- Fleming on Woods
- The Trouble with Feser (Feser on Libertarianism)
- Luker on 10 Most Harmful Books
- Minarchists as Statist-Aggressors
I post below my interchange with Gus “DiZerega” from a Hayek list (of Higgs-spanking fame; update: see Hilarious Higgs versus a befuddled author), about the nature of aggression and whether minarchists or other statists are criminal-like (most recent at top):
[Laurence Moss wrote: “I do have a challenge. Suppose I could persuade a “private property anarchist,” ( that is my term for what you are calling minianarchist or libertarian anarchist, etc.) that in the absence of the state, a huge Janjaweed-like mafia will emerge on each and every college campus that will terrorize, rape, mutilate and burn every copy of Human Action including your sacred autographed copy. Wouldn’t you then praise the gods that there is “a state” to protect the community? In his early Latin writings, Hobbes saw the state as a logical development out self-help militias that often arise spontaneously in the face of enemy attacks such the onslaught of Janjaweed anti-Misesians. (Hobbes would have had in mind the Mongol invasions or Moslem counter-invasions of earlier centuries).”
Your hypo is problematic in that it implicitly presumes that to be an anarchist is to have some kind of prediction that anarchy will be achieved, or how it “would” work if it were achieved. Let me try again to clarify: as I pointed out in my article What It Means to be an Anarcho-Capitalist, an anarchist simply (a) believes aggression is unjust; and (b) the state necessarily commits aggression–institutionalized aggression, at that. Therefore, the anarchist believes that states–in particular, the aggression they commit–is unjustified.
Your question seems to be of the following type. Imagine a person–call him C, for civilized–opposes aggression–he thinks it is immoral, or unjust. Now he thinks both private aggression (crime), and public aggression (institutionalized aggression perpetrated by the state) are immoral. In a society in which enough people voluntarily oppose aggression, and voluntarily respect their neighbors’ rights, to such a degree and extent that the state is widely seen as illegitimate and therefore does not exist and/or whithers away–then there would still be occasional acts of private aggression. The civilized people would still oppose this and believe it to be immoral.
Note, you said: “just because every single time the state “acts” it involves the initiation of coercion or aggression it does not follow that ONLY the state acts by initiating coercion or aggression.” True: but as I implied above, anarchists oppose all aggression: both institutionalized aggression, and private aggression. I think it might be fair to say that libertarian minarchists oppose all or most private aggression, but do not oppose all institutionalized aggression. Perhaps they believe that “the choice” is between widespread private aggression (chaos-anarchy), and limited, channeled, “legalized” aggression committed by a state who helps minimize private aggression. Now, I think that reason and experience shows that public aggression is obviously more extensive than private aggression; but even if one made the other choice, *it still does not mean one thinks the state is justified*. It just means you think that aggression is unavoidable and you prefer to minimize it by having a state.
In my view, if you believe this, you can technically still be an anarchist, if you maintain the state is unjustified–it is just that you believe the aggression the state permits is not as bad as the private aggression that would be committed in its absence. So you still oppose aggression and believe the state is unjustified. Where you differ with other anarchists is they recognize the state is a far worse aggressor so any idea of having them protect us is ludicrous and dangerous.
However I think what happens is that libertarians who begrudgingly maintain that the state’s aggression is preferable to the private aggression that would rise up in the state’s absence, make the mistake of thinking this means the state is “necessary” or even “justified.” Once you take this leap, you now change your fundamental stance re aggression: now, you maintain that some aggression is actually justified: if a little aggression can be committed to stop greater aggression, for example, it is justified. This is a type of rights-utilitarianism.
My suspicion is that this kind of libertarian feels like a sell-out when confronted by anarchists who refuse to compromise, refuse to sanction aggression, refuse to admit that state violence is better than private violence. So they turn around and attack them as not being “realists” etc.
As I see it, “extreme” libertarians–anarcho-capitalists–disagree with each other quite often on concrete applications and questions of whether a given action in a given context *is* aggression. Where we all agree is that we oppose aggression, to the extent something can be identified as such. All libertarians oppose most aggression, and recognize that your average citizen condones a lot more aggression than they do. Whether these libertarians want to be “judgmental” or “label” your mainstreamer advocates of aggression as such; whether you believe it makes the mainstreamer criminal in that respect; is a side issue. The point is that according to even minarchist or classical liberal libertarianism, most mainstream people do condone aggression.
By the same logic, a libertarian who explicitly endorses (a small amount of) aggression, however reluctantly, is similar, from the point of view of the anarcho-libertarian, to the mainstreamer as seen by the minarchist libertarian.
I really don’t see what the minarchists are so offended about. All we anarchists are saying is the state is not justified, since in our view, initiated force against innocent people is not justified. Maybe you reject our view because you think it is too simplistic. Fine. But that is our view. The p
oint is, *we are losers*–we are not getting our way. I do have to pay taxes and give allegiance to the state, despite my abhorrence for it. For those who think a state is necessary, *you have won*–you are getting your way. For example, for libertarians (or others) who think some amount of taxes are justified–hey, you are getting my tax dollars. I am being clubbed out of them, *despite* my opposition. And surely we all know my bitching has no realistic chance of changing this. If anything, I should be offended that the statists are coercing me to go along with their vision of the great society; rather than advocates of the state being offended by complaints. Boy, if I had your deal, I would take it in a second. If I could just have a free society where institutionalized aggression was widely viewed as unjust, thereby preventing the advocates of the state from actually taking my property or drafting or killing me, but I had to let the statists bitch and moan about it, I’d take that deal in a second.
What is it, then, that advocates of the state really want? Is it not enough to ride roughshod over the opposition and non-consent of anarchists? Is it not enough to force us to go along with these insane collectivist mafia schemes? Do we also have to stop complaining about it?
From: Stephan Kinsella
Yes, some of this is semantical: failure to define terms or use them consistently. Aggression is used by most libertarians to refer to the initiation of force–which I think is best described as an unconsented-to use of, or invasion of the borders of, another’s property or body.
Many libertarians, possibly influenced by Rand’s (mis?)use of the term “coercion,” use it as a synonym for aggression. But I would think “coercion” simply means inducing someone to do something by means of a threat of force; i.e., it is a species of, or threat of, force–and can be initiatory, or responsive. That is, coercion might be aggression; or it might be legitimate.
In my opinion, there are many flavors of libertarian. My own flavor happens to be non-utilitarian, principles-based; and non-statist, non-minarchist, anarcho-capitalist position. I have tried to explain what I mean by anarcho-capitalism in my article What It Means to be an Anarcho-Capitalist (available at www.StephanKinsella.com/publications). It does not mean one predicts or believes that we will achieve it; or even, really, that it is possible to achieve it. Rather, to be an anarcho-capitalist is simply to recognize that (a) aggression is unjustified, and that (b) states necessarily commit systematic, institutionalized aggression. As I see it, anyone who is not an anarchist–that is, who favors the existence of any state at all, even a minimal one; who believes that a state is *justified*–has to deny one of these two points.
Now non-libertarians really don’t have any problem with this test, because they just don’t really care about being very principled about aggression. They are quite used to the notion that sometimes the indiviual has to be sacrified for the masses–most of them support a draft, or a version of it such as the income tax. Etc. But as far as I can tell, libertarians are a lot more squirrelly when they are confronted with this anarchist test. They have a bit of discomfort with aggression, and probably are used to feeling superior to your average layman who is not nearly so scrupulous as they are about endorsing aggression. They are the ones used to feeling morally superior to their fellow “statists”. So they get miffed when they find a more “pure” libertarian in effect calling them on their own endorsement of aggression. You see this all the time in Objectivists, who feel compelled to label libertarians “nihlists” and anarchists as more dangerous than socialists or criminals. Methink they doth protest too much.
So you have minarchist libertarians or classical liberal types respond to my test in a few ways. One is pure outrage or other forms of evasion. Another is a desperate attempt to change the subject by saying that anarchy won’t work–which is exactly why I wrote that article, to explain that a believe that anarchy will “work” or will be achieved is not what being an anarchist is about. THe anarchist simply refuses to say that states are justified, since he opposes aggression and believes states commit aggression; the anarchist is similar to the libertarian who would condemn all acts of murder even though he thinks we can never achieve a murder-free society.
So when you can get a non-anarchist libertarian to actually answer the question: which do you believe?–that aggression is (sometimes) justified, or that states do not necessarily commit aggression, you get one of two answers. Some will take the latter. Objectivists do this, by blathering on about “context”. They say that “because” an objective law enforcer is needed, “therefore” the actions necessary for that agency to perform cannot be aggression or a rights violation. Etc. Or you will get the California types who say states don’t necessarily commit aggression, since aggression is not “what libertarianism is about” or that it’s not a coherent concept.
And some will say that unfortunately, sometimes aggression is justified. I can respect this answer; I think it is honest, and usually sincere. This position is the position of people who believe that if you don’t allow some aggression to be permitted (at least the aggression necessary for a minimal state to exist), then even worse aggression will be committed in the state’s absence. I think this position is flawed, but it is respectable, and honest, and sincere, and can be debated. And I think it is, at root, the real position of most libertarian statists–sorry, I mean non-anarchist libertarians. But most of them don’t want to admit it this starkly, because then it makes it clear that they do endorse aggression in some cases. Or maybe it makes them look as if they have become compromisers or something. I do not know.
But it does seem to me that this way of classifying and distinguishing types of libertarians is useful and perfectly sensible.
As for those libertarians who try to wriggle out of this classification scheme by denying the coherence of aggression as a concept, let me just say that I think that really, this response simply means these libertarians do not have opposition-to-aggression as their highest political value. That is fine. Nonaggression is the *reason* I am a libertarian. It might not be others’ reason. Why they are reluctant to admit this is a mystery. But I believe the libertarian concept of nonaggression is related to our concept of property rights: to the idea that the way to assign ownership of a given scarce resource is to assign it to the first user, or to his transferee. Basically, all non-anarchists do not believe that first acquisition is the primary or only rule for assigning property rights. They believe in some other rule. For example, if you favor a state, even a minarchy, then you favor some aggression committed by the state–such as its outlawing other agencies, or taxing its subjects. But these actions basically mean the state assumes partial ownership of property that it did not homestead: for example if it outlaws another agency, it is telling that agency what it can do with its own property; or it is telling me what I canno
t do with my money, because it will not let me hire the other agency. Therefore the state is assuming co-ownerhsip of my or others’ property. Libertarians who are in favor of this are saying that title to property is assigned to the state for some reason other than its having first possessed the property or having voluntarily received it. So all non-anarchists favor a property title rule other than first-use. They believe that it is legitimate in some cases for the state to in effect take property by force from the original owner or his transferee. Those of us who are opposed to aggression on principle believe that the owner of property is he who first appropriates it or whoever he gave it to. We think that if the state takes it, it is obviously theft and illegitimate. That is the difference between principled, anti-aggression, anarcho-capitalist libertaraisn, and all others.
Note that this dichotomy does not seek to justify one position over the other; it is just a clear way of identifying our differences.
N. Stephan Kinsella
From: Gordon Sollars
MessageStephan Kinsella writes – in response to Gus diZerega:
Yes, but Kopple flat out admitted he is in favor of some forms of
aggression– as you do below. My view is this. Anarcho-capitalists oppose all aggression.
We should be careful here about whether ‘aggression’ or ‘coercion’ are taken to be what some philosophers call “moralized” terms or not. That is, are all instances of the term moral violations of some kind or not? If I understand Stephan, he takes all instances of ‘aggression’ (and perhaps
‘coercion’) as morally wrong. Roger and Gus appear not to take ‘aggression’ (or ‘coercion’ ?) as “moralized”, so that not all instances must be wrong.
One problem that some of my libertarian brethren – who press very hard on ‘aggression’ (or ‘coercion’) – face is that they do not think that it is a moral violation to /respond/ to aggression (or coercion) with actions that, taken by themselves, appear identical to actions that mark aggression (or coercion). Thus, it seems that even libertarians do not oppose /all/ aggression (or coercion).
Even this conclusion must be qualified, since some definitions of ‘aggression’ refer to “unprovoked” attacks, while others refer to “offensive” or “hostile” behavior. The idea of ‘provoking’ helps the libertarian, but perhaps Roger or Gus would not necessarily claim that a wrong-doer has always ‘provoked’. Definitions of ‘coercion’ typically refer simply to “compelling by force”, and, as, such, would seem not to support the idea that ‘coercion’ is a moralized term even for the libertarian (who would compel a wrong doer to, say, make restitution).
Gordon G. Sollars
From: Stephan Kinsella
Dear Mr. diZerega:
>NSK> You yourself oppose most aggression that I also oppose, I am sure, even if you are not an anarchist, but are merely a minarchist, classical liberal, etc.; and this means that you necessarily categorize those committing those acts of aggression as being aggressors–criminals.
> No I do not. <
So — things that you admit are aggression (say, murder), … the people who commit these things are not … criminals? In your view, aggression (of the type that you yourself condemn) is not criminal?
>NSK:> . . . I think there is an obvious and direct correlation between civilization, and the willingness of the general populace to respect each other’s rights (whatver those rights are). Would you really disagree wiht this?
> Yes I would. I would not use rights language, which implies a lot of metaphysical assumptions about the nature of human beings that are not necessary for peaceful and mutually satisfying relationships. If you used the term “respect for others” and leave off rights talk – which can but need not indicate respect, (nor need respect indicate a belief in rights in any strong sense) – I would agree with you. <
I think this is just semantics. I think respect for others is indeed civilized and is the very reason and the root of respect for others’ rights. But this is all irrelevant. My main point is that some of us libertarians are extremely opposed to aggression. In my own case, I view the predisposition to avoid aggression as linked to the desire to be civilized… but this is more of an analysis or personal way of looking at it. I readily admit the concept “civilized” is not rigorous, but more evocative. But I still think the essence of civilization–the reason something of value gets produced by human interaction–is due to the peaceful, cooperative aspects of it. Not the aggressive aspects.
> I generally avoid the term “civilized” because it has been used to justify so many horrible actions against those deemed uncivilized. <
Well, I tend to try to focus on truth, not self-censoring out of fear for how others might misuse a given idea.
> If you act in a respectful manner towards someone or something, you act in a civilized manner towards it. <
I quite agree. As between two individuals, if they are really respecful, they don’t go around bashing each other in the head.
>NSK:> Third, of course there are uncertainties about *what is aggression* in a given case. If you said you cannot necessarily join me in denouncing a given institution or practice because you are not quite *sure* it is aggression, that is one thing.
> And that is the main thing. In at least some cases where you might think something is aggression, I am quite sure it is not. <
Yes, but Kopple flat out admitted he is in favor of some forms of aggression– as you do below. My view is this. Anarcho-capitalists oppose all aggression. You could say that avoidance of aggression is their highest political value. Minarchists and others down the spectrum–classical liberals, democrats, welfare-statists, conservatives, etc., all oppose many forms of aggression but also endorse some forms of aggression. Most people, for example, favor taxes. I don’t see how you can deny that this is aggression. These people–I don’t deny many of them are sincere–believe that for whatever reason the aggression they favor *is justified*. But all this means is that all non-anarchists–which is to say, all statists–value something more than non-aggression. For example you might prefer egalitarian results, to avoiding all aggression; you are willing to have a bit of aggression to have a more egalitarian society. Or whatever. The point is that if you endorse what you acknowledge or plainly is aggression, in any case at all, then you evidently have something *other* than non-aggression as your highest political value. If I valued X more than non-aggression, I would of course be willing to accept some aggression to achieve X; but I would not be ashamed to admit it; and I would not attack principled opponents of aggression who merely pointed out the difference between me and them. I really find it baffling that some minarchists (or worse) want to have it both ways: they want to favor institutionized aggression (often for sincere reasons, to be sure), but not to be accused of favoring aggression. It is truly bizarre. Why not just take the honest approach and say something like, “Hey, it’s not my fault that the world is such that it’s better to have some aggression in some cases, than to always refrain from its use.” If that’s what you believe, just say so. But I think most libertarians or classical liberal types know intuitively how distasteful aggression is. In fact my theory is that this is the reason most of us become libertarain. But some of us apparently abhor aggression more than others; some of use find it distasteful but also have other things that drove them to libertarianism–some kind of utilitarian-related desire to “increase overall wealth” or whatever. So they have several value they want to achieve, and they see some as in conflict, and some as more important than others when push comes to shove. So for example they are willing to endorse aggression to achieve some other value that is more important to them.
(Incidentally: I have discussed this before, as detailed in the last 2 paragraphs of this post (: In particular, this post has links to threads which show some conservative types trying to wriggle out of being labeled advocates of aggression despite clearly endorsing it: e.g., my debate with Ed Feser et al. about the nature of criminality and aggression in this thread; the Chronicles thread I participated in with Scott Richert about the non-aggression principle (see his The Limits of Economics; Economics, Catholic Social Teaching, and Dissent); also the recent post on LewRockwell blog lately about this and Thomas Woods versus Thomas Fleming, Storck, et al.; and a Chronicles blog thread I participated in with Fleming et al. )
> I am not sure anyone on this list endorses aggression for the same reason no one on this list endorses murder, Both are BY DEFINITION morally loaded terms that imply a wrong is being done. <
But Koppl did say he endorses aggression, as do you. Kopple said, “Yes, yes, that means I would vote to have the state coerce you, Walter, aggress against you, force you to do things you don’t want to do! This is the bedlam into which one is led when one lives without the non-aggression axiom.” And you say below: “I can also conceive of at least hypothetical instances where I would endorse aggression however personally painful it would be.“
Aren’t these outright admissions of favoring aggression? Now you are saying that some people do not actually endorse aggression, despite saying that they do? It seems very clear to me that if you do endorse aggression then you must value something higher than non-aggression. That is fine–hey, you might even
be right. Maybe my obsession with avoiding bashing my neighbors’ over the head with a brick is too extreme. Maybe I should not be so inflexible in my view that you should not use or take someone’s property without their consent.
Moreover, besides the “emergency” or “extreme cases” you allude to: I assume you are not an anarchist (if I am wrong please correct me). But anarchists simply are those who deny the legitimacy of states. So if you are not an anarchist, then that means you think states are legitimate (yes yes, I realize you say you think democracies are not states–I don’t care what label you want to use or avoid, but for me the essence of the “state” is a monopoly on law enforcement and/or the power to tax; do you support either of these for your “non-state”? If not you are an anarchist like me, and I am not sure what you are objecting to. So I have to assume you do favor instittutionalized aggression, despite your reluctance to say you endorse a state and desire to call it by some other name like “democracy” instead. The point here is that you are not only in favor of aggression in emergency or extreme cases — unless you are an anarchist, you are in favor of regular, omnipresent, systematic, institutionalized aggression–of however low a level. 1% taxes is better than 51%, but still institutionalized aggression, in the form of legal robbery.
>I think people have what we can call intrinsic value, which is rooted in my understanding of Hume’s concept of “sympathy,” and that outcomes matter. <
I am not sure what “intrinsic value” is–seems a bit metaphorical and imprecise for me, but in any event, my own view is that *empathy* for others is what gives rise to a general reluctance to engage in violent interaction with others… what I might think of as the “civilized” predisposition (apologies)—hence the desire for most people–not criminals or outlaws, but civilized people, yes–to find justifications for force, and to engage in it only when they satisfy themselves that despite their prima facie reluctance, it is justified in this type of case. My view is that the person who is most reluctant, and has the highest standards or thresholds to be satisifed for justifying proposed or desired violence, are just libertarians. And that the most consistent among them recognize that the only good justification to be found is for force that is *in response* to aggression, or initiated force; and the most hyper-consistent among them are the anarchists. In short, the most “true” libertarians are those who oppose all aggression. It is like an ideal to aspire to.
> You take a word that every English speaker agrees refers to unjustified action, at least in the absence of overwhelming necessity, and regrettable even then, and give it a meaning that most people will reject. Thus, you abuse the term in general use unless you can make a persuasive case. And calling those who disagree aggressors and uncivilized won’t convince anybody. <
Two comments. First, as I quoted you and Kopple above, you apparently do endorse “unjustified action,” if by that you mean the aggression. Second, what is the relevance of your comment that it “won’t convince anybody”? Is that supposed to mean that it is wrong? If so, do you mean to imply that an idea’s validity is measured by how persuasive it is likely to be? (Would that imply that a woman who is unable to accuse a rapist not to rape her must be wrong in saying it is a rights violation? that the rapist “disproves” her contention by simply overpowering her and not being moved by her objections?) Or are you trying to give me advice about whether it’s “worth it” (to me?) to expend effort trying to futilely persuade others of something (that might be true)? I never understand this activist mentality that confuses strategy with truth.
> I would argue, and have incessantly, that democracies are not states, they are spontaneous orders. States are instrumental organizations in Hayek’s sense. I would also argue that any coherent democratic theory relies on the value of consensus, not majority rule. <
Ah, so your “democracies” don’t commit acts of institutionalized aggression? They don’t tax, they don’t outlaw competitors, they don’t force all people in their grasp to become members? News to me.
From: Gus DiZerega
Dear Mr. Kinsella-
First, I don’t think my clear assertion of my views about aggression and what it entails–and that it correlates with being civilized–is “smug”.
I consider it smug for someone to take for themselves the title civilized, and apply to others the less flattering characterization of uncivilized, ESPECIALLY when the person claiming the title, and those with similar views, comprise a statistically insignificant portion of humanity AND the overwhelming majority of human beings oppose aggression. Where they differ is what constitutes it and the fact that so many disagree suggests there may be room for honest disagreement rather than barbarism.
You yourself oppose most aggression that I also oppose, I am sure, even if you are not an anarchist, but are merely a minarchist, classical liberal, etc.; and this means that you necessarily categorize those committing those acts of aggression as being aggressors–criminals.
No I do not.
. . . I think there is an obvious and direct correlation between civilization, and the willingness of the general populace to respect each other’s rights (whatver t
hose rights are). Would you really disagree wiht this?
Yes I would. I would not use rights language, which implies a lot of metaphysical assumptions about the nature of human beings that are not necessary for peaceful and mutually satisfying relationships. If you used the term “respect for others” and leave off rights talk – which can but need not indicate respect, (nor need respect indicate a belief in rights in any strong sense) – I would agree with you.
In other words, it is inevitable that if we have different concepts of justice and rights, then we will have necessarily different views about what constitutes “civilized” behavior.
I generally avoid the term “civilized” because it has been used to justify so many horrible actions against those deemed uncivilized. If you act in a respectful manner towards someone or something, you act in a civilized manner towards it. That is how I usually use the term, if I have to.
Another legitimate use of the term is to refer to literate cultures, and that says nothing at all about the moral behavior of its residents. Rome had a civilization. It also acted horribly in all too many cases. So has every such civilization. So this very legitimate use of the term does not require us to agree about justice and rights to agree that a particular society is a civilization.
Third, of course there are uncertainties about *what is aggression* in a given case. If you said you cannot necessarily join me in denouncing a given institution or practice because you are not quite *sure* it is aggression, that is one thing.
And that is the main thing. In at least some cases where you might think something is aggression, I am quite sure it is not.
I am not sure anyone on this list endorses aggression for the same reason no one on this list endorses murder, Both are BY DEFINITION morally loaded terms that imply a wrong is being done. One MIGHT endorse actions that will injure peaceful people if there seems no alternative and the costs of not doing so are deemed prohibitively high. However undesired and unfortunate, this is a logical possibility for anyone who would not be willing to run the risk of injuring an innocent person if the cost of not doing so were the destruction of the world, or even the universe. The example is absurd – but I use it because I am inclined to regard most kinds of moral absolutism as absurd. Like Roger I am powerfully influenced by Hume, though maybe not in the way he is.
I think people have what we can call intrinsic value, which is rooted in my understanding of Hume’s concept of “sympathy,” and that outcomes matter.
. . . The plain fact is that I and probably Block would view any minarchist as *mistaken* to the extent he advocates aggression–and in fact, as advocating criminality. Just as the minarchist views the conservative as advocating criminality in many of the policies the conservative endorses. I see no reason to hide or to evade or to pretend otherwise.
But that is just the point. You take a word that every English speaker agrees refers to unjustified action, at least in the absence of overwhelming necessity, and regrettable even then, and give it a meaning that most people will reject. Thus, you abuse the term in general use unless you can make a persuasive case. And calling those who disagree aggressors and uncivilized won’t convince anybody.
You can make a persuasive case to me by rebutting the various points I listed in my original post in this thread. And I will then become an anarcho-capitalist – as I once was long ago.
. . . libertarians who say they are not anarchists, and support the existence of some minimal state, must either: (a) maintain that the state does NOT necessarly employ aggression;
I would argue, and have incessantly, that democracies are not states, they are spontaneous orders. States are instrumental organizations in Hayek’s sense. I would also argue that any coherent democratic theory relies on the value of consensus, not majority rule.
. . . What I do not understand is why people who frankly acknowledge that they sometimes endorse aggression, are reluctant to admit this, and react hysterically when called on it.
Because they think you use the term incorrectly. I agree with them. As you see, I can also conceive of at least hypothetical instances where I would endorse aggression however personally painful it would be. Indeed, I can logically conceive of cases where the aggression I endorsed might cause greater pain to me than to the person aggressed upon – and I would still endorse it.
Dept. of Government
St. Lawrence University
Canton, NY 13617
From: Stephan Kinsella
Dear Mr. diZerega:
First, I don’t think my clear assertion of my views about aggression and what it entails–and that it correlates with being civilized–is “smug”.
Second, smugness is irrelevant to the substantive correctness of my assertions. In any event, I prefer to focus on substance, not meta-issues like smugness, presentation style, tactic, rhetoric, strategy, and activist concerns. It has always seemed to me that truth is more important. Call me crazy. It has also always seemed to me that there should be no reason one cannot state his views plainly and bluntly; that people being thin-skinned and ever ready to resort to meta-argument, which amounts to a change of subject and evasion, is just a time-wasting distraction.
You yourself oppose most aggression that I also oppose, I am sure, even if you are not an anarchist, but are merely a minarchist, classical liberal, etc.; and this means that you necessarily categorize those committing those acts of aggression as being aggressors–criminals. Just like I do. Even if they are committing or endorsing those acts out of ignorance, or even good faith. The question of whether being mistaken in a given case is excusable is a separate issue. So it would appear that you and I would
both label a large number of people as “aggressors”, and as engaged in what we both consider to be wicked or unjust. Is this “smug”? Or is your main objection that I correlate my own aggression-related norms to being civilized? Is this seriously your objection? What is civilization? It is organized human interaction, which of course at its base depends on peaceful interaction. I think there is an obvious and direct correlation between civilization, and the willingness of the general populace to respect each other’s rights (whatver those rights are). Would you really disagree wiht this? In other words, it is inevitable that if we have different concepts of justice and rights, then we will have necessarily different views about what constitutes “civilized” behavior.
Third, of course there are uncertainties about *what is aggression* in a given case. If you said you cannot necessarily join me in denouncing a given institution or practice because you are not quite *sure* it is aggression, that is one thing. But Koppl, if I recall, off-handedly and casually admitted he believes in aggression in some cases. Not that he disagrees with Block about whether a given policy or law or institution is aggression–reasonable libertarians can disagree about this. But that he actually endorses aggression. Now this is fine; he is entitled to endorse aggression; are others of us not free to condemn aggression? And given these simple observations about differences among types of libertarians, are we supposed to avoid acknowledging implications of this, out of some rule of politeness? No. The plain fact is that I and probably Block would view any minarchist as *mistaken* to the extent he advocates aggression–and in fact, as advocating criminality. Just as the minarchist views the conservative as advocating criminality in many of the policies the conservative endorses. I see no reason to hide or to evade or to pretend otherwise.
I have tried to detail some of this in my article What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist (http://www.lewrockwell.com/kinsella/kinsella15.html). As I explain there, those libertarians who say they are not anarchists, and support the existence of some minimal state, must either: (a) maintain that the state does NOT necessarly employ aggression; or (b) maintain that some aggression is justifiable. I see no logical way out of this. I think the answer, to be honest, is (b) in most cases. What I do not understand is why people who frankly acknowledge that they sometimes endorse aggression, are reluctant to admit this, and react hysterically when called on it. IT is akin to liberals nowadays not wanting to be called liberals (by contrast, conservatives don’t mind being called conservatives; and libertarian anarchists like me do not mind frankly admitting that we oppose aggression period). If you think aggression *is* justified, why not just admit it? Why turn it into a meta-discussion about the propriety of having the discussion?
N. Stephan Kinsella
From: Gus DiZerega
Stephan Kinsella wrote:
My point here is not to justify our end of the spectrum; some people prefer
to be civilized and deal with others in peaceful ways wherever possible;
others do not.
I had intended to stay out of this, but the smugness of the above broke my resolve.
Some libertarians find aggression easy to define because they define it in a way that most reasonable people find unsatisfying, even if it leads to a simple world.
Of course armed robbers are aggressors, and I know of next to none who think otherwise. Does someone who wants a national park fall in the same category? The surrealists in part of the libertarian movement would say yes. 99 % of humanity would likely say no.
Libertarians with such views seem to rest their argument on several assumptions not supported by fact or logic.
1. The market is a perfectly neutral means for facilitating peaceful human cooperation.
It is not. That it is not is a major reason Hayek favored certain kinds of government action. For example, it breaks down customary ties that served to assist people who are caught in misfortunes not of their own making. I am very well aware of the argument that free people can find alternatives sources of support. I am also well aware that large numbers of people fearing such things happening to them have been far from convinced. Democracies can be ways of rationally reducing organizing costs for large numbers of relatively isolated people if modest means, at the risk of having some of the benefits siphoned off by those who game the system.
2. Property rights are justly owned, or a perfectly just system of property rights can at least in theory be imagined, such that there would be no need in the name of justice to intervene in property ownership.
There is no generally agreed upon theory of property rights that can meet the latter criteria – in no small part because libertarian theories of property rights assume a Newtonian kind of world, where boundaries can be firmly delineated and in principle inexpensively defended. That model breaks down as people become ever more intricately involved with one another, in no small part because of the market’s success. And existing systems of property rights hardly reflect perfectly just allotments by any criterion. Please, tell me how I can objectively determine whether sound waves or photons or odors violate my property rights? Who draws the line if a line must be drawn? Why should I accept the judgment of the line drawer? If I do not accept the judgment, by the radical libertarian standard of aggression isn’t it an act of aggression against me?
To ask victims of unjust actions to refrain from seeking government help because governments are or can be aggressors is simply asking those who are weak in the absence of government to submit to those who are strong in its absence. Of course, all real examples of this happening in the world we live in are belittled as occurring in a non libertarian world, and so are not really indicative of libertarianism’s practicality. But the market exists in a non libertarian world, and libertarians have no trouble saying it is evidence that their principles are solid. Yet key elements of the market are defended by government – su
ch as contracts and property rights. It is skimming the cream to take those less than perfect examples of today as evidence for your position and rejecting the less than perfect examples that challenge it.
3. As has been discussed earlier on this list, public values are not always reflected in consumer choices, as Mark Sagoff memorably and convincingly showed in his book, The Economy of the Earth. Check his discussion of Mineral King and Disney locatable in the index. I have used similar cases in my teaching every year for over ten years, ALWAYS with the same results. I also know it is true for me personally regarding things like the Trail Ridge Road in Colorado – I drive it frequently, would pay tolls to drive it if necessary, in fact, in a sense I do when I pay a park entrance fee and plan only on driving through it. And I wish it did not exist.
4. If theorists from Aristotle to Madison to lesser contemporary figures like myself are correct, what we today call democratic theory can only be coherently developed with its ideal being consensus, not majority rule. Rules that can be supported unanimously do not need to require unanimity, in fact they probably would not, because that leaves the community open to blackmail by a single party. In practice super majorities are more reasonable for the most important decisions except when speed is of the essence – and are relied upon in efforts to create governments based on consent, such as our own. That such rules can be subverted is perhaps evidence the task is impossible, but it may also be evidence the task needs to be done better.
I send this post only because of the irritating smugness of the author taking upon himself the label of civilized, and denying it to those of us who see the world as more complex.
On an unrelated matter, I also suggest we go back to what was once a rule for posting- that we identify who we are. I have noticed some posts were virtually anonymous. Who in the name of the Gods is “Bill” or whoever that was?
i think that is more civilized.
Visiting Assistant Prof.
Dept. of Government
St. Lawrence University
canton, NY 13617
From: Stephan Kinsella
At least you admit that you are in favor of aggression. But you seem to think you can dismiss those who oppose aggression on principle, like Walter and real libertrians, with a wave of the hand and some vague comment implying that if you are concerned about “actual details of how things really get done in a given market or region” then, why, of course, you would support aggression. Such considerations may suffice for you to favor aggression in a given case, but of course, it does not, for true libertarians–that is, for those of us who sincerely and on principlied grounds oppose aggression, and think violent force should be applied to our innocent neighbors *only* if it is truly justified and called for–that is, only in response to their acts of aggression.
True libertarians simply are those people who have a very high threshold to be satisfied when seeking justification for violent conflict with our neighbors. At the other end of the spectrum are the utterly criminal minded, and the might-makes-right types, who simply do not give a damn whether their violent actions are justified–they want what they want, and that’s that. They are hardly humans, hardly civilized; they are near-animals. Between the uncivilized, animalistic, criminal-mentality, thuggish end of the spectrum, and the civilized, anti-aggression, libertarian end, there are people who oppose some aggression, and who are to that extent civilized, and who also favor some aggression, to that extent rejecting civilized human life.
My point here is not to justify our end of the spectrum; some people prefer to be civilized and deal with others in peaceful ways wherever possible; others do not. But my point is that the existence of mean criminals at the bad end of the spectrum does not serve to prove to us libertarians that our preference for peace is wrong; it just means there are unfortunately people out there who are willing to live as savages and harm the rest of us. Likewise, the fact that there are people in between, like you apparently, also does not serve as any kind of disproof of our principled opposition to aggression. A bandit has, I suppose, if you press him, some weak set of reasons for his willingness to aggress against others; it is irrelevant, since he simply has a very, very low threshold for being willing to commit or condone aggression. Likewise, the fact that your concern about “actual details of how things really get done in a given market or region” seems to satisfy for you the appropriateness of using initiated, physical violence against innocent people is also irrelevant–it only shows that you have a lower threshold for approving violence than a real libertarian does. So my point is, what is the relevance of your announcing that you happen to have a lower threshold than does, say, Walter? How in the world does the fact that you have a lower threshold even suggest that his threshold is too high?
N. Stephan Kinsella
From: Roger Koppl
Walter, I didn’t mean to sign onto just everything Hayek might have said. On the other hand, I agree with Hayek on the particular shocker you indicate: “limited support for rent control.” His “support,” as you know, consisted merely in favoring a gradual, not instantaneous, elimination of such controls. I haven’t examined how to exit rent controls, so I don’t have a strongly held position to defend. But the general suggestion that you don’t just pull the plug seems right to me. I think de-regulation is a very difficult matter and should be approached carefully. Yes, yes, that means I would vote to have the state coerce you, Walter, aggress against you, force you to do things you don’t want to do! This is the bedlam into which one is led when one lives without the non-aggression axiom. You end up having to sort out, you know, actual details of how things really get done in a given market or region. When bereft of the non-aggression axiom, you have to study the world to form an opinion about many of the phenomena within it. It’s very messy business and may drive one to support various forms of coercion. You see, Walter, I really am not a libertarian. I really do leak at least as much as Hayek. I love it that Pete calls me “left.” Who else would give me such a label?
—– Original Message —–
From: “Walter Block” >
> Dear Roger:
> I agree with you entirely in your criticism of Pete. Certainly, this
> material is not “out of bounds.”
> But I’m puzzled by your remarks about the non
> aggression axiom. You favor the initiation of
> aggression against non aggressors? Surely not?
> We need not go there, however, to look askance at
> Hayeks support for all sorts of leftist welfare
> schemes. Don’t tell me you go along with those,
> included limited support for rent control?
> Best regards,
> — Roger Koppl wrote:
> > Sure Pete, of course. If you want to put forward
> > any research agenda in any field, then the point of
> > about predecessors is their frameworks and tool
> > sets, not a checklist of beliefs with which one
> > agrees or disagrees. No kidding. Indeed, my recent presidential
> > address before the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics
> > is given in this general spirit. It lays out how Austrian economics
> > has become “mainstream” again:
> > http://alpha.fdu.edu/~koppl/sdae.doc. (What a
> > shameless plug!) The context of my recent comments
> > on this board, however, was Juliet Williams’ post,
> > which raised the question of w
hether Hayek the man
> > was or was not a “staunch libertarian.” That’s less
> > interesting, but not a out-of-bounds, Pete.
> > I happen also to believe, by the way, that the
> > Hayekian framework does not lead to
> > anarcho-capitalism. Some of the issues have come up
> > on this board before. Humean status quo bias is a
> > big issue in this regard. I’m very much the Humean
> > on that point. This is a conservative element in
> > the though of both Hayek and Hume. I think the
> > criticism of hubris and constructivism cuts against “staunch
> > libertarianism” as well, if only because it tells us to dispense
> > with any supposed fundamental axioms on which we might hope to
> > build.
> > This brings me to Walter Block who is surprised
> > that I like Hayek’s leaking. Well, Walter, it is
> > for a reason that Pete calls me “left”! This is the
> > sort of thing that happens when you let go of the non-aggression
> > axiom. Tsk, tsk, tsk. 🙂
> > Cheers,
> > Roger