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Liber Question Time - Ask a Libertarian

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    If you were to become the RL Prime Minister one day, what would be in your Letters of Last Resort?
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    (Original post by Gremlins)
    Do the members of the TSR Libertarian party agree with Robert Nozick's maxim for distributive justice "From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen"? Do you not think this is just as all-encompassing as "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"? Aren't, therefore, all liber jibes along the lines of "bugger off and live in a commune if that's what you want" actually really meaningless? Will you please, therefore, stop doing it and accept that you're just as deep into the waters normative political philosophy as the Left?
    From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen allows for the choice to "bugger off and live in a commune", that is to choose to give up x from theirs on the premise that they will be chosen to receive if y. I don't see it like from each according to ability, to each according to their need because it does not require coercive action. I fail to see your point and the supposed contradiction.
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    (Original post by simontinsley)
    From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen allows for the choice to "bugger off and live in a commune", that is to choose to give up x from theirs on the premise that they will be chosen to receive if y. I don't see it like from each according to ability, to each according to their need because it does not require coercive action. I fail to see your point and the supposed contradiction.
    Yes it does!!!

    In fact, I touched upon this in my last response to you in the socialist thread, iirc.
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    The Claim: that people are free to be Socialists under a Libertarian society,

    The Response: But this is untrue. Real Socialism requires (willingly or unwillingly) a collection of individuals and land under a completely different set of coercive forces. Sure, the poor might willingly share and allocate property based upon need, but would a richer person who enjoys a Libertarian's coercive rules regarding property entitlement willingly share property? I doubt it. It misses the point to say that Socialism can be implemented under a Libertarian society. Not everybody consents to our current conception of property and property entitlement but we're forced to settle for it under threat of imprisonment - which is the exact same sort of coercion which Socialism adopts. You essentially set up a game with rules (which rely on a certain conception of property rights and coercion in order to enforce it), and then superficially claim that lack of State intervention after that process means that the whole system doesn't rely on coercion. But it does, just as surely as any other set-up of society or any other interpretation of property rights. (State coercion is not always a bad thing, anyway. Coercion is usually used in order to enforce a right, but the question of what rights ought to be is a normative discussion in which Libertarians engage just as readily as Socialists).

    You use State coercion to ensure your conception of property and property entitlement (that people are able to own the earth's resources and exclude others from it) - that people will be allowed to inherit property, under threat of State violence; that people have certain entitlements over property enforced through State force; that people have the property with which to make decisions (choosing X to be given to Y), under threat of State interference...

    Incidentally, I deem both maxims to be incredibly simplistic. I'm neither a Socialist nor a Libertarian.
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    (Original post by Gremlins)
    Do the members of the TSR Libertarian party agree with Robert Nozick's maxim for distributive justice "From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen"? Do you not think this is just as all-encompassing as "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"? Aren't, therefore, all liber jibes along the lines of "bugger off and live in a commune if that's what you want" actually really meaningless? Will you please, therefore, stop doing it and accept that you're just as deep into the waters of normative political philosophy as the Left?
    Absolutely. Hear, hear! I see this response so often on blogs and on sites like TSR to the point where it's simply just depressing. It's a gross gross gross misunderstanding on their part, and thus it's a very very very weak objection.
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    (Original post by Melancholy)
    Yes it does!!!

    In fact, I touched upon this in my last response to you in the socialist thread, iirc.
    How about the following:

    If memory serves, the Lockean theory of property which can serve as an underpinning for Libertarianism is based solely on the principle that it is wrong to cause physical harm to another human being except in self defence. Since this principle is unanimously held by all humans the Law that comes out of it is a Law to which everyone agrees. No other laws are unanimously agreed to. Therefore, the only Law that can be enforced is the protection of people from physical harm which includes protection of their property. Therefore, no coercive force is applied under Libertarianism because the Law is one voluntarily agreed to by all people.
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    How about the following:

    If memory serves, the Lockean theory of property which can serve as an underpinning for Libertarianism is based solely on the principle that it is wrong to cause physical harm to another human being except in self defence. Since this principle is unanimously held by all humans the Law that comes out of it is a Law to which everyone agrees. No other laws are unanimously agreed to. Therefore, the only Law that can be enforced is the protection of people from physical harm which includes protection of their property. Therefore, no coercive force is applied under Libertarianism because the Law is one voluntarily agreed to by all people.
    Sorry I missed the bit where we all agreed to that. It's a bit like a socialist turning around and saying "love thy neighbour" is the one rule we can all agree to.

    (Original post by simontinsley)
    From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen allows for the choice to "bugger off and live in a commune", that is to choose to give up x from theirs on the premise that they will be chosen to receive if y. I don't see it like from each according to ability, to each according to their need because it does not require coercive action. I fail to see your point and the supposed contradiction.
    The point is that a system of distributive justice has to, by its very nature, affect everyone. You can't claim that your idea of distributive justice is immune from this. And of course Libertarianism does require coercive force - without it property rights would be pretty much meaningless, and if you look at for example the Enclosure Acts and similar legislation in other countries it becomes clear that actually the modern conception of private property in many cases is a direct result of coercion in pretty much exactly the same way the Kolkozy were.
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    (Original post by Gremlins)
    Sorry I missed the bit where we all agreed to that. It's a bit like a socialist turning around and saying "love thy neighbour" is the one rule we can all agree to.
    Are you asking that there has been no actual agreement or that if asked not everyone would agree to it?
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    Are you asking that there has been no actual agreement or that if asked not everyone would agree to it?
    Both. I certainly don't agree with it because I think the initiation of force *is* justified (and actually I think most people would agree to that).
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    (Original post by Gremlins)
    Both. I certainly don't agree with it because I think the initiation of force *is* justified (and actually I think most people would agree to that).
    I'm no expert but didn't Kant deal with the objection to contract-based political philosophies that no historical contract had been signed?

    On the second point, no one was suggesting that the use of force is never justified. Of course it is, Libertarians believe it is too. The suggestion is that everyone agrees that the use of force is unjustified if used against someone who is doing no harm to anyone else. Do you think that not everyone agrees to this?
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    I'm no expert but didn't Kant deal with the objection to contract-based political philosophies that no historical contract had been signed?
    Yes social contract theorists do have a way around this. The point is that most Libertarians aren't exactly what you'd call fans of social contract theory for fairly obvious reasons (i.e., you can use social contract theory to justify pretty much anything).

    On the second point, no one was suggesting that the use of force is never justified. Of course it is, Libertarians believe it is too. The suggestion is that everyone agrees that the use of force is unjustified if used against someone who is doing no harm to anyone else. Do you think that not everyone agrees to this?
    Yes, I do. Let's say that there's some horrible plague going round. I have a cure but I won't share it. Would the community be justified in coercing the cure out of me, even though I'm not causing harm (in the Libertarian sense of the word)?
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    (Original post by Gremlins)
    Yes social contract theorists do have a way around this. The point is that most Libertarians aren't exactly what you'd call fans of social contract theory for fairly obvious reasons (i.e., you can use social contract theory to justify pretty much anything).



    Yes, I do. Let's say that there's some horrible plague going round. I have a cure but I won't share it. Would the community be justified in coercing the cure out of me, even though I'm not causing harm (in the Libertarian sense of the word)?
    I'm not entirely convinced that Libertarians oppose social contract theory as a matter of principle. Isn't Locke's entire theory a social contract theory?

    And your second point is semantics - you only think it is justified to use force against this guy because you believe he is doing harm. Correct?
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    I'm not entirely convinced that Libertarians oppose social contract theory as a matter of principle. Isn't Locke's entire theory a social contract theory?
    Yes but the social contract bits of Locke, Hobbes et. al. are generally considered the dodgiest bits of their theories - I don't think you'd find, say, Rothbard or even Nozick agreeing to the full extent of Locke's social contract.

    And your second point is semantics - you only think it is justified to use force against this guy because you believe he is doing harm. Correct?
    Ah but if I'm with-holding a cure then I'm not initiating force, see; coercing me wouldn't be self-defense. Let's use a slightly different example: I have the cure, but rather than sharing it I'm charging it at a price that half the people who have this (deadly) disease can't afford. Would it be legitimate to coerce me to lower the price/cure people for free, or to make the richer members of the community subsidise the price of the cure for the poorer ones? I think we just got a Libertarian to agree to massive progressive taxation...
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    How about the following:

    If memory serves, the Lockean theory of property which can serve as an underpinning for Libertarianism is based solely on the principle that it is wrong to cause physical harm to another human being except in self defence. Since this principle is unanimously held by all humans the Law that comes out of it is a Law to which everyone agrees. No other laws are unanimously agreed to. Therefore, the only Law that can be enforced is the protection of people from physical harm which includes protection of their property. Therefore, no coercive force is applied under Libertarianism because the Law is one voluntarily agreed to by all people.
    That is massively question-begging! You're presupposing that people are at first able to claim property and then use State-force (i.e. harm against anybody who objects) in order to be able to protect it. Imagine in a world without rights, what harm is physically being done against somebody who cannot own property? If it's not against their body, then no harm is really being done. Now clearly we need property, but we need to think of a way in which to fairly distribute the earth's resources without significantly limiting somebody else's share of the earth. Owning property is a socially-given privilege (a right to exclude others from resources, that is given purely because it's useful), and we need to think of how to compensate the people in society who do badly under the system for living under a system of property rights (to which they may not consent otherwise). The questions associated with giving people rights over their own bodies are much less controversial than the questions surrounding the rights we give to people who use the finite resources of the earth (and Locke's social contract doesn't deal with how many people would consent to a Libertarian conception of property rights).

    Sure, people want to be protected from physical harm, but that in no way justifies your conception of property entitlement. The most that Locke could conclude is that we cannot physically harm another person's body. I'd freely admit that the body may be owned as private property because of its benefits (and it is something which is almost intuitively justifiable to all - but by no means all). If any act is committed against our bodies, it is us who feel the pain, and we intuitively do not want that to happen. This makes no statement about property entitlement.

    If you want a Law regarding property entitlement that would most likely be agreed by all then I'd suggest looking at Rawls which deals more thoroughly with people's considerations.

    Another problem with social contract responses is that there probably is more than one person who would not agree to the contract - they'd rather stay in Hobbes' State of Nature purely because they're stronger and fitter and probably would get a lot more out of that type of society. And since that contract is not given a unanimously supported mandate, it fails in the same way that a democracy would fail (how much consent is needed in order to make an act - say, discrimination - justified?). Realistically, you dislike harm being committed against a person purely because you think it is in some way 'unjust' independent of how many people would consent to that (albeit popular) view/intuition.

    Wasn't it Nozick who said that a hypothetical contract isn't worth the paper it's not written on? Either way, a Libertarian or Natural Rights "contract" defence fails. Rawls' contract defence doesn't fail in this way because his theory doesn't rely on a duty of fidelity towards a contract, but rather that his thought-experiment (involving a contract) is supposed to demonstrate what is fundamentally fair and just. And of course, we can include Locke's trivial statement (that people don't want to be physically harmed) within that contract.
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    (Original post by Gremlins)
    Ah but if I'm with-holding a cure then I'm not initiating force, see; coercing me wouldn't be self-defense. Let's use a slightly different example: I have the cure, but rather than sharing it I'm charging it at a price that half the people who have this (deadly) disease can't afford. Would it be legitimate to coerce me to lower the price/cure people for free, or to make the richer members of the community subsidise the price of the cure for the poorer ones? I think we just got a Libertarian to agree to massive progressive taxation...
    And that comes back to your first point. They're (on this occasion) sneaking a normative judgement about fairness (and how societies ought to be run) into a social contract, pretending that it's justifiable to all. That's fair enough, but the intuitions are still, nevertheless, just as debatable as the ones adopted by any other political philosophy. They are indeed just as deep into the waters of normative political philosophy as the Left, Centre and moderate Right.
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    @Gremlins, I wasn't agreeing to the premise that coercive force should be used against the person in your example, though I note it is a good question. I was pointing out that you agree that force is only justified where harm is being inflicted on people, just that you may have a different definition of what constitutes "harm".

    @Melancholy, it's been a while since I read Locke but if memory serves his justification for his property rights is precisely that to deny those rights is to cause harm to a person's physical being. I think the example he gives is a person plucking an apple off an unowned tree. If someone else takes that apple then they have damaged the plucker by wasting his energy spent plucking the apple. (Perhaps it is not Locke himself who argues this way?)

    I think that for Locke, the social contract is this unanimously agreed rule that people cannot harm another's physical being except in self-defence. If this is the extent of the contract then I don't see that it suffers from the problem that not all agree to it because everyone does agree to it.

    Of course, it is entirely possible that I have constructed some warped philosophy based on misunderstandings
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    @Gremlins, I wasn't agreeing to the premise that coercive force should be used against the person in your example, though I note it is a good question. I was pointing out that you agree that force is only justified where harm is being inflicted on people, just that you may have a different definition of what constitutes "harm".
    Libertarian arguments aren't based on 'harm', though; they're based on self-ownership and the initiation of force. In Liberland I couldn't be made to do something different even if it was less harmful than what I was doing at the time.

    @Melancholy, it's been a while since I read Locke but if memory serves his justification for his property rights is precisely that to deny those rights is to cause harm to a person's physical being. I think the example he gives is a person plucking an apple off an unowned tree. If someone else takes that apple then they have damaged the plucker by wasting his energy spent plucking the apple. (Perhaps it is not Locke himself who argues this way?)
    From a Lockean perspective you'd have to argue whether picking an apple is useful labour (if I pour a tin of soup into a lake I've put some of my labour power into changing the lake but in Lockean (or sensible) terms I don't think I can be said to own it. Locke would probably say neither is useful, transformative labour. A lot of his writing was dedicated to justifying what European colonists were doing in North America; taking land from the actual inhabitants was permissible if they weren't d oing 'useful labour' to it, i.e. they didn't manage land in the same way Europeans did. Since ofc natives on the East Coast did practice agriculture I don't think Locke was say an apple was yours just because you've picked it.

    I think that for Locke, the social contract is this unanimously agreed rule that people cannot harm another's physical being except in self-defence. If this is the extent of the contract then I don't see that it suffers from the problem that not all agree to it because everyone does agree to it.
    Except, as we've already established, lots of people would be happy to initiate force in certain circumstances, so not everyone does agree with you.

    Of course, it is entirely possible that I have constructed some warped philosophy based on misunderstandings
    Well, you are a libertarian afterall :woo:
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    I don't think you're right to say that you couldn't be forced to stop doing harm in a Libertarian system.

    Your second point seems wrong too. Locke (or rather the theory I outlined) would be concerned with whether the action undertaken means that you would be harmed by subsequent actions. Someone else eating the apple you plucked has caused you to waste your efforts and thereby harmed you. Someone swimming in a lake you through soup into has not wasted your labour.

    Your third point is also wrong because, as I've pointed out, whenever force is initiated it is done so with the justification that it is in self-defence.

    And finally, I was looking forward to a sensible and reasoned discussion but your jibes here indicate that you don't want to have one. Pity.
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    @Melancholy, it's been a while since I read Locke but if memory serves his justification for his property rights is precisely that to deny those rights is to cause harm to a person's physical being. I think the example he gives is a person plucking an apple off an unowned tree. If someone else takes that apple then they have damaged the plucker by wasting his energy spent plucking the apple. (Perhaps it is not Locke himself who argues this way?)
    But this seems like quite silly reasoning, to me at least. If I enter your property and do something productive, are you harming me by removing me from your property? I guess you probably are, but it makes no statement upon its legitimacy. I mean, you will have "wasted my energy", but I am not entitled to the property in the first place. The point is, that unowned tree was unowned - what makes it right to simply take the apple with no reflection on whether you ought to take the apple (i.e. the rules of entitlement)? The person will not have wasted his energy if he understands what the rules of entitlement are in the first place. So in order to make the link between the right to one's own body and the right to other property, one has to presuppose your own view of property entitlement. You forge and develop your own normative theory in order to bridge the gap.

    That, and I think that making a right to have "your own energy" protected against being wasted seems vague, ill-defined and very different to a right which solely ensures that your body is not harmed. Imagine a finite area of land called "earth" with 10 apples in it and 10 people. I mean, are you saying that the first person to come across an apple really ought to have ownership over that apple? What about if one fast and greedy person finds all the apples? Do they have no obligations to share the apples? Sure, the 10 people may be able to be protected against harm against their bodies committed by another person so long as they're not harming another person. People may consent to that. But they'd probably also consent to some notion of fairness - whereby, if people are going to be offered rights over their property, then the rights over property must be just and fair. I see no reason why, if somebody seizes all 10 apples and then claims it to be their property (and claims that somehow they're entitled to be protected by State force), a person couldn't just steal an apple from them and be morally vindicated (and that it would be intuitively justifiable to all for him to do so). Wasting somebody's energy, when it's not clear whether they're entitled to direct their energy towards something (i.e. when it's not clear that it's possible to turn natural resources into land under State-enforced property rights which are inheritable), is not harming a person. They waste their own energy.

    I think that for Locke, the social contract is this unanimously agreed rule that people cannot harm another's physical being except in self-defence. If this is the extent of the contract then I don't see that it suffers from the problem that not all agree to it because everyone does agree to it.
    But not everyone would agree to it. Why would a poor burglar with strong muscles and charisma agree to it? He spends his life disobeying and disrespecting property rights and harming other people, and would do well in a world where rights did not exist. Charlemagne would be more successful in the 8th/9th century compared to the modern day. But the point still stands, why would anyone unanimously agree to property rights? That is not neatly derived from self-ownership. Why wouldn't people unaminously agree that they are entitled to a certain standard of living or sufficient space on which to live or a specified amount of resources? What constitutes self-defence - why limit harm to physical harm? I think it's folly to believe that there's any sort of concensus when it comes to accepting Locke's maxim as an undoubted foundation to a social contract.

    Of course, it is entirely possible that I have constructed some warped philosophy based on misunderstandings
    But that doesn't matter, because if Locke doesn't justify a Libertarian conception of property rights, then you may as well attempt your own justification.
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    (Original post by UniOfLife)
    I don't think you're right to say that you couldn't be forced to stop doing harm in a Libertarian system.
    Actually I'm pretty sure that actually all Libertarians are very much against the initiation of force. Not doing something to/for someone isn't an initiation of force; it would be a pretty crackpot libertarian who thought it would be ok to coerce someone into doing something they didn't want to do when they were just keeping themselves to themselves.

    Your second point seems wrong too. Locke (or rather the theory I outlined) would be concerned with whether the action undertaken means that you would be harmed by subsequent actions. Someone else eating the apple you plucked has caused you to waste your efforts and thereby harmed you. Someone swimming in a lake you through soup into has not wasted your labour.
    Actually, yeah, Locke does use the apple metaphor in his Treatises on Government. Blah. But it's not to do with harm. Arguments about initial acquisition are to do with harm (so if it was the only source of food, and someone was about to starve, then the Lockean proviso would say you can't take all of it). You can't take someone's apple because they own themselves; once they've mixed their labour with something (e.g. picked an apple) it becomes part of their property (as if it were part of themselves), and takign it would violate natural law. That's why Locke says you couldn't take the apple; nothing to do with harm, per se.

    Your third point is also wrong because, as I've pointed out, whenever force is initiated it is done so with the justification that it is in self-defence.
    I'm not talking about the use of force in self-defense, though. I'm talking about initiating force in order to acquire something. Let's use a different example. You're on a plane with a doctor and 30 other people. The plane crashes and the only survivors are you and the doctor, who is refusing to treat anyone. If they are not treated many of these people will die. You have the means to coerce the doctor into helping the people; is it legitimate for you to initiate force to get him to do so. Like the example I used with the man who owns the cure to a disease but won't share it, a consistent Libertarian will say that it's (deontologically) better for the people to die than the doctor to be coerced into saving them - this argument, btw, is basically analogous to arguments about the redistribution of wealth which, of course, Libertarians oppose.

    And finally, I was looking forward to a sensible and reasoned discussion but your jibes here indicate that you don't want to have one. Pity.
    Clearly a joke. I've made plenty of contributions to reasonable discussion in this thread (if you look back you'll find that I did, infact, *start* this reasonable discussion by asking whether Libertarianism was a theory of distributive justice).

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