Mike Rozeff is continuing his examination of the sailboat problem and its implications for libertarian law. I am very grateful to Rozeff, as, unbeknownst to him, he is pushing me to dive into a topic that I consider both fundamentally important (and also overwhelming).
Rozeff is now answering some of the questions raised by this sailboat dilemma. I will review a few of his responses (as I had already addressed many of these in my initial examination) before boarding this sailboat to liberty.
It will be recalled that RB (Rothbard-Block) have concluded that throwing the girl off of the sailboat into shark infested waters was their right, given that the boat is their property. Within the strictest application of the non-aggression principle, Rozeff asks, and then answers, the questions:
Have RB interpreted libertarian law correctly?
Yes, I think so.
There was a time I would have said no – and in fact did say no in regards to the example of shooting a child as punishment for stealing an apple. My strong reaction to this sent me on a path – one of a few paths that have converged to bring me to the point of recognizing that there is a difference between purifying libertarian law (as deducible from private property rights) and finding liberty. Liberty will not be found at the end of the road of purifying libertarian law.
I do believe that there is a line when punishment – and even defense – gets crossed and one enters into initiating aggression. What informs this line? It will not be found in the non-aggression principle. Proportionality is not deducible from “don’t hit me first; don’t take my stuff.”
Why must there be an end to the trespass, if there is one? Why do RB’s absolute rights prevail?
There does not have to be an end to the trespass. That’s up to the sailors. Their rights to their property prevail in the theory, but not necessarily in the ethical reality in which we live. That ethical context isn’t in libertarian law.
If all we are after is liberty as offered in the theory, why is an ethical context necessary at all? We only need an ethical context if we believe that the non-aggression principle is not sufficient to find and sustain maximal liberty for the maximum numbers in society.
If we believe the NAP is sufficient, there is nothing for Rozeff to question; if we believe the NAP is not sufficient, then the questions must be asked: On what do we base this ethical context? Where will we find it? By process of elimination, the NAP either does or does not offer or otherwise create the proper ethical context sufficient to find and sustain maximal liberty for the maximum numbers in society.
Rozeff is looking to the market to provide the ethical context:
If it is moral to save the girl (Rothbard acknowledges that he’s concerned with legal rights not the morality of abortion), is it a failing of libertarian law not to handle it in a case as startling as this one?
Yes, it’s a failing. However, it’s by no means fatal because we cannot know what law will emerge through market processes, given a chance to. I think what might happen in a private law society is that insurers would incorporate ethical provisions into their agreements.
Insert ethical provisions based on what ethics?
Will insurance companies be the entities to provide ethical context? Why do they not do so today? Could it be because they find that the market will not pay for these? Or do we look around us and conclude: “yes, in the marketplace created by the society around me, I am comfortable we will find proper ethical context”?
But why do we even need an ethical context? The market – based on private property – will be, apparently, sufficient. Rozeff expands on this further, in another post exploring this question:
In a free market, insurers of people’s lives may offer rewards for those who rescue people in perilous situations. This saves them from having to pay death benefits. All sorts of innovations become possible that simultaneously reward ethical behavior and increase safety.
I am no expert on insurance regulations, and each state has its own regulators; however, I do not know of a reason why an insurance company is precluded – by law or regulation – from providing such a reward today. Heck, any individual is free to make public such a reward if he chooses: “Save me from dying, and I will pay you $1000.” After all, the reward is only meaningful if would-be rescuers know about it. What could possibly go wrong?
I can think of market reasons why it is not provided: how easy it would be to create such “life-saving” scenarios and then collect from the insurance company. Sure, there will be investigations and the like, yet I think it cannot be denied that this false-scenario reality is a friction to the market providing just such rewards.
Did RB end the life indirectly or directly? Is gentle eviction from the boat a fiction? Does gentle eviction get RB off the hook?
If her life is ended, it’s directly. Gentle eviction is a fiction in this case. If there is justice beyond property ownership, RB are not off the hook. Such justice would have to consist of rules beyond property ownership.
But if we are to believe that insurance companies might provide a means – via property ownership rules – to establish such justice, why do we need rules beyond property ownership?
Frank van Dun has offered an examination of just this: are rules which are strictly based on private property sufficient for liberty? I have considered two of his posts on this question, here and here.
Now, to the main point: I have been stewing on this intersection of natural law, Christian ethics, and libertarianism. This questioning by Rozeff has been valuable in prompting me to continue expanding on this.
Do RB have obligations outside of libertarian law? If so, where do they come from? If so, does that mean libertarian law is defective or needs to be supplemented?
Yes, they have obligations; that’s my opinion, not a standard libertarian view. They come from rules of the “human” road, and I’m unsure where they come from and how to integrate them with property ownership. But we typically know right from wrong in many situations.
Rozeff is quite correct; this isn’t a standard libertarian view, not when one considers application based strictly on the non-aggression principle and based on property rights. But is it accurate to say that “…we typically know right from wrong in many situations”?
There is a most wonderful comment that I was hoping to have a chance to highlight in a post. Well, here it is:
Tony May 26, 2019 at 6:41 AM
“'Reason alone' has not led people to agree about morality or meaning any more than 'scripture alone' did."
Author Ross Douthat appeared on *Real Time with Bill Maher* (yeah, I know) in 2012 to discuss the role of religion in modern life. In the course of their discussion, Douthat pointed out that the very idea of "universal human rights" is a metaphysical concept and, in some sense, religious.
Maher dismissed Douthat's observation. "Rights," he countered, "are pretty much common sense."
I suggest Maher invite Cato's Tom Palmer, the Mises Institute's Walter Block, and internet commentator Stefan Molyneux on his show. All four have called themselves libertarian. All four are unbelievers. All four gush common sense. Maher and his panelists should come to substantial agreement on that lofty "universal human rights" subject, no?
Normally, you couldn't pay me to watch that supercilious twit. But I would pay to watch that exchange.
"All human conflict is ultimately theological."
Henry Edward Manning
So, on to Rozeff’s most important statement regarding having “obligations outside of libertarian law”:
…I’m unsure where they come from and how to integrate them with property ownership.
The answer will be found in natural law in the Aristotelian – Thomistic (AT) tradition. I think I am on quite safe ground to suggest that many libertarians base their deduced natural rights from this natural law (and many non-libertarians who are in search of proper obligations and ethics do so as well), albeit almost as many want to divorce God who was absolutely in evidence in Thomas’s development of Aristotle’s concepts – Thomas was surrounded by this God, he was swimming in this tradition.
And I will argue: as God is and has been always present everywhere, and as man is always in search of God, both Aristotle and other philosophers around the world have been and are – whether they know it (or admit it) or not – in search of Him.
In any case, since I write in – and since most if not all of my regular readers live in – that portion of the world that was founded via and grounded in this Christian tradition (and because culture matters), this is the context that is relevant. Yet every major culture and religion was in search of the Golden Rule. And it is the Golden Rule that Rozeff is searching for.
The conversation proposed by Tony represents the reality of the conversation when divorced from God. It will get nowhere, because men are appealing to the authority of other men. Who will decide? Only when this authority is recognized as being beyond the control of man can any rational, or reasonable, conversation be held.
“Reason alone” gives us over 50 million induced abortions per year. Where does this sit in an ethical context? (Here is a sampling of the ethical context offered to us by the market on this holocaust.) We find it ethical to murder the most vulnerable and most innocent, yet somehow we will find ethics through reason alone? And from this, liberty will spring forth?
If the most vulnerable and innocent are subject to such “reason,” it seems to me that liberty for the rest of us is reasonably found to be unethical. Oh…wait…I have just described the ethical context of society today.
Now my real work begins: Aristotle passes through Aquinas passes through the School of Salamanca passes through CS Lewis. There are many libertarians – and very prominent ones – that buy into this 100%, as long as you don’t bring up the idea of God. This is certainly true of those known as the New Atheists (libertarian or not). They all offer a road that leads to a dead end…literally.
I think Edward Feser had this right, albeit his views on method of enforcement and punishment offer a road to hell on earth (he finds the solution in the state). In my view, natural law grounded in Christian ethics can inform proper behavior in society – behavior necessary to sustain liberty and freedom; the non-aggression principle can help to inform regarding those violations of natural law that are deserving of physical punishment.
How deep do I want to dive into this? I am not sure. How qualified am I to dive into this? Not at all. But I believe that I have to do something.