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Debunking Hoppe on Immigration

Philosophy Posted on Thu, July 23, 2015 13:32:00

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is
known for his skepticism of open borders. He thinks that open borders
are inconsistent with libertarian principals. Therefore, real
libertarians have to oppose this policy, at least as long as the
state exists. I think Hoppe is mistaken on the issue. His arguments
seem deeply confused and I am going to show why. As he claims to be a libertarian and the state is basically illiberal, then in order to make a supporting statement of a very intrusive state policy like immigration, his argumentation just has to be very messy. There is no real
case for the support of this policy. To show exactly how this works,
let us look at two of his articles on immigration.

Recently, re-published two of such articles. The first was
entitles “Free Immigration is Forced Integration” and the second
“Immigration and Libertarianism”. Let us start with the first,
“Free Immigration is Forced Integration”.

In this articles
Hoppe tries to make essentially one argument. The argument is that
“free” immigration violates the property rights of the locals and
can therefore not be libertarian. To get to this conclusion, Hoppe
needs to distract the reader with a number of argumentative tricks to
make it look like, his conclusion follows from his premises.

Let us go through
the article systematically. The article is divided into 7 parts. He
starts by summarizing what he describes as “the classical argument
for free immigration”. I am not sure if there is such a thing as
“the classical argument”. There are definitely a number of
different arguments in favour of open borders. Hoppe, in a side note
even concedes this in the second part of the article. But he makes it
incorrectly look like this is another route to dispute the open
border claim by calling it a “first shortcoming” of the free
immigration argument. No, what Hoppe calls “the classic argument”
for free immigration, is merely the economic argument for it. But
fair enough, it is an important argument and Hoppe, as far as I can
tell summarizes it correctly. He also explicitly agrees with the idea
that free immigration does not cause economic problems. He
understands correctly that this would be an argument against free
markets in general.

In the second part
of the article, he then goes on to say that trying to criticise open
borders by pointing out negative effects of the welfare state is also
not persuasive. These are problems of the welfare state and not of
open borders in and of itself. I think this is correct. If the
welfare state or for that matter any other state policy leads to
negative effects of freeing up markets, then libertarians should
attack these policies and not the freeing up of markets. So far,
Hoppe seems to make the case in favour of open borders. One thing that
is important to note until this point is, how he uses the word
‘free’. The word ‘free’ is used in the libertarian sense of “free
from constrains”.

Now, from the third
part of the article, Hoppe starts making the libertarian case against
free immigration. His argument is that in an anarcho-capitalist
society, everything worth owning is already owned. Therefore, there
cannot be freedom of immigration. So the property prevents the
freedom. Wait a minute, what? Why is property in contradiction with
freedom? This is a strange argument coming from the founder of The Property
and Freedom Society
. But maybe they serve free alcohol there? But
seriously, isn’t the whole point of libertarianism that property and
liberty are closely linked with each other? How can Hoppe make the
argument that since we have property, there cannot be freedom. That
sounds very confused to me. It should be clear that Hoppe at this
point has started to use the word freedom in a non libertarian way,
as in ‘free of charge’. He argues that we have property, therefore
immigration cannot be free of costs. In this sense of the word
however, libertarianism is also in contradiction with free markets. A
free market would be a market in which everyone can help themselves
to everything they like, free of charge. That clearly is not
libertarian. That is more a socialist way of using the word freedom.
Libertarians explicitly stress that their idea of freedom is to be
free from proactive impositions from others. Even more remarkable is
that Hoppe just a few sentences earlier has used the word in exactly
this libertarian meaning. And now he just changes the meaning of
“free” without even telling the reader about it. One wonders why?
Is he not smart enough to realise that he is using the word with the
different meaning, or is he speculating that his audience won’t be? I
don’t know the answer, but I know that at least one of the two needs
to be true.

So let me make
clear, what a libertarian like myself means when talking about “free
immigration”, or for that matter immigration. Immigration is a
collectivist term. It means the movement of people over some form of
collectivist borders. These can be cultural borders or state borders.
As such it is not always completely clear when to call the long term
reallocation of a person to another location immigration and when he
is just moving house. Simply moving house from Charles Street a few
miles down the road to Summer Lane is usually not called immigration.

In today’s statist
world, immigration is usually understood to mean the long term
reallocation of a person from one side of a state border to another.
Free immigration therefore means that people who would like to make
such a move are free from not interpersonal liberty maximising
compatible restrains. The biggest of such restrains right now is
state immigration controls. These come in the form of state issued
passport controls at state borders and visa licensing systems that
allow the state to control who is on its territory for how long and
what reason.

I am not trying to
argue about words. If Hoppe has a problem sticking to a consistent
meaning of a word let us just argue about the meaning itself. Can we
agree that the state is violating people’s liberty with these types
of policies or not? And can we therefore agree that these policies
have to go unconditionally or not? Unfortunately, Hoppe seems to
really believe that state immigration controls, to some degree are
not in violation of liberty. However, as I argue above, the attack on
open borders via redefining the word ‘free’ can hardly be taken
seriously. So what other arguments does Hoppe have?

Although, not so
fast. At first he seems to continue the article, explicitly rejecting
state immigration controls as unnatural in part four. However,
immediately after he has done so, he starts to develop a new way of
arguing that current immigration is violating the liberty of people.
Hoppe says that since we have a state, that state then employs
policies like building roads that are not market results. This
distorted market will also have a distorting effect on immigration.
And this is what he calls forced integration, because we now have
more roads than we would otherwise have and therefore the locals have
to put up with more immigrants than they would normally get.

This is a really odd
argument in many ways. To start with, he seems to contradict himself.
In part two of the article, he argued that trying to argue against
immigration with the welfare state would not be convincing, as this
is a problem of the welfare state, which will have to go. But now he
is applying the logic that he himself rejected earlier, to do just
that. If immigration leads to problems with other state policies than
libertarians need to argue against these policies instead of making
themselves advocates of more statism.

But his argument is
also not economically correct. Yes, the state is distorting the
economy. But it is hard to tell what the exact market result would
have been. How does Hoppe know, that we now have more streets then we
would otherwise have? If we could figure that out without the market,
then we would have a pretty good argument in favour of central
planning. Maybe the opposite is the case. Maybe now, we have less
roads than we would otherwise have. In that case the same argument
would lead to the opposite conclusion of forced exclusion. As a
scholar of Austrian economics, he should know that?

Next he argues that
in today’s world the government and not the market is fully in charge
of admitting people. That however, seems simply wrong. Behind the
state borders, especially domestic property is still mostly owned
privately. So despite the fact that we have state borders, the control
over who comes into the country is still to a large degree in the
hands of the market of that country. Without anyone renting out or
selling a property to the immigrant, the immigrant still has a
problem. But there does not seem to be a shortage of people doing
that and I cannot see why there would be a shortage without border
controls. Quite to the contrary, with the freeing up of markets it is
reasonable to assume that accommodation could become cheaper as
productivity increases.

Hoppe however argues
that immigration controls lead to forced integration and forced
exclusion. I can see how immigration controls are forceful
exclusions. If a property owner on the inside of the fence would like
to invite someone, the government can prevent this. That is why it is
not libertarian. I find it harder to see a case of forceful
integration. If the government lets someone through the state border,
the people inside the fence can still say no to the person. And if
everyone does, then the person would have simply nowhere to go, even
in today’s worlds. In order for this to be forced integration, it
would need to be the case that someone is invited by the government
and the government gives that person an accommodation. This does not
seem to happen very often. If it does however, it is indeed not
libertarian. But then again, instead of establishing general border
controls and a visa system, the way to deal with that would be to
abolish these state programs too. In fact, in this case, border
controls and visas are clearly of no importance, as this obviously
happens with or without these policies in place as well. So Hoppe is
simply wrong if he concludes that it is the immigration controls
itself that lead to forced integration.

Up to this point in
the articles Hoppe has failed completely to establish an argument in
favour of libertarian state border controls. However, in the
remaining three parts, his arguments actually get a lot worse. While
up unit now, he at least tried to make it look like he was making a
consistent argument, he completely loses this in what is coming. It
is a mixture of wild speculation and false conclusions that is not
concerned with principals or consistencies. Let us have a look at it.

In part five he
argues that if we had an absolute monarch that owned the whole
country, then we would get similar results to free market
immigration. It is beyond me how he comes to this bizarre conclusion.
I guess, his line of thoughts goes something like this:
Libertarianism is about property. If we had a single ruler, then the
country could be seen as property. Therefore this would produce
similar results to free markets.

Just like in the
case of the word ‘free’, Hoppe has probably confused himself with
words. He calls both property and therefore it becomes the same
thing. He does not seem to realise that a King owning a country has
absolutely nothing to do with property as being advocated by liberty
loving libertarians. To be fair, a lot of libertarians do not
understand the link between liberty and property. They therefore
cannot distinguish between liberty maximising and non liberty
maximising property. They simply think liberty is property. And
Hoppe’s argument is probably a result of that confusion.

But at the very
least, he should realise that it is very dangerous to even just
approximate a head of state to a private property owner. This is an
argument often done by statist who want to justify things like
taxation and regulations. They will argue that really no one owns
anything, everything is owned by the state and therefore the state
can tell you what to do with it or even take it away from you.

He continues this
strange argument into part six, where he approximates a democratic
government as the owner of the country. But since this owner, is not
a single person anymore, but a changing committee, it will produce
very different immigration rules than a king, so he argues. Fair
enough, but what does that have to do with libertarianism? The state
simply should go out of the way. The problems of immigration that
Hoppe correctly or not incorrectly describes in this part are not
problems coming from open borders, but from other state policies. And
as he himself argued in part two, that is not a good argument against
open borders.

He also takes this
ownership analogy way too far, as if the democratic state would
directly allocate people into properties. The reality however is,
that this rarely happens. Most of the residential properties in the
US as well as all the other western countries are owned privately.
The state in such an environment going out of the way is just a
policy of liberty.

Finally in part
seven, he comes to a conclusion. This is not a logical conclusion.
His argumentation so far was all over the place. He uses words in
different meanings as it suits him in every given sentence. He wildly
speculates about results of all kinds of systems and presents the
conclusions of his speculation as market results if he likes them.
And he simply is not very bothered with contradicting himself. In one
word, his argumentation is a big mess. And so he concludes not what
has followed, but what he wanted to conclude all along; that as long
as the state exists (and to his credit, he stresses that the state
will have to go), libertarians need to support certain state
immigration policies which Hoppe thinks are close to market results.
This is nonsense and I cannot see that he has even come close so far
to an argument that would justify such a conclusion on libertarians

A similar mess is
the second article, “Immigration and Libertariansm”. Here he
repeats a lot of the arguments that we have already seen. However, he
makes some new ones. But first he start by attacking
“left-libertarians”. He suggests that those are not real
libertarians. I can see some people who might be called left
libertarians that really are not, like Noam Chomsky. However, Hoppe
never explains who exactly he means by that. But from the article, it
seems that if you believe that the state should get out of the way of
immigration unconditionally, then you are a left libertarian as
opposed to just a libertarian. Silly attempt of an ad hominem attack.

His new arguments
are first, that one could see the state as a trustee of all its
citizens (he seems obsessed with constructing arguments that present
the government as legitimate property owners. He never talks about
liberty, property is clearly all he knows). On the basis of this
argument he then goes on to outline what he thinks a sensible
immigration policy would be. By that he means, what he would like to
see. It is not at all clear why his proposals should be the results
of a trustee.

Seeing the state as
a trustee of its citizens is of course absolute nonsense from a
libertarian point of view. Again, this is exactly the kind of
nonsense that statist are trying to sell us. The state is not a
voluntary and therefore legitimate organisation that can legitimately
make decisions on behave of its citizens.

Hoppe actually
concedes that seeing the state as a trustee is not a good way of
looking at it. But his reason for that is really strange. He does not
reject the idea because it violates people’s liberty, no. He think
this is a bad analogy because we don’t see the immigration policies
that he thinks we should see, as Hoppe sees them as market results.

In reality, since
the state cannot be seen as a trustee, any policy that comes out of
the state restriction the free movement of people on the basis of
private property has to be seen as illegitimate, no matter what these
policies are. And Hoppe never comes up with an example of the state
actually violating the property of domestic people by letting
“foreigners” through the state gate. Sure there are plenty of
other policies in place that do violate private property rights. But
those are separate policies from immigration controls.

Policies like the
welfare state, which he goes on to blame for some negative effects on
immigration. The welfare state might or might not produce these
effects, the case is actually a lot less clear than he might think.
In any case, Libertarians are not advocating welfare, just open
borders. And again, Hoppe himself rejected the argument of conflating
the two in his other article, so why does he bring it up here?

At one point he
actually not only concludes that immigration is bad for the welfare
state, but that “a financial crisis of unparalleled magnitude would
result”. This is really beneath Hoppe. There is not a shred of
evidence that immigration is causing economic problems. If it did, it
would be an argument against free markets in general. And as we have
seen above, Hoppe knows this very well.

It is a bit
difficult to make a clear conclusion from all of this. Why is Hoppe
coming up with such a mess of an argumentation? Is he too stupid to
realize what he is doing? He might be, but it is not the impression
that I have of Hoppe. I think he knows what he is doing and he is
doing it deliberately. It looks to me like that he knows that there
is not a case for libertarian state border controls. But he really
does not like the outcome of this particular free market policy. So
he is deliberately creating a messy argumentation. That way he can
suggest to the anti immigration crowd that they are ok rejecting
immigration on libertarian grounds. And that crowd seems more than
happy to ignore the mess and pick up the ball. On the other hand, if
a critic comes along trying to suggest that he is not a libertarian,
he will point to the sentences in which he says that he does not like
the state and wants to get rid of it. But that does not change the
fact that these sentences are in contradiction with lots of other
things he writes. He is clearly trying to avoid that critics can
easily pin him down. It is easy to pin someone down who has a good
argument but is making little mistakes. Than a critic can point to
the specific mistake. But if someone’s arguments are all over the
place, criticism becomes more difficult as it is difficult to find a
starting point. It is also harder to totally dismantle the mess. And
so he can create the illusion that, although he might have made a
mistake or two, there still is a case for libertarian state border
controls. This is nonsense, as I have shown.

I don’t like what
Hoppe is doing. He makes libertarianism look disingenuous.
Libertarianism looks like statist conservatism, an ideology which,
like all statist ideologies is only in favour of some freedom, but
also has its favourite state programs. We do not have to trick people
into Libertarianism. If we cannot argue honestly, this movement will

What is wrong with Democracy?

Philosophy Posted on Mon, May 04, 2015 21:32:22

This week, on May
7th, the local gang of thieves, also know as the UK government will
ask its subjects for approval of their crimes. And amazingly, people
will come out in flocks to give it to them. Their motivation for
doing so will be different. Many have been promised a share of the
booty. Some will have to live with the promise of one party robbing
them less badly then the other. And there are those whose survival
strategy seems to be, to not think at all and just follow the crowd.

The vast majority of
all of them will have in common to dislike my characterisation of the
government as a gang of thieves. “No Nico” they will say, “the
government is just everyone getting together as a community and
figuring out what is best for all of us. Everyone can take part.
Everyone has a voice. The government is not a gang of thieves. The
government is us.”

I would buy that
story, if I was 12 years old. In fact, I did believe it when I was
12. But in my view, it really takes the naivety and life experience
of a child to believe it. There are so many holes in that story, it
is difficult where to start. Maybe we should start with the idea of
the government representing the people.

Who are the people?
The people are all of us you might say. Great, so in that case
governance by the people would logically mean that everyone has to
agree with a policy. I actually like that. The government could never
do anything if everyone had to agree with it. The criminals would be
stripped of their power and therefore leave us alone.

Unfortunately, we
don’t have that. Instead, what we have is that a part of the people
will be enough to legitimise a policy. Here is my first problem. How
can the government act in the name of the people, if a part of the
people is systematically excluded? But hardly anyone seems to be
bothered by this contradiction. They think they have a solution. The
solution is that we can call it the rule of the people, when a
majority of the people approves a policy.

But what is supposed
to be so magical about a majority? Why should the majority part of
the people have a right to tell the minority part what to do and
still call this the rule of the people? As a famous saying goes,
democracy, that is two wolfs and a sheep voting for what is for
dinner. There seems to be nothing moral or logical about the idea
that a majority can legitimise the exercise of power. The only thing
the majority idea has going for it is that that way the exercise of
power becomes possible. But then again, why would we want someone to
exercise power over us anyway?

Nevertheless, even
though the whole majority story seems very much arbitrary, let us for
the sake of the argument assume for the moment that a majority can
indeed legitimise power. How is that then been implemented in the
current political system?

Currently, you can
vote for parties or candidates. Both represent a whole agenda of ideas and
political proposals. I shall be surprised if we could find anyone
voting for a party or a candidate, who really agrees with the whole agenda. But let
us get back to that later. First, let us take a simple example of an
election result. Let us say there are two major parties A and B and a
bunch of smaller parties. Let us assume 60% of eligible voters show up
at an election to vote. 10% of these vote for smaller parties. 26%
vote for Party A and 24% for Party B. Pretty much every western
democracy has election rules to keep small parties out of the
representative assembly. So we now have two parties, representing the
will of the people. Party A is going to provide the government.

But wait a minute.
Party A only has 26% approval of the voters. What kind of funny world
is it, in which 26% represents the majority and 74% the minority?
That means that the minority is almost three times as big as the
majority. This is the funny world of politics, in which most basic
principals of mathematics do not apply.

Right here we can
conclude that the whole rhetoric of the rule of the people and
majority rule is simply a fairy tale. But it actually gets worse. As
mentioned above, most people do not vote for the whole agenda of a
party. The system is set up in a way, so that you have to give your
vote to a party according to a few issues that are important to you.
This issue can be, and very often is as simple as, “party A
promises me to subsidies my bus ticket”. Now you have voted for
party A to get a cheaper bus ticket (btw who is paying for that?!)
and party A interprets your vote as a mandate to do whatever is on
their agenda. But since you haven’t voted for them because of the
rest of the agenda, this claim is simply false.

What does this mean
for the democratic legitimacy of party A’s policies? Well, it means
that many policies on the agenda of party A are actually not even
approved of by the majority of voters of the two major parties. If we
think this through, that means that it is possible for a policy of
the government to be only approved of by a tiny fraction of the
voters. In fact not only is that possible, but it is happening all
the time.

Almost everyone I
talk to seems to agree that the government is putting out too many
regulations in some area of their lives. How can it be that people in
general seem to agree that there is too much government in some areas
and yet we only seem to get more government? After what we have found
out above, it should be clear why that is. It only takes a small
fraction of the people to grow the government. A small interest group
that is giving out their vote only on the basis of a certain
regulation being put in place. While most people may disagree with
this regulation, they are more concerned with getting their own favorite regulations approved. So this has more priority than to
stop other regulations. Politicians know that and that is why they
promise everyone their favorite government program.

The government will
grow, no matter who wins an election. There is no way the government
can be shrunk by voting. If you want to shrink the government by
voting, you have to defeat the special interest groups. And since their issues are very important to them, you will likely lose. Even if
you do manage to defeat one of them at some point, defeating all of
them is impossible.

That means that since most
people are not voting out of moral principals, but just for
the benefit of their own bank account, the system has become a
gigantic exploitation machine. The only question in every election
has become, who is going to be the exploiter and who the exploited.
And that although the system has become so complex, that it is
impossible to really say on which side one will end up on. However,
since wealth creation is becoming increasingly difficult in the middle
of this battle, it is fair to assume, that we are probably all losing
a lot on the whole. Democracy is not the rule of the people. It is
not a noble system and the end of history. It is a fundamentally
immoral system that deserves to die.

It will die anyway,
since more and more people want to be part of the parasites. I don’t
blame them. As long as the system is set up the way it is, that is,
as long as we think we need a government to organize society, taking
part in the exploitation seems like a rational thing to do. The
problem with parasitic systems however is, that eventually they grow
so big that they kill the hosts. That is were most western welfare
states have gotten to right now. So either, people start realizing
that the system itself is the problem, or things are going to get
really messy. Humanity will not make progress until we have slayed
Leviathan in even its democratic form.

Inheritability of Intellectual Property

Philosophy Posted on Sun, April 19, 2015 17:11:34

Should Intellectual
Property be inheritable? Some defenders of IP, like Jan Lester think
it should. I would disagree. Why should anything be inheritable from
a libertarian point of view? If Libertarianism is all about maximizing interpersonal liberty, should dead people be still
considered a person whose liberty is worth maximizing? I don’t think
it should. Liberty is for the living, not the dead. The concept of
inheritance is basically giving a person property rights beyond his
or her death. Why is that supposed to maximize liberty, unless we
assume that the liberty of dead people still matters?

Having said that, I
am in favour of the inheritability of physical wealth. The reason for
that is that physical things cannot be in the public domain. That is
the reason why property is libertarian in the first place. Allowing
the concept of property on some scarce things is actually liberty
maximising. With the death of a person, his physical wealth does not
go away. If it is true that property in this wealth was maximising
liberty before his death, then it is reasonable to assume finding a
new owner after his death is liberty maximising too.

To put it
differently, physical wealth needs to be inherited to someone.
Putting it in the public domain is not really possible because of its
scarcity. And if the question is just who inherits the wealth, it
seem to make sense to let the previous owner decide who the next
owner should be. If not him, who else should decide it? It also seems
like a good solution, because the previous owner is likely the best
to make an educated decision of who is best suitable to inherit
certain things. This is most likely to keep the wealth in the most
productive hands.

Things look a little
bit differently for IP though. There are certainly many parallels
between the concept of physical and intellectual property. However,
there are also some crucial differences. In particular there are two
differences that make the idea for inheritability of IP look

The first one is the
fact that the usability of physical property is always limited to a
few people. For example, if I have a chair, only one person can sit
on it at a time. The same limitation applies to every other physical
property I can think of. That means that for physical things, it is
inevitable to have a rule according to which we can determine, who
can use a desired object for which purpose at a certain time. Most of
the time, the best solution will be to grand people property rights
on these objects. Less often it might be enough to have a simple
possession solution in place.

IP on the other hand
is lacking this characteristic of physical property. In principal,
information can be used by an unlimited number of people
simultaneously. There is no limitation on the information itself. For
example, me reading The Wealth Of Nations does not limited someone
else to read the same book at the same time. This is a big difference
between physical and intellectual property. The only limitation would
be the availability of the physical medium on which the information
are stored. But as I already said, inheritable property rights on the
medium are not a problem to me.

The second
difference is that physical wealth decays. There seems to be no
exception to this, although some things are so robust that for all
practical purposes they can be seen as not decaying. This makes it
necessary to maintain physical things. Maintaining things usually is
a capital intense process. People will less likely engage in this
process if they are not allowed to have some control over the result.

Information on the
other hand do not decay. The pythagorean theorem for example has not
decayed one bit, despite the fact that it is thousands of years old.
One might argue that the physical medium it is stored on needs to be
maintained otherwise the theorem would get lost with the medium. That
is true, but is not much of an argument in the digital internet age.
Desired information will be stored in many different locations at
almost no cost.

These two
differences make the idea of the inheritability of IP questionable.
Other than physical property, IP can actually be in the public
domain. If that is true, than what justifies giving it a new owner,
after the old one has died? This seems to be an unnecessary
imposition on everyone who is not the new owner.

A response to “Libertarianism and pollution: the limits of absolutist moralism”

Philosophy Posted on Wed, March 18, 2015 12:57:55

A response[1] to “Libertarianism and pollution: the limits of absolutist moralism”[2]

J C Lester

We are first told that

of the currently most popular forms of libertarian thought are defined
by a commitment to the “non-aggression principle” – a principle which
holds that it is always wrong to initiate physical force against other
human beings.”

Although “popular”, this is a poor
expression of libertarianism. “Aggression” is problematic as being what
libertarians are against. For one thing, it is rarely explained exactly
how non-aggression is supposed to relate to a theory of interpersonal
liberty. For another, “non-aggression”, in plain English, is no more up
to the task than “non-coercion” (another libertarian favourite, although
less popular of late)—not without charitable interpretation, at least.
As glossed in the above quotation, “aggression” clearly does not work
for two main reasons. 1) Theft and fraud don’t need to involve anyone
having to “initiate physical force against other human beings”: you
don’t need to initiate physical force against me in order to steal my
money or cheat me out of it. 2) Consequently, it will sometimes be
necessary to “initiate physical force” against thieves and fraudsters:
to arrest them and bring them to trial, for instance.

said, we can try to make a little more sense of the “non-aggression
principle” (NAP); partly because many libertarians use it, and partly in
order to move towards something clearer. Therefore, we might, as above
suggested, provide a charitable interpretation of “aggression”, e.g.,
‘the proactive interference with the bodies and external property of
other people (where that property is itself not acquired by proactive
interference)’. And if we do that, then it begins to make sense that the
absence of such “aggression” is what interpersonal liberty is (although
this sets aside various precise philosophical problems with this
account). For such “aggression” against us would be other people
initiating constraints on us. And we can then make sense of
interpersonal liberty as the absence of such initiated constraints.
(However, it ought at least to be mentioned that what liberty is—as a
theory and as social phenomena—is a factual matter that is completely
separate from the moral issue of whether breaching such liberty is
“always wrong”. Conflating the two issues, as the article does, is a
major source of confusion.)

Having rectified that
account of the “non-aggression principle” sufficiently for our current
purposes, we can now proceed to the second major error in the article:

problem is that libertarianism seems to imply that environmental
pollution, insofar as it constitutes or involves aggression against
other human beings, is morally impermissible. Not just a bad thing, mind
you, but absolutely morally impermissible in the same way that theft,
assault, and murder are.”

The error here is easily
explained. The “non-aggression principle”—as interpreted here, at
least—is best seen as being what observing liberty fully or absolutely
would require. That is, full liberty is the absence of any “aggression”
(i.e, proactive interference with people and their—non-proactively
interfering—property). Now, it is true that pollution will be
“aggressive”. But that is only half of the story. Because to prohibit
the activities that are causing the pollution will also be “aggressive”.
Consider a simple example. If I have a fire for warmth and cooking,
then you might suffer some minor pollution as a result. But if you can
force me not to have a fire, then you have deprived me of warmth and
cooking. Both the allowance and the prohibition of pollution will be
“aggressions” (although ‘proactive impositions’ seems to be a clearer
expression). Whichever one is preferred, or however they are balanced,
there will be some “aggression”. Therefore, it is impossible to
implement the non-aggression principle in the event of such clashes. So
what is the libertarian solution? It is surely libertarian to maximise
liberty. That means adopting a minimum-aggression principle (or MAP).
And that probably involves compromise and possibly compensation. How are
minimum aggressions to be determined? They can often best be measured,
traded, and compensated for by assigning market—or, at least,
reasonable—monetary values to the gains and losses involved. In any
event, the general solution to the problem is to see the NAP as
referring to observing liberty when matters are one-sided. But the MAP
applies when there are clashes.

Note that this proffered
solution is not, as the article suggests, restricted to “discrete
interactions between identifiable individuals”. It applies just as much
to “a world increasingly characterised by the complexly interrelated
activities of large numbers of dispersed individuals”. But to engage in,
say, class actions (as the legal term has it) over “contemporary
environmental problems such as automobile pollution, acid rain, and
global climate change” is not in any anti-libertarian sense to be “less
individualistic in identifying perpetrators and victims”. However, there
is an important equivocation here. In one sense, rules that are
intended to protect the general public (rather than any individuals in
particular) are thereby, ipso facto, not “individualistic”. But they can
remain individualistic in the libertarian sense that is opposed to
collectivism (whereby individuals cease to have claims to liberty
because of the greater good of the majority). Such
individualism-in-principle is not abandoned just because there are lot
of indeterminate people involved. Neither is the MAP in principle “less
absolutist”. This is because liberty remains the thing that must
absolutely be maximised. Consequently, it is clearly possible to “keep
the individualism and absolutism where it makes sense” because, as
interpreted here, it makes sense everywhere.

Then we are asked this question:

can libertarians still maintain that it is wrong to impose a small tax
on the wealthy, even if the social benefits would be enormous, while
allowing that drivers are entitled to send small amounts of toxins into
other people’s lungs since, after all, the social benefits of driving
are enormous?”

The question is confused in two main ways.
First, no libertarian need concede that it is even practical “to impose
a small tax on the wealthy” such that “the social benefits would be
enormous”. This mere logical possibility flies in the face of the
deleterious unintended consequences of tax-transfers. In an imaginary
world, the state might be a welfare boon. In reality, it is a welfare
bane. There is no sound reason to suppose that “utilitarianism” must in
practice “countenance violations of individual rights”. Second, it is,
at best, a muddle to describe the libertarian case for allowing the
“toxins” caused by driving as being because “the social benefits are
enormous”. It is, again, necessary to look at both sides before applying
the MAP. 1) Allowing driving despite its toxins: this will proactively
impose (“aggress”) to a minuscule degree on people (probably too small
to make compensation claims economic); and this has to include a
deduction to the extent that any particular individuals also engage in
driving, or benefit from the consequences of driving (such as the
delivery of goods to their area, etc.), or chose to move into an area
where driving is allowed, etc. 2) Banning driving because of its toxins:
this would proactively impose huge costs, in one way or another, on
almost everyone. Hence, 1 is the liberty-maximising option.

the foregoing analysis is roughly correct, then the answer is not
“waiting to be discovered by future libertarian philosophers”.[3] And it
is more mere fantasy and confusion to suppose that any solution must
ultimately mean “pushing libertarians back … toward the more moderate
classical liberalism of Adam Smith, David Hume, and Friedrich Hayek”.

Clarificatory conclusion

of the way that the problem was originally framed, it is easy to misinterpret
the above response. In particular, it might look as though it amounts to a
moral advocacy of a sort of consequentialist libertarianism to replace
deontological libertarianism. It does not. And such an interpretation
would be to miss the crucial main point in a typical way. For the response is
not really about libertarian morals. It is about what interpersonal liberty is
(in abstract theory) and what applying it objectively entails (in normal
practice). Most self-identified libertarians unwittingly have a moral muddle without
a central factual theory of liberty. They cannot yet see that they first need
to sort out what liberty is, and therefore entails if instantiated, and only after
that can moral questions about it be coherently raised and tackled. An
analogical error would be utilitarians who could not even give an account of


[1] The article in question repeats a criticism of libertarianism that was one of those raised ( and briefly answered (
on The revised replies to those criticisms are now
available in a book chapter (Lester 2014, Ch. 5). But as the new article is
somewhat different, and the audience different, a reconsideration of these
important issues seems merited.

[2] IEA Blog, 20 February 2015:

It ought to be noted that any attempt to refute this overall
theoretical approach that is based on criticisms in Gordon and Modugno
2003 or Frederick 2013, ought at least to be aware of the replies to
those criticisms: chapters 9 and 10 in Lester 2014.


David and Modugno, Roberta A. 2003. “Review of J.C. Lester’s Escape
from Leviathan: Liberty, Welfare, and Anarchy Reconciled.” Journal of
Libertarian Studies
17, 4: 101–109.

Frederick, Danny. 2013. “A Critique of Lester’s Account of Liberty.” Libertarian Papers 5, 1: 45-66. Online here:

Lester, J. C. 2011. Arguments for Liberty: a Libertarian Miscellany. Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press.

—— [2000] 2012. Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism. Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press.

—— 2014. Explaining Libertarianism: Some Philosophical Arguments. Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press.

Matt. 2015. “Libertarianism and pollution: the limits of absolutist
moralism”, Institute of Economic Affairs, Blog, 20 February. Online here:

Are ethics universal?

Philosophy Posted on Fri, August 29, 2014 12:43:46

The moral law is universal.

Many people seem to think that as all do not adopt the moral law then
philosophers like Plato, or his epigone, Kant err on this hallmark of ethics
that moral rules are universal. Many feel that cross cultural studies suggests
to them that moral rules can vary from society to society. They also feel that the
breaking of the moral law by theft or murder by some people in all societies also
shows us that the philosophers badly err.

But neither supposed counter example is really germane, for the flouting
of the moral law does not mean it is not universal, as universal here does not
mean we have all adopted it, but rather that it applies to one and all by the
moraliser. Ethics is about rules, not facts. A flouting of the formal or
categorical moral rule is no more a refutation of it than is any schoolboy
getting his sums wrong in boring mathematical lessons is a refutation of

utility monsters, etc.

Philosophy Posted on Mon, June 23, 2014 14:18:05

utility monsters, etc. Mental-state utility aside (see *utilitarianism),
if utility ought to be maximised in some form then we need to reply to three
classic *criticisms of this as a
desirable criterion (and also as compatible with *liberty). 1) This will engender the social and even
genetic evolution of utility monsters: people with huge appetites that have
come about because the biggest appetites will win in any *resource-distribution contest based on mere utility.
2) We ought to engineer people’s wants by dishonest *propaganda, coerced *eugenics, etc., to make sure that their wants can
most fully be met. 3) We should prefer a more-*populated world with low average utility as long as
total utility is plausibly higher than that of a less-populated world of much
happier people.

We can immediately agree (if
only for the sake of argument with 3, which is not so clear) that all of these
outcomes would be undesirable, and unlibertarian if imposed, but argue that
they are not entailed by utilitarianism as such. 1) We can rule out pandaring
to utility monsters on the basis that the long-run effects would be disastrous
for utility. It would be like always giving in to the tantrums of a small
child, only on a society-wide scale. So gross appetites alone are not a
sufficient reason to *proactively impose on
others. 2) People do not want to be deluded or forcibly engineered to achieve
someone else’s conception of their ‘utility’. People value having their own *spontaneous wants satisfied, including as these
wants also spontaneously evolve. Therefore any proactively imposed wants do not
count as utility-improving by this conception of utility. 3) This is a mere
logical possibility. In practice it would involve forcing people to reproduce
and then maintain their offspring, by some method, beyond what they would
freely choose to have done. The ensuing loss of utility to the parents and
wanted children plus the kind of *totalitarianism that would
need to be involved, and the *tax-funding of that
totalitarianism, do not seem to make it a practical problem for utilitarianism.

However, even if there were
a systematic clash between liberty and utility at some theoretical extreme,
that need not indicate an inconsistency between libertarianism and
utilitarianism for most practical purposes. And thus the *classical *liberal compatibility thesis
is preserved in practice. See *consequentialism.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism


Philosophy Posted on Mon, June 23, 2014 14:12:40

utilitarianism This is the idea
that the ultimate criterion of *morals is utility, and so whatever actions appear to maximize
overall utility (in the long term and as far as we can tell) are at least *legitimate
and probably mandatory. Several points need to be made in a *libertarian
context. What follows relates only to *persons and not to non-person *animals.

Conception of utility. If ‘utility’
is understood as a mental state, as
it was originally and often still is, then it is hard to defend it as desirable
in principle because most people want at least some real states of affairs.
They do not want the *happy or pleasurable delusion of having the things they
want, nor some zombie-like state of wellbeing. The more recent preference utilitarianism, by contrast, means
having more of your preferences or wants satisfied, even if you can never know
it (such as a lost friend’s wellbeing or what happens to your paintings after
your own *death). Only one’s unimposed wants (not those induced by
*fraud or force) will count, because we do not value *proactively-imposed
wants however happy, etc., they might make us. Thus (unimposed-)want-satisfaction
is a criterion of *welfare, although not an exclusively *self-interested
one, that people would choose for themselves if they could. *Economics
should be interpreted as referring to this sense of utility.

Conceptual connection with liberty.
There are conceptual connections between preference utilitarianism and
libertarianism: individual persons have more *liberty
and utility to the extent that they are not proactively imposed on; and liberty
and utility are necessarily desired. These connections are not ad hoc: they involve
interpretations of liberty and utility that independently withstand *critical
scrutiny. These connections do not make the overlap between utility and liberty
tautological: we can coherently imagine the *state’s being able to
increase overall utility by infringing liberty.

Contingent connection with liberty. There
is no logical incompatibility between preference utilitarianism and *laissez
faire; contra, for instance, Bernard Williams (1929-2003) (see *unintended consequences). And, contingently, it
appears from economics, primarily, that the *free market and liberty are
just what does maximize want-satisfaction. There seem to be no systematic
clashes between them, at least (see relevant topic entries if this is doubted).
Thus ‘rule utilitarianism’ can be interpreted as requiring the rule of
observing libertarian *rights (rather than calculating the consequences for
each act as ‘act utilitarianism’ entails; but

Significance of connection with liberty.
Neither preference-utility nor liberty are ultimate values (goals we would uphold
as ends in themselves no matter what the consequences): both are only moral frameworks,
or can even be mere egoistic modus vivendi (possibly arising from a *social
contract), within which diverse values and ends may be pursued. That utility
and liberty do not clash is not a *‘justification’ of either by the other. Correctly understood,
they can both float as unrefuted practical moral conjectures. But it allays
criticisms of each that, if either were to be maximised, it would damage the
other too much. And liberty and utility are the two biggest, supposed, rivals
in Western moral theory; so they make an overwhelming alliance. Ultimately, one
is a libertarian or utilitarian first and foremost to the extent that one would
favor liberty or utility in the event of a clash. Not many people would favor
liberty regardless of the consequences for utility, or vice versa. But as they
do not clash in systematic practice one need not choose.

See *utility monsters, etc.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

harm principle

Philosophy Posted on Mon, June 23, 2014 14:05:00

harm principle It is often suggested, sometimes even by *libertarians,
that actions that harm other people should not be allowed. But taken literally,
this cannot be correct. For we often *objectively harm others, or *risk
harming them, with their permission: such as by providing them with ‘junk
food’, cigarettes, or participatory *sports. Harming, or risking harming, others on a voluntary
basis is part of *liberty. A better criterion of what should not be allowed
is what *proactively imposes on other people (or normal adults,
at least; with the mentally impaired, etc., being treated like *children
of similar intellect), even if it does the imposed-on people some objective good.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

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