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“Aggression” versus “Harm” in Libertarianism

[From this Mises blog post]

A discussion in the comments section of a post about blackmail brings up an issue about which many libertarians are confused. This concerns the idea of “harm.” Libertarians often condemn “harming” others, and this is fine so far as it goes, if it is kept in mind that “harm” here is loosely meant as a synonym for aggression. But “harm” is really a broader category. Libertarianism says that only aggression may be countered with force, that aggression is the only way to violate rights so that a forceful response is justified. Other rightful behavior, even if it is immoral or “bad,” is rightful so long as it is not aggression. (See my What Libertarianism Is, esp. notes 9-11 and accompanying text.)

“Committing harm” can also be rightful. Think of harm as a broader category that includes both harm-by-aggression, and other types of harm. This latter category is not an empty set. There are all sorts of ways you can “harm” someone that do not violate their rights. Competing with someone and “taking” his business, “stealing” his girl, beating him in a race—all may be viewed as harming him. But it’s permissible to do this as it does not invade the physical integrity of his property—it does not commit aggression. It does not violate his rights. As can be seen in the blackmail debate above, by resorting to sloppy, fuzzy terms like “harm” all sorts of non-aggressive actions could be prohibited (such as blackmail, defamation, etc.). It thus leads to advocacy of unlibertarian laws.

One criticism, for exampe, that I had of Patrick Burke’s otherwise insightful and interesting book No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market (1994) was that he assumes causing harm can violate rights (see my book review in Reason Papers, in particular the section “Harm versus Aggression” at p. 138). Indeed, Burke’s focus on harm leads him to view blackmail, defamation, and challenging someone to a duel as rights violations, since they “harm” someone.

Likewise, J.C. Lester’s Escape from Leviathan: Liberty, Welfare and Anarchy Reconciled (2000) is problematic in focusing on actions that “impose costs” on others (see David Gordon and Roberta Modugno’s review). Predictably, the use of a this fuzzy idea of “imposition of costs”, as opposed to the libertarian notion of aggression, leads Lester to error as well—e.g., he supports intellectual property rights, even though he’s an anarchist (he says, p. 96, that the lack of patent and copyright “will limit the incentive to produce memes”—groan).

So: libertarians should be careful in their concepts and terminology. Libertarianism upholds the right to be free from aggression—not harm. A similar consideration has led me to stop using the term “coercion” as a synonym for aggression; see my post The Problem with “Coercion”. And we should also be careful in the use of metaphors—see Objectivist Law Prof Mossoff on Copyright; or, the Misuse of Labor, Value, and Creation Metaphors and Thoughts on Intellectual Property, Scarcity, Labor-ownership, Metaphors, and Lockean Homesteading.

Update: See also Van Dun on Freedom versus Property and Hostile Encirclement, discussing Van Dun’s false dichotomy between freedom and property; his error in setting up “freedom” as the ultimate libertarian value is similar to that of Burke and Lester’s focus on “harm” or “imposing”.

See also Hoppe on Property Rights in Physical Integrity vs Value.

 

Archived comments:

Comments (40) 

  • Barry Loberfeld

    You may be disadvantaging John by beating him in a race, but you are not harming him as if you were beating him with a club.

    I have no problem with “harm” as a synonym for aggression. Indeed, “harm” is harm to person and property.

    And “aggression”? Well, don’t people speak of “aggressive marketing,” for example? I’m afraid that there is no word that rises above all contexts and confusions.

    Published: December 16, 2009 11:23 AM

  • Ragnar Daneskjold

    The underlying problem here is that most libertarians have never fully absorbed Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty. The only thing I consider mistaken in Ethics of Liberty is Rothbard’s defense of copyright and of other property rights violations (such as restrictive covenants). Most libertarians have never understood title-transfer contract theory, or the fact that we are against “aggression,” not “harm.” Many also cling to the minarchist delusion (to borrow from Richard Dawkins). Another area of Rothbard that has been ignored would be his insights on strategy (to my knowledge, even Rothbard never attempted to follow the strategy he laid out in his books).

    Published: December 16, 2009 11:30 AM

  • Net Worth

    “”stealing” his girl,”

    In today’s feminist laws and highly harmful divorce cases, I would tend to think that stealing someone’s girl is in fact doing a lot of good to that someone.

    It’s better to have someone steal your girl than to later on have your ex-girl steal half of your net worth and then some.

    Published: December 16, 2009 11:42 AM

  • Luis Ramirez

    @Ragnar Daneskjold

    The underlying problem here is that most libertarians have never fully absorbed Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty. The only thing I consider mistaken in Ethics of Liberty is Rothbard’s defense of copyright and of other property rights violations (such as restrictive covenants). Most libertarians have never understood title-transfer contract theory, or the fact that we are against “aggression,” not “harm.” Many also cling to the minarchist delusion (to borrow from Richard Dawkins). Another area of Rothbard that has been ignored would be his insights on strategy (to my knowledge, even Rothbard never attempted to follow the strategy he laid out in his books).

    Excellent comment. This is, after all, the basic problem between, consequentialist libertarians and deontic based thought. Utilitarians might argue that the difference between “harm” and “aggression” is merely gradual. If we were to borrow Coase´s position on justice, it would probably have to do with efficient distribution of scarce resources and nothing to do with moral premises. At any rate, the difference is, nonetheless, crucial. Mainly because in using the term “harm”, we are using a word that implies something much more ample than just “aggression”. For example, if I´m a surgeon, I do indeed inflict “harm” on my patient when I operate (I am causing a surgical wound and other anatomic and metabolic alterations. i.e. iatrogenic consequences) even if nothing goes wrong. Is this also an “aggression”? As the utilitarians would have it, the important thing would be the end result (justifying the ends through means). This might be the case, but there´s no question that there is an ethical issue at hand. If a Jehovah´s Witness has an accident, is admitted unconscious to a hospital, and recieves a blood transfusion, the medical personnel have, in fact, saved his life…even though a “harm” has occurred. Was there also “aggression”? Both terms are normative, but, using Bayesian terminology, which is more specific? Which more sensitive? From a correct, Libertarian definition, there is definitely a difference between both terms (deontological, term=verb=action). To think otherwise would be to confuse and make unclear a basic libertarian principle.

    Published: December 16, 2009 12:27 PM

  • iawai

    Aggression is subjective, and is merely a special case of measuring “net coercion”. Some conflicts between actors may have mutual aggression, or some actors may see aggression where another doesn’t. The replacement of aggression with a subjectively measured “net coercion” solves this problem without throwing out any current libertarian theory, and illustrates what actors observe when they attempt to seek justice.

    Harm is a factor in deciding if there was undue coercion. Aggression, when present, necessarily implies a net-coercion. Coercion itself, however, may be justified in any specific cases as a deterrent for a higher level of coercion.

    Marginal Subjectivists must be careful in adopting terms that supposedly hold up an ideal state. When the rest of their thought rejects objective value, why is an exception made for “aggression”?

    Published: December 16, 2009 1:10 PM

  • Silas Barta

    Right on, Stephan_Kinsella. A lot of uninformed libertarians gripe and moan about how it’s a “harm” when someone broadcasts radio waves on “their” frequency. But it’s *aggression* that’s unethical, not this nebulous “harm” thing. So what if it makes it so that you can’t transmit “information”. Boo hoo. None of your property was aggressed against. You can still transmit. Everything’s kosher by libertarianism.

    And no you can’t just redefine things so that a frequency is someone’s “property”. How can “making electric fields at frequency f” be anyone’s property to begin with? If you can just define some kind of pattern-making like that, as someone’s “property”, where they can exclude others from making that pattern, you’ve justified IP, which we categorically know a priori is wrong. Because it’s aggression. IP violates others’ rights.

    That’s why EM spectra can’t be property either — they interfere with already-owned rights and are therefore aggression.

    Yeah. No circularity there or anything.

    Published: December 16, 2009 1:25 PM

  • Silas Barta

    Oh, and another thing: making noise isn’t a aggression either — no intrusion on some else’s valid property, so it can’t possibly be aggression. You’re basically endorsing statism if you start to buy into the business of “oh, it’s a negative externality”. Just, you know, deal with the noise. Pay them to go away. Coasean bargaining, anyone?

    Published: December 16, 2009 1:28 PM

  • Beefcake the Mighty

    Silas, piss off. No one cares, or ever did.

    Published: December 16, 2009 1:42 PM

  • Peter Surda

    Dear Silas,

    as I have already pointed out to you, the error in your argument is that you assume that the act of broadcasting itself is what the issue is about. It isn’t. Broadcasting on its own is not causing interference or isn’t “consuming” the bandwidth. Rather, it is the effects that the broadcast creates that are preventing usage of the bandwidth.

    Just like there is nothing wrong about shooting a gun on your own property. But if the bullet travels out of it and manages to “interfere” with someone’s body, you’re in trouble. And just like in the case of EM, shooting at someone doesn’t prevent him from shooting, and the fact that the acts of shooting don’t interfere with each other is irrelevant from the perspective of property violation.

    Now to reformulate the original issue: the fact that person A broadcasting on frequency F doesn’t prevent person B from broadcasting on frequency F is irrelevant. What matters is that person C wanting to listen to person B’s broadcast is prevented from doing so by the broadcast of person A.

    Published: December 16, 2009 2:28 PM

  • Jay Lakner

    Silas,

    you seem to follow Stephan around harrassing him about this EM thing endlessly. You act like you have found some kind of undeniable justification for assigning property rights to any type of intangible entity. But you haven’t.

    There is only one type of intangible entity which requires ownership: identity.

    Homesteading an EM frequency is the same as homesteading a trademark or logo. They all establish the identity of the individual or group.

    The ‘physical’ component of EM broadcasting can cause problems, such as interfering with equipment on other people’s property. But that is because the entire EM issue is a very extreme and difficult case. Every society, whether libertarian, socialist, minarchy or anarchy will encounter difficulties in this area. There is no ‘blanket solution’ that deals with this. The society which best handles these problems is a very decentralised one which is capable of dealing with the specific details of each conflict on a case by case basis.

    The existence of these problems in no way justifies patent laws or copyright laws. IP relating to identity is very different than IP relating to copyrights and patents. Making a comparison between EM broadcasting and patent/copyright is like comparing elephants to pencils.

    Published: December 16, 2009 2:49 PM

  • Ryan

    The problem I have with Kinsella’s commentary here is that it is presented as though all libertarians agree on the fundamental definitions that Kinsella has laid out.

    This is not unlike the discussion he and I had a couple of days ago in the comments section of a patent blog post. The problem is not that Kinsella is necessarily incorrect, but rather he is only correct if the rest of the world agrees on the definitions of the terms he is discussing.

    As soon as there is some disagreement there, then his point starts to fall apart a little.

    So I think topics like these ought to be addressed in a way that doesn’t require the reader to first unanimously agree with technical terminology.

    I will concede, however, that the average Mises Blog reader may have already agreed to all these definitions. The question then becomes: is the purpose of the blog to preach to the choir or to the unconverted, and I would suggest the latter.

    Published: December 16, 2009 2:51 PM

  • Ryan

    Oh, and just to clarify a little… When Kinsella discusses “Aggression” versus “Harm” “in Libertarianism,” he seems to convey the idea that he speaks for all libertarians on the issue. This is why I think the notion of whether or not we unanimously agree with his definitions is the meat of the matter. It’s possible that lots of libertarians disagree, and are still libertarians. This strikes to the heart of the “true libertarian” idea that came up in that same comment thread I refer to above.

    Published: December 16, 2009 3:04 PM

  • Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

    Ryan, this is nonsense. I am free to state my own opinion as to what libertarianism is. Your comments are just whining. State your own views and defend them.

    I wonder, has Silas’s gadflyness reached the point where he should be banned? does he contribute anything to the Mises blog other than snide comments and being a pest? Thoughts?

    Published: December 16, 2009 7:05 PM

  • T. Ralph Kays

    Ryan

    “So I think topics like these ought to be addressed in a way that doesn’t require the reader to first unanimously agree with technical terminology.”
    Wow, lets all choose our own definitions of ALL of the words we use and then our discussion will really be fruitful. Imagine people who are so stupid as to think that communication is enhanced by using words that everyone understands the meaning of. Why stop there, why don’t we simply strike the keys on the keyboard randomly and insist that we are communicating ideas. How brilliant you are Ryan!

    Published: December 16, 2009 7:17 PM

  • Shay

    Stephen, I was going to read this entire thread a while ago, but once I saw yet another mention of EM rights, I gave up. No need to read the same damn discussion again. But I forget that I have an unrealistic view of the world and how it can be divided up into subjects, whereas in reality it’s impossible to keep from discussing pumpkins, stoplights, and the hardness of rock all in the same message (I mean, this message itself is an example of how such topics, along with the depth of the ocean, all come together).

    Sarcasm aside, I belive that all human participants have some legitimate goal for their various expressions, and that perhaps one or a few people could take some time and help Silas determine what his needs are and how to best meet them. He could become a valuable discussion member.

    Published: December 16, 2009 7:20 PM

  • Beefcake the Mighty

    Re. Silas: my nuanced opinion is, kick him the hell off the blog. He’s a genital wart on the scrotum of humanity.

    Published: December 16, 2009 7:35 PM

  • T. Ralph Kays

    Beefcake

    I have missed your insightful comments, like sheer poetry!

    Published: December 16, 2009 7:46 PM

  • Beefcake the Mighty

    T Ralph, likewise.

    Published: December 16, 2009 7:57 PM

  • Russ

    Hayek seemed to be another person who, in his typically diffuse way of thinking, confused “harm” and “aggression”, which led him to some awkward positions for a libertarian. These positions are probably why he is preferred to other libertarian-ish people by most leftists.

    On the Silas issue; he is a bit of a one-trick pony. But he isn’t any more annoying than others here who believe that their views are objectively correct, and thus the views of others are objectively incorrect, and thus evil. At least Silas doesn’t call minarchists “statists”, implying that they are no different than totalitarians (which is, of course, what the word “statist” really means). So, I would say that if this forum does start moderating more actively, there are much better people to start with than Silas.

    Published: December 16, 2009 8:16 PM

  • Russ

    Silas Barta wrote:

    “Oh, and another thing: making noise isn’t a aggression either — no intrusion on some else’s valid property, so it can’t possibly be aggression.”

    Yes, it is. If the noise goes into my airspace, it’s making waves in my air without my permission.

    “You’re basically endorsing statism if you start to buy into the business of “oh, it’s a negative externality”. Just, you know, deal with the noise. Pay them to go away. Coasean bargaining, anyone?”

    The problem with Coasean bargaining is that it completely disregards this little concept called “property rights”.

    Oh, and I take back what I said in my last post about you not using the word “statism” incorrectly. Learn what the word really means, people!

    Published: December 16, 2009 8:29 PM

  • RTB

    I’ve posted something like this before, but I’ll say it again. Can we Just ignore people like Silas? People like this are only looking for attention and a reaction.

    I’ve been coming here for years and have learned much. This is, by far, the best website for intelligent Austrian and liberterian thought and discussion. I hate to see the comments devolve into some kind of flame war. What a waste.

    Ignore them and they will go away.

    Published: December 16, 2009 8:48 PM

  • T. Ralph Kays

    RTB

    So far I have not seen the “Ignore them and they will go away” tactic work very well. When new people come to the site to learn, they don’t know who to pay attention to and who to ignore. That is sufficient attention to keep the vermin coming back. At least if there are a few brave individuals present who are willing to call scum by its rightful name the newcomers will be forewarned.
    I find this site to be a hotbed of un-intelligible quackery and a terrible distortion of austrian economics and libertarianism, not a very good place to learn. The sane and reasonable discussion is swamped by a flood of ridiculous arguments that have been dealt with over and over. How is progress to be made if we politely spend all of our time responding to every crazy idea that comes along again as though it is brand new?
    I have been convinced by this site that there is no such thing as austrian economics or libertarianism. Apparantly it is acceptable to profess any beliefs at all and still be an austro-libertarian.

    Published: December 16, 2009 9:17 PM

  • iawai

    I don’t see how banning Silas would do any good:

    You hold out a blog with open access comment sections, and as long as users follow the rules they are not showing aggression against your rights. To ban would be to show aggression, as you have demonstrated that the use of the property of the Mises-blog is open to all.

    If he spouts things that are wrong, let him be wrong. If they bother you enough to warrant a response, respond. If anything violates sites rules, remove it.

    Published: December 16, 2009 11:37 PM

  • Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

    iawai, comments should be civil and intelligent. Is it civil and intelligent to keep repeating the same old nonsense, hounding me from thread to thread like a gadfly?

    Published: December 16, 2009 11:59 PM

  • David J. Heinrich

    iawai,

    However you want to characterize it, banning someone from the Mises blog does not constitute aggression. That is a silly leftist thing to say. No-one has the “right” to post here anyways. These blogs are on a website that is the private property of the LvMI.

    Published: December 17, 2009 12:08 AM

  • Geoffrey Allan Plauché

    In my opinion, if there’s going to be any banning going on, the list should include anyone posting comments that are not civil (see the blog commenting policy above the comment field), in which case Silas won’t be the only commenter here who will be banned.

    Published: December 17, 2009 12:32 AM

  • Ryan

    Stephan,

    First let me apologize for not having phrased my statements in a way that properly conveyed what I was trying to say. If it sounded like “whining,” hounding, or unfair criticism then I did a poor job of voicing my views.

    Second, let me clarify a little… I’m not sure whether or not I agree or disagree with your views, because you are using some common-lexicon words as “technical” (for lack of a better term).

    As I discovered in our IP exchange a few days ago, you have come to some very specific terminological definitions, which you use to draw your conclusions. As someone who has not been following your blog commentary for years, I find myself faced with a great deal of trepidation. I can’t sign-on to your opinion (nor can I coherently disagree with you) until I am absolutely sure that you are using terms like “Harm” (capital H) and “Aggression” (capital A) in ways that I fully understand.

    In other words, there is a bit of a definition-stasis shortcoming here. I’m not blaming you. I think my original comments here reflected an acknowledgement that everyone else probably understood what you meant better than I do. But if you want your opinions to reach me, you should consider expressing your views in a way that doesn’t require that your readers also to have read everything else you have ever written.

    Please interpret my comments as constructive criticism, not “whining.” Mises and Hayek were two of the most approachable writers of their time, and that approachability is something to which we all aspire.

    Regards,
    Ryan

    Published: December 17, 2009 8:30 AM

  • Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

    Ryan:

    I did not mean to be rude. I was being blunt, but just meant it literally: it seems like whining for you to complain about my having the temerity to state my own opinion as to what libertarianism is. What kind of criticism is this. Okay, let’s say I accept your criticism that I am claiming to be representing “true” libertarianism. Fine. The question remains: am i right? So let’s just go to substance and skip the whining, is all I’m saying.

    As I discovered in our IP exchange a few days ago, you have come to some very specific terminological definitions, which you use to draw your conclusions.

    I do not think my arguments are based on semantics, but on substance and common sense. I don’t really care what terms you use to discuss these points, as long as you are clear.

    Please interpret my comments as constructive criticism, not “whining.” Mises and Hayek were two of the most approachable writers of their time, and that approachability is something to which we all aspire.

    Thanks, but I don’t see much constructive in your criticism other than that I should be careful not to make the mistake of saying that my opinion about libertarianism is … correct. Look, I saw we just focus on substance.

    Published: December 17, 2009 10:43 AM

  • Ryan

    Wow. This is your reaction to an apology and an attempt to further engage in a civil discussion?

    Well, I get the message, anyway. You won’t have to worry about my bringing it up anymore in the future. No more whining for me.

    Published: December 17, 2009 11:50 AM

  • Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

    Ryan, you may be misunderstanding me. I am simply saying: if you disagree with my substantive views, let’s hear why. Sure, it should be civil. Instead of wasting time on meta-talk avoiding the real substance, let’s just get to the substance. If you disagree with the content of my views, with my reasoning or conclusions, let’s hear why.

    Published: December 17, 2009 4:14 PM

  • Ryan

    I don’t know how much clearer and substantive I can be. I’m very obviously expressing confusion with regard to your meta-language and therefore the strength of your assumptions.

    But you seem to think that even bringing up the issue of meta-language is a trick to “hound you” or “gadfly you” or prove you wrong somehow.

    So to sum up: I don’t even know where to begin. I tried to discuss it with you twice, and you insulted me both times. I’m done. No more whining for me. I got it – you’re not interested in talking about your assumptions, you’re only interested in debating whether or not your conclusions are correct. So I’ll leave you to it.

    Published: December 17, 2009 4:56 PM

  • Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

    Ryan,

    I don’t think you’re hounding me at all. That’s Silas and Kerem tibuk. I just think it’s beside the point for you to say a problem with my argument is that I dare to think my view is libertarian. Why not just say where my argument is incorrect? What you think libertarian principles are, and why, and how you think I go astray from that? And no, I am not talking about debating conclusions only–it’s arguments and reasoning. I didn’ mean to insult you–think of “whining” to mean “complaining.” I still maintain that it’s pointless to criticize my argument–to complain–that I have the temerity to think my own views are libertarian… that, basically, my libertarian views are correct. What does such a charge do? Why don’t you specify why they are incorrect?

    Published: December 17, 2009 5:05 PM

  • Ryan

    Stephan, I think you misunderstand me. What leads me to believe that you misunderstand me is the following sentence: “I just think it’s beside the point for you to say a problem with my argument is that I dare to think my view is libertarian.”

    This is a complete misrepresentation (or misinterpretation, or misunderstanding) of my point.

    I’d invite you to review my previous comments more carefully. I’ve said what I want to say here and I have no further points to make.

    Published: December 17, 2009 5:49 PM

  • Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

    Ryan: “This is a complete misrepresentation (or misinterpretation, or misunderstanding) of my point. ”

    I have in mind this:

    “The problem I have with Kinsella’s commentary here is that it is presented as though all libertarians agree on the fundamental definitions that Kinsella has laid out.

    This is not unlike the discussion he and I had a couple of days ago in the comments section of a patent blog post. The problem is not that Kinsella is necessarily incorrect, but rather he is only correct if the rest of the world agrees on the definitions of the terms he is discussing.

    Oh, and just to clarify a little… When Kinsella discusses “Aggression” versus “Harm” “in Libertarianism,” he seems to convey the idea that he speaks for all libertarians on the issue. This is why I think the notion of whether or not we unanimously agree with his definitions is the meat of the matter. It’s possible that lots of libertarians disagree, and are still libertarians. This strikes to the heart of the “true libertarian” idea that came up in that same comment thread I refer to above.”

    Maybe I misread you. If I did, then I’m not sure what your point or question is. I’ve given links to where I explicitly say waht I think aggression, coercion, and harm mean, and their relevance or lack thereof to libertarian thought.

    Published: December 17, 2009 6:12 PM

  • Brian Macker

    “The problem I have with Kinsella’s commentary here is that it is presented as though all libertarians agree on the fundamental definitions that Kinsella has laid out.”

    Well you are onto something but it goes further than that. Other libertarians may have completely different theories about how natural rights arise in the first place. In that case it is impossible to come to any agreement on the definitions at all.

    Some libertarians believe that natural rights are objective and god given, and others that they arise from human nature where specific assumptions about that nature may differ.

    Seems to me that other possible theories are completely off Kinsella’s radar.

    I’m certainly not mistaking harm for aggression. In fact, I’ve been very explicit in pointing out that mere harm is not a sufficient criteria for determining a rights violation. Which is obvious from the fact that I think it is not a rights violation for someone to reveal a true fact about someone that harms them.

    What’s funny is that Kinsella goes further and claims that it should not be an issue for the courts if someone commits the fraud of lying about someone. Whatever happened to “no force or fraud”? Fraud includes deception made for personal gain and to harm another. Defamation is certainly deception designed to harm another, and is therefore fraud.

    Who’s got problems understanding libertarianism?

    Published: December 17, 2009 7:24 PM

  • Stephan KinsellaAuthor Profile Page

    Macker, I’ve written on fraud more precisely and in depth than anyone I know. You don’t seem to know what you are talking about.

    Published: December 17, 2009 7:52 PM

  • Brian Macker

    Ryan,

    I also wouldn’t get too hung up on the label “Libertarian”. I don’t really care about the label itself, especially if it is assumed by my opponents to apply only to a single specific dogma. Fine, I’ll call myself a responsibilian, and then you’ll just have to address whether libertarianism or responsibilianism is a better model.

    I certain kinds of libertarianism is quite shallow in it’s thinking.

    I had a neighbor who had rats. This was due to having several dogs that were allowed to roam the property in and enclosed fence and shit. The shit was never cleaned up and the rats ate it.

    The rats did not respect property boundaries and ended up damaging my property. Obviously this was a health issue. The problem doesn’t arise because anyone owns the rats, but because the neighbor has set up conditions that endanger me.

    Now if rats didn’t exist then letting your dogs shit all over your own property wouldn’t be a problem (if you ignore the smell). However rats do exist and therefore, even if they don’t happen to be causing a problem at the moment the mere act of leaving the shit around is endangering.

    The neighbor is in fact endangering me, or trespassing against me depending on whether there are rats, and therefore I have a right to redress.
    Now my first reaction is to point out the fact, and if it is corrected I have no problem. However, suppose the person refuses to pick up after the dogs? They may not care about the rats.

    It is at that point that I have the right to force them to do something, and something that will work. So maybe, because it is too difficult to police them with regards to picking up after the dogs, I hire someone else to pick up the shit and charge them the fee.

    Similar things could happen where humans play the role of the rats. A neighbor or neighbors might be pacifists who allow conditions wherein human rats like theives, and robbers thrive. Those criminals may then use the pacifists property as a base from which to wander onto my property causing havoc.

    Now because of specialization it may be that a bunch of pacifists plus a bunch of criminals that make raids upon them and also neighbors is efficient for the criminals. Especially if the neighbors refrain from pursuing the criminals onto the pacifists lands.

    The pacifists can efficiently concentrate on producing goods, and not learning to fight, while the criminals become proficient in fighting.

    The neighbors can point out to the pacificist that they should resist the criminals but the pacifists may decide this is not worth the effort.

    It may be impossible to force the pacifists to fight in the same way it is impossible to get the dog owning neighbor to pick up the dog shit.

    In effect the pacifists are being taxed truly in a way that “taxation is theft” implies. The criminals follow no rules in how they victimize the pacifists, and trespass against others who are no such willing victims.

    The unwilling victims understand that if the pacifists were not there then criminals would be hard pressed to continue their behavior. Just like the rats would have a hard time making a living without all the dog shit.

    The question is, if the neighbors do something about the criminals and then charge the pacifists for the service they have provided is it equivalent to what the criminals were doing? I don’t think that is the case. It is not pure theft. There are certain criteria by which one can properly justify taxation.

    Thus I think the idea that “all taxation is theft” is naive. Some libertarians, the anarchist subscribe to this idea, and I think they are being simplistic. While others, the minarchist do not.

    The problem here isn’t merely the definition of “taxation”, “rights”, “trespass” but also the understanding of how that taxation might arise, and how it is justified.

    Published: December 17, 2009 8:21 PM

  • Brian Macker

    “Macker, I’ve written on fraud more precisely and in depth than anyone I know. You don’t seem to know what you are talking about.”

    Really? What’s my mistake. Pardon me for not accepting your argument from self-authority.

    Published: December 17, 2009 8:25 PM

  • Luis Ramirez

    Civil and Intelligent Comments?

    As a member of the unknown bloggers on this web site, it seems to me many comments are getting pretty “aggressive”, “harming” the whole point of having a discussion. Too ad hominem for my taste, with not very much substance.

    Published: December 18, 2009 12:50 PM

  • Luis Ramirez

    @iawai

    “Aggression is subjective, and is merely a special case of measuring “net coercion”. Some conflicts between actors may have mutual aggression, or some actors may see aggression where another doesn’t. The replacement of aggression with a subjectively measured “net coercion” solves this problem without throwing out any current libertarian theory, and illustrates what actors observe when they attempt to seek justice.

    Harm is a factor in deciding if there was undue coercion. Aggression, when present, necessarily implies a net-coercion. Coercion itself, however, may be justified in any specific cases as a deterrent for a higher level of coercion.

    Marginal Subjectivists must be careful in adopting terms that supposedly hold up an ideal state. When the rest of their thought rejects objective value, why is an exception made for “aggression”?”

    Well, of course “aggression” is subjective, just like any other definition of any other word is subjective. This is textbook stuff…anytime you analyze you use words that have a meaning. Supposedly, so the story goes, when you use these words you embed them with a specific meaning, but you don´t say anything about the real world. You´re opinion on the relation between these words is on key, and this can be so because the word aggression (a form of harm) is much more case-specific than the word harm (case-sensitive). But, the problem here is not merely a relation between words and subjective meanings. That´s missing the point. The pivotal point is Private Property, from which the “non-aggression principle” derives itself. The problem of subjectivity (i.e.; always keeping my best interests at hand) is an undeniable one. This is why a system (or systems) of conflict-resolutions must exist.

    Published: December 19, 2009 6:30 AM

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