On May 26, a writer for the Daily Kos by the pen name of Troubadour posted an article that claims to present five reductiones ad absurdum against conservatism and libertarianism. The piece is essentially a field full of straw men, and it may be worthwhile to attempt some pyromania. Before we begin, it is worth noting that the author seems to conflate conservatism with libertarianism, which is quite improper. Unlike conservatism, libertarianism does not have as a tenet a desire to return to an idealized past. Also, there is no place within libertarianism for the military interventionism, racism, sexism, nationalism, and desire to legislate morality that are common in conservatism. It is also worth noting that philosophical libertarianism, also known as anarcho-capitalism, libertarian anarchism, or market anarchism, is not a right-wing ideology; it is an anti-political stance that is as foreign to the left-right paradigm as black is to the colors of the rainbow. With those points being made, let us delve into the article proper.
First, the author claims that bodily ownership will lead to slavery:
“‘A person is their own property.’ Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?”
This is reasonable. Bodily ownership is a logical right, because assuming the opposite leads to a contradiction. If one does not own one’s own body, then one has no right to use that body. This would mean that one has no right to communicate, and therefore no right to make a logical argument. Thus, attempting to argue against bodily ownership implicitly assumes bodily ownership, which is a contradiction.
“Sounds like Libertarians and Conservatives (LibCons) are taking a position opposed to slavery, right? Nope. See, there’s a problem with that statement: Property owners have the legal right to sell what they own to someone else. What’s more, property can be legally seized by creditors. They’re not saying every person is perpetually and intrinsically entitled to fundamental human rights – that’s a liberal position, and one they hold in utter contempt. What they’re saying is that if you are in possession of such rights, then they belong to you until you willingly sign them away, have them stripped by creditors, or revoked by courts. A human being is nothing more than a commodity in this ideological viewpoint, and a free person is merely one who happens to be in their own possession.
In other words, you don’t really have any rights – just an account sheet listing your assets, with two of the items on it being life and liberty. So, if you wanted to – or if your economic situation were sufficiently dire – you could by this logic sell yourself into slavery. And I don’t mean merely de facto slavery, like signing an abusive contract with draconian terms: I mean LibCon ideology holds that ‘freedom’ entitles people to put themselves into literal slavery, as chattels with no rights whatsoever. And conversely, this ‘right’ necessarily means that the receiver of the slave has the right to hold that property and exercise total jurisdiction over it.
That means that if they felt like it, the new owner could sexually assault, torture, maim, or kill their property without violating the moral/legal framework, and by this logic it would be ‘voluntary’ on the part of the victim even if they died screaming for mercy: They ‘voluntarily’ signed away all right to themselves, and thus all events that followed from that decision are also voluntary.
…But it gets even worse, because if a person can transfer their ‘property’ of themselves to another as part of a deliberate transaction, then that transaction can also be forced on them if they default on loans, can’t pay bills, can’t pay legal fines for minor offenses due to being in poverty, etc. They can be enslaved for being poor, unlucky, or just maliciously targeted by someone with greater resources. And that’s quite a big step away from the ‘freedom’ of the individual to make their own decisions, but it actually gets even worse than that.”
As Murray Rothbard argues in The Ethics of Liberty, there is no such thing as voluntary slavery because “for so long as a laborer remains totally subservient to his master’s will voluntarily, he is not yet a slave since his submission is voluntary; whereas, if he later changed his mind and the master enforced his slavery by violence, the slavery would not then be voluntary.” It is also impossible to surrender the future of one’s human will. Thus the idea of a voluntary slave contract is nonsensical.
“This is how LibCons rationalize wage slavery and enforced poverty, and taken to its ultimate conclusion it’s also how they rationalize literal slavery. It’s how even allegedly ‘moral’ Confederates rationalized murdering their fellow Americans on the battlefield to protect an institution they acknowledged to be wrong: Because they thought the ‘wrong’ of taking away the ‘property’ of slave owners more than outweighed the justice of liberating slaves.”
This is comparing apples to oranges. The African slaves of the antebellum period were in that relationship because it was enforced at gunpoint. They were not slaves because they chose to be. The Confederates defined property incorrectly in this sense.
“If you own a tree, you also own the seeds it produces, so if you plant those seeds and they grow into more trees, you own them too. If you own a cow and the cow gives birth to a calf, you own the calf too. So if you own a human being, you own what comes from them – their productive output, whether that output is agricultural produce, manufactured products, or more ‘human capital’ in the form of children. And it doesn’t matter how many degrees of separation it goes through: You own their children, their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children. This is a natural consequence of the idea of humans being anyone’s property rather than repositories of intrinsic, indivisible, non-transferable moral and legal value.
And if one of these great-great-grandchildren of the guy who sold himself into slavery wants to be free, well…he should have thought of that before being born a slave. Or he should seek his Master’s permission and work really hard to ‘earn’ that freedom. If that Master still won’t allow it, well, that’s his ‘right.’ Just as it would be his right to cut off the insolent slave’s head who dared to ask for freedom and mount it on a pike as an example to the other property. See, this is what freedom looks like to Libertarians and Conservatives.”
This is nonsensical because again, it is comparing apples to oranges. A human being is not a tree or a calf. Trees and calves are not sentient beings that are born with logical rights.
“Even if there were some slave owner who changed their mind and went on a crusade to buy and liberate slaves, the others in their community would have the ‘liberty’ to pass a law giving them to right to hang that guy for trying to undermine their way of life. They would also have the ‘freedom’ to wage war on their own country if it tried to end slavery. In other words, nothing even resembling what any sane human being would call freedom or liberty – just a state where those with all power and privilege are able to act with total impunity against everyone else.”
In a free society, no one has the right to enforce a law upon anyone who does not enter into a contract to be bound by that law, as this would violate the logical right of voluntary association, derived from bodily ownership and the non-aggression principle.
Second, the author claims that private property rights will lead to dictatorship and serfdom:
“Another heinous consequence of ‘sovereign citizen’ horseshit is the notion that private property gives its owners dictatorial powers within its boundaries – in other words, that all laws other than the whim of the owner cease to exist once you enter private property. …They believe the phrase ‘King of the Castle’ is supposed to be literally true: A King being someone who has the right to have people executed, beaten, tortured, arrested, doesn’t matter – completely at their discretion.”
Philosophical libertarianism rejects “sovereign citizenship” as a contradiction of terms. A citizen is the subject of a state, and because citizens are not free to peacefully secede from states, a citizen is effectively a slave to a ruler. This is inconsistent with individual sovereignty, the correct term for a free person in a free society.
The owner of private property does not have dictatorial powers within its boundaries; one may not, for instance, shoot a young girl who comes to the door wishing to sell Girl Scout cookies on the basis that she was trespassing. No reasonable person would consider such a killing to be justifiable. Such conduct would be punished in a free society by something resembling outlawry; no one would do business with such a callous person, and those who did would find themselves ostracized from economic life. Furthermore, such a person would be under property arrest; as all property in a free society is privately owned, all other property owners would either refuse to let such a person enter their property, or face the aforementioned ostracism from economic life.
“To this way of thinking, the United States of America doesn’t exist on private property – it’s just a bitterly resented grouting between lawless private tyrannies like medieval dukedoms. According to this viewpoint, if you step off the street into a person’s home, you’re stepping out of 21st century America into 10th century Wallachia, with all the attendant differences in rights and morals.”
The United States of America does not exist, period. It is an idea in the mind that has no form in physical reality. The landmass exists, each person exists, each building exists, each trade good exists, etc., but none of these things are the USA. Without any of these things, there is no independent physical form that we may call the USA. Thus, from a philosophical standpoint, there is no such thing as the USA.
“This is the origin of ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, and conservative resentment of Child Protection services and enforcement of domestic violence laws: To hold that anyone other than the person whose name is on the deed to the property has any rights whatsoever is a violation, in their view.”
“Stand your ground” laws are theoretically designed to recognize and protect the logical right of physical property ownership. Resentment toward Child Protection Services stems from the fact that if anyone else did what their agents can do, such a person would be charged with kidnapping, child endangerment, trespassing, breaking and entering, and other crimes dependent on jurisdiction. As morality must be universal, the same crimes that apply to everyone else should apply to government agents. Domestic violence is a separate issue; the initiation of force is always immoral, therefore domestic violence is always immoral.
“But wait, it gets worse. What if you economically have no choice but to live on someone else’s property – do owners have the right to have private security forces arrest, beat, or summarily execute renters? They do if LibCons have their way. According to them, unless you own the property on which you live, you have to leave your own home and walk out into the public square to have any rights at all. Except, uh oh, the corporation that owns your apartment complex bought the public square too. They own the parks and retail centers, and the city leases the land from them on which its municipal government buildings are located, so you can’t protest there – because Freedom. Maybe you could protest in an empty, undeveloped field…except no, because real estate speculators own it all.
Maybe on the little neglected, graffiti-strewn islands in the crooks of freeway on-ramps the United States of America still exists in such a state of affairs. Maybe those little 20-foot patches of dead grass are the ‘free speech zones’ where someone who doesn’t own land still has rights, unless of course they were built as part of some public-private partnership where a corporation can tell you to go away. So that too is the LibCon idea of ‘freedom’ – one where you have the freedom to choose between being homeless or being a serf contractually obligated to fall to the floor in the presence of your wealthy betters.”
This is an incorrect view of private property rights. The logical right of private property ownership is derived from the logical right of bodily ownership, therefore it cannot supersede bodily ownership. This is why owners do not have the right to have private security forces arrest, beat, or summarily execute renters. The assumption is made that corporations would exist in a free society, which is highly suspect. A corporation is a legal fiction created by governments to shield executives from liability. Corporations do not exist in the philosophical sense, by the same reasoning employed above to show that the USA does not exist.
Third, the author claims that private property rights will lead to robbery:
“Suppose a rich conservative buys up all the land surrounding your property – and I do mean all of it: A solid ring. According to LibCon principles, they now have the right to set up a tollbooth between your house and the outside world and charge you $5,000 to leave and come back. Moreover, they have the right to man that tollbooth with armed Blackwater guards with heavy machine guns, and Swiss-cheese you if you try to cross their property without paying what they demand. Now, most places have laws guaranteeing right-of-way under such conditions, but LibCon logic holds that to be ‘Big Gubmint interference’ in the ‘free market,’ and a violation of the rights of property owners to absolute sovereign dictatorship over their territory.
After all, you voluntarily chose to live there, and you were negligent in not realizing they were encircling you before they did. If you had been more diligent, you would have seen it coming and either fled or preempted them by buying the land before they could. Or if you couldn’t possibly afford that, well, you should have thought of that too – you should have anticipated that you would be victimized and gotten rich to avoid it, or else not been so insolent as to live near someone with more money than you.”
Once again, physical property ownership cannot supersede bodily ownership. The above scenario violates bodily ownership because it involves a threat to use force against someone who is acting peacefully.
“This scenario is a perfect metaphor for just about everything that happens in the private sector: We have almost zero power to negotiate our own compensation as employees or the prices of what we buy, because so much of the economy is under the total control of small and shrinking oligopolies intimately tied to political conservatism and its ‘Libertarian’ handmaidens. You don’t agree to pay what you pay for healthcare – they demand it and you have no practical choice. Same with rent, same with transportation, same with most things. So from the laudable, liberal principle that people should be secure in their property, conservatives and Libertarians create a dark, twisted ideology where they call it ‘freedom’ to be robbed at every turn, to be denied alternatives by people who own the ground beneath your feet and set up tollbooths between the citizenry and critical needs. The LibCon ideal of the ‘entrepreneur’ has more in common with a highway robber than a creator of productive enterprise.”
This scenario is actually a metaphor for just about everything that government does, not everything that the private sector does. We have almost zero power to negotiate the taxes we pay or the prices of what we buy, because so much of the economy is under the control of the Federal Reserve through its violent monopoly on currency. The progressive ideal of the state has more in common with a highway robber than a creator of productive enterprise.
Fourth, the author claims that libertarianism will lead to lynching and private imprisonment:
“LibCon ideology holds that everything is better when handled privately than by the government, and criminal justice is no different. The ‘first line of defense’ in this framework is the Dictator Landowner described before, who would to this way of thinking be within their rights to have private mercenary thugs hang someone from a tree for setting foot on their property without permission; or for stealing an apple while on the job picking them; or for having a skin tone the owner doesn’t like and an attitude they find insolent (or ‘uppity’); or really any reason they see fit. But if they’re a slightly more merciful tyrant, maybe they don’t have the offender killed – maybe they just lock them in a dungeon for a year or two, then dump them disheveled, emaciated, and half-crazy out into the street. LibCons think this would be perfectly within a property owner’s rights.
But they don’t limit it to actually being on someone else’s property: They extend the Dictator-Owner principle to entire communities, so if you do something the powerful citizens of the community find offensive (like being black and looking at a white lady), well they may just decide to settle things privately with a lynch mob. …If you want to stop them, you should have thought of that before failing to be powerful. If the police aren’t part of the mob, they’ll still defer to it if it has the blessing of money – at least in a LibCon society where police are paid so little (if anything) that they have to depend on private security work to survive.”
For the third time, physical property ownership cannot supersede bodily ownership. The above scenario violates bodily ownership because it involves a threat to use force against someone who is acting peacefully. The process of outlawry, economic exclusion, and property arrest described above could be applied to all members of a community who commit heinous crimes just as easily as it could be applied to one person, although they may find it somewhat easier to be self-sufficient under the condition of being isolated from the rest of the world.
“Why ‘waste’ taxpayer money on an explicit legal process that at least pretends the accused has rights when you can do away with all pretense and cut to the chase?”
In a free society, there are no taxpayers because there is no entity with the socially granted right to violate private property rights, and therefore no entity that can collect taxes.
“Which brings us to things actually going on in our society: The sale of courts, elections, and police forces to the highest bidder, who then build private prisons and turn the entire system of criminal justice into a for-profit diabolical farce where human suffering is the only product. Of course, since LibCons think it’s all right for courts to put people into slavery via forced prison labor, it makes sense they would also support the kinds of corrupt ‘political entrepreneurship’ that arises from it – like that juvenile court judge in Pennsylvania who took money to send thousands of kids to jail.”
This scenario describes corporatism, the situation which occurs when government interferes with the free market. In a free society, no one has the right to enforce a law upon anyone who does not enter into a contract to be bound by that law, as this would violate the logical right of voluntary association.
Finally, the author claims that libertarianism will lead to child prostitution:
“Going back to the Slavery part, remember how LibCons said everyone is their own property? Well, see, they also tend to believe that children are the property of their parents, partly because of the whole ‘people are property’ idea in general, and also because of the ‘King of the Castle’ horseshit.”
Children are free people who have the same logical rights as adults. Their parents are simply providing for them until they are capable of providing for their own needs.
“But even if they try to hedge by conceding that parents are guardians of rights held in trust, one of those rights is the right to sell yourself into slavery – so if you can do it to yourself, then someone who holds that right for you would also have the same right in your place. If the parent/guardian/owner decides (or at least claims) that what’s best for their child is to be pimped out to financially contribute to household income, well, that’s their ‘right’ as a parent/guardian/owner. Laws that prevent such a decision are ‘Big Gubmint interference’ in ‘family.'”
These points have already been refuted above.
“The child might not want to be a prostitute, but hey, they don’t want to go to school either – which fortunately their ‘enterprising’ parents have the absolute right to keep them out of, choosing instead to form a charter school where the curriculum consists of prostitution and drug muling crystal meth across the Mexican border. Whether the charter school teaches math and reading, fatuous religious dogma, or the proper procedure for weighing out bricks of cocaine, who is Big Gubmint to interfere in the decisions of a family (i.e., the absolute decisions of Head of the Family)? They’re teaching their kid a trade, and the value of money, so who could be against that? What are ya, a Communist?”
Forced prostitution and forced indoctrination are both forms of child abuse which violate the logical rights of children, regardless of whether such abuses are carried out by parents (e.g., pimping their children) or government agents (e.g., forcing children into public schools).