Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Re: Re: Property Requirements for Voting and Other Misguided Ideas

Here is a response by a different commentator to my reply over at that dogmatic libertarian blog.  It is nice to see a somewhat more reasoned response and at least some willingness to engage in philosophical debate.

Too many floating abstractions in what you have provided. Start by considering what property is, what an owner of property is, the relationship between the two and why it is up to the owner to determine what the use of HIS property is to be.

Quoting, “If I choose to play Russian roulette with your head and the chamber that comes up happens to be empty, would I have “interfered” with your liberty?”

In this instance you are choosing to threaten the well-being, indeed the very life, of another person with an extreme violence and very destructive behaviour. Whatever happens they will never be the same after your offensive action. What gives you the right to dispose of their life, or threaten to, in some game of chance you operate? Turn the scenario around and consider whether I have a right to put a gun to your head. Do I own your life? Is it mine to dispose of in a game of chance, according some arbitrary whim I wish to play through? Are you my property to injure, make suffer, torture, bully, threaten, scare, emotionally scar etc? Whose property is your body and your life? Can any other person have the right to own it?

You need to carefully consider what property is and what that means. I recommend you read some of Prof Hans-Herman Hoppe’s work on ths subject. That would be a strong running start.

You write, “Does driving 65 mph rise to this level of risk/threats? Does 75? How about 95mph? Most importantly, who decides?”

The owner of the property decides. Ask for the name of the owner of the road. After all, it is the owner of the property who decides what the rules of said property are going to be. He sets the rules and you follow them if you wish to use his property, in this case a road. Hence, if you decide that a road where the owner has set no speed limit is too dangerous for you, then you don’t go there. He owns his property, just as you own yours (you own yourself). Now if the road owner set a limit of 5mph and required the presence of a man with a red flag, then you’d need to obey that (assuming you want to drive on his road). If not, then do not go there. It’s his property and so he decides what the requirements for you to use his property are. Simple enough really.

Quoting, “I will demand a say in the process.”

You can demand all you like but you have no control over the disposition, employment and/or disposal of that which is not your property. It aint yours, so as a non-owner you have no say in the process the owner employs to decide what to do with his property. Sure, you might like to try and persuade him to choose a particular option from a set of alternatives, but he is ultimately the one who decides. It has nothing to do with you. You have no say in his business. That is, HIS property.

Quoting, “Driving a car that releases substances that are causally contributory to cancer and other diseases is an interference.”

You would need to prove that the use of the car was causal. That is, you need to prove that specific substances caused your cancer and that they were sourced from a car. If you can show that then you have a case which requires redress. If not, then there is nothing to consider. All you would have accomplised then is the generation of an arbitrary claim (an equivalent of saying there are fairies in my garden).

None of this requires a democratic process, a say, voting, a decision making procedure or any of that. What it does require is the thorough understanding of what property is.

Here is my response:

Thank you for the response. Here are my disagreements.

First, the two examples were meant to indicate that risky behavior and/or threatening behavior are additional burdens for a libertarian theory of basic rights that cannot be determined by resort to simple noninterference/nonaggression without an additional theory of impermissible noninterference. Here is a slight alteration of the Russian roulette example. Suppose that I perform this twisted game while you are sleeping at my house (you needed a place to crash after watching the Giants beat the Falcons). I pull the trigger but alas the chamber is empty. You are never the wiser to this occurrence. I believe that this Russian roulette is morally impermissible and exemplifies the fact that risky behavior, in addition to physical force, violates basic rights. But once we recognize this moral fact, many additional issues arise: what other behavior is impermissibly risky? For example, should we allow a train to pass by my property despite the fact that it may produce sparks and light my house on fire? What gives them the right to risk my property and my life? You can cite to Hoppe all you want, but reasonable people, including reasonable libertarian philosophers, disagree on these issues. Who decides?

This brings me to my second point. I am familiar with Hoppe, I have read Rothbard numerous times, and I am very familiar as to what “property” is and requires. (In actuality, it is not “property” that is important but the concept of “rights.” Property in and of itself has no moral value. Only the addition of “rights” gives the concept of property any moral standing.) That being said, it is the case that reasonable libertarian philosophers disagree over the nature and extent of property rights. Indeed, Roderick Long, a card-carrying member of the LvMI community, argued for the importance of recognizing public rights in property, thus re-opening all the questions of risky behavior as exemplified by the speeding example. Whether you agree with him or not, whether he is correct or not, is beside the point. What is important is that his view is reasonable. Unless you profess to transcend the realities of the human condition and our limited cognitive capacities and knowledge, you will recognize the potential fallibility of your own position. This does not mean you should give up in setting forth a conception of justice and property rights; rather, it means you ought to recognize that reasonable people can and do disagree, even within the libertarian framework.

Third, you note that “You can demand all you like but you have no control over the disposition, employment and/or disposal of that which is not your property. It aint yours…” The problem here is that the issue precisely is which property is rightfully whose and the requirements of justice. To the extent that I disagree with Owner X’s claim to justice and a certain conception of property rights, I will thereafter claim a right to reparation for harm. In pursuance thereof, I will “get my boys” and make damn well sure that I have “control over the disposition, employment and/or disposal” of what I believe is my property. You can pound the table all you like with Hoppe and Rothbard, but I will pound the table in return with Lomansky, Gaus, Nozick, and Locke. To make things really interesting, I could introduce David Friedman and other utilitarian anarchist-capitalists and/or libertarians (such as Richard Epstein) in order to really illustrate the disagreements possible in a libertarian political unit. Again, who decides?

The libertarian theories of property rights, contract rights, torts, etc. do not provide for an all-encompassing, self-contained, neatly packaged institutional system with no room for reasonable disagreement. So there will always be disagreement, even among libertarians, as to issues such as criminal punishment, adverse possession, intellectual property (cite all you want to Kinsella, libertarians disagree), easements, “offer and acceptance,” drunk driving (if public property is recognized), negligence, etc. You may have your own theory (or Hoppe’s) hoping to provide an answer to these problems, but so will others with incompatible and mutually exclusive solutions. The issue thus falls back once again to who decides. Who has the authority to settle these disputes? Who has authority to enforce settlement?

Because decisions must be made on these issues and because of the realities of the human condition–cognitive biases, moral fallibility, limited knowledge–individuals will reasonably reject the claim of philosopher kings to posses moral and political authority. Their claim “to know” better than everyone else (i.e., a claim to theoretical authority) will be looked at with reasonable suspicion, especially if they are unwilling to listen to and take note of voices of disagreement in a deliberative and inclusive process. Their claim to the obligatoriness of their conception of morality, justice, and property rights (i.e., a claim to practical authority) will thus be reasonably rejected, for they have not been able (or willing) to justify to their fellow libertarian citizens their imposition of a political system. They will thereby lack the moral legitimacy to enforce their regime.

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