Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Archive for the ‘Rothbard’ Category

Why there should be no such thing as society

In Anarchism, Libertarianism, Rothbard on May 5, 2013 at 4:57 PM

Murray Rothbard explains:

The individualist view of “society” has been summed up in the phrase: “Society” is everyone but yourself. Put thus bluntly, this analysis can be used to consider those cases where “society” is treated, not only as a superhero with superrights, but as a supervillain on whose shoulders massive blame is placed. Consider the typical view that not the individual criminal, but “society,” is responsible for his crime. Take, for example, the case where Smith robs or murders Jones. The “old-fashioned” view is that Smith is responsible for his act. The modern liberal counters that “society” is responsible. This sounds both sophisticated and humanitarian, until we apply the individualist perspective. Then we see that what liberals are really saying is that everyone but Smith, including of course the victim Jones, is responsible for the crime. Put this baldly, almost everyone would recognize the absurdity of this position. But conjuring up the fictive entity “society” obfuscates this process. As the sociologist Arnold W. Green puts it: “It would follow, then, that if society is responsible for crime, and criminals are not responsible for crime, only those members of society who do not commit crime can be held responsible for crime. Nonsense this obvious can be circumvented only by conjuring up society as devil, as evil being apart from people and what they do.”

Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, (Second Edition, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006) pp.46-47. Available  free on line.


Getting it wrong on libertarianism

In Libertarianism, Rothbard on September 17, 2012 at 5:49 PM

Max Dunbar is a friend of mine and I enjoy reading his articles. Given my interest in libertarianism, I was particularly interested to read his article that was alerted to me via his Facebook status: “the trouble with libertarians: notes on the sex myth.” The post is actually a review of Dr. Brooke Magnanti’s recently published book, The Sex Myth: Why Everything We’re Told is Wrong. I have not read this book and thus cannot comment upon it; what I do wish to comment upon is a  section in Max’s review where he makes an observation about libertarianism:

I give you Vincent Tabak. He murdered Joanna Yeates by strangulation in 2010, and a search of his computer revealed an internet history full of hardcore, violent pornography that depicted women being bound and choked. Nothing to see here, says Belle. ‘The judge made the right call, and Tabak was convicted of murder on a case that was strong enough on its own.’ She is right that the evil came before the influence, and that attributing the murder entirely to the effect of hardcore porn takes away the responsibility that Tabak should carry forever himself. But can we really say that Tabak’s obsessive interest in sadomasochistic imagery had no influence whatsoever on his crime?

The libertarian fallacy is to assume such a thing as the pure individual. [Emphasis added]

I asked Max what he meant by the sentence that I have emphasised above. He explained to me that it was “the idea that we can remain totally immune from external influence.”

Where Max is wrong is that libertarians qua libertarians do not have a position as to whether individuals can remain free from external influence. They are not specialists in being able to determine whether or not sadomasochistic imagery does or does not influence violent and/or sexual crimes. The libertarian view is simply that one should not initiate the use of non-consensual force. She would allow hardcore, violent pornography providing it was made with the consent of the actors. This is because  the rights of actors have not been violated.

Ridiculing liberals, libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard explained in 1973:

[W]hile liberals are in favor of any sexual activity engaged in by two consenting adults, when these consenting adults engage in trade or exchange, the liberals step in to harass, cripple, restrict, or prohibit that trade. And yet both the consenting sexual activity and the trade are similar expressions of liberty in action. Both should be favored by any consistent libertarian. But the government, especially a liberal government, habitually steps in to regulate and restrict such trade.

The effect of allowing pornography or prostitution is not something  with which classical libertarian theory concerns itself.  The libertarian is just concerned that everyone involved was doing so of their own free will as opposed to under coercion. Even if it is true that hardcore violent pornography does influence violent and sexual crimes, the libertarian would not seek to prohibit it. Likewise, the libertarian would not ban alcohol or narcotics because some people who drink alcohol or use drugs become violent. The libertarian qua libertarian is concerned with the rights of the individual, she does not concern herself with determining whether violent pornography leads to violence.

On Killing Babies

In Abortion, Rothbard on March 2, 2012 at 6:37 PM

This is a cross post by Michael Ezra. It was originally posted on Harry’s Place on February 29th 2012, 4:15 pm

I am sure that many people  will be as shocked as I am by this report that has appeared in the Daily Telegraph:

Infanticide should be legal, Oxford experts say

A group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued that killing young babies is no different from abortion, and should be allowed even when there is nothing physically wrong with the child….

[Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, the authors of the report published in the Journal of Medical Ethics,] argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”.

They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

The authors therefore concluded that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled”.

Utilising ethics and morals to justify the termination of the life of babies is not new. A key question becomes who owns the baby. In his book, The Ethics of Liberty, the libertarian Murray Rothbard argued that the mother “is the natural and rightful owner of the baby.” He adds, “even from birth, the parental ownership is not absolute but of a ‘trustee’ or guardianship kind. In short, every baby as soon as it is born and is therefore no longer contained within his mother’s body possesses the right of self-ownership by virtue of being a separate entity and a potential adult.” Rothbard is clear that it should be illegal to torture or murder a baby. But having said that, this does not make Rothbard the great defender of babies. Far from it. He believed that a parent can simply let a baby die by not feeding it:

[A] parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also … the parent should not have a legal obligationto feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.

Rothbard would therefore allow a parent to starve a baby to death by not providing it any food.  A different, and earlier argument, for killing babies was made in 1895 by the American individual anarchist Benjamin Tucker. Unlike Rothbard, he believed that parents could torture and murder their children: “parental cruelty is not to be prohibited.” He made an explicit argument based on his opinion that parents owned their children, to conclude that they have the right to throw their child into the fire. Carl Watner explained in the pages of Libertarian Forum (March 1975):

Tucker’s opinion is grounded on the fact that he views the child as the property of the mother. Children, in Tucker’s estimation, belong in the category of things to be owned, rather than as being owners of themselves. However he does note that the “child differs from all other parts of that category (of things to be owned) in the fact that there is steadily developing within him the power of self-emancipation, which at a certain point enables him to become an owner instead of remaining part of the owned.”” Tucker saw ”. . . no clearer property title in the world than that of the mother to the fruit of her womb, unless she has otherwise disposed of it by contract. Certainly the mother’s title to the child while it remains in her womb will not be denied by any Anarchist. To deny this would be to deny the right of the mother to commit suicide during pregnancy, and I never knew an Anarchist to deny the right of suicide. If, then, the child is the mother’s while in the womb, by what consideration does title to it become vested in another than the mother on its emergence from the womb pending the day of its emancipation?”

Tucker clearly refused to invoke the self-ownership axiom towards children, at least until they had reached the age of being able to contract and provide for themselves. In the meantime, he recognized the right of the mother to throw her property into the fire.

I am sure that many people will look at these arguments for either killing a baby or allowing it to die and their prejudice against those with philosophy degrees will be reinforced.

Hat Tip: Paul Bogdanor