary cultural traits for liberty for a while.”

      We will start with your first sentence and keep it simple. Let’s just focus on the idea of a common culture – regardless of the specific characteristics of that culture. If your response proves fruitful, then perhaps I will decide to continue.

      In fact, I will begin with just a very simple aspect, just one sliver of life, to perhaps demonstrate my view: let’s discuss “punishment.”

      What is the proper punishment for a given crime, let’s say burglary? Can the answer be derived solely from the NAP? If so, please demonstrate. If not, please explain on what basis this decision would be made. Is it possible that different communities might come to different answers? Is it possible that only one single answer is the right answer for all communities in the world?

      How would the punishment be viewed by the broader society? What if some view the punishment as just and others view it as unjust? Does this matter? If so, explain. If not, why not?

      Now, I could ask the same questions about the term “aggression,” for example: is it helpful that all people in a given community generally agree on what constitutes “aggression”? And now, repeat all of the above questions raised regarding “punishment.”

      In any case, let’s start here.

    3. "Another is the publishing industry, in the past it was customary that publishers and printers were gatekeepers that kept out controversial opinion, and yet now you have your blog. Should we return to this custom?"

      It may have been "commonplace" or "typical" but that is not the same thing as being customary or an outgrowth of custom. Your example does not provide a persuasive counter argument.

    4. Hi Incognost,

      "I consider that most interactions in all cultures are NAP friendly, in fact most people on the planet are compliant with the NAP on a daily basis."

      In fact?

      When you came up with these universalist NAP musings, where exactly were you? Among many cultures? Or perhaps in space orbit, considering all these distant and rather abstract "people on the planet" from on high?

      As soon as you've landed, you might want to take a good look around planet Earth and all of the diverse cultures it is hosting.
      The NAP is eminently applicable to abstract contract thumping citizens of planet Earth. Not so much on real people, especially in cultures that have historically been alien to the preconditions for the NAP to even be considered.

      Well at least that's how I view things from down here, in Amsterdam.


  7. Don't miss this. Peggy in Oregon. http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2018/04/22

  8. Your front lawn orgy example may not be all that far fetched...


    1. Bring out the 2 X 4 wielding church-going fathers!