The following is adapted from my part of a conversation I have been having via email.
People live in a story, a narrative (call this a cultural tradition); we do not live in a formula. One of my points of difference with libertarians who try to deal with every minute and extreme (even overly extreme) possibility is that these won't be resolved by further purification of libertarian theory.
In what is referred to as the continuum - the space in between the obvious cases at the extreme - much of this will be resolved within the story that a particular society lives. When I read the questions raised by X, above, I find obvious answers given my cultural context (with varying degrees for each question). I don't think this means that the answers need be the same in every cultural context (although it is difficult for me to see how they wouldn't be for at least some of these questions).
There are even more fundamental questions that can only be answered culturally: what is property, what is a person, when does defense turn into aggression. There isn't only one "right" answer.
I will offer some basic examples: is intellectual property to be considered “property”? I find no reason why the answer must be no, if a given society decides it is yes. There is a question of enforcement – who pays for it, how is it accomplished; these can be answered via the non-aggression principle. Beyond this, I find no obvious answer.
What is a person? We have questions around unborn children, when children reach maturity, what to do about those with less than functional capacities (mental or physical). How do rights extend to these?
Where is the line between defense and aggression? Some of you have been around long enough to remember my beef with a fairly well-known libertarian who claimed that shooting a child who was stealing an apple is perfectly acceptable within the NAP. For many reasons I find this horrendous, but for the purists I ask: when does defense turn into aggression?
The non-aggression principle is a wonderful guideline to help us resolve questions about punishment and when violence in defense is justified. But it is a guideline, nothing more; its application in the gray area of the continuum is, on the whole, I believe, culturally dependent.
This won't be resolved by formula, not in any way that is meaningful to human beings as human beings. No one will read that book and turn it into scripture. People learn, instead, by living in a story. The sad part for us is that this story is being destroyed while we speak, and this destruction has been in the works for at least the last 125 years (some will say 300 years or even 500 years).
The story requires something or someone outside of the system – call it something transcendent. The West has done well for many centuries by calling it God. It has also done well by accepting that God, through the Son, gave Himself as sacrifice – the perfect sacrifice to offer complete forgiveness for all transgressions.
This is not to suggest that on the day of Resurrection, heaven was achieved on earth. Many wrongs continued – some even in the name of Christianity. But it was only through Christianity that these had grounding to be righted. Slowly, in fits and starts, this has happened and is happening.
Unfortunately, we see the result of dumping the idea of transcendent and dumping the idea of the perfect sacrifice for forgiveness.
Dumping the transcendent: Nothing is above the system and nothing is allowed to remain outside of the system. Each individual is sovereign, with no authority above him. Diversity and equality: we are all to be included unconditionally, and included equally – and we must all do this. As Jonathan Pageau offers (in a great 18-minute video), inclusiveness is the only value we are allowed to hold; the only sin left is the sin of exclusion – well, except for the exclusion of other values besides inclusion.
Dumping the perfect sacrifice: There is no means by which those who are deemed guilty today can be forgiven: you can admit to being a racist, in which case you are a racist; or you can say that you are not a racist, in which case you are a racist. In either case, you can never escape damnation.
This is not a recipe for peace and reconciliation. It is the only the final stages of civilizational collapse.
Liberty won’t come by developing a more perfect argument, or flushing out the last detail of human interaction. It can only come if built on a narrative – a story, a cultural tradition. The West has demonstrated the only narrative in the history of the world that has brought on liberty. It is this narrative that is living through its final death blows.
Well, final for now. If there is any hope for man (there is), the narrative will return. It could get ugly in the meantime.
A couple of years ago, Hans Hoppe gave a lecture on the need for a grand narrative. As I recall, he spent little or no time working on minute details of libertarian theory applied - he told a story. Jeff Deist did something similar. This lecture by Daniel Ajamian is another example.
They are right - without a story, we are wasting our time wishing for liberty.