Tuesday, July 17, 2018

All Men Are Created Equal

I would like to examine a couple of things in this post, different but related.  The first, represented in the title, is this sentiment – perhaps the premier sentiment if one wants to capture, in one phrase, the thinking of the Enlightenment.  The second is a commonly offered sentiment about the NAP, which – it seems to me – is dependent on the first.

Keep in mind, this is my first attempt at stumbling through these concepts in a concise manner; be kind in your feedback.

All Men Are Created Equal

I will walk through the various interpretations of this statement – not chronologically, but from the most inane to the most rational…at least to me, and at least to this point of my thinking (and I will stay out of the “made in God’s image” discussion).

Some background: there was a time in my life when I thought this the most excellent statement upon which one might build a political philosophy; the opening of the Declaration of Independence would rarely leave me with dry eyes.  I would say that I have been cured of this sickness – both by the way that the phrase has been used to suppress excellence and by the result of eliminating natural governance institutions.

So, the most inane: all men are created equal…in ability.  For most thinking people, this can be dispensed with quickly.  The easiest place to see this falsity of this view is in athletics; for some reason, it seems the only (or at least the most) politically correct reason to point to regarding this view.  Mention it in other contexts and count the moments before the lynching.

How about all men are afforded equal opportunity?  Well, we know that there are countless laws on the books to bring this in order to attempt to bring this into fruition…as much as force, fines, and prison can make an unreality real.  But we know this also is not true.  The politically correct example?  Those born into wealth have much greater opportunities than those born into poverty.  This issue points to the reasons why it is easy for law to focus on equal opportunity.  Just remember, it doesn’t apply to the children of wealthy athletes!

Now, for the version that I was settled on for quite some time, the one that seemed most libertarian and grounded in reality as opposed to the previously noted interpretations / applications.  All men are equal under the law.  Yes, I know that it doesn’t apply to politicians, many wealthy and / or connected individuals, etc.  But as an ideal, I thought it couldn’t get much better than this.

I have been giving this some thought on and off for some time; it isn’t so easy to break from something upon which I felt so grounded for much of my life.  Then, recently, the light bulb went on…from darkness to light – well, a light bulb with a dimmer switch.  Or is it a train….

If I was to form the most libertarian statement on this matter, I would say that all men are equally free to live under a law regime of their choosing.  Of course, this runs into practical limitations, most certainly: what if no one else chooses to recognize or live within your law regime? 

Ideally, I would be able to create a law regime of my liking, but we live in a world with other humans.  Just like the market for any product, we don’t have unlimited and perfect choices, we just get to choose from available choices.  This is why I see decentralization as the practical application of the NAP.

I think about the law that I would live under in a libertarian society: the bare minimum law would be the NAP…but would this bare minimum be my choice?  What if I want something more?  It seems to me that everything above bare minimum of the NAP would be agreed to individually, not universally: call it by contract, call it oath, call it HOA rules, call it moral leadership, or call it acceptance of culture and tradition, whatever. 

I want to live in a neighborhood where sex orgies on the front lawn aren’t allowed, where grill-outs and fire pits are common.  You may want a neighborhood that excludes children.  I might be willing to pay some sort of association fees for upkeep and maintenance of the common property.

What about conditions of employment?  Who to hire, who to fire, benefits, etc.  Different people have different desires / requirements. 

So, it seems that “all men equal under the law” requires 100% of law to be made by a third party (however much “law” that is); a “universal” law.  “All men free to live under a law regime of their choosing” would mean 10% of your law is universal (the NAP) and 90% of your law is chosen – which, in practical application means 100% of your law is unique (not universal), as it will not look like the NAP to an outsider.

My point is…in a society of libertarian law, most of the law we would live under will be self-selected (within the limitations of finding others who feel the same as you do).  In other words, we aren’t all created equal under the law; we are equal in our ability to choose our law.

That, it seems to me, is about as libertarian as it gets…and, by the way, it is quite consistent with the philosophy underlying medieval law.

Which brings me to part two of this examination.

Libertarianism is For Everyone

Look, doesn’t everyone want to be secure in their person and property, not be murdered or robbed, have the freedom to exchange, not be artificially limited by others in our choices in life, etc.?

How could anyone answer “no” to this?  But I really don’t care about how someone answers it, what matters is what is meant by these words to different people.  As if in order to demonstrate that even at the extremes of a continuum, libertarians cannot settle on defining “aggression” or applying “punishment,” consider the following example: abortion is not considered murder by many libertarians. 

Imagine, a “non-aggression principle” that allows the most heinous aggression against the most vulnerable and innocent among us.  Some libertarians certainly feel otherwise.  Murdering an unborn child for the supposed crime of trespass?  This is even worse than shooting a child for stealing an apple – again demonstrating well that even at the extremes of the continuum, libertarians cannot settle on such definitions / applications.

Open borders, yes or no?  Intellectual property, yes or no?  The list goes on.  My law might have open borders, yours might not; my law might allow for abortion, yours might not; my law might allow for recognition of intellectual property, yours might not; my law might consider “proportional” what your law considers excessive when it comes to punishment.

Even before we get to the unique conditions people find themselves in around the world, we cannot even come to a “universal law” among western libertarians.

Who am I to tell someone – who lives in a culture, climate, tradition, etc., very different from anything I understand – that my interpretation is his interpretation; that “I have just the law for you”?  Well, beyond saying that libertarian law is law of your own choosing – in reality, via decentralization allowing for the maximum number of choices.

What matters is maximizing choice and having an environment that supports the possibility of individuals making their choice.


If all men are created equal to choose their own law, then to insist that libertarianism is universal is invalid – unless by libertarianism we mean each individual is free to choose his law.  If it is libertarian for each of us to choose our own law, then there is no such thing as a single universal law for all; if libertarianism (as you interpret its application) is universal, then I am not free to choose my own law (and for this, a strongman will be required).

And in this, we find the difference in the decentralization vs. universalist camps.  If it is ever to be found, liberty will only be found in decentralized society and decentralized law.


  1. A connection with religion: You can choose your own law, and God will hold you to it.
    Which of course places limits upon the choice you make. After all, if you yourself will be held accountable (even if after death) you better choose well.

    1. There was a time when the nobles thought about life after death and acted accordingly. When this belief no longer governs, all we get is "he who dies with the most toys wins."

  2. BM,

    As always, I enjoyed the read, and I think you are exactly correct that libertarianism does not imply 'equality under the law,' but rather freedom to choose one's own law. Of course, this shared freedom to choose one's own law implies an underlying universal law or right held by each individual: self-ownership. For if we are not self-owners, why would we have the right to choose our own law? Furthermore, on what grounds other than self-ownership can we object to taxation, slavery, and abortion?

    I've come to see you as kind of the yin to Walter Block's yang. Where Walter likes to shock libertarians by making them uncomfortable by what liberty implies permissible, you've become quite good at shocking libertarians by what liberty implies necessary. And although I believe there are aspects of libertarianism that are universal, I also believe, along with you, it is necessary (if only for strategic reasons) that we view liberty as the right of self-determination.

    Perhaps libertarianism is most accurately the universal right of self-determination, and like the political prescription of the Church, all forms of governance (in theory) are permissible, so long as they abide by this fundamental natural law of respect for the right of choice of those under their authority.

    Of course the libertarian would insist that the "self" in self-determination denotes the individual, but since decentralization is the best chance liberty has, I think we must accept the imperfect consent of a community or even a nation in place of the individual, so long as it is a step in the right direction.

    1. "I've come to see you as kind of the yin to Walter Block's yang."


    2. I'm thinking it's rather you as yang and Block as yin.

      Thank you for this thought-provoking post. I find I have to read all your posts on abortion as well as taxes before commenting further. Peg

  3. All men are not created equal in understanding this post. Is there a place/people/culture now existing that has a significantly higher percentage that gets it?

    1. I suppose places where traditional western civilization is still breathing...or at least on life support.

  4. Historian Brion McClanahan has stated that the most important part of the Declaratiion is the last paragraph, and Jefferson thought so as well. Free and independent states, communities that you could choose if you so wanted that governed themselves. Here is the paragraph in full:

    "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

  5. "... Murdering an unborn child for the supposed crime of trespass? This is even worse than shooting a child for stealing an apple – again demonstrating well that even at the extremes of the continuum, libertarians cannot settle on such definitions / applications ..."

    Yeah, I parted company with Mr. Block here also - and perhaps contained in this simple phrase are the whys and wherefores of the old commandments concerning sex outside marriage. Marriage is one of the oldest forms of contract known to man and, in this example, we see again the wisdom of and the need for the old law.

    We also see, in the disagreement among libertarians, the deficiencies in our own current culture and the need for education, change and discipline among ourselves. We can hardly blame conservatives, who would otherwise side with us on many issues, for condemning us when we condone the murder of innocents.

  6. I suppose that, to expand on the case of abortion, is it justifiable to aggress against an aggressor when one is not the target? What measurement do we use to say that aggression is justified in one case and not in another?

    1. Woody, I feel that there is something valuable and worth exploring in these questions, but I am not sure I am following: who is person A, who is person B, etc.?

      Forgive my slowness...

    2. Woody: "is it justifiable to aggress against an aggressor when one is not the target?"

      Most definitely so. In old-school libertarianism it is absolutely allowable to outsource defence. As such the defence can be given without prior contract if it seems likely that the aggressed against would want the help. Though one will be responsible for what one did, thus if the help is in retrospect rejected, and you did damage to someone or something in the process of helping, you will be accountable.

    3. LOL! Slowness! You have no idea how many times I've been told I don't explain things well!

      In the case of abortion, the unborn child is being aggressed against by its own mother. As presented by your article, a third person "aggresses" to justifiably prevent the murder. The issue is, if we can justify third-party aggression in the case of the unborn, can we justify it in other cases? Where do we draw the line? On what do we base that decision?

    4. Not the same circumstance. This is not a case of outsourcing the defense of your property, this is a case of third-party aggression, that is, "B" aggresses against "A" and "C" aggresses against "B" to prevent the aggression against "A". Savvy?


    5. Woody,

      Aggression, by definition, to the libertarian is not justified. Violence is a different story. Aggression is unjustified, unprovoked, or initiated violence.

      When is violence aggression? It depends on who committed and threatened violence against the person or property of another first.

      I think what you're asking, if I may be so bold to presume, is whether it is justified to use violence to stop abortions, since abortion is undoubtedly a violation of the unborn's right of self-ownership. And perhaps it is justified, but is it a good idea?

      Along the same vein as taking up arms against the state for its aggressions, it just ain't a good idea.

      If you're asking what we should do to stop abortions, I certainly don't know, but I think the Catechism below may inform us to some extent.

      "Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors." - CCC 1735

      There's certainly plenty of "ignorance" and "social factors" to go around in the discussion of abortion.

    6. Woody,

      An armed man with a ski mask rushes into a gas station and shoots the clerk in order to steal the cash and eliminate the witness. The clerk falls down behind the counter and attempts to crawl to safety. The robber begins tracking down the clerk and is about to shoot him again, when an unnoticed customer pulls out his gun and shoots the robber (and attempted murderer) giving him a wound he will later die of.

      Justified? I think so.

      But in this case I would say the customer who shot the robber, did not commit aggression but rather utilized violence to prevent aggression, and I don't think it is only a matter of perspective. The robber initiated the violence by shooting and threatening to kill the clerk, and thus became the clear aggressor. The customer did not violate the robber's rights, and is thus not an aggressor, since the robber, in initiating the violence, deprived himself of his own rights when he violated those of the clerk.

      Now the customer could still be the aggressor, if the "robber" was really just retaliating against the clerk for killing his wife hours earlier. In this case, the customer would make himself a murderer of a man justly seeking retribution.

      The customer, in deciding to use lethal force, without himself being directly threatened, takes a risk in supposing that the armed man is an aggressor.

      It is not a matter of perspective, but of property rights and the temporal order of events.

      As far as abortion goes, I think this is a battle that needs to be won with hearts and minds.

    7. Woody: ""B" aggresses against "A" and "C" aggresses against "B" to prevent the aggression against "A". Savvy?"

      There is no aggression on the side of C, that is defence.

      If an axe is coming down on your head, you don't have to wait until the blade hits before it is aggression.

    8. ATL: "As far as abortion goes, I think this is a battle that needs to be won with hearts and minds."

      I am pulled in two directions on this.
      First I am against abortions (unless for medial reasons). As far as I am concerned, once conception is complete, the trajectory to develop a human is unavoidable (ignoring medical causes). That is, when an abortion takes place, the life of that person is cut short. And no, there is no magical threshold that creates a border between non-human life and human life.

      However, the kind of people that will want abortions are not "my kind of people". They are the people that think life is for their pleasure, no duty towards society is necessary etc. I.e. they are the kind of people that I have no trouble with if they would want to abort their line.

    9. Woody, if I see someone beating a one month old child and conclude it is justifiable to prevent the beating with violence, then I see no difference regarding an unborn child one month (or even 8 months, 29 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes) before term.

      Is it wise to use violence in such a circumstance? In our current world and environment, the clear answer is no.

      The proper path? It seems to me, support organizations that encourage women to keep their unborn child to term - whether to the keep or put up for adoption.

      In other words, do what you can to prevent abortions non-violently. For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth done by conservatives about nominating supreme court justices that will overturn Roe...let's just say if each one of these donated $10 per year to such organizations, they would save more lives.

    10. Hmmmm ... seems like I hit a nerve ... };-)

      Rein: "There is no aggression on the side of C, that is defen[s]e."

      ATL / Rein: Aggression is in the eye of the beholder. ATL made the case for it with this statement:

      ATL: "Now the customer could still be the aggressor, if the "robber" was really just retaliating against the clerk for killing his wife hours earlier."

      The real question is, where does the line get drawn in the case of 3rd party aggression. While Bionic may be correct [in a previous post] about the disadvantages of written law, it is still important to have as many application examples as possible for education purposes. For example, it appears that defending the innocent and helpless is solidly on the "Justified" side of the line. From what ATL has said, stepping in to prevent a robbery or homicide may extend into the grey area. These sort of thought experiments (to coin Einstein) are necessary to explore all the facets and ramifications of the cultural foundations we are trying to lay.

  7. Hi Rien

    Sorry (ATL) to butt in like this, but there's an interesting yet also very disturbing, nuanced take on abortion here.

    "However, the kind of people that will want abortions are not "my kind of people". They are the people that think life is for their pleasure, no duty towards society is necessary etc. I.e. they are the kind of people that I have no trouble with if they would want to abort their line."

    Okay, the nuanced part was in the preceding paragraph. I'll focus on the more problematic side of the issue.

    So for argument's sake, let's rephrase this in no unblunt terms: murdering innocent life is to be condemned, except when it concerns the unborn life-cut-short of "not your kind of people".

    What about the argument that the unborn child should not be punished, let alone murdered, for the alleged sins of its parents?

    Just out of curiosity, but there might be a link to your view of human biology/genetics here (e.g. abort their line), which would serve to logically explain the second half of your dual stance.
    Perhaps, but I'm only guessing, you have no trouble with aborting the life of "not your kind", because genetically speaking, this unborn child wouldn't exactly qualify for the presumed innocent category? The sin in genetics, so to speak?


    1. Rein: " ... not "my kind of people". They are the people that think life is for their pleasure, no duty towards society is necessary etc. I.e. they are the kind of people that I have no trouble with if they would want to abort their line"

      Rein, 'fraid I have to side with Sag here.

      Some personal examples: My grandfather was a lecherous old drunk. His son, my father, was a decent and hardworking provider for his family. I can only do my best to emulate his example.

      I am acquainted with a very strong and intelligent lady. Between the ages of 5 and 13, her father molested her while her mother aided and abetted. Neither she nor I would be alive if your policy was implemented.

      In spite of what eugenics may tell you, you can't judge someone by their genes.

    2. @Woody

      You seem to be building and attacking a straw man.
      1) I never said anything about eugenics
      2) I never said to judge someone by their genes
      3) I never proposed a policy

      Oh, and the name is rien, not rein ;-)

    3. Rien:
      "You seem to be building and attacking a straw man.
      1) I never said anything about eugenics
      2) I never said to judge someone by their genes
      3) I never proposed a policy"

      That's true, you didn't say any of those things. I drew my conclusion from your statement that:

      "...they are the kind of people that I have no trouble with if they would want to abort their line ..."

      You see, I would have trouble with that because I don't believe that the "sins" of the parents necessarily manifest themselves in the children, although I'll concede that the likelihood of this happening is high. The children of these people are innocent at birth. Even if they do happen to follow in their parents footsteps, there is always the possibility of change and reform - that's what Christianity is all about.

      As far as the term "eugenics" is concerned, I should not have used that word since the term "eugenics" is ambiguous. From Wikipedia:

      " ... The exact definition of eugenics has been a matter of debate since the term was coined by Francis Galton in 1883. The concept predates this coinage, with Plato suggesting applying the principles of selective breeding to humans around 400 BC ..."

      I simply felt that your statement appeared to imply that you wish that self-indulgent and self-centered people would abort their children. I will concede that I wish that the families of liberty-minded people should be large and that of totalitarian-minded people should be small but I would not wish anyone to abort their children - there is always the possibility that youth will reject the teachings of their parents or persue repentance and reform.

  8. I always thought all men being equal was tied to all men being made in the likeness of God. Without that fundamental thought I don't see a philosophical anchor for equality when there are so many differences both real and contrived.

    1. As I mentioned in the post, I stayed out of the "likeness of God" thing.

      Those who use the phrase as a weapon certainly don't believe any of this "likeness of God" stuff.

    2. Yes, I was indirectly acknowledging your leaving that out. Not sure why, was my poorly communicated point.

      And I don't recognize who uses that phrase as a weapon without believing it.

    3. Perhaps now I poorly communicated.

      Many people will use the phrase "All men are created equal," or certainly act on that phrase. Many such people use this phrase as a weapon. Those who use the phrase as a weapon don't believe the part about being created in God's likeness. They don't believe in God, not in any Christian sense.

  9. @Sag

    There is no mystery here Sag. I am against abortion, but the "not my kind" people are not. They want the freedom to murder their offspring. They are even prepared to use violence (of the state) against me to "protect their right" to kill their offspring.

    So guess what? I will let them.

    Perhaps the rest is part of my rationalization of why that is OK. But I will not reduce the chances of my kids to protect their potential kids.

    On a deeper level, there is a very real war of the r-select against the K-select. The r-select cannot stand the K-select, the very existence of the K-select is perceived as injustice. So they will manipulate the h3ll out of the K-select in every which way possible to have them fight other K-select. r-selects don't go to war, instead they will try to pit K-select against K-select in the hopes of mutual defeat.

    So if the r-select want their abortions, they can have it. I will not fight any kind of war for them.

    (PS: You probably guessed it, but I consider the K-select "my kind")

    (PPS: Sometimes it sucks to be you. In this context the "you" is the aborted child of the r-select)

  10. BM: “The proper path? It seems to me, support organizations that encourage women to keep their unborn child to term - whether to the keep or put up for adoption.”

    Peg says: After reading the posts on this site concerning abortion, as well as the “evictionism” argument and others, I agree with Mr. Bionic’s opinion quoted above. If one believes that abortion is morally reprehensible, and, since it is nearly impossible to enforce an outright ban on abortions (after all, women have utilized abortion, if only with a stick, for millennia), moral suasion is the best path to take while still complying with the NAP. After all, unless a pregnant woman spills the beans, it’s not obvious early on that a pregnancy has occurred at all, and an abortion can be done sub rosa. At least there might be fewer of them.

    1. Peg, there are many things that - when looked back through the lens of time - are reprehensible to us today but were generally accepted at the time.

      Consider slavery. Where it ended peacefully (I am thinking about England), it ended ultimately because society was persuaded that it was wrong.

      Certainly one would have been justified to use violence to end the aggression of slavery...oh, wait...Lincoln (falsely and retroactively) claimed this as one justification for the Civil War. (And I know I am playing only slightly fast and loose with this history, but only to make the point.)

      Battling abortion with violence would lead to catastrophe, and not save a single unborn child.

    2. I must have caused some confusion because I just checked the meaning of "moral suasion" only to find it defined quite differently on Wikipedia compared to how it was defined when I studied Economics at UCLA when Armen Alchian was the guru of that Department. I intended only use of non-violent appeal to morality in order to influence behavior; certainly not any government action to do so. Peg