I’m here in Positano, at the beautiful Villa TreVille, on the last leg of the longest vacation of my life so far (July 1-20: Venice, Capri, Positano, Berlin). And this morning, here in Positano, walking down the steps from our room to the terrace to lounge, I had my sixth epiphany. Or so.
First, there were two fairly minor and personal ephanies.
1. Hell/Jesus/Religion: First: at age 15 or so when riding the Gravely tractor/lawnmower, mowing our 3-4 acre tract. As a pretty devout Catholic schoolboy and former altar boy, I was thinking hard about religion and the world around this time. It had already occurred to me that if God condemns you to eternal damnation as punishment for some sins committed while mortal, this can’t be just. An infinite punishment is disproportionate for a finite amount of crime. So, I reasoned, there cannot be hell. Therefore not evertyhing the Catholics teach is right. So what else might be false? Then I dared to question the idea of Jesus, and of God, and it all crumbled. My epiphany was in the realization that I could dare not only to question Hell but the whole Catholic story about Jesus.
2. Racism. Another epiphany around the same time, at age 15 or so: when I realized racism is some kind of wicked, false consciousness. Being raised in south Louisiana, let’s just say that I’d seen racism of various degrees expressed more than a couple times. I started thinking about it and started realizing how horrible it is. I consciously decided to reject it.
3. Estoppel and Rights. Then in law school I had my third epiphany, about estoppel and rights. See The Genesis of Estoppel: My Libertarian Rights Theory. I was in contracts class and upon hearing about the legal concept of estoppel, I had an aha! moment in class where I realized the logic behind the notion of estoppel could be used to support the symmetry behind the libertarian non-aggression principle—that force is justifed only in response to force, and therefore the initiation of force could never be justified. And that the reason it is permissible to use force in response to initiated force is that the aggressor is estopped from objecting to being retaliated against (since by his earlier act of aggression he has endorsed the use of force); and that the reason why we can say aggression is unjustified is precisely because the aggressor is estopped from objecting to responsive force used against him.
4. The Lost Epiphany. I had a fourth epiphany one night when I was dozing off to sleep and thought about writing it down, but decided to wait till the next morning. Alas, like Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. who kept forgetting the secrets to the universe that he thought he discovered while high on ether, by the next morning I’d forgotten what it was. I believe it was some insight into the nature of libertarian rights, and I’ve been trying to remember it for perhaps twenty years, but with no success. Alas.
5. IP Abolitionism. My fifth epiphany came at the end of a multi-year search for a justification for intellectual property. I kept failing to find or come up with good arguments for IP; they were all flawed. Finally it dawned on me that the reason I was failing was that…. IP was in fact illegitimate and unjustifiable. Once I realized that the scales fell from my eyes and everything started making more sense. Figuring out why IP was unjust helped me better understand basic libertarian theory and property rights.
6. Means and Knowledge. And that finally led to my sixth epiphany, which I had today in Positano, while walking down the steps to the lawnchairs: means and knowledge. These two things are key to understanding praxeology, human progress, IP, and property rights. I already sorta knew this—in many articles I discuss the idea that successful human action requires access to scarce means or resources1 (to use them to make changes to the world) and knowledge to guide one’s use of these resources. But it came to me today finally how important this pairing is, and that a succinct, concise way to allude to this is means and knowledge. All human action requires both means, and knowledge; and knowledge is the real key to human progress; and only scarce means are the subject of property rights, not knowledge, therefore IP rights are destructive to human life and prosperity.
To elaborate on this issue:
Hayek, from The Constitution of Liberty:
The growth of knowledge is of such special importance because, while the material resources will always remain scarce and will have to be reserved for limited purposes, the uses of new knowledge (where we do not make them artificially scarce by patents of monopoly) are unrestricted.
Knowledge, once achieved, becomes gratuitously available for the benefit of all. It is through this free gift of the knowledge acquired by the experiments of some members of society that general progress is made possible, that the achievements of those who have gone before facilitate the advance of those who follow…”
(( See my post Tucker, “Knowledge Is as Valuable as Physical Capital” ))
Hoppe: “From the Malthusian Trap to the Industrial Revolution. Reflections on Social Evolution” (Property and Freedom Society 2009). also Hoppe,“From the Malthusian Trap to the Industrial Revolution: An Explanation of Social Evolution,” ch. 4 in The Great Fiction.
“Intellectual Freedom and Learning Versus Patent and Copyright,” The Libertarian Standard,
- See e.g.“Intellectual Freedom and Learning Versus Patent and Copyright,” The Libertarian Standard. [↩]