Libertarian arguments I have conquered

The Non-Aggression Principle

Libertarian arguments I have not yet conquered


Any dispute or argument over property at all presupposed property is rivalrous and property rights do exist.
You can't argue the right to exclusively use and control a rivalrous good or resource and at the same time deny private property rights in those goods or resources…it's a contradiction, and contradictions can't be true.

One answer might be that it's not about rights but about needs, and not about ownership, but about use and reliable access, not about exclusive use and control, but about sharing (distributed use and control),

Surprising things about libertarianism

Libertarians advocate equality

Nothing here yet.

Libertarianism is collectivist

Nothing here yet.

The libertarian style

Libertarianism, like other political -isms, is an ideology, but it's also a culture. I seem to detect a certain flavor of the way libertarians tend to think. Here are some features of that style of thinking:

  • Libertarians like order
  • Libertarians like simplicity
  • Libertarians like to make arguments from "first principles"
  • Libertarianism is a political philosophy, but it's also a negation of politics.

…Eliezer Yudkowsky has a widely read post called “Politics is the Mind-Killer”, which puts the thesis pretty starkly: politics interferes with the rationalist goal of pure objective cognition. Rationalism defines itself around figuring out what is true. Having interests, especially political interests, interferes with this. And indeed, politics is not about what is true so much is it is about what people want, and how they collectively go about getting it.

Rationalists tend to be repelled by social phenomenon like that. A comment on Scott Alexanders blog, expressed the great unease he feels in a political crowd:

“I’ve never been to such an event, but I also don’t get them. In fact, I find myself actively creeped out by many forms of collective displays of emotion/enthusiasm.”

Libertarianism is a sort of antipolitical political belief system. It is an ideology for those who don՚t believe in politics, don՚t trust politics, and think that the messy business of human collective goal-seeking can be replaced by the purely individualistic and quantitative mechanisms of the market. Libertarianism holds great attraction for nerds in part because of its (ostensible) elegant distribution of control. The realities of winner-take-all monopoly capitalism don՚t enter into their thinking, as far as I can tell. Libertarianism has been critiqued to death, by me and others (over and over) and I don՚t want to do that here, just to acknowledge that I believe what attracts at least the nerdy to libertarianism is not greed (the usual critique from the left) but the desire to replace the political reality of society with something simpler.

- mtraven, Omniorthogonal: Three forms of antipolitics

Libertarian heroes and US Founders who (at least appear to) oppose (at least some aspects of) libertarianism

There were some – Frédéric Bastiat and Jean-Baptiste Say come to mind – who believed that government should put the unemployed to work building infrastructure when markets or production were temporarily disrupted.
- J. Bradford DeLong on American Conservatism’s Crisis of Ideas - Project Syndicate

Economic success can both entice and propel innovation, hard work, enterprise, competitive creativity and philanthropy. But that (as Adam Smith proclaimed in the miracle year 1776) there comes a point where enough is enough… and sometimes even too much.

Hold onto your seat, because I'm about to tell you something about Washington and the others that you never knew… that they were "levellers."

The founders started by banning primogeniture, so no family fortune could sit and accumulate, undivided, as a lordly demesne at the pyramid's peak. Instead, they would get divided among the large numbers of children that folks had then — an intentional act of "social engineering" and outright "levelling" and don't you for a moment think otherwise! They also seized the assets of the Tory lords and even neutral absentees and distributed them to the masses. And they made homesteading easy, with laws that favored Yeoman citizens. (All right, some of the lands they seized belonged to native American tribes - I never called these guys perfect, just smart, with a goal of not repeating the historical mistakes they loathed. Sure, they proceeded to make others.)

Never heard of these "levelling" acts by the founders? Heck, even liberals have forgotten them. Or they've become used to simply ceding Washington and Adam Smith to the blustering right, without even putting up a fight. Stupid-lame liberals.

- David Brin, CONTRARY BRIN: "Class War" and the Lessons of History

Benjamin Franklin

All Property, indeed, except the Savage's temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.
- Property: Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris

Private Property therefore is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing; its Contributions therefore to the public Exigencies are not to be considered as conferring a Benefit on the Publick, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honour and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or the Payment of a just Debt.
- Bicameralism: Benjamin Franklin, Queries and Remarks respecting Alterations in the Constitution of Pennsylvania

Friedrich Hayek

Hayek supported social insurance, even in The Road to Serfdom […] He made clear that compulsory contributions to a system of social insurance were compatible with a free society. Hayek rejected laissez-faire capitalism and insisted that a free society was also compatible with various forms of economic regulation […]
- Elizabeth Anderson, Nota Bene-- Thomas Paine’s “Agrarian Justice” and the Origins of Social Insurance

Thomas Jefferson

While it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from Nature at all … it is considered by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no one has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land … Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society.
- Property: Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson

I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed.
Thomas Jefferson, From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 28 October 1785 -

John Locke

God, the lord and father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods, so that it cannot justly be denied him when his pressing wants call for it, and therefore, no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions, since it would always be a sin in any man of estate to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty.

And a man can no more justly make use of another’s necessity to force him to become his vassal by withholding that relief God required him to afford to the wants of his brother, than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, master him to his obedience, and, with a dagger at his throat, offer him death or slavery.

The rabble did not want to be ruled by King or Parliament, but "by countrymen like ourselves, that know our wants." Their pamphlets explained further that "It will never be a good world while knights and gentlemen make us laws, that are chosen for fear and do but oppress us, and do not know the people's sores."
These ideas naturally appalled the men of best quality. They were willing to grant the people rights, but within reason, and on the principle that "when we mention the people, we do not mean the confused promiscuous body of the people." After the democrats had been defeated, John Locke commented that "day-labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairymaids" must be told what to believe: "The greatest part cannot know and therefore they must believe."
Like John Milton and other civil libertarians of the period, Locke held a sharply limited conception of freedom of expression. His Fundamental Constitution of Carolina barred those who "speak anything in their religious assembly irreverently or seditiously of the government or governors, or of state matters." The constitution guaranteed freedom for "speculative opinions in religion," but not for political opinions. "Locke would not even have permitted people to discuss public affairs," Leonard Levy observes. The constitution provided further that "all manner of comments and expositions on any part of these constitutions, or on any part of the common or statute laws of Carolines, are absolutely prohibited." In drafting reasons for Parliament to terminate censorship in 1694, Locke offered no defense of freedom of expression or thought, but only considerations of expediency and harm to commercial interests. With the threat of democracy overcome and the libertarian rabble dispersed, censorship was permitted to lapse in England, because the "opinion-formers…censored themselves. Nothing got into print which frightened the men of property," Christopher Hill comments. In a well-functioning state capitalist democracy like the United States, what might frighten the men of property is generally kept far from the public eye — sometimes, with quite astonishing success.
Such ideas have ample resonance until today, including Locke's stern doctrine that the common people should be denied the right even to discuss public affairs

John Stuart Mill

The Distribution of wealth … is a matter of human institution solely. The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they like. They can place them at the disposal of whomsoever they please, and on whatever terms. Further, in the social state, in every state except total solitude, any disposal whatever of them can only take place by the consent of society, or rather of those who dispose of its active force [i.e. government]. Even what a person has produced by his individual toil, unaided by any one, he cannot keep, unless by the permission of society. Not only can society take it from him, but individuals could and would take it from him, if society only remained passive; if it did not either interfere en masse, or employ and pay people [i.e. police] for the purpose of preventing him from being disturbed in the possession. The distribution of wealth, therefore, depends on the laws and customs of society. The rules by which it is determined are what the opinions and feelings of the ruling portion of the community make them, and are very different in different ages and countries; and might still be more different, if mankind so chose.
- Principles of Political Economy, Book V

Ludwig von Mises

All ownership derives from occupation and violence. […] That all rights derive from violence, all ownership from appropriation or robbery, we may freely admit to those who oppose ownership on considerations of natural law.
"Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis" Ch. 1, section 2.

…no social coöperation and no civilization could exist without some amount of compulsion and coercion. It is the task of government to protect the social system against the attacks of those who plan actions detrimental to its maintenance and operation.
Books | Mises Institute

Thomas Paine

The Common Sense Entitlements of Thomas Paine | Ian Ruskin -

Agrarian Justice was "Thomas Paine's prescient proposal which advocated the use of an estate tax and a tax on land values to fund a universal old-age and disability pension, as well as a fixed sum to be paid to all citizens on reaching maturity." - Agrarian Justice - Critiques Of Libertarianism

Three quotes:

There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should issue.

Land, as before said, is the free gift of the Creator in common to the human race. Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.

Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.

Adam Smith

The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
- Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations", last sentences in conclusion of Book 1.

Now that we're in the business of quoting my favorite misunderstood philosopher.
The Individual and the Collective
When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect upon our conduct, we dare not, as self–love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately calls to us, that we value ourselves too much and other people too little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and indignation of our brethren.
We are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it.
Division of Labor and Public Education
The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become
The education of the common people requires, in a civilized and commercial society, the attention of the public more than that of people of some rank and fortune.
For a very small expence the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education.
Progressive Taxation
The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.
Every tax, however, is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery but of liberty. It denotes that he is a subject to government, indeed, but that, as he has some property, he cannot himself be the property of a master.
Living Wage and Profits
Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.
A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more; otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation
Think-tanks, Cartels, unions and legislation
Businessmen of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices
We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of the workman. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject.
The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order [of businessmen], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.
The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers.
Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters.
Luxury and Distributive Justice
No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable.
It is but equity, besides, that they [the workers] who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.
Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.
To superficial minds, the vices of the great seem at all times agreeable
Money, says the proverb, makes money. When you have a little, it is often easier to get more. The great difficulty is to get that little.
All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.
~The Actual Adam Smith



Known good

These look promising

  • Aune, James Arnt: Selling the Free Market (I skimmed, it looks intriguing, lots of stuff about rhetoric, chapters on Ayn Rand, Nozick, Rothbard, Reagan, "How the Right Triumphed")

Hmmm, I'm not sure about these:

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