Archive | March 2, 2007

Isolation as Self-Defense

[cross-posted in L & P comments section]

Wendy McElroy argues that while isolating a Typhoid Mary may be justified, it cannot be justified according to libertarian principles.

prison bars I disagree. I don’t define aggression as an intentional action; as I see it, what makes an action a rights-violation has more to do with what a person does than with why she does it. Only overt acts fall under the jurisdiction of the law – not inner thoughts; hence there’s no basis for treating intentional violations differently from unintentional ones. (That’s also why I’m against punishment, i.e., any coercive treatment that goes beyond what’s needed for restraint and restitution.)

If I assault someone while sleepwalking or hypnotised, they have as much of a right to defend themselves as if I’d acted deliberately. If I unknowingly walk off with a valuable document because it’s stuck to my shoe, you have as much right to demand it back from me as if I’d voluntarily stolen it. If I break your vase, I owe you compensation whether I did it accidentally or deliberately.

So likewise, if by entering a room I will thereby unintentionally cause people to die, they have as much right to defend themselves against me, to confine me, as if I were a cold-blooded killer. (Of course they don’t have a right to subject me to cruel or degrading treatment; but they don’t have a right to do that to the cold-blooded killer either, IMHO.) Hence I can’t see that isolating a Typhoid Mary poses any problem for libertarian rights theory.

Happy Molinari-Rothbard Day(s)!

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Today is Murray Rothbard’s birthday; and tomorrow, as Dan D’Amico reminds me, is Gustave de Molinari’s. Seems to me this conjunction deserves commemoration, a sort of market anarchists’ equivalent of Presidents’ Day – without Massa George or Emperor Abe. (Murrlinari Day? Perhaps it’s appropriate that it falls roughly between Presidents’ Day and the Ides of March.)

Gustave de Molinari and Murray Rothbard

The parallels between Molinari, “the law of supply and demand made into man,” and Rothbard, “Mr. Libertarian,” are interesting. Both were leading representatives of the major free-market traditions of their day (the French Liberal and the Austrian respectively) who dismayed their mentors by pushing the logic of market principles to the point of replacing the full range of government services entirely. Both were extremely prolific writers who had broad interests in, and made important contributions to, economics, philosophy, history, sociology, and political theory. Both sought to bridge traditional left/right divides. Both were fierce critics of imperialism and war. Both wrote with engaging clarity. Molinari pioneered market anarchism in the 19th century, while Rothbard was its foremost proponent in the 20th.

The differences in their reception are somewhat puzzling: Molinari gained mainstream recognition and respect (while an obscure figure in our day, he was quite celebrated in his own), but won very few converts to his free-market version of anarchism (Benjamin Tucker’s version seems to have been developed independently); Rothbard gained relatively little mainstream recognition or respect – but many more converts. Go figure.

Anyway – happy birthday, Gustave and Murray!

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