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The Irrelevance of the Impossibility of Anarcho-Libertarianism

A 1982 article, The Impossibility of anarcho-capitalism, was recently called to my attention. In it, the author, one Tony Hollick, argues that the “components” of anarcho-capitalism are:

  1. A belief that a fully-fledged free-market private property based social order can be realised and maintained without the existence of a single, finally arbitrary system of lawmaking and enforcement which asserts jurisdiction over non-consenting parties.
  2. A preference for the imagined advantages of that social order however conceived.
  3. A willingness to advocate attempts to instantiate it as an actual experiment in the more or less foreseeable future.

This type of argument is typical of those who want to argue for states and the aggression states commit, while still adopting the libertarian label. It is a way of changing to subject away from the aggression they favor, by insinuating the presumption that the anarchist is for something, and thus needs to prove it before we abandon the current (statist) order and “adopt” the system known as anarchy. This approach tries to color anarchy as just one of many prima facie equally valid competing possible systems. Anarchists have the burden of proving we should “adopt” it just like a socialist bears the burden of proving we should adopt socialism. Thus, it is not surprising Hollick concludes, “One can only be struck by the similarities between ‘socialism’ and ‘anarchism’. Partisans of every kind rush to show that their vision is uniquely realisable; and the visions cover the entire range of mutually contradictory systems and practices.”

But, of course, anarchists don’t advocate a “substitute system”. We are not for something, other than respect for rights. Rather, we are an-archist, “without (belief in) (political) rulers.” We simply are not persuaded that political action is justified. This is because we see that states by their nature commit aggression–and as we are libertarians and against aggression (see my What Libertarianism Is), we are thus against states.

In other words, to be an anarcho-libertarian is simply to be opposed to aggression, and to recognize that states are inherently aggressive. It does not mean, for example, as Hollick asserts, that we anarchists, qua-anarchist, maintain “A belief that a fully-fledged free-market private property based social order can be realised and maintained without [whatever].” The anarchist is not someone who has a belief about “what will work”. Rather, he is someone who opposes aggression in all its forms. As I explained in What It Means to be an Anarcho-Capitalist:

Conservative and minarchist-libertarian criticism of anarchy on the grounds that it won’t “work” or is not “practical” is just confused. Anarchists don’t (necessarily) predict anarchy will be achieved – I for one don’t think it will. But that does not mean states are justified.

Consider an analogy. Conservatives and libertarians all agree that private crime (murder, robbery, rape) is unjustified, and “should” not occur. Yet no matter how good most men become, there will always be at least some small element who will resort to crime. Crime will always be with us. Yet we still condemn crime and work to reduce it.

Is it logically possible that there could be no crime? Sure. Everyone could voluntarily choose to respect others’ rights. Then there would be no crime. It’s easy to imagine. But given our experience with human nature and interaction, it is safe to say that there will always be crime. Nevertheless, we still proclaim crime to be evil and unjustified, in the face of the inevitability of its recurrence. So to my claim that crime is immoral, it would just be stupid and/or insincere to reply, “but that’s an impractical view” or “but that won’t work,” “since there will always be crime.” The fact that there will always be crime – that not everyone will voluntarily respect others’ rights – does not mean that it’s “impractical” to oppose it; nor does it mean that crime is justified. It does not mean there is some “flaw” in the proposition that crime is wrong.

Likewise, to my claim that the state and its aggression is unjustified, it is disingenuous and/or confused to reply, “anarchy won’t work” or is “impractical” or “unlikely to ever occur.” The view that the state is unjustified is a normative or ethical position. The fact that not enough people are willing to respect their neighbors’ rights to allow anarchy to emerge, i.e., the fact that enough people (erroneously) support the legitimacy of the state to permit it to exist, does not mean that the state, and its aggression, are justified.

In other words, it just won’t do for Hollick to attack anarcho-libertarianism by arguing we haven’t shown that “a fully-fledged free-market private property based social order can be realised and maintained without [whatever]”. In fact, since anarcho-libertarianism just means stringent opposition to aggression, to attack anti-aggressionism just is to defend aggression. And you can’t justify aggression by alleging that libertarians have not proved that a private property order can “work.” What kind of argument is that? “Sir, why are you robbing me? Why are you entitled to do this?” “Why, because you haven’t proved that a private property order can work, that’s why!”


Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

Russ, “I believe that anarchism will result in more violations of rights than a minarchist state will, hence I reject it.”

This is a pretty way of covering up the fact that you are advocating aggression. Instead of saying outright, “I favor some aggression to stop worse aggression; to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs,” you say “I reject anarchy.” Sounds nicer. You are doing just what Hollick does: you set it up as if the anarchist is making a case for which the burden is on him to defend. As if he has to justify his view that aggression is unjustified.

What you are saying is that you are against a situation in which there is no aggression, because you think if there is no aggression, that will somehow result in … more violations of rights than occur where there is institutionalized aggression. I see. Got it.

Let me ask you this, Russ: are you against all private crime (aggression), or only against some private crime? I mean, how can one be against all private crime–that’s “naive,” right? After all, who really thinks that would “work”? Who really thinks we will ever have a crime-free world? How can you oppose something if it is bound to occur? Right?

Me, I despise crime and criminals, and apologists for either.

Published: August 20, 2009 9:51 PM

Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

Jay, You’re welcome.

That still leaves me with the desire to apply practical strategies to weaken the state, discredit statists, and in general promote liberty and destroy or limit government as much as possible (even if I am pretty sure that we’ll always have the state in some form, at least till the eternal state).

Exactly. This is a perfect attitude. Of course most of us want to do what we can to be on the side of right, to advance liberty, even if it’s a doomed or losing battle. After all, we are libertarians in the first place because we have chosen the values of peace, civilization, etc., even though our world infringes these all the time, and can be expected to for a long time. But of course there is a role for strategy, tactics, and activism. It’s just important to keep in mind the distinction to ward off disingenuous attacks by statists in libertarian clothing.

Where are the best pracitical suggestions along those lines – if any of you know and are willing to share?

My personal view is that in the long run the only that that can work is economic literacy. Thus we need to educate people; and one way to do it is to support the Mises Institute, and to keep spreading a consistent, principled message of liberty. We can keep learning, both to improve ourselves and to improve our ability to persuade. And by improving ourselves we help present “one improved unit” to society, thus helping to win over people to our other views by the power of attraction.

I would recommend not deluding oneself that we can “win” once and for all; or that winning is all that matters. That way lies the perils of self-delusion, compromise, despair, disengagement, and activism (see my The Trouble with Libertarian Activism).

I would recommend fighting because you want to do the right thing, be on the right side, and make even incremental progress. I would suggest taking heart in Nock’s idea of “the Remnant“–“In his 1936 article “Isaiah’s Job”, which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Nock expressed his complete disillusionment with the idea of reforming the current system. Believing that it would be impossible to convince any large portion of the general population of the correct course and opposing any suggestion of a violent revolution, Nock instead argued that libertarians should focus on nurturing what he called “the Remnant”. The Remnant, according to Nock, consisted of a small minority who understood the nature of the state and society, and who would become influential only after the current dangerous course had become thoroughly and obviously untenable, a situation which might not occur until far into the future.”

As for self-education and education of others, one could do worse than to start with bibliographies such as “Hans-Hermann Hoppe on Anarcho-Capitalism” and “Lew Rockwell on Reading for Liberty”; see also my The Greatest Libertarian Books.

So: educate yourself; excel; attract; speak out; be principled; join like-minded libertarians; persuade; fight for liberty!

Published: August 20, 2009 10:39 PM

Stephan Kinsella Author Profile Page

Jay, also see Top Ten Books of Liberty and Other Top Ten Lists of Libertarian Books. And you might also find of interest my post Why I’m a Libertarian — or, Why Libertarianism is Beautiful:

In a recent email, Walter Block wrote, responding some pessimistic comments I had about our libertarian movement:

“Dear Stephan: I never feel like dropping out. Never. No matter what. To me, libertarianism is a most beautiful thing, right up there with Mozart and Bach. Non corborundum illegitimi.

I replied with some comments, and Walter encouraged me to post them, so here they are, lightly edited:

Walter’s email got me to thinking about why I’m a libertarian–why libertarians are libertarian. What is it about us that drives us, that makes us passionate advocates of it, and intensely interested in it? Some of us have been self-indulgent enough to write up how we became libertarians (e.g., my How I Became A Libertarian); but I don’t mean exactly that. I mean what is it about it that you love; that drives you; that attracts you?

Walter’s comment that libertarianism is beautiful struck a chord with me; I think I’d never thought of it that way before. It seemed just, and fair, and right, but beautiful–? but then, justice, and rightness, and fairness, and goodness are beautiful.

I think I’m a libertarian because for some reason I hate injustice; I hate bullies; I hate inconsistency; I love fairness and logical consistency and treating people correctly. I like answering the question asked, and not dodging issues: if someone asks how should this person be treated, I try to answer that question, rather than advert to some Marxian notion of utopia.

I like the ruthless logic of libertarianism and its unflinching honesty: how we are unafraid to say that people have a right to be greedy, or selfish, or rich, or not to hire people because of their race–because it is their property. I like the in-your-faceness of it … when it is simply a matter of venting or justice to hurl in the face of a soma-ridden mainstreamer the solid, bracing truth about things, even if it will do no good. I like libertarianism–I love libertarianism–because I think it is the outcome of goodness applied to human interaction. I do agree that libertarianism is beautiful. It is refreshing and cleansing to know that I am willing to respect the rights of all who will respect mine; and to take the responsibility to earn my own way, and to pay for my own mistakes–and the right to profit from my successes. I am a libertarian because it is obviously good, and I would rather be good than evil; and the more good, the better.


Thoughts of others on your reasons for why you’re a libertarian are welcome in the comments.

Published: August 20, 2009 10:48 PM

[Mises blog cross-post]

{ 48 comments… add one }
  • Gene Callahan August 23, 2009, 6:21 pm

    The understanding I take from this is that anarcho-capitalism is not abou any conceivable way of actually organizing a society, but about feeling superior to others but being able to constantly shout at them “Aggressor!”

  • Angel Robinson February 8, 2010, 1:37 pm

    The understanding I take from the previous commenter is that he has no ability to conceptualize a society that is not organized with violence; this says more about his inability to think well than it does our ability to give him all the answers he wants on all the questions he has about all the ways in which he should live his own life. With children I start with one basic rule; don’t hit people. With animals it’s a far more difficult task…

  • Gene Callahan February 9, 2010, 2:27 pm

    Angel, it was Stephan, not me, who said anarchy won’t be achieved. Did you even read his post before commenting?

    Anyway, anarcho-capitalists are certainly NOT for a society “not organized with violence” — they just think it should be organized with different sorts of violence than is the current one.

    ” or not to hire people because of their race”

    Kinsella especially likes this part.

  • Stephan Kinsella February 9, 2010, 4:06 pm

    I don’t know if Gene’s comment about “race” was supposed to be a joke, but if not, accusing me of any sort of racism is completely unfounded.

  • Michael Wiebe February 12, 2010, 12:03 pm

    Stephan is right. Just because people have the right to discriminate on the basis of race doesn’t entail that it is morally permissible for them to exercise that right.

  • Tony Hollick August 7, 2010, 4:39 pm

    A moral right to discriminate entails a moral right to exercise that right.

    This is so obvious that it should not require restating, but in the light of the weakness of Stephan Kinsella’s response we can leave nothing to chance.

    Tony Hollick

    • Stephan Kinsella August 7, 2010, 11:36 pm

      “moral right” is ambiguous and prone to equivocation. Apparently you mean it as a libertarian right. If so, you are correct that this means there is a libertairna right to exercise it. But this is not what Wiebe was talking about: he didn’t say moral right, he said “morally permissible.” I.e., he is saying that some things you have a (libertarian, individual) right to do, would be immoral for you to do.

      This is very obvious. It is libertarianism 101. Not sure how you could miss that one.

  • Tony Hollick August 8, 2010, 10:22 am

    Can you offer a clearly-demarcated example of the distinction you’re trying to make.

    You seem to be saying that it can’t be immoral to exercise a moral right.


    • Stephan Kinsella August 8, 2010, 10:24 am

      You are not defining moral right so not sure what you mean. ARe yo utalking about morals, or libertarian (legaly enforceable) rights?

      As an example: it’s immoral to insult your mother (in a typical siutation); but it’s not a rights violation. It’s immoral to exercise your rights in this case. Libertarianism 101.

  • Tony Hollick August 8, 2010, 10:49 am

    So it’s morally right to exercise a moral right in a way that is morally wrong?



    • Stephan Kinsella August 8, 2010, 9:38 pm

      You refuse to clarify or define what you mean by moral right. So no reply can be made.

  • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 12:11 pm

    Stephan, you’re giving Tony too much credit here — the distinction you’re making isn’t just libertarianism 101, it’s pretty much politics 101 — the idea that the illegal and the immoral should be identical has only been a feature of the most fanatically soteriological societies, like Calvin’s Geneva.

    • Stephan Kinsella August 10, 2010, 12:14 pm

      Thanks. But Hollick is at least a fellow libertarian, which I admire and appreciate.

  • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 1:01 pm

    Better a fool libertarian than a smart statist, hey?

    • Stephan Kinsella August 10, 2010, 3:29 pm

      Actually, yes. As long as people leave me alone and don’t advcoate statist policies, they’re my little buddies.

  • Michael Barnett August 10, 2010, 3:39 pm

    Smart statist = someone with a vested interest in oppressing people, usually monetary. Gene’s devolution has been hysterical to watch.

  • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 4:07 pm

    Yes, Michael, but you should see the fortune I’m piling up through oppression!

    • Michael Barnett August 10, 2010, 4:09 pm

      Gene… my fault for being unclear: I wasn’t referring to you as a smart statist.

      • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 4:10 pm

        Well, then the joke’s on you. You should see the plundered loot in my bank account!

        • Michael Barnett August 10, 2010, 4:15 pm

          I’d rather see you come back to your senses — or if you’re just trolling your libertarian friends out of boredom between whichever graduate theses you’re working on now, I’d rather see you stop doing that and start writing sound economic and libertarian articles again.

  • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 4:47 pm

    “or if you’re just trolling your libertarian friends out of boredom between whichever graduate theses you’re working on now”

    Michael, Michael, Michael… first of all, if you look above, you’ll see I posted here to DEFEND Stephan’s point, not to “troll.” But he couldn’t just thank me for backing him up, but had to get in a little swipe as well. I have tried to respond humourously, rather than in kind, but perhaps the humour is not working.

    Secondly, it’s really beneath you to keep forwarding DeCoster’s made up story that I have “failed out of multiple PhD programmes.” My graduate record is:

    1) I did a master’s at LSE. I finished in the standard amount of time, and did well enough that:
    2) Out of a worldwide pool of candidates applying to a top 5 in the world PhD programme, I was one of FOUR admitted in my year, where:
    3) I attended for one term, but when I went to return I realized my children were suffering from my absence, and I could not in good conscience do 3 years in residence there, so:
    4) I moved to Cardiff, which does not require residency, and have just handed in my dissertation in 4 years, a quite normal amount of time, and
    5) That’s IT — no other degree attempts, no “failing out” of anywhere, and no extraordinary number of false starts.

    So, unless lying is an important part of libertarianism, I’d ask you to drop that nonsense.

    • Tony Hollick August 10, 2010, 5:10 pm

      “…unless lying is an important part of libertarianism”

      My experience of libertarian honesty hasnot been a happy one.


  • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 4:50 pm

    ‘I have “failed out of multiple PhD programmes.”’

    And I realize you didn’t say exactly that, but your remark is clearly a reference to the fabrication DeCoster… well, I doubt she invented it — I imagine it was fed to her by someone “higher up” who was unhappy with the development of my thought and felt I needed to be discredited.

    • Michael Barnett August 10, 2010, 4:56 pm

      Again I was not clear enough. That wasn’t a swipe at you. It was a compliment. I thought you were in multiple PHD programs. Not sure where I read that — maybe it was in one of your Facebook replies to me way back when, where you gave me your resume like you just did here.

      I have the utmost respect for your intellect and quoted you plenty from way back when. But even really smart people can get confused. I just wasn’t sure if you were confused or trolling the rest of us out of boredom. Now I see you’re just confused.

      As for DeCoster — she hates me more than she hates you. I wouldn’t borrow from her toolbox of nasty jibes to attack you. I have plenty of my own. 🙂

  • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 5:26 pm

    Michael, I’m glad to hear that.

  • Gene Callahan August 10, 2010, 5:46 pm

    And by the way, Michael, I’m open to your suggestion that my current ideas may represent no more than a confusion, especially as my position now implies I was confused before!

    • Michael Barnett August 10, 2010, 5:49 pm

      Gene, do you ever reread your stuff from 2003 and thereabouts? Maybe you should you reread some of that stuff. I always found it insightful.

  • AC September 9, 2010, 5:39 am

    I’ve never been able to agree with Kinsella on IP issues (theft is theft) but this is a great article and talking point.

    Sad to see someonje trying to use the race card to derail the issue, especially someone whom I recall used to be a libertarian?

    • Steven Wayne Lytle September 11, 2010, 5:24 pm

      Theft is theft, but IP doesn’t involve theft. Theft is taking and depriving someone else of the use of their property. ‘Intellectual property’ is not property, i.e., material objects. Ideas can’t be stolen. They can be learned, copied, shared, but the originator is not deprived in any way.

  • Alan September 11, 2010, 7:22 pm

    Yes, I’m very familiar with the arguement, I just don’t find it convincing.

    To me the real sticking point is enforcing copyright laws (aggession) yet as K points out in this actual article, the argument that it’s difficult to enforce the law doesn’t alter the fact that crime is wrong. So if we ignore the enforcement issue we’re left with simply “Is it wrong?”

    Yes it is.

    If copyright theft could be entirely constrained to each individual making extra copies for their own use I could follow the argument. However the realitiy is far too many such thieves then make the stolen property available to others, which usually DOES deprive the lawful owner from at least some legitimate sales.

    Even if the “pirate” paid for the IP it becomes unlawful/stolen the moment the contract is broken by offering it to others.

    In my experience the arguments offered against IP and in favor of thievery tend to switch and adjust to suit the wind, always relying to going a step or two deeper into argument.

    For example if unlawful reproduction is OK, then what’s the beef with the Federal Reserve making duplicate “dollars”? Your own argument is “So what? You still have your original dollars and thus haven’t been deprived of anything, so shut up and suck it down”. Yet on other occasions the DEVALUATION of the dollar is, correctly, stressed as a form of stealthy tax, ie theft.

    Faced with that the ‘pirate’ goes to another level – “Arrgh! But that’s cos you’re forced to use US gov/Fed dollars! If you had a choice then they’re welcome to print as many fake as they want!” Really? So if Kinsella created his own bank, using gold-backed “K-Dollars”, he wouldn’t mind if the Federal Reserve were to “print as many fake K-Dollars as they want!” then?

    “Oh but THEN it would be theft, cos they wouldn’t be gold backed see?” But nor is the Federal Reserve note, so why’re you whining? “Oh but that’s cos they’ve got a monopoly!” It just becomes circular. Why do they have a monopoly? Cos they’d use force to shut you down – but that’s as good an argument as arguing that crime is OK because it’s difficult to enforce against it. The presence of force doesn’t alter what’s right or wrong.

    Ultimately the real issue is what they’re doing is WRONG, because they’re devaluing exiting dollars and savings. Well I posit that devaluing the existing value and investment of someone’s IP is wrong too, regardless of how difficult it may be to enforce without aggression, or the fact the FRNs ARE enforced with aggression.

    Theft, be it directly or via devaluation, ie stealing the value, is theft. Same thing.

    Often the argument is termed that “fraud” is wrong but theft of IP is OK. I don’t see any significant difference; the end result is the same, ie someone’s involuntary loss due to breach of contract. Fraud is only a crime because ultimately it’s a form of theft. So is the theft of IP.

    Then the argument shifts to the notion that “future earnings don’t exist”, so I shouldn’t be miffed when someone steals or deprives me of my future earnings. Do you really want to make that argument, on any topic OTHER than IP?

    No, I’ve heard the arguments in depth but they fail to convince.

    The fact remains that in a modern society, IP is a form of added value, that is to say “homesteaded” private property that is owned by someone. Stealing it is wrong.

    The arguments really boil down to “I don’t like being constrained by IP, and I’m wilfully too short-sighted to see the long-term harm caused to the owner, therefore I’ll fabricate long-winded arguments in favor of theft”

    Like little boys arguing that stealing apples from an orchard “isn’t really theft, because apples grow on trees, so the owner still has apples”. We can make the argument that it involves “trespass” but why bother, because it’s still theft. I don’t care if the apple is still on a tree or on a market stall, stealing it is theft.

    Stealing IP is theft.


  • Matt C September 14, 2010, 3:21 pm

    “… far too many such thieves then make the stolen property available to others, which usually DOES deprive the lawful owner from at least some legitimate sales…
    “Even if the “pirate” paid for the IP it becomes unlawful/stolen the moment the contract is broken by offering it to others.
    “In my experience the arguments offered against IP and in favor of thievery tend to switch and adjust to suit the wind…

    Will the pro-IP crowd please start an argument with something other than their conclusions? Maybe just for an hour or two, out of politeness?
    You don’t get to start with “thieves”, “stolen property”, “lawful owners”, “pirate”, “unlawful”, and “contract is broken”. You have to end up with those, starting with agreed-upon premises.

    “Too many” ppl do something that “usually” causes “at least some” bad thing ________??!?! This is libertarianism?!?

    If “pirate” A pays for “IP it becomes unlawful… “??!? What is “it” here? Only actions can be unlawful. If “pirate” A leaves the “IP” on a park bench, what actions of Passerby B are unlawful w/r/t the “IP”??! How about if “pirate” A is hit by a bus and the “IP” is carried by the wind to Bystander C??!

    And you think anti-IP arguments are weak?!?!

    “devaluing the existing value and investment of someone’s IP is wrong too.. ”

    Forgive me, but what’s wrong with you? Now people have a right to their posessions’ value?!?! Presumably marketplace competition is a crime then (or just immoral?) Also depreciation.

    Or a closer-at-hand example, see if we can work this out between us. The value of your post — in my opinion — was zero until I wrote this followup. Your post is now an instructive example of how-not-to-argue-for-IP. So you owe me, let’s say, $0.08.

    You no doubt think your post was worth millions until I ridiculed it, reducing its value to zero. Hm. What’s a libertarian to do?

  • Tony Hollick September 14, 2010, 3:33 pm

    Milton Friedman pointed out that property rights are elaborate social constructs rather than self-evident truths. The origin of copyright in Britain came from the payment to the State of a fee for the right to print a pamphlet. This conferred upon the author and publisher had the right to copy where others didn’t.


  • Alan September 14, 2010, 5:03 pm

    The value of my post was judged purely by the gratification of making it, diluted by the knowledged that people rarely change their mind. If YOU or anyone else found value, then that’s cool too.

    You’ve artfully ignored most of my points, instead whining at the manner in which they were delivered. Why’s that?

    You did cover one, the idea that somehow no-one is entitled to the value of what they have, giving some examples where value falls naturally.

    Again I refer to apples in an orchard – so it’s not theft, seeing as the apple would eventually rot and become worthless anyway? It’s an interesting argument, if you’re bored with your navel lint, yet not convincing. At the time of the theft there was a value, which was stolen or reduced.

    Suppose I walk around your new car and dent all the bodywork with a hammer. There’s no natural law that says you’re entitled to smooth and straight coachlines, and you haven’t been deprived of the car. Would that be OK? It still starts, drives; I didn’t break any windows so it still keeps the rain out. No harm, right? In truth though, your primary anger at such damage would concern the reduced re-sale value of the car and/or the cost of repairs.

    Yet new cars lose value rapidly anyway, eventually to the point you have to pay someone to drag or tow it away. Besides, I haven’t *deprived* you of your car…

    We could agree perhaps that such vandalism wouldn’t be “theft” per se, yet harm has been done. So sure, you can arguing that the theft of IP isn’t “theft”, it’s “something else” ? Should we come up with a new term? We could call it the “vandalism of IP” if it makes you feel better and still smug?

    Perhaps that’s the perfect term, seeing as often such damage is done without expectation of gain, often simply to prove some infantile point and indeed done often purely for the thrill of destruction. The fact remains it causes harm and expense to the victim, and as such I consider it to break the “no harm to others” principle.

    Fair competition is one thing, theft or vandalism, call it what you like, is another.

    I currently live in Malaysia. I get to “enjoy” most major movies for less than a dollar, often before they’re even released in the states. I also “enjoy” expensive software for the same kind of price. Know what? When available (many vendors block transactions for Malaysia) I buy the real thing, despite the massive cost difference and postal delays.

    No, not because I’m purer than driven snow, simply because so often the pirated stuff is of such poor quality that it’s not worth having and you get zero support.

    Why postal costs? Because there’s virtually no stores locally that sell genuine DVDs. Who can compete with the cost of a DVD plus 10 cents?

    Across India, once the cost of studio equipment dropped, many movie companies started up to supply local language movies, They all went bust, as their work was instantly pirated.

    I’m guessing your next argument will be that really, studies, lovely studies, show that IP does harm. Sorry, but “for the greater good” socialism doesn’t thrill me, nor am I impressed with the long-term outlook.

    You DON’T have the right to break contracts and/or vandalize other people’s (intellectual) property. Even if you find it unattended on a park bench.

    What’s the point of this blog, the Mises Inst. or Lew Rockwell’s site? To spread ideas, right? Because they’re valuable, they mean something, a form of wealth we can spread around freely. That intellectual property CAN be given away doesn’t deprive others of the right to claim ownership of that which they created (or “homesteaded” if you like).

    It’s 2010, IP is a major factor in our lives. A huge part of commerce is based around and upon it. It’s our blessing that (some) property can now be replicated virtually free, transmitted around the world in seconds and takes up almost no space at all. That’s great, heck it’s awesome – but it doesn’t mean we should throw away the rules of civilised behavor, just because we can and (probably) won’t be punished legally.

    Sure, IP started as a form of censorship, and sure, “property” started due to scarcity. So what? Why NOT extend the same proven principles of decent behavior, private property and contracts, to the electronic age?

    Maybe in the shorter term it slows things down but we know that property rights, contracts and so on are long term GOOD things, not evil.

    Bear in mind that most of the people that agree with you on IP would also agree with “from each his ability, to each his need” too. You might want to give that some thought.


  • Matt C September 15, 2010, 11:23 am

    You’ve artfully ignored most of my points, instead whining at the manner in which they were delivered. Why’s that?

    It’s because your points arise from some premises that I don’t agree with. You begin with “theft is theft” (I agree with this) proceed to “If copyright theft.. ” and end with “Stealing IP is theft”. Incidentally I agree that
    -The difficulty of enforcement isn’t relevant to rightness/wrongness
    -Stealing property is wrong
    -Vandalizing property is wrong
    -Rape is wrong

    I threw that last one in there to address your more recent points e.g.

    vandalism wouldn’t be “theft” per se, yet harm has been done. So sure, you can arguing that the theft of IP isn’t “theft”, it’s “something else” ? Should we come up with a new term? We could call it the “vandalism of IP” if it makes you feel better

    Alas, it does not. The reason is that “theft” and “vandalism” (and “rape”) have definitions on which I think we’d agree. Respectively
    -Depriving another of her property
    -Damaging another’s property
    -Using another’s body without her consent, for pleasure.

    To prove that unauthorized copying of — say — the sonnet I just wrote is “vandalism” or “rape”, one has to establish that the sonnet is my property or my body, respectively. It looks like we agree that unauthorized copying is not theft because it doesn’t deprive me of my sonnet. So the satisfaction of that definition is impossible whether the sonnet is property or not.

    I would almost bet that we agree the sonnet is not my body, so it isn’t rape. Perhaps we’re in need of a term for
    -Devaluing another’s property

    “Dilution” might work.

    The point is that you have to establish that the sonnet is property before calling copiers of it thieves, vandalizers, or diluters. If you can establish this, beginning with shared premises, you win.

    Another problem, of course, is that devaluing another’s property is not always wrong. You do this whenever you offer to sell property that is substitutable for property that someone else is also selling. Oddly, it is also sometimes wrong to increase the value of someone’s property; for example, Jasper Johns cannot paint his next million-dollar artwork on my otherwise worthless garage door.

    Therefore modifying the value of someone else’s property is sometimes licit, sometimes not. The pivotal thing (for libertarians) is not changing-value but the aggressive encroach on property.

    Perhaps we’re in need of a term for
    -Devaluing another’s creative works

    This would get you out of having to establish that sonnets are property, but what (libertarian) ethical axiom does this contravene?

  • Alan September 15, 2010, 1:08 pm


    It appears that you wish to control the definition of “property”, maintaining the scarcity element. But why is that?

    Why does property necessarily have to suffer the problem of scarcity?

    It’s part of YOUR definition but not mine, or that of the current legal system.

    Some basic premises I think we agree upon:

    Private property is a good thing
    Contracts are a good thing
    Laws or rules are a good thing, though not necessarily with a monopoly…
    That intellectual property can indeed be damaged, diluted, vandalized or whatever term suits such wilful reduction in value, be it for profit, bragging rights or whatever.

    We also, I think, agree on the basic premises of homesteading, the mixing of one’s labor and creating value, thus ownership and the right to trade, or not, one’s work.

    So it appears that ultimately your entire argument rests upon the fact that software or recorded music and writing can be “stolen without depriving the rightful owner”. Yet you’ve also, I think, agreed that such (suitable term here) can and does deprive the owner of IP of the VALUE of such IP.

    So now the argument is somewhat warped, and to me it loses its logical and moral foundation.

    “Stealing is OK if you steal property that doesn’t immediately deprive the owner of very much” sorta thing?

    Unless of course too many people do it and it wrecks entire industries or prevents their formation, such as rampant piracy has done here in Asia.

    Let’s return to the Federal Reserve issue. We’ll pretend they have no monopoly or legal tender laws and the “dollar” is backed by say 1/500th oz gold. A dream come true… but what stops them from just printing more dollars?

    Then you’d argue it’s “fraud”, right?

    Because they don’t really have that much gold, so they’re diluting the value. Sure.

    But why not? It’s their paper, it’s their ink, it’s their printing press. So why not? Why can’t they do whatever they like with their own private property?

    Because it’s STILL fraud.

    If I mug you in an alley with a .38 Special is that alright, as long as I’ve paid in full for the 38?

    I think, if we’re straight with each other, that we can also agree that the use of private property to commit a crime doesn’t alter the fact it’s a crime, true? So the argument “It’s my recording equipment” doesn’t hold water.

    So we really are just left with “It can’t be property if it’s not scarce”.

    That does of course ignore things such as apples, which literally grow on trees, along with the capital investment, opportunity costs etc.

    It seems to me that in every way shape or form, Intellectual Property IS property, with the sole differenciator being that it can be “freely” replicated – THOUGH DOING SO IS A BREACH OF CONTRACT AND FINANCIALLY HARMS THE OWNER.

    So let’s spin it around. What’s the harm of stealing “normal” property? Merely that it “deprives” them?

    Is that it? That’s the entire moral argument against theft and vandalism, that it deprives someone?

    Of what?

    Of what’s “rightfully theirs” perhaps? Why does it belong to them? Because it’s scarce?

    I don’t think “it’s scarce” is grounds for ownership. You need to determine WHO owns it and why. For that we rely on homesteading (mixing one’s labor to create value) or contracts (trading for it, thus taking ownership or a lease, license, permission or whatever).

    So to me the one big “difference” ie it’s scarce or it’s not scarce, doesn’t actually alter a darn thing. In truth it’s a tiny thing, an irrelevant thing, especially in a modern world where intellectual property is such a massive part of our commerce.

    Awhile ago “property” included ownership of slaves. So what? We’ve successfully updated the definition.

    Much of the rest of the world, though by no means all, has successfully updated the defintion of property to include that which can be easily replicated too.

    You’re essentially arguing that “real property” includes scarcity and slaves. I say you should update your world view. Do away with scarcity and slavery, embrace the modern era, understand that intellectual property DOES exist.

    From there it’s just a matter of morals. To me, breaking contracts and financially hurting people are wrong.


  • terrymac April 29, 2011, 9:37 am

    Thanks for this article – it clarifies the need to oppose aggression even if we may never see the end-goal of a free-market order.

    As to concrete steps to get there, I think the strongest form of education is example. If we take responsibility for educating our own ( as opposed to government schools ), defending our own ( as opposed to dial 9-1-1 and wait ), financial security ( as opposed to aggression-funded social “security” and pensions ), we’ll have disposed of most of the justifications for aggression, won’t we? It might even catch on.

  • Greg November 26, 2011, 4:18 am

    Hi, I’m quite interested in this Libertarianism thing.
    Correct me if I’m wrong though, does this mean I can publish your (Stephan Kinsella) works under my own name? For profit?

  • Greg November 26, 2011, 4:21 am

    Also , there is a definite undercurrent of Capitalism and fascism around the whole thing. IE let’s all build our own schools, where will the money come from? Let’s all group together and form a state that can take our contributions and build them. Well we have that now. If you disagree with that don’t we need to seek a democratic solution? Wouldn’t the Anarcho-Liberalist approach reject alternative thought more than a democratic one?

  • Travis December 4, 2013, 3:28 am

    I can envision a society where we all get along of course, but it is still inconceivable to actually happen. This article doesn’t really give me the how on Anarcho-Capitalism working, although, from what I got from the article, it isn’t what Stephan was trying to inform people about. The reason I believe that system will not work is this: what do we do if someone invades on our privacy? Pay for private police to send them to a private jail and then the case is heard in a private court in which they derive their reasoning off private legislation (all of these parts of this process could be governed by the same business or contracted) making their own laws or social norms? Couldn’t this lead to conflict with other competitors in these same industries? This is a legitimate question in which I ask in pure benevolence.

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