My articles have been translated so far into 14 languages. Most of it so far is my shorter pieces, as well as my Against Intellectual Property. But the topic that has always interested me most is rights theory. What I regard as one of my most important papers, and in any case one of my personal favorites, Punishment and Proportionality: The Estoppel Approach, Journal of Libertarian Studies 12:1 (Spring 1996), though, which sets out my view of libertarian rights in some detail, has never been translated. Nor has much of my other writing on rights theory, except for a Dutch translation of New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory, which contains a summary of my rights theory and related ones such as Hoppe’s argumentation ethics

Until now, that is: the Punishment and Proportionality paper has just been translated into Portuguese by Miguel Serra. The translation is: Pena e proporcionalidade: A abordagem do Estoppel. I’m extremely grateful to and honored by Mr. Serra, as well as those who have done the other translations. The spreading, global libertarian community is truly a wonder to behold. It gives me hope for humanity.

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The Limits of Libertarianism?: A Dissenting View

by Stephan Kinsella on April 20, 2014

in Libertarianism

One Will Moyer recently penned The Limits of Libertarianism, which has gotten some attention among libertarians, and critics thereof, on Facebook and various blogs. In the article, Moyer, who implies that he is an ex-libertarian, makes various characterizations of, statements about, and criticisms of libertarianism, many of which I believe to be incorrect. Below I discuss a few of my disagreements with Moyer’s piece. As a preliminary matter, it will be helpful to set down a brief explanation of some of the basic aspects of libertarianism.

“Libertarianism” is the name given to a particular political philosophy. As I discuss in some detail in What Libertarianism Is, what characterizes libertarianism is its not “property rights,” since every political philosophy has some treatment of property rights. Every system has an answer to the question: who gets to control that resource?

What distinguishes libertarianism from other political philosophies is its particular answer as to how property rights should be allocated in scarce (i.e., rivalrous, contestable) resources. And that answer is: property rights ought to be allocated in accordance with Lockean principles of initial appropriation, sometimes called homesteading; contractual transfer; and other transfers as a result of torts or crimes. As Roderick Long puts it, citing Robert Nozick,

Libertarian property rights are, famously, governed by principles of justice in initial appropriation (mixing one’s labour with previously unowned resources), justice in transfer (mutual consent), and justice in rectification (say, restitution plus damages).1

Another formulation that describes the libertarian idea is the opposition to “aggression.” The link between the so-called “non-aggression principle” and our property rights view is that we oppose aggression defined in terms of property rights so allocated. We believe aggression is unjust and unjustifiable. Thus, our shorthand use of phrases like “non-aggression principle” or “non-initiation of force,” as well general terms like “liberty” and “freedom,” and opposition to “coercion,”2 and so on—all of which are either shorthand or conceptually dependent terms on the more fundamental and primary notion of property rights. As an example: if I hit you, it is aggression because you own your body. If I take an apple from you, it is aggression only if you own the apple; if it is my apple and I am retrieving it from a thief, the act of force used to take it back is not aggression. We cannot determine whether a given apparent “border crossing” is invasion, or theft, or trespass, or aggression, unless we first identify who the owner of the contested resource is.

In fact, the reason property rights are more fundamental than, and a concept upon which “aggression” depends, is that the only reason there is a need for property rights is the possibility of conflict, and this arises only because we live in a world of scarce (rivalrous) resources. As Mises explains, humans act, which means to employ certain scarce means to achieve certain chosen ends. The scarce means are physical resources in the world that our scientific knowledge informs us are causally efficacious in interfering with the world, in changing the course of events to achieve some forecasted state in the future that is desired more than what is otherwise predicted by the actor to come about. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains in Of Private, Common, and Public Property and the Rationale for Total Privatization,

Conflict only results if our different interests and beliefs are attached to and invested in one and the same good. In the Schlaraffenland, with a superabundance of goods, no conflict can arise (except for conflicts regarding the use of our physical bodies that embody our very own interests and ideas). There is enough around of everything to satisfy everyone’s desires. In order for different interests and ideas to result in conflict, goods must be scarce. Only scarcity makes it possible that different interests and ideas can be attached to and invested in one and the same stock of goods. Conflicts, then, are physical clashes regarding the control of one and the same given stock of goods. People clash because they want to use the same goods in different, incompatible ways.

Even under conditions of scarcity, when conflicts are possible, however, they are not necessary or unavoidable. All conflicts regarding the use of any good can be avoided if only every good is privately owned, i.e., exclusively controlled by some specified individual(s) and it is always clear which thing is owned, and by whom, and which is not.

It is important, then, to emphasize that every dispute is always really about scarce resources. And every proposed or disputed law is ultimately about the use of force against some identifiable scarce resource: a human body, or other scarce resources in the world that humans can employ as means of action. For example, it is sometimes said that people “fight over religion.” This is not true. People fight only over scarce resources. Disagreement over religion may be the reason for the fight but the fight is always conducted with physical force, mediated by causal means (e.g. weapons), to physically control others’ bodies or owned resources. For example A may tell B to change to A’s religion or face death; the fight here is over who get’s to control B’s body.3  When the state threatens to jail people for disobeying drug laws, the state is asserting an ownership claim over its citizens’ bodies. When the state taxes people, it is taking their money.

So: we say aggression (invasion of property rights)4 is unjustifiable. This matters, in our view, or should matter, to those who care about justice and justifying their claims (as anyone engaging in argumentation or discourse about such matters undeniably demonstrates),5  As I noted in my 1996 JLS paper Punishment and Proportionality: The Estoppel Approach, [click to continue…]

  1. Long, Why Libertarians Believe There is Only One Right. []
  2. But see my post The Problem with “Coercion”. []
  3. On the danger of imprecise language and metaphors, see my post On the Danger of Metaphors in Scientific Discourse. []
  4. See text at n. 11 of What Libertarianism Is for various terminological formulations used to describe aggression.  []
  5. See Hoppe’s “argumentation ethics” defense of libertarian ethics; links in my Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide.  []
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Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 121.

I was interviewed by Redmond Weissenberger, of Mises Canada, for his Better Red than Dead podcast (iTunes). We discussed a variety of topics, including: store refuses to put boy’s name on an Easter egg because of a copyright concern because he shares a name with a famous soccer player, positive versus negative rights, Alexis de Tocqueville on servitudes and liberty, and intellectual property (IP) as negative servitudes; Ayn Rand’s confusion on property rights and IP; property as the least bad option; the impossibility of a post-scarcity world; the dispute over “privilege checking” and attempts to speak the language of progressives; Hoppe on immigration and monarchy.

More information on some of the topics discussed can be found in the following articles and blog posts:

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KOL120 | Computer Software, IP, and the Nature of Property Rights

April 5, 2014 Intellectual Property

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 120. A computer science student at UT Austin, Adam Camac, asked me to do an interview with him on the referenced topic for purposes of one of his computer science classes. It was an interesting discussion. Youtube of the video version is below. Podcast (kinsella-on-liberty): Play in new window | […]

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KOL119 | Libertarian and Anarchist Concepts and Basics with Harrison Fischberg: Part 1

April 4, 2014 Intellectual Property

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 119. This is Part 1 of a fairly in-depth discussion I had with Harrison Fischberg (who was on a previous podcast in episode 114) covering various libertarian issues, such as property, the state, strategy and tactics and personal style versus substance, the standard versus Austrian view of homo economicus, Alan […]

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Anarchist Libertarian Jan Lester’s Arguement for Intellectual Property

April 1, 2014 Intellectual Property

Starting around 1:30:00, another deeply flawed attempt to argue for intellectual property. It’s made all the worse in that it comes from an anarchist libertarian, J.C. Lester, author of Escape from Leviathan: Liberty, Welfare and Anarchy Reconciled (conspicuously not online yet. Why some people take time to write books but don’t want to make their ideas […]

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KOL118 | Tom Woods Show: Against Fuzzy Thinking

March 31, 2014 Kinsella on Liberty Podcast

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 118. I was a guest on the Tom Woods show on March 28, 2014—our discussion includes an overview of libertarian ideas and an attempt to clear up common confusions. For more along the same lines, see my Mises Academy course on “Libertarian Controversies” and “Correcting some Common Libertarian Misconceptions,” 2011 Annual Meeting, Property and […]

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KOL117 | Liberty Talk 004: Tucker & Kinsella on Property Rights in the Digital Age

February 10, 2014 Kinsella on Liberty Podcast

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 117. This is the audio for episode 004 of Liberty Talk, an occasional Google hangout-based podcast with Jeffrey Tucker and me (Google Plus page; Youtube Channel). Podcast (kinsella-on-liberty): Play in new window | Download (Duration: 38:11 — 42.0MB)

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KOL116 | Voluntary Virtues with Michael Shanklin: Fraud, Contract

February 7, 2014 Intellectual Property

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 116. This is my recent appearance on Michael Shanklin’s Triple-V: Voluntary Virtues Vodcast with Michael Shanklin (my segment starts about around 1:11:23 of the video below). We discussed a variety of topics fraud and contract theory, and so on. Some background material for these topics can be found at: A Libertarian […]

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Letter to Mr. Owens about the Six Cities Problem

February 6, 2014 personal

In 1978 or so, in seventh grade at St. George, a Catholic elementary school in Baton Rouge, one of my favorite teachers was Mr. Owens. In 1989, when I was in grad school, I sent him the following letter (somewhat edited here). He was by then the principal of St. George and a friend who […]

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KOL115 | Mises Canada Austrian AV Club—Kinsella and the Corporation on Trial (2012)

February 3, 2014 Kinsella on Liberty Podcast

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 115. I was interviewed back in May 2012 by Redmond Weissenberger, Director of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. We had a long-ranging discussion of the issue of corporations and limited liability, and we touched on other issues as well including causation and responsibility and the praxeological structure of human action; […]

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KOL114 | Introduction to Libertarian Ethics: Discussion with Stefan Molyneux and Harrison Fischberg

January 28, 2014 Intellectual Property

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 114. Stef and I talk about libertarian ethics, UPB, self-ownership, argumentation ethics, careers, schooling, and related matters—back from November 2013. Podcast (kinsella-on-liberty): Play in new window | Download (Duration: 55:19 — 67.4MB)

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KOL113 | “Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide” (Audio)

January 23, 2014 Kinsella on Liberty Podcast

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 113. Audio version (narrated by Carlos Morales) of my article “Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide,” Mises Daily (May 27, 2011). Podcast (kinsella-on-liberty): Play in new window | Download (Duration: 9:56 — 9.2MB)

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KOL112 | Jack Criss Interview on the Voucher System (1989)

January 22, 2014 Kinsella on Liberty Podcast

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 112. From the vault. This is from 1989, an interview by my good friend Jack Criss, then host of a libertarian AM radio talk show on WJNT in Jackson, Mississippi (now the editor of BAMSouth). Jack interviewed lots of libertarian luminaries on that show, including Murray Rothbard and many others. […]

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KOL111 | Interview with Daniel Rothschild: on Name-branding, trade secrets, voluntary slavery, and more

January 21, 2014 Kinsella on Liberty Podcast

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 111. This was my appearance on Daniel Rothschild’s youtube channel on Jan. 20, 2014; we discussed a variety of topics, getting really into the nitty-gritty of a lot of aspects of libertarian legal theory. For some background on some issues discussed, see: Trademark versus Copyright and Patent, or: Is All […]

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Portugese translation of “Legislation and Law in a Free Society”

January 19, 2014 Uncategorized

Legislação e direito em uma sociedade livre, Portugese translation of “Legislation and Law in a Free Society,” Mises Daily (Feb. 25, 2010). Translations of my other writing is here.

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Reddit Anarcho-Capitalist Subreddit Ask Me Anything Thread

January 16, 2014 Austrian Economics

I did a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread recently, on the anarcho-capitalist sub-reddit, here: http://www.reddit.com/r/Anarcho_Capitalism/comments/1vd8s9/i_am_stephan_kinsella_anarcholibertarian_writer/. Previous Reddit AMA’s I did: Reddit Ask Me Anything Thread. One I did a year ago is at My reddit “ask me anything”.

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KOL110 | Ed and Ethan Show: Trans-Pacific Partnership

December 30, 2013 Intellectual Property

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 110. I appeared recently on the Canadian libertarian podcast Ed and Ethan: The Voice of Liberty in Canada (Dec. 29, 2013) (I was a guest last year as well). We discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other matters. This is my segment only; for the full show, go to Ed and Ethan’s […]

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KOL109 | Liberty Talk 005: Adam Kokesh, Liberty.me, 3D Printing, IP

December 19, 2013 Intellectual Property

Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 109. This is the audio for episode 005 of Liberty Talk, a weekly-ish Google hangout-based podcast with Jeffrey Tucker and me (Google Plus page; Youtube Channel). Though it’s been a month since our last one. Hey, it happens. Today: we discuss Adam Kokesh and his recent brush with the “law” (see FDR2561), Liberty.me, […]

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