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Libertarianism and the non-initiation of force

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Posted

Every time I get into arguments with libertarians it seems that the same principle would be brought up, the non-initiation of force. I think a lot of the libertarian ideology does hinge on this principle, so I think it

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Posted (edited)

POL wrote: This is something I would offer as a general rule, that every indirect application of force requires, and is contingent on, the possibility of a direct application of force. If I can’t shoot you, I can’t threaten you.

I am not sure that such is always the case. The ability to back up a bluff if it is "called out" so to speak is not always necessary to elicit control of a situation, individual, or group; often, effective and sometimes despotic political leaders or governments have mastered the ability, frequently lacking the physical resources to actually carry out force directly, to generate the illusion of the capability of such direct application of force. This is often sufficient, though of course can be ruinous to the individual or party in power if the citizens or 'subjects' themselves apply direct force in return to indirect force and the threat of direct force, to remain in power.

Violence need not always be seen as physical in nature, it comes in many forms. I do believe that the threat of violence, that is the threat of physical coercion in which the ability of one to act on his will is usurped, or the "direct application of force," constitutes in itself a form of violence: psychological violence. Such a threat is ever present in our modern day states, the reminders are everywhere, and it is here that I think it necessary to demarcate the public from private notions of 'leverage;' you are correct in identifying the fact that businesses too operate under this working principle, but I think the main difference is this: when push comes to shove the private defers to the public, that is the government, and while this has to do with notions of authority, I believe it also has to do with the fact that the government/ the state has either the illusion of the power or the actual power to act using physical, direct force.

And I think this was mentioned in another thread somewhere down the line by either you or I, but when the notion of "authority" as a state may come to enjoy it in the eyes of its citizens wanes, the threat of force or actual use of force tend to proliferate themselves in order to make up for the loss, power takes place of authority.

Not to derail the thread, I just cannot help myself on this one, but Hugo, you hail from the United Kingdom, perhaps you can help us out here, but do you think this process of decreased authority followed by increased displays of state power is unfolding over there? God, it seems so to me, but I may be wrong.....

Edited by DeadCanDance

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Posted

POL wrote: This is something I would offer as a general rule, that every indirect application of force requires, and is contingent on, the possibility of a direct application of force. If I can

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Posted (edited)

Parody:

Mental abuse is far more insidious and damaging than physical abuse. One can recover from a broken bone, but mental trauma lasts for decades. Why are you resistant or hesistant to violence that is beyond the physical?

Another reason why hegemonic power is more effective than military power - compare American dominance versus Roman Empire.

Edited by Campanella
to whom and extra 411

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Posted

Why are you resistant or hesistant to violence that is beyond the physical?

I think, as I said before, because it is less definite. And, maybe, because I don't see the government engaging in violence against it's own citizens, at least not at large. And maybe because I think psychology itself is a crapshoot. It's too easy to speculate, without real evidence, on why people behave the way they do.

But, looking at DCD's post I think his notion is more definite than I gave him credit for.

Violence need not always be seen as physical in nature, it comes in many forms. I do believe that the threat of violence, that is the threat of physical coercion in which the ability of one to act on his will is usurped, or the "direct application of force," constitutes in itself a form of violence: psychological violence.

So the fault is mine, I guess, for not reading clearly.

Okay, enough generalities, let me give an actual example, and I'll let you decide whether you consider it psychological violence or not.

I've been working at Target as a cashier for some time now, and people in general are afraid of being accused of stealing, even though it is rare that, at least to my knowledge, that anyone actually gets called out for stealing. In my opinion, people probably leave the store with all sorts products that weren't paid for, largely by accident or cashier error. I have any number of customers wanting me to verify that products that they own were already paid for, offering receipts and to check their bags, which I politely refuse. I guess I find this behavior strange, as if all these people believe they are under suspicion and need to prove that they don't have criminal intent.

A close example is when the cashier forgets to swipe a product and, when the customer leaves the store, the alarm goes off and most customers will turn back asking for permission to leave and offer to have their bags searched. We always wave them to go ahead...no one searches their bags or anything like that. It just seems to be another example of strange behavior--we're not law enforcement. To my knowledge, you need an actual badge in order to hold people against their will. But the idea that stores do have the authority to hold people is so prevalent, even among my own folks, that I can't help but have some doubt about my own notion. I even had one seemingly normal couple who I was checking out, who was there when the alarm rang on someone else; who was upset because no one stopped them when they left.

So, to anyone reading this, is this an example of psychological violence? But, the main question in my mind is, where does this behavior come from, without getting too "psychological". Why do people believe they are under constant suspicion and have to constantly prove themselves? It's like my mom, with a perfect driving record, and certainly has no "problems with authority", is still paranoid whenever she sees a police car on the road. I can't think of the last time she's been pulled over by an officer. I ask, "Are you speeding or violating some traffic law?" She says, "No, I just don't want to be pulled over." Psychological violence? Just the idea that she could be pulled over brings about the fear of being pulled over? Yet, she supports the police, they are the good guys in her book. But why would someone who would pull you over for no reason be a "good guy"? (Not that I think that police can, or do, pull people over for no reason. I think the vast majority of them are primarily interested in enforcing the law, not in harassing people.)

Lots of things I don't understand.

(Sorry for taking so long to respond.)

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Okay, enough generalities, let me give an actual example, and I'll let you decide whether you consider it psychological violence or not.

I've been working at Target as a cashier for some time now, and people in general are afraid of being accused of stealing, even though it is rare that, at least to my knowledge, that anyone actually gets called out for stealing. In my opinion, people probably leave the store with all sorts products that weren't paid for, largely by accident or cashier error. I have any number of customers wanting me to verify that products that they own were already paid for, offering receipts and to check their bags, which I politely refuse. I guess I find this behavior strange, as if all these people believe they are under suspicion and need to prove that they don't have criminal intent.

A close example is when the cashier forgets to swipe a product and, when the customer leaves the store, the alarm goes off and most customers will turn back asking for permission to leave and offer to have their bags searched. We always wave them to go ahead...no one searches their bags or anything like that. It just seems to be another example of strange behavior--we're not law enforcement. To my knowledge, you need an actual badge in order to hold people against their will. But the idea that stores do have the authority to hold people is so prevalent, even among my own folks, that I can't help but have some doubt about my own notion. I even had one seemingly normal couple who I was checking out, who was there when the alarm rang on someone else; who was upset because no one stopped them when they left.

So, to anyone reading this, is this an example of psychological violence? But, the main question in my mind is, where does this behavior come from, without getting too "psychological". Why do people believe they are under constant suspicion and have to constantly prove themselves? It's like my mom, with a perfect driving record, and certainly has no "problems with authority", is still paranoid whenever she sees a police car on the road. I can't think of the last time she's been pulled over by an officer. I ask, "Are you speeding or violating some traffic law?" She says, "No, I just don't want to be pulled over." Psychological violence? Just the idea that she could be pulled over brings about the fear of being pulled over? Yet, she supports the police, they are the good guys in her book. But why would someone who would pull you over for no reason be a "good guy"? (Not that I think that police can, or do, pull people over for no reason. I think the vast majority of them are primarily interested in enforcing the law, not in harassing people.)

Lots of things I don't understand.

(Sorry for taking so long to respond.)

First thing I'd like to suggest (speaking as a libertarian, broadly defined) is that you should be careful taking anything Ayn Rand writes too seriously. She was admittedly the inspiration behind many people, especially Americans, becoming libertarians, but imo she was a very messed up individual who produced some pretty warped stuff, and the legacy she left behind in the more orthodox "Objectivist" groups illustrates that better than anything.

As for the non-aggression principle, or non-initiation of force principle, surely it can be interpreted on a fairly common sense basis? And isn't that the best way to interpret it - as people would ordinarily interpret it (I've usually seen it extended to "refraining from the initiation of force, and from fraud", so as to avoid any confusing attempt to incorporate fraud into force). After all, like the man said, if you take your philosophical analysis of rules too seriously, "no course of action could be determined by a rule, because any course of action can be made out to accord with the rule".

In the case you quote regarding the shop, no as far as I'm concerned it isn't a case of "psychological violence". The people you describe are choosing to have their bags searched in a situation where they are either under no compulsion to do so, or one in which they have implicitly consented to cooperate with the owners of the shop in such situations (an alarm goes off as they are leaving).

In the case of excessive fear of the police, it's rather complicated for me because, as I tend towards the anarcho-capitalist wing of the broad libertarian church, government agents are inherently problematic for me. However, I would tend to say that if your mother thinks, as most do, that speed limits are a legitimate aspect of state authority and has a similarly benign view of the state's enforcers as you evidently do, then there's no psychological violence involved here either and your mother is simply a rather nervous person. In my case, on the other hand, I don't accept that speed limits are a legitimate exercise of state authority and I do not accept that police officers stopping drivers without evidence of real crime is legitimate. Hence the only reason I would stop (and do) for a police car in such a situation is fear of the rather serious consequences that would be imposed upon me by unanswerable levels of force if I do not, so it is not "psychological violence", but very much the very real and imminent threat of real violence in my case.

I'm not really very convinced at all by this concept of "psychological violence", though. What is it, beyond the implication or direct threat of physical force? I think you are in danger of getting into very sticky areas concerning consent and free will when you talk about such things.

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Posted

And, maybe, because I don't see the government engaging in violence against it's own citizens, at least not at large.

Wow! I think there's a popular video you should perhaps watch:

http://reason.com/archives/2010/05/11/a-drug-raid-goes-viral

(Not that I think that police can, or do, pull people over for no reason. I think the vast majority of them are primarily interested in enforcing the law, not in harassing people.)

I accept that that is your experience of the police. It isn't mine and it isn't for a lot of people I've known, and it isn't for many more I've heard or read about.

Plus, of course, it raises questions about the definition of an acceptable "reason" and the legitimacy of the particular laws they are enforcing.

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Posted (edited)

I define libertarianism as the belief that traffic lights cause traffic.

But leaving that aside, the argument libertarians use regarding the coercion of the state is totally off base, in my opinion.

Factually it is invalid because in fact libertarianism depends on just as much state coercion as any other system. It's just that they want the coercion to benefit them. Thus, libertarians argue that "property rights" are paramount, but translated into a social relation, what this really means is the right to go to court (a social function) and get a writ of execution carried out by a sheriff (who generally has a gun) to kick out holdover tenants. Radical libertarians can deny this and state they don't want any social action to protect their property, but just some vague community agreement, but without that there is no such thing as property rights -- just might make right. A right to real property means to have a recorded deed in the recorders office that a court will enforce by sending a sheriff. Without that, any gang of armed men can "own" anything just by taking it.

But worse than that, libertarianism assumes a mythical romantic Rousseauian "default" mode where individuals exist outside of society in a state of absolute freedom that society subsequently tries to take away by making rules and enforcing them. That's a pure myth. Human existence occurs in society, and thus is made up of social rules that are enforced and in their enforcement create what freedom means. There is no natural man outside of society wandering around in freedom without coercion. Freedom and coercion are already a social concept made up by rules. We are never uncoerced, since we are always under enforceable rules. In short, libertarians are just picking out the rules they don't like (usually involving their "right" to use their property to harm others without consequences) and categorizing them as coersive, while leaving untouched all the other coersive rules that make society possible (like not allowing gangs of men to shoot and kill them and take their homes). This is adolescent -- which is why Ayn Rand is mostly read by 15 year old boys.

Edited by gamera

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Posted

Property rights involve nothing other than the right of one individual to limit the freedom of another individual, nor CAN they (logically) involve anything other than that. When you own a car, it simply means that you can limit the freedom of other people to drive that car; when you own a house, you can limit the freedom of other people to sleep there.

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Posted (edited)

I define libertarianism as the belief that traffic lights cause traffic.

Well I don't believe there is any universally accepted definition of libertarianism, so feel free to keep to that one if you are happy with it.

Personally I like to define anyone who follows some reasonably consistent version of the non-aggression principle as a libertarian.

But leaving that aside, the argument libertarians use regarding the coercion of the state is totally off base, in my opinion.

Factually it is invalid because in fact libertarianism depends on just as much state coercion as any other system. It's just that they want the coercion to benefit them. Thus, libertarians argue that "property rights" are paramount, but translated into a social relation, what this really means is the right to go to court (a social function) and get a writ of execution carried out by a sheriff (who generally has a gun) to kick out holdover tenants.

This appears to be a profound misunderstanding of what libertarianism is. Libertarianism is not necessarily anarchism. In fact, most libertarians, I believe, are minarchists, not anarchists, and indeed Nozick argues that a property-respecting anarchist society would automatically develop into a minarchist state. Not all libertarians even respect property rights (in general "left-libertarians" tend not to). But for those who do, which would include me, protecting legitimate property rights (you can argue about how they are derived, of course) obviously isn't "coercion" in the sense that libertarians oppose it (a breach of the non-aggression principle). Courts don't require a state, of course, but do tend to be a major part of any minarchist state.

Radical libertarians can deny this and state they don't want any social action to protect their property, but just some vague community agreement, but without that there is no such thing as property rights -- just might make right. A right to real property means to have a recorded deed in the recorders office that a court will enforce by sending a sheriff. Without that, any gang of armed men can "own" anything just by taking it.

I don't agree that there is no such thing as property rights in the absence of the state. Whether those rights can be successfully enforced is a matter of fact in any particular situation, and not necessarily more likely to be so under a state than otherwise, as a brief consideration of eminent domain/compulsory purchase would tell you, without even considering the corruption of state officials.

But worse than that, libertarianism assumes a mythical romantic Rousseauian "default" mode where individuals exist outside of society in a state of absolute freedom that society subsequently tries to take away by making rules and enforcing them.

Lockean, I think, rather than Rousseauian, at least for right-libertarians. And just as useful (pace Nozick) when taken as a constructive fiction for explanatory purposes, rather than a historical account.

That's a pure myth. Human existence occurs in society, and thus is made up of social rules that are enforced and in their enforcement create what freedom means. There is no natural man outside of society wandering around in freedom without coercion. Freedom and coercion are already a social concept made up by rules. We are never uncoerced, since we are always under enforceable rules.

Rules are not inconsistent with freedom from coercion. Consent is the point you seem to be missing here.

In short, libertarians are just picking out the rules they don't like (usually involving their "right" to use their property to harm others without consequences)

You seem to be confusing libertarians with the state, or with state-dependent institutions granted limited liability protection, such as joint stock corporations. The latter have the capability to harm others without consequences. Libertarians, of course, never have any such right (assuming a reasonable definition of "harm" is used).

and categorizing them as coersive, while leaving untouched all the other coersive rules that make society possible (like not allowing gangs of men to shoot and kill them and take their homes).

Again, I think you need to rethink your useage of "coercion" and "coercive", because it is presently misleadingly inaccurate as applied to libertarianism. Libertarians do not oppose "coercion" in the sense you use it here - they (in general) oppose breaches of the non-aggression principle.

This is adolescent -- which is why Ayn Rand is mostly read by 15 year old boys.

I suspect you might find adolescent boys like Ayn Rand because of the rape fantasies. I have no time for Ms Rand, anyway, and never have had.

Edited by Randal
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Posted

Property rights involve nothing other than the right of one individual to limit the freedom of another individual, nor CAN they (logically) involve anything other than that. When you own a car, it simply means that you can limit the freedom of other people to drive that car; when you own a house, you can limit the freedom of other people to sleep there.

Works for me, I think.

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Posted

And, maybe, because I don't see the government engaging in violence against it's own citizens, at least not at large.

Wow! I think there's a popular video you should perhaps watch:

http://reason.com/archives/2010/05/11/a-drug-raid-goes-viral

The Drug War strikes again. Thanks for linking to the video and the article. What it looks like to me is that the police are engaging in overkill in trying to enforce drug laws. The author of that article, Radley Balko, makes the point that the problem is with our drug policies, not with individual law enforcement officers. The author writes:

SWAT teams are inherently violent. In some ways they're an infliction of punishment before conviction. This is why they should only be used in situations where the suspect presents an immediate threat to others. In that case, SWAT teams use violence to defuse an already violent situation. When they're used to serve drug warrants for consensual crimes, however, SWAT tactics create violence where no violence was present before.

I guess I didn't realize the extent at which the SWAT team is being employed to combat minor drug offenses. So, QED, you're right. Welcome to TGL :)

(Not that I think that police can, or do, pull people over for no reason. I think the vast majority of them are primarily interested in enforcing the law, not in harassing people.)

I accept that that is your experience of the police. It isn't mine and it isn't for a lot of people I've known, and it isn't for many more I've heard or read about.

Plus, of course, it raises questions about the definition of an acceptable "reason" and the legitimacy of the particular laws they are enforcing.

Well, we need to distinguish between two kinds of statements on this. On one hand, those who don't accept the legitimacy of the government or of police officers, such as yourself, are bound to find any sort action taken by officers in order to enforce the law as harrassment.

On the other hand, there are the claims that the police are harassing people outside and beyond their duty to enforce the law. I guess, if this is true, what should we infer? On one hand, we could simply say that police are people, and even good people will do things, every now and then, that are ill-intentioned. On the other hand, I guess I don't know what. I think I've lost the context of the argument.

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Welcome to TGL :)

Cheers, PoL. Nice to be here. Followed a Google link to the Wittgenstein Ethics lecture on the legacy site and then got suckered in by a couple of discussions!

Nice site. I always respect those who try to live up to ideals of open discussion - it isn't as easy as it seems!

On one hand, those who don't accept the legitimacy of the government or of police officers, such as yourself, are bound to find any sort action taken by officers in order to enforce the law as harrassment.

Well, I'm not quite so dogmatic (or is that "principled") as that. Although I am strongly influenced by anarcho-capitalism as a system, I can also see the arguments for minarchism, and I don't really have a problem with police enforcing laws against what I would regard as real crimes - attacks on the person or property of others, etc. It's all the prior restraint laws and laws enforcing what I would see as basically good manners or good behaviour in personal matters that I regard as illegitimate. And there are always, of course, grey areas.

On the other hand, there are the claims that the police are harassing people outside and beyond their duty to enforce the law. I guess, if this is true, what should we infer? On one hand, we could simply say that police are people, and even good people will do things, every now and then, that are ill-intentioned. On the other hand, I guess I don't know what.

I don't think it is open to doubt that it is true, is it? What is in dispute is its prevalence. You might take the view that it is just "a few bad apples" based upon your experience and knowledge. I believe it is more than that - the position inherently involves wielding power, in practice in the most direct and personal manner, and power does seem to corrupt people.

But I will certainly accept that there are a lot of decent police men and women. The problem even for them is that, like the military, it is an institution that places such people in an invidious position. In order to fulfil the duties attaching to their employment, they have to do objectively bad things (such as violently enforcing our state-imposed prohibition laws).

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Works for me, I think.

Cool. I'm amazed by the number of people who either refuse to agree, or, for some reason, think that this definition is somehow a condemnation of property rights. Marx claimed that capitalists tend to misdefine property as a relationship between a person and an inanimate object, whereas it is properly seen as a relationship between a person and other people vis a vis the inanimate object.

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Works for me, I think.

Cool. I'm amazed by the number of people who either refuse to agree, or, for some reason, think that this definition is somehow a condemnation of property rights. Marx claimed that capitalists tend to misdefine property as a relationship between a person and an inanimate object, whereas it is properly seen as a relationship between a person and other people vis a vis the inanimate object.

What's the practical difference, then? Is it incompatible with a labour theory of property, for any significant purpose?

Seems pretty clear to me that if there's only one person in existence, the idea of there being any difference between what he says he owns and what he claims not to own would be pretty absurd.

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Property rights involve nothing other than the right of one individual to limit the freedom of another individual, nor CAN they (logically) involve anything other than that. When you own a car, it simply means that you can limit the freedom of other people to drive that car; when you own a house, you can limit the freedom of other people to sleep there.

If someone with a gun hijacks your car, then who owns the car?

Ownership of property is determined by title or other means of tracing the transfer (generally a government function), backed up by the right to go to court (a government function) and have the writ executed by an officer with a gun (a government function).

Without these government functions property rights mean absolutely nothing (or rather mean nothing more than might makes right). Libertarianism is a vast retrojection based on the fact that society in fact created the concept of property, which libertarians retroject into a past where society didn't exit, only individuals. But that past never existed. Property rights are a bundle of rights and responsibilities determined by any particular society. Take away the social rules, and property evaporates as a concept and a practice.

Edited by gamera

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I define libertarianism as the belief that traffic lights cause traffic.

Well I don't believe there is any universally accepted definition of libertarianism, so feel free to keep to that one if you are happy with it.

Personally I like to define anyone who follows some reasonably consistent version of the non-aggression principle as a libertarian.

My definition is funny but true. Yours is I think tendentious and misleading.

But leaving that aside, the argument libertarians use regarding the coercion of the state is totally off base, in my opinion.

Factually it is invalid because in fact libertarianism depends on just as much state coercion as any other system. It's just that they want the coercion to benefit them. Thus, libertarians argue that "property rights" are paramount, but translated into a social relation, what this really means is the right to go to court (a social function) and get a writ of execution carried out by a sheriff (who generally has a gun) to kick out holdover tenants.

This appears to be a profound misunderstanding of what libertarianism is. Libertarianism is not necessarily anarchism. In fact, most libertarians, I believe, are minarchists, not anarchists, and indeed Nozick argues that a property-respecting anarchist society would automatically develop into a minarchist state. Not all libertarians even respect property rights (in general "left-libertarians" tend not to). But for those who do, which would include me, protecting legitimate property rights (you can argue about how they are derived, of course) obviously isn't "coercion" in the sense that libertarians oppose it (a breach of the non-aggression principle). Courts don't require a state, of course, but do tend to be a major part of any minarchist state.

Well, this is argument by label. “Protecting legitimate property rights” isn’t coercion, but protecting economic rights, say, is. There’s no rebutting this since it assumes the conclusion. Though I would ask why this property fetish.

Radical libertarians can deny this and state they don't want any social action to protect their property, but just some vague community agreement, but without that there is no such thing as property rights -- just might make right. A right to real property means to have a recorded deed in the recorders office that a court will enforce by sending a sheriff. Without that, any gang of armed men can "own" anything just by taking it.

I don't agree that there is no such thing as property rights in the absence of the state. Whether those rights can be successfully enforced is a matter of fact in any particular situation, and not necessarily more likely to be so under a state than otherwise, as a brief consideration of eminent domain/compulsory purchase would tell you, without even considering the corruption of state officials.

1. How do you know there were property rights before the rise of the state – what exactly is your evidence for this historical claim.

2. What was the nature of those rights? It’s hard to imagine the rights meant anything but “might makes right.” The person strong enough to take property owns it.

3. In what sense is an unenforceable right a right at all? This seems to defy the very vocabulary of “rights discourse” that libertarians dwell on. If a right isn’t enforceable, and hence not rooted in society, what is it rooted in? Did it fall from heaven?

But worse than that, libertarianism assumes a mythical romantic Rousseauian "default" mode where individuals exist outside of society in a state of absolute freedom that society subsequently tries to take away by making rules and enforcing them.

Lockean, I think, rather than Rousseauian, at least for right-libertarians. And just as useful (pace Nozick) when taken as a constructive fiction for explanatory purposes, rather than a historical account.

Constructive fiction? In short an historical falsehood used to shore up a political agenda that cannot stand on social reality.

That's a pure myth. Human existence occurs in society, and thus is made up of social rules that are enforced and in their enforcement create what freedom means. There is no natural man outside of society wandering around in freedom without coercion. Freedom and coercion are already a social concept made up by rules. We are never uncoerced, since we are always under enforceable rules.

Rules are not inconsistent with freedom from coercion. Consent is the point you seem to be missing here.

Rules determine what constitutes freedom. That’s my point. Libertarianism is hopelessly confused on this point – the “constructive fiction” you cite. So what’s really happening in the libertarian agenda is not an appeal to consent or lack of coercion, but rather, coercion only on the matters important to libertarians.

In short, libertarians are just picking out the rules they don't like (usually involving their "right" to use their property to harm others without consequences)

You seem to be confusing libertarians with the state, or with state-dependent institutions granted limited liability protection, such as joint stock corporations. The latter have the capability to harm others without consequences. Libertarians, of course, never have any such right (assuming a reasonable definition of "harm" is used).

Again, you missed the point. Property harms people all the time. A car crash for instance. You don’t need a corporation to harm people. The issue is what happens after you harm someone with your property. The answer is, you go to court, you get a judgment, the judgment is enforced – ultimately with a man with a gun. Thus coercion is unavoidable once you valorize property. It’s just that libertarians only want others to be coerced, not themselves. They always want to have the greenlight. This is pure wish fulfilment, and why libertarianism is attractive to adolescent males.

and categorizing them as coercive, while leaving untouched all the other coercive rules that make society possible (like not allowing gangs of men to shoot and kill them and take their homes).

Again, I think you need to rethink your useage of "coercion" and "coercive", because it is presently misleadingly inaccurate as applied to libertarianism. Libertarians do not oppose "coercion" in the sense you use it here - they (in general) oppose breaches of the non-aggression principle.

Again, you’ve missed my point. The nonaggression principle as used by libertarianism is inherently aggressive. The ownership of property IS the initiation of force and coercion against those who don’t own it. Which is why libertarians tend to fetishize property and then valorize property and its defense and the relations to it as nonaggression. A factory farmer may think he’s being nonaggressive; but a starving worker who doesn’t own land might look at it differently. Libertarianism is thus authoritarian in the worse sense in that it pretends not to be. At least liberal democracy is honest about its use of force, and deals with it openly.

I suspect you might find adolescent boys like Ayn Rand because of the rape fantasies. I have no time for Ms Rand, anyway, and never have had.

While Rand's persistent use of rape fantasies certainly tell us something about her psychology, the attraction of libertarianism to a certain demographic (mostly young white males) surely has a deeper significance. Leaving aside the deficiencies of libertarian ideology, I genuinely think that there is a scapegoating aspect to libertarianism (we -- hardworking intelligent folk -- would all be wealthy and free were it not for those "other" people who insist on taxes and social services for their benefit). Certainly Rand is explicit about that. She wallows in it. But I don't think you have to read much of Nozik or other libertarian theorists to get that same feel.

I might add that I used to think highly of left libertarianism, but after I started to read postmodern discourse analysis, I abandoned that position faster than Ayn Rand would abandon New Orleans to snakes and floodwaters.

Edited by gamera

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Although many simple societies have concepts of property very different from our own, some concepts of property probably predate the "government functions" to which gamera refers. Societies occasionally regulate themselves with means other than the guns, billy clubs, and jails of the police.

I've recently been reading some stuff on ancient Greeks. Greek Kings (in Homeric times) thought that piracy was a noble profession, while “trading” with “barbarians” (non-Greeks) was beneath them. This demonstrates (I think) that our concepts of property are hardly universal, or the result of some sort of “natural law”.

As far as the "practical difference" between Marx's definition of property and many other definitions, there is none. I think Marx was simply pointing out that Capitalist societies often defined property so as to obscure the social relations it entails.

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Posted (edited)

Although many simple societies have concepts of property very different from our own, some concepts of property probably predate the "government functions" to which gamera refers. Societies occasionally regulate themselves with means other than the guns, billy clubs, and jails of the police.

I've recently been reading some stuff on ancient Greeks. Greek Kings (in Homeric times) thought that piracy was a noble profession, while “trading” with “barbarians” (non-Greeks) was beneath them. This demonstrates (I think) that our concepts of property are hardly universal, or the result of some sort of “natural law”.

As far as the "practical difference" between Marx's definition of property and many other definitions, there is none. I think Marx was simply pointing out that Capitalist societies often defined property so as to obscure the social relations it entails.

This is an important issue because it goes to the "constructive fiction" Randal mentions (and then seems to take it as fact).

We can trace our concept of property through historical times. It has a provenance, a genealogy. During all that time it is embedded in social functions and a government of some type or other with some type of enforcement role. Even in mediaeval Iceland, which had no police force, per se (and was the closest thing to a libertarian republic in history) there were legal means to determine property rights and punishment for violating them. While it didn't involve jails (there were none), it did involve fines, enforced by declarations of outlawry. An outlawed person (one who didn't follow a court order) could be killed with impunity by his enemies (which meant he would be unless he left Iceland).

Were there property rights during the Pleistocene? There is no way of knowing that, and claiming there were is merely a “constructive fiction” which I find very destructive.

In short to the extent that any school of libertarianism is based on the universalist claims of property rights, it is ungrounded and shouldn’t be take any more seriously than an economic system based on Star Wars.

Edited by gamera
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Although, obviously, we don't know how property was defined and regulated during the Pleistocene, we do have some ethnographic records of how property was defined among small, stone-aged societies, some of which existed until very recently (and others of which may still exist, although they are rapidly disappearing).

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Although, obviously, we don't know how property was defined and regulated during the Pleistocene, we do have some ethnographic records of how property was defined among small, stone-aged societies, some of which existed until very recently (and others of which may still exist, although they are rapidly disappearing).

I hear you. But query whether studies of modern stone age societies really tell us how stone age people lived. The assumption is they haven't changed in thousands of years, which is quite an assumption.

Having said that, what's the conclusion about modern nontechnological society's view of property? My (vague) recollection is that many such societies followed usufruct. And those that had some sense of private property rights, also had various forms of enforcement, from banishment to fines, for violating property rights. I don't see how they couldn't.

Edited by gamera

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Gamera, clearly we are talking about different kinds of rights, so there is a language confusion obstructing our exchanges here. For me, the only rights enforceable by violence are natural rights (which I gather you believe don’t exist – most of your responses to me seem to suggest that).

Also, I’m not the kind of ideologue who believes he has built or found a moral system based upon incontestable foundations and built with invincible logic – you should try to find an Objectivist if you want somebody to set up a system for you to pick holes in. As a matter of fact, I will assert, based upon long experience, that nobody has yet found or built such a system that is not ultimately dependent upon faith (broadly conceived), and I will tentatively suggest that nobody ever will.

I make no bones of the fact that I am primarily influenced by what I regard as common sense – owning a house that has been legitimately acquired is not an act of aggression against anyone, and it does justify violence (coercion, if you like) against anybody who tries to take it away without just cause.

I’m not attempting to convert you in this discussion, which was initiated by your post to me rather than the other way round, merely pointing out what at least some libertarians believe and correcting some of your attacks upon some of those beliefs. And, by the way, you need to be a bit more targeted in your attacks. You keep referring to ideas relating to property as “libertarian”, when you ought to know full well (given your reference to past respect for left libertarians) that many libertarians don’t hold such views – many are communist or georgist in their approach to property, for goodness sake!

I’ll respond to your individual points below.

My definition is funny but true. Yours is I think tendentious and misleading.

Bizarrely, you seem to me to have got that precisely reversed (except that my definition was not funny).

Well, this is argument by label. “Protecting legitimate property rights” isn’t coercion, but protecting economic rights, say, is. There’s no rebutting this since it assumes the conclusion. Though I would ask why this property fetish.

You seem to have introduced your own straw man here (“but protecting economic rights, say, is”). Let’s bring it to the simplest level – my physically preventing a burglar from removing property from my home is not coercion in the sense it is opposed by libertarians. Indeed, although you could claim there is a sense in which it’s a negative coercion, it is rather stilted to speak of “coercing a burglar not to steal”, imo. Apart from a small pacifist minority, libertarians do not oppose the use of force in defence of rights (whatever those might be) – they oppose breaches of the non-aggression principle.

1. How do you know there were property rights before the rise of the state – what exactly is your evidence for this historical claim.

I made no such historical claim, though I’m not necessarily averse to doing so. I pointed out that property rights exist in the absence of the state. This is a case where we are talking past each other, because you seem to be talking about social “rights” which obviously do depend upon the community, whereas I am talking about natural rights, which obviously do not.

You might well think talk of natural rights is nonsense on stilts, but I am far from the only person to disagree with you on that.

2. What was the nature of those rights? It’s hard to imagine the rights meant anything but “might makes right.” The person strong enough to take property owns it.

Clearly rights can’t possibly mean “might makes right”, which represents the situation in the absence of rights.

3. In what sense is an unenforceable right a right at all? This seems to defy the very vocabulary of “rights discourse” that libertarians dwell on. If a right isn’t enforceable, and hence not rooted in society, what is it rooted in? Did it fall from heaven?

See above re talking past each other.

Clearly a natural right exists whether or not it is enforceable in the particular case. Indeed, the idea that a right can only exist if it is enforceable seems patently absurd to me – it suggests that people in a vulnerable situation don’t have a right not to be killed, for instance.

Constructive fiction? In short an historical falsehood used to shore up a political agenda that cannot stand on social reality.

Locke and Nozick (and many others), iirc, use what is arguably an inaccurate version of history in this way in their account of the origin of property rights. Personally I don’t think a historical account is necessary, merely an illustration of principles.

Rules determine what constitutes freedom. That’s my point. Libertarianism is hopelessly confused on this point – the “constructive fiction” you cite. So what’s really happening in the libertarian agenda is not an appeal to consent or lack of coercion, but rather, coercion only on the matters important to libertarians.

My point was that if we freely consent to particular rules, we are not “coerced” in any meaningful sense in being held to them, providing those rules are not inherently unjust (alienating inalienable rights, for instance).

What freedom is, is a huge topic all of its own, obviously.

Again, you missed the point. Property harms people all the time. A car crash for instance.

Don’t be silly. Property isn’t a moral agent.

You don’t need a corporation to harm people. The issue is what happens after you harm someone with your property. The answer is, you go to court, you get a judgment, the judgment is enforced – ultimately with a man with a gun. Thus coercion is unavoidable once you valorize property.

You certainly don’t need property to harm someone either – a fist will do just fine.

Again, you are switching between useages of “coercion”. Either coercion is used in a value-laden sense as libertarians sometimes do, to mean coercion that is a wrongful breach of the nonaggression principle, or it is used in a broad and perhaps more accurate but rather stilted sense to mean any kind of pressure to make someone do or not do something. If the former, then forcing people to respect others' rights or to make restitution for harm wrongfully done is not coercion. If the latter then it (forcing people to respect others' rights or to make restitution for harm wrongfully done) is coercion and it is not opposed by libertarians.

You repeatedly refer to this straw man, that libertarians say they oppose coercion but coercion is necessary by their own lights and they just pick and choose when to support it. I hope I’ve now cleared up for you the linguistic issue behind your confusion here.

The reason for the introduction of corporations is that libertarians generally are very much in favour of restitution and opposed to limitations of liability, which, of course, require a state to impose and enforce them. In our societies it is the state and corporations protected by the state which can get away with harming people without full and proper restitution.

It’s just that libertarians only want others to be coerced, not themselves. They always want to have the greenlight. This is pure wish fulfilment, and why libertarianism is attractive to adolescent males

You seem to have some strong personal issues with libertarianism and a real need to belittle it in this way. If I’m honest, I feel the same way about warmongers – we all have strong feelings about some issues, I suppose.

As far as wish fulfillment is concerned, all libertarianism says is that you can't rightfully be compelled to do or not do anything that does not harm others. As Mill put it: "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign". But this, of course, doesn't preclude many activities being regarded as inadviseable or harmful - it just precludes us from using the violence of prohibition to suppress such activities and reduces us essentially to persuasion.

Again, you’ve missed my point. The nonaggression principle as used by libertarianism is inherently aggressive. The ownership of property IS the initiation of force and coercion against those who don’t own it. Which is why libertarians tend to fetishize property and then valorize property and its defense and the relations to it as nonaggression. A factory farmer may think he’s being nonaggressive; but a starving worker who doesn’t own land might look at it differently. Libertarianism is thus authoritarian in the worse sense in that it pretends not to be. At least liberal democracy is honest about its use of force, and deals with it openly.

While I see the argument you are making (and it has force in some situations, such as considering the Lockean proviso or the American theft of the continental US from the former inhabitants), I do think the assertion that “the ownership of property IS the initiation of force and coercion against those who don’t own it” is rather silly on its face. My buying a house is simply not an act of aggression, to any but a very theoretical and philosophist point of view. While it is true that my ownership of the house precludes another from owning it unless he or she can afford to buy it, the word “aggression” is patently tendentious and inaccurate when applied to my purchase.

A factory farmer may think he’s being nonaggressive; but a starving worker who doesn’t own land might look at it differently.

This is an attempt to use emergency ethics, which should always be regarded with suspicion, imo

While Rand's persistent use of rape fantasies certainly tell us something about her psychology, the attraction of libertarianism to a certain demographic (mostly young white males) surely has a deeper significance. Leaving aside the deficiencies of libertarian ideology, I genuinely think that there is a scapegoating aspect to libertarianism (we -- hardworking intelligent folk -- would all be wealthy and free were it not for those "other" people who insist on taxes and social services for their benefit). Certainly Rand is explicit about that. She wallows in it. But I don't think you have to read much of Nozik or other libertarian theorists to get that same feel.

I might add that I used to think highly of left libertarianism, but after I started to read postmodern discourse analysis, I abandoned that position faster than Ayn Rand would abandon New Orleans to snakes and floodwaters.

I won’t say it of Nozick, but in the case of Rand and most orthodox objectivists, and many right libertarians, I would agree that there is a profoundly uncharitable feel to them (perhaps I should say "us"). That’s a separate issue, imo, and certainly it is not true of libertarians in general, or of libertarianism per se.

Edited by Randal

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Although many simple societies have concepts of property very different from our own, some concepts of property probably predate the "government functions" to which gamera refers. Societies occasionally regulate themselves with means other than the guns, billy clubs, and jails of the police.

I've recently been reading some stuff on ancient Greeks. Greek Kings (in Homeric times) thought that piracy was a noble profession, while “trading” with “barbarians” (non-Greeks) was beneath them. This demonstrates (I think) that our concepts of property are hardly universal, or the result of some sort of “natural law”.

I think what you point to here is not to do with notions of property per se, but rather with notions of limiting full humanity. Many cultures have regarded outsiders as deserving of lesser protections than their own people, whether it's for their property or their very lives and freedom. That's one reason slavery has been so commonplace.

If pointing to societies where property rights were not the same as ours means that our concepts of property are not universal or the result of some sort of "natural law", then slavery would suggest the same for notions of personal liberty, and perhaps the more violent warrior cultures or the Soviet union would imply the same for the right to life.

The existence of a natural right would in no way mean that everyone would necessarily respect it, or even recognise it. People do wrong, and even entire cultures do wrong.

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I will certainly grant that our notions of the rights to life and liberty have changed over the millenia, as have property rights. Nor am I opposed to the notion of property -- I'm just pointing out that it varies dramatically from culture to culture, and many people from other cultures would think, for example, that the notion of "owning" land is ridiculous.

Also, although you appear reasonable, Randal, I further suggest that tax evaders, shooters of tresspassers, etc., etc., etc., often are completely unreasonable about the nature of property, and look at walking across "their" yard uninvited as equivalent to stomping across their chest uninvited. This is a sort of Tolkienesque view of property, where the silmarils or the ring of power are extensions of self, and casting the ring into Mount Doom destroys both the artifact and the artisan.

In addition, modern liberalism (in the old fashioned sense of the word) values rights to life and liberty, but is ambivalent about property. Hence socialism and communism. Communists would argue, quite correctly, that Capitalist notions of property limit liberty. Unfortunately, it turns out that communism limits personal liberty, too. Indeed, it is probably the case that limitiations on liberty are essential to the regulation of society.

Edited by BDS

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Also, although you appear reasonable, Randal, I further suggest that tax evaders, shooters of tresspassers, etc., etc., etc., often are completely unreasonable about the nature of property, and look at walking across "their" yard uninvited as equivalent to stomping across their chest uninvited. This is a sort of Tolkienesque view of property, where the silmarils or the ring of power are extensions of self, and casting the ring into Mount Doom destroys both the artifact and the artisan.

I can't answer for everyone who claims a right to protect his or her own property by force, but surely in principle at least you would concede that a man might reasonably feel entitled to resort to violence if necessary, merely in order to protect his right to limit the freedom of another man to take away his television and not because he has a relationship with the television (I'm extending property beyond what Marx intended, I think. Obviously, since Karl never had a wide screen 3d enabled hi-def.)

Communists would argue, quite correctly, that Capitalist notions of property limit liberty. Unfortunately, it turns out that communism limits personal liberty, too. Indeed, it is probably the case that limitiations on liberty are essential to the regulation of society.

Possibly, depending how you define liberty. I would suggest that the only legitimate limitations on liberty are those inherent in respecting the rights of others. "Your right to swing your fist stops at the end of my nose", etc.

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