Monster Thickburger Libertarianism

Libertarian Thickburger Charles J. has distinguished a number of different modes of libertarian thickness (see here and here), but I think I’ve got a new one. At first I thought it was just a special case of application thickness, but the latter seems to be primarily an epistemic matter, applying to cases where the non-aggression principle in fact entails X independently of value Y, but people have a hard time seeing that it does unless they view the matter through the lens of Y. At least this seems a natural reading of Charles’s two chief examples of application thickness:

Think of the feminist criticism of the traditional division between the “private” and the “political” sphere and those who draw it in such a way that systematic violence and coercion within “families” are justified, or excused, or ignored, as something “private” and therefore less than a serious form of violent oppression. Or the way in which garden-variety collectivism prevents many non-libertarians from even recognizing taxation or legislation by a democratic government as a form of coercion in the first place.

The kind of thickness I’m talking about, by contrast, concerns cases in which the non-aggression principle doesn’t entail a definite result without the help of value Y. Consider a case in which there are a variety of different possible ways of applying the non-aggression principle, all equally compatible with the principle itself. In such cases it might be argued that we should allow some additional value or commitment to decide among these options. Now this additional value might be one that is connected to non-aggression via one of the other modes of thickness, but it might equally be one that is simply valuable for independent reasons. In the latter case – and arguably in the former as well – we have a mode of libertarian thickness that doesn’t seem reducible to any of the others; let’s call it “specification thickness.”

Nothing new here, really – both Charles and I have written about the problem of “reducing” or “specifying” the natural law (see here and here), though by means of conventions; but I’ve also written (here) about how one part of virtue helps to specify the content of another. Moreover, specification thickness is essentially Kevin Carson’s argument (here) for his mutualist position on land ownership; Kevin thinks that the Lockean, Georgist, and mutualist positions all represent equally possible applications of libertarian principle, and so he argues for mutualism on the grounds that it is best supported by various additional values.  Plus I gave an analogous argument (different content, same structure) at at least one Mises conference.

So I’ve had all the pieces for identifying this additional form of thickness for a while, but for some reason I didn’t start to put them together until I was preparing for my thickness talk at FEE (and even there I was still calling it one form of application thickness).

2014 addendum:

I’m now inclined to treat specification thickness as a form of application thickness, and to treat the purely epistemic version (call it recognition thickness) as a different form of application thickness.


10 Responses to Monster Thickburger Libertarianism

  1. Administrator July 24, 2008 at 9:53 pm #

    Explanatory addendum: Why isn’t this just conjunction thickness? After all, both conjunction thickness and specification thickness use independent values to choose among options where the non-aggression principle is silent.

    My answer: in the case of conjunction thickness, the independent values aren’t being used to determine whether something should count as aggression or not; in specification thickness they are..

  2. Black Bloke July 25, 2008 at 3:52 am #

    I think you’re going to have to supply some concrete examples to illustrate this for me.

  3. Geoffrey Allan Plauche July 27, 2008 at 10:51 am #

    Yes. Some more concrete examples would be helpful.

  4. ka1igu1a July 28, 2008 at 5:15 am #

    Charles Johnson’s “thick libertarian” mode that views the “sex-industry” as indefensible is social conservative garbage, notwithstanding whatever “progressive” dialectical methodology that is employed to arrive at that conclusion.

    As a libertarian, I agree, the classical precepts of libertarianism are a bit thin, but I’m also coming to the conclusion that you Austrians are fundamentally social conservative, anti-libertine to the core, whether from the right or the left. On the right we have the likes of Ron Paul giving us the libertarian case for the death penalty for abortion, or the libertarian case against IV fertilization, and on the left, we apparently now have the libertarian case against porn.

    What is with this tendency of Austrian Praxis to view pleasurable sexual contraction as some exogenous variable to be explained away?

  5. Brainpolice July 28, 2008 at 8:56 am #

    ka1igu1a: I’m confused about why you’re using the term “Austrians” in this context, which is to say, entirely out of context. Austrian economics really has absolutely nothing to do with this. Someone can be an adherant of austrian economics and have a whole slew of various political and cultural views.

  6. Bob Kaercher July 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm #


    There may be some legitimate criticism to be made of Johnson’s views on pornography, but I don’t think one can just summarily dismiss them as “social conservative garbage.”

    There may be a wide array of incentives that compel women to go into the sex trade that make a mockery of the idea that they do so voluntarily, such as a combination of economic and cultural pressures. I think you should perhaps investigate Johnson’s views further before you issue such a sweeping judgment.

    There is no libertarian obligation, by the way, to defend, condone or simply ignore libertinism in any form, just so you know. (Judging by your use of a screen name that is some variant of the name Caligula, however, it remains to be seen if you can fully appreciate that.) To my knowledge, Johnson has never proposed government laws to regulate or ban pornography and sees his campaign against it as cultural and educational, not a legislative one.

    Further, as Brainpolice mentioned, there is no logical link between a libertarian objection to pornography and the Austrian school of economics. You’re right that many Austrian school economists do tend to express socially conservative views when they do speak out on cultural issues. But there are some who don’t; there is no relational link between any particular view of pornography and, say, the subjective theory of value, or between any position on abortion and the theory of marginal utility. (You may be interested to know that Johnson is actually somewhat critical of some dominant strands of Austrian thought, at any rate.)

    Finally, can you really vouch for the claim that sex workers experience any real pleasure in each and every “sexual contraction”?

  7. Bob Kaercher July 28, 2008 at 7:58 pm #

    I should rephrase that question:

    Do you think that the sex workers ever experience their “sexual contractions” as pleasurable, or does that question simply not enter into your analysis?

  8. Administrator July 29, 2008 at 9:22 pm #

    I’m also baffled by kaligula’s comments. Charles’s reasons for criticising the sex industry have nothing to do with puritanism or being against sexual pleasure; in any case, he has never called for government action against it (on the contrary, he has clearly and repeatedly called for an end to bans on prostitution and so forth); and anyway, he’s never self-identified as an “Austrian” as far as I know, though he agrees with many aspects of Austrianism. So, um, what are you talking about?

  9. Black Bloke July 29, 2008 at 9:42 pm #

    He (i.e. ka1igu1a) gave more detail about what he was talking about in his post here:

    Charles replied to the original post, and ka1igu1a has replied to Charles’ reply to his post.

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