Mike Rozeff has, on and off, continued an examination of abortion and Walter Block’s evictionism. His most recent post examines the reasonably analogous example of a shipwreck survivor. Rozeff links to a Block blog post, in which Block receives via an emailer the following scenario:
“A ten-year-old girl survives a shipwreck and is floating around in the ocean surrounded by sharks. A Libertarian comes along in a sailboat. The ten-year-old climbs onto the sailboat to save herself and the Libertarian picks her up and throws her back into the water, shouting, ‘How dare you trespass on my boat!’ She drowns.”
Rozeff considers this “almost exactly the same as the abortion case,” while recognizing that in the case of abortion the owner of the “sailboat” (so to speak) voluntarily allowed the passenger on board. Rozeff cites Block on abortion / evicitionism (and an example that demonstrates that despite the fine line Block attempts to draw between these two terms, there really is no distinction):
However, if the ‘gentlest manner possible’ implies the death of this very young human being, then so be it: the mother still has that right.” [Emphasis added [by Rozeff].]
To which Rozeff concludes:
If gently sliding the girl back into the ocean implies her death, then “so be it”. The libertarian sailors have that right.
He then offers that Rothbard says pretty much the same as Block.
Rozeff paraphrases the steps implied in this lifeboat / trespass / shark example and then offers: “I suggest that each step here be examined closely to find weak spots in the theory.” I suggest that these aren’t weak spots in the theory; these demonstrate the weakness of expecting more from the theory than it is intended to deliver.
Rozeff then follows-up with some questions. I will offer – and address – a few of these, and conclude with some summarizing thoughts (note: “RB” in the below means “Rothbard-Block”):
Does absolute ownership in this case imply RB may cause a life to end? …Have RB interpreted libertarian law correctly?
We certainly have seen this argued from at least one other libertarian, and in the thinnest of libertarianism I cannot find a basis with which to argue. Other than me, no one publicly argued against just such a position by a prominent libertarian a few years ago, so this can be considered as evidence in support of RB.
What happened to Rothbard’s theory of proportionality in punishment? Why does it or a variation or extension of it not apply?
It could apply (and I would argue, it would damn both the sailboat owners and the pregnant woman), but the concept of “proportionality” cannot be clarified via a thin application of the non-aggression principle. It is a question that can only be answered by custom and tradition. The NAP offers: “Don’t hit me first; don’t take my stuff.” How does one find proportionality in this?
Is the ten-year-old guilty or innocent? Do the circumstances in some way mean that she’s not trespassing? Why are her rights inferior?
Under the thinnest of thin libertarianism, she is guilty of trespass. What rights does she have? She is trespassing. There is nothing in the NAP to suggest an appropriate manner by which the property owners can take action. The actions is in the hands of the boat owner.
Why must there be an end to the trespass, if there is one? Why do RB’s absolute rights prevail?
On what basis, from the thinnest of thin libertarianism, would RB’s rights not prevail? It is their property.
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?
Now we get to the meat of it. It is not a failing of libertarian law, but it is a failing of law intended to deliver liberty.
Are we after purifying the application of libertarian theory or are we after liberty? Because if the only acceptable manner by which societal relations are governed is thin libertarianism, we will not arrive at liberty.
In other words, this is a failure of those who believe thin libertarian law will lead to a free society. It will not. Just wait until the father of the child gets word of the incident. See how long a society will stay peaceful – and, therefore, in liberty – when this is how neighbors treat neighbors.
Libertarianism is damaged by those who use it as the alpha and omega of realizing a free society. I value and respect the NAP far too much to damn it in such a manner; I don’t expect more from the NAP than it is capable of delivering; I choose not to make of the NAP a laughingstock.
The non-aggression principle can speak to when physical punishment is or isn’t appropriate; it cannot speak to the morals necessary to establish and maintain a free society; it cannot speak to the issue of proportionality, whether in defense or punishment – and commonly recognized proportionality (in the eyes of the community) is a necessary factor in maintaining peace and, therefore, liberty.
We would be well served to stop expecting too much from the NAP. Doing so only degrades the principle.