Author Archive | Roderick

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!

Justice vs. Fairness

I’ve seen the following anecdote in a number of versions of Sidney Morgenbesser’s obituary:

He joined his students in an anti-police demonstration during the 1968 student unrest at Columbia. The police broke it up with a baton charge, and Morgenbesser got hit over the head. The experience led to one of his most quoted but least revealing bons mots.

No, this isn't Boris Karloff, it's actually Sidney Morgenbesser He was asked whether the police had treated him unjustly or unfairly. “Unfairly yes, unjustly no,” he said. “It was unfair to be hit over the head but not unjust since they hit everyone else over the head, too.”

This struck me as just the wrong way around. Equal treatment all around might plausibly be considered fair, but if that treatment involves aggression then it’s certainly unjust.

Anyway, I’m pleased to see that Morgenbesser was misquoted; Gil Harman informs us that Morgenbesser really said the reverse of what the obituaries quoted:

He actually said the opposite: “It was unjust but not unfair. It was unjust for them to hit me over the head, but it was not unfair since they hit everybody else over the head.”

Hooray! Morgenbesser’s honour has been saved.

(Of course I still disagree with Morgenbesser; as I’ve argued elsewhere, aggression can never really be equal treatment, and so injustice in fact always involves unfairness though not necessarily vice versa – so the cops were being unfair in addition to being unjust. But this convicts Morgenbesser only of a subtle mistake, not the gross mistake that the obituaries saddled him with.)

700 More Obligatory Pages

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Last month I was plugging one 700-page libertarian tome; this month I’m plugging another one. This time it’s Radicals for Capitalism, Brian Doherty’s sprawling history of the 20th-century American libertarian movement. Here it is: the past hundred years of U.S. libertarian thought and activism in all its glory and strangeness, from Hayek to Heinlein, from Galt to Galambos. There’s even stuff in here that I didn’t know (most notably the connection between FEE and LSD!).

Brian Doherty - Radicals for Capitalism As is inevitable in a book of this scope, there are some errors (confusing Menger with Böhm-Bawerk and Atlanta Hope with Atlanta Bliss; trusting Hayek’s faulty memory of not having been Mises’s student – stuff like that, nothing major), as well as some controversial choices of inclusion/exclusion, interpretation, and emphasis (don’t expect much on Konkin, or Hoppe, or the Kelley/Peikoff split, for example), plus a few generalisations that paleolibertarians and/or left-libertarians, depending on the case, will bristle at. The book also focuses much more on what various libertarians have thought than on why they thought it – understandable given that the book is long enough already, but it means few nonlibertarians venturing into its pages are likely to feel the pull of libertarian ideas. Nor, for similar reasons, is the reader given much sense of intra-movement disagreements on, say, immigration, abortion, intellectual property, and the like. The book’s biggest flaw is actually the index: over and over again I would have the experience of looking up a name in the index, finding it wasn’t listed, and then later on discovering that the book nevertheless contained a discussion of the person in question after all. Trust not the index!

But these are mere quibbles. This is the definitive history of our movement in all its crazy diversity, meticulously researched and engagingly narrated. Enjoy. (And don’t miss the endnotes! There’s another book’s worth of fascinating material in there!)

Cause vs. Context

Proudhon and Spangler Brad Spangler’s blog is one of the most articulate voices for left/libertarian reunification. I’d like to draw your attention to several recent posts in particular: one on how disagreements between libertarians and leftists often turn on both sides’s conflating social context with social causation; another on how Proudhon’s views on police and courts were closer to mainline market anarchism than is often realised; and a couple (here and here) debunking the “private-enterprise character” of corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart.

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