Monday, July 25, 2011

Breivik and the Libertarians

As someone who has spent a fair amount of time alternately being dumbfounded by and then refuting claims from libertarians (yes - as my memory serves me - exclusively libertarians) that a champion of liberalism like Keynes was a Nazi sympathizer, I don't feel particularly shy looking at the case of Anders Breivik and libertarianism.

Steve Horwitz discusses this issue here, and he notes that people with nasty agendas are going to point this out and that people ought to think seriously about it and simply know the facts to get ahead of the situation. I agree with Steve here, and like Gene Callahan I want to make clear I'm not one of those people with a "nasty agenda".

Libertarianism is no antidote to the human condition

I suppose what bothers me most is the reaction that some people have that "you cannot be a libertarian and do something like that", as if any human ideology insulates us from doing terrible things. That outlook is negligent, and that's really what worries me. Nobody thinks that their own outlook on the world, properly understood, justifies this sort of thing. Many people have pointed out illiberal tendencies in libertarianism long before this episode, and the suggestion that Breivik couldn't be a libertarian seems to ignore these past observations. Libertarianism strictly curtails free people's self-governance. Libertarianism often seeks to design a polity based on logical constructions and opposes itself to states that are the result of gradual evolution and emergent order (and are therefore likely to be much more robust and consistent with human flourishing than the blueprint-societies libertarians have in mind). Libertarianism is better described as "propertarianism" because it is not so much pro-liberty as it is pro-non-interference with a given property rights regime. I and others have pointed out these tendencies in some libertarians and in some expressions of libertarianism. Nobody is saying that libertarianism is definitively illiberal or that libertarianism "leads to this sort of violence", but nobody should think that libertarianism is an ideology that is immune to illiberalism or nutjobs either.

If Breivik is not a libertarian, is he a Hoppean?

The other thing that bothers me about these claims that Breivik couldn't be a libertarian because he was anti-immigrant and nationalist is that we have such a blatantly obvious and widely celebrated cases of anti-immigrant, nationalist libertarianism: Hans Hermann Hoppe. His best known anti-immigration article is here:

Hoppe, H. 1998. "The Case for Free Trade and Restricted Immigration". Journal of Libertarian Studies 13(2), p. 221-233.

Walter Block responded to the article critically here. My case of course is not that Hoppe demonstrates that all libertarians are or must be anti-immigration. But Block himself certainly doesn't seem to think this threatens Hoppe's libertarian bona fides. There is clearly space for anti-immigrant, nationalist perspectives. In that article, Block refers to Hoppe as one immigrant who has "improved our freedom immeasurably", so clearly there's no feeling on Block's part (despite his disagreement with Hoppe) that Hoppe has at all been a detrimental influence on the advancement of libertarianism. Hoppe has another anti-immigration article here, also in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.

Another thing that people have mentioned is that Breivik's opposition was cultural and that this somehow makes a difference. Again, though, Hoppe presents a cultural case for restricted immigration. In the well-known "footnote 23" of Natural Order, the State, and the Immigration Problem he writes:

"A second motive for the open border enthusiasm among contemporary left-libertarians is their egalitarianism. They were initially drawn to libertarianism as juveniles because of its "antiauthoritarianism" (trust no authority) and seeming "tolerance," in particular toward "alternative" — non-bourgeois — lifestyles. As adults, they have been arrested in this phase of mental development. They express special "sensitivity" in every manner of discrimination and are not inhibited in using the power of the central state to impose non-discrimination or "civil rights" statutes on society. Consequently, by prohibiting other property owners from discrimination as they see fit, they are allowed to live at others' expense. They can indulge in their "alternative" lifestyle without having to pay the "normal" price for such conduct, i.e., discrimination and exclusion. To legitimize this course of action, they insist that one lifestyle is as good and acceptable as another. This leads first to multiculturalism, then to cultural relativism, and finally to "open borders.""

Hoppe makes many different sorts of cases against immigration, including an economic case and a political case. But he also clearly embraces a cultural case: culture must be grounded in a nation, multiculturalism is a bad thing, etc. So is Breivik a libertarian? I don't know but let's not pretend there hasn't been acceptance of views like Breivik's among libertarians. We can be honest about this without saying that libertarianism "leads to violence". In fact it's only through being honest about these sort of things that we're going to avoid being blind-sided.

And then there's Mises

Of course, this question is going to require refighting the case of Mises on fascism. I'll keep this brief, because this whole issue has a tendency to explode, and it's already been written about extensively elsewhere. Mises, as I read him in Liberalism, (1.) promotes a liberalism that is inconsistent with fascism, (2.) recognizes that fascism can never succeed and fundamentally misunderstands economics and human nature, but (3.) makes a clear instrumentalist case for fascist violence as a means of suppressing the greater threat of Communism. I would not call Mises a "Nazi sympathizer". He wasn't even commenting on Nazis. I would say that he takes a chillingly instrumentalist position on the inter-ideological violence of the 1920s. If you replace the Communists who threaten European civilization with the immigrants who threaten a Hoppean view of European civilization you can see the same sort of instrumentalist formulas with Breivik and potential reactions to Breivik.

I don't have a "nasty agenda"

I really don't. I've tried to cultivate an environment that is critical of but fair to libertarians, and I think in most cases I hit the mark. I'm certainly not trying to tie Breivik to all libertarians in this post. But we know how dangerous a "this can't happen here" attitude is, and that's what I'm trying to avoid here. And perhaps I am trying to push libertarians a little. Should they be more critical of Hoppe? Should these sorts of views be welcomed as uncritically as they are? As libertarian ideas continue to be on the rise in the U.S. and Europe we need to consider the reactionary potential of libertarianism just like we consider the reactionary potential of any ideology. And we should do that with specificity - not broad brushstrokes.

73 comments:

  1. Daniel, you have yet to refute the fact that this guy was too good-looking to have been a libertarian. Checkmate.

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  2. I suppose libertarianism is defined individually and that mainstream libertarianism is defined by Ron Paul and others who could intellectually encompass some of the ideas of Breivik and Hoppe here. One must look no further than Paul's support of legislation that authorized building a wall between Mexico and the U.S.

    In my view none of this is consistent with how I define libertarianism. I start with a very general form of the axiom of non-aggression: that it is illegitimate to engage in any form of aggression against persons or property except in case of self defense of family or property. I know some libertarians use this in a stricter sense to reflect only the ideas of property and freedom of contract, but it can (and in my opinion should) be extended to include all forms of coercion in all cases. This axiom is primary, everything else follows.

    In the cases you mention, neither Breivik, Hoppe, Mises, nor Ron Paul is consistent with my interpretation of libertarinaism.

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  3. I agree with Argosy Jones here.

    With many American libertarians being obese, neckbearded, bespectacled, balding, and (among older ones) wrinkled, it may be too much justice to them to suggest Breivik was a libertarian! I can not recall one handsome libertarian, or even a physically fit one. LewRockwell.Com is full of dietary fad articles, typical of fatties who want shortcuts to becoming thin. The last I checked, they are all still fatty fat fats and haven't lost weight, in spite of their search for polemical contrarian nutritionists. Haha.

    By the way, you have given far too much of a voice to an ultra-marginal group of libertarians, through either your criticisms or your conceded praise for them. Yes, it's a bizzaro world idea that we will start seeing libertarian terror attacks soon. Yes, you lack a sense of proportion on the issue of libertarians.

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  4. Prateek -
    After reading that last paragraph, I'm wondering what you think I'm saying here! Certainly I'm not saying that Breivik is anywhere close to typical of the most reactionary sub-group of libertarians, nor am I saying that those sub-groups are typical of libertarians generally.

    I thought I laid out my claims pretty clearly:

    Ideology is no innoculation against the human condition; There are celebrated libertarians that can easily contribute to this sort of xenophobia.

    Your "sense of proportion" point is wrong, I think. When it comes to things like this the right proportions to consider change. Most of the world's one billion Muslims are entirely peaceful. Does this mean it's foolish to be straightforward and inquisitive about militant Islam and honest about its origins in Islam more broadly? Of course not. With four planes, it only takes an ultra-marginal group to make a big impact. They deserve attention, I think.

    I didn't mention the Tea Party in this post, but the Tea Party is part of the reason why I think honesty about these threats is important. Some libertarians like to pretend that the Tea Party is all sugar and spice and everything nice. Ignoring the strong xenophobic and theocratic elements in the Tea Party and pretending they're just the nice libertarians is dangerous. Again, to say "the Tea Party is a non-violent movement" completely misses the point. As a movement, it is non-violent. Most Tea Partiers - even those with more odious views of immigrants or non-Christians - would recoil at the sort of violence we saw in Norway. But that doesn't mean that ultra-marginal reactionary elements don't exist. As long as those ultra-marginal elements can make non-trivial impacts, it's worth a medium-lenght blog post to shed some light on them, at the very least.

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  5. Your point may be similar to Bob Murphy, who has said that since Breivik to a large extent planned his attack as a way to promote his manifesto, he refuses to read the manifesto.

    I think this attitude is mistaken (I browsed the manifesto this weekend myself).

    We ought to understand these people - particularly people like Breivik who are part of a broader neo-nationalist movement in Europe.

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  6. Excellent post, Daniel. The libertarian attitude of exceptionalism has been bothering me for ages.

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  7. Daniel, I was responding to your, "As libertarian ideas continue to be on the rise in the U.S. and Europe we need to consider the reactionary potential of libertarianism."

    And I am saying you don't have to consider that potential. Because they are not on the rise, and even if they are, they are still too small.

    They are too small a group to effectively maintain any organization on anything. And surely you know how sectarian libertarians are that they keep breaking from each other to form new groups.

    Besides, how many libertarians do you meet face-to-face on a day to day basis? There just can't be that many of them.

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  8. re: "Besides, how many libertarians do you meet face-to-face on a day to day basis? There just can't be that many of them."

    Well, I live less than a mile from the Mercatus Center and George Mason's Arlington campus, so my count for this may be somewhat atypical ;-)

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  9. It is hard for me to understand how one could be anti-immigration or for highly restricted immigration and libertarian. The two former positions would require so much government control over individual decisions by the citizenry that you would end up having a society placed all manner of limits on individual choice, liberty, etc. For example, you'd have to deploy armies of inspectors, border control agents, etc. to make such a legal framework, well, work (and even then it wouldn't work).

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  10. Gary - precisely the same libertarian logic that accepts a state to protect property rights. That is, after all, the ultimate basis of Hoppe's anti-immigration views. If you can countenance a state big enough to protect property rights, Hoppeans would say that you can countenance a state big enough to exclude immigrants. Indeed, it's required.

    The other thing to consider is of course that you don't need a state per se to be anti-immigration. Hoppeans would talk about doing this through "private law".

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  11. Prateek Sanjay,

    In recent years the U.S. at least, people who self-identify as libertarians in polls has gone above the 10% mark for the first time ever. This trend occurred prior to the election of 2008 and I think much of it is due to a reaction to the Bush presidency.

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  12. Prateek Sanjay,

    There is, in my own very anecdotal experience, just a hell of a lot more chatter from non-libertarian sources about libertarianism generally (much of it pretty dumb chatter, but chatter nonetheless).

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  13. Daniel Kuehn,

    Protecting property rights doesn't require a big state (in fact, because private property arises before the state - the state basically enforces good norms that people have discovered); most of the protections associated with property rights have nothing to do with the state in fact - much of it is in fact "private law," community norms, blah blah blah. So you overstate your argument dramatically.

    Anti-immigration, on the other hand, would require a huge state to combat immigration. You don't have a federally whatever created "private property enforcement division" because it isn't needed; you can have a very small government footprint in that arena; you cannot have a very small government footprint when it comes to immigration, or anything else that would like to control like that.

    "The other thing to consider is of course that you don't need a state per se to be anti-immigration. Hoppeans would talk about doing this through 'private law'."

    As far as privately controlling immigration, that's just beyond weird as a concept. People who want to work get employed, employers want to hire people; thus even in a private law system you're going way more leakage than such a system could contain - partly just as a result of labor mismatch (especially with regard to so-called low-skilled jobs but with other types of jobs too).

    Then again, I'm just a terrible old cosmotarian. ;)

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  14. "you cannot be a libertarian and do something like that"

    That's true. You cannot be a "good person" and abuse your girlfriend. A person's actions define them, not their purported philosophy or internal dialogue. This shooter was not a libertarian, regardless of his writings or speeches. What if he had written long rants about he was the best economist of all-time. Does that make it so? Wisdom and philosophy are BEHAVIORS not words.
    -Ed

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  15. My libertarianism is mostly a three-step process.

    (a) My default position is liberty (deontological) - people have the natural right to work, play, etc. as they want without government interference.

    (b) If there is a question about something I ask is it beneficial to most people, if it is then I stop there (utilitarian). The questioning has to arise from more than mere isolated incidents, hysteria, etc.

    (c) Even if it isn't beneficial I ask is the cost of trying to end it worse than the problem to start with (utilitarian).

    Very few government programs or activities survive that sort of review.

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  16. I understand, Gary - my point is I think Hoppe and a lot of people who think that closed borders are co-terminous with property rights would have no problem with these steps (well, certainly not (a.), and they would think this isn't a question for (b.)) and yet would still disagree with you.

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  17. "With many American libertarians being obese, neckbearded, bespectacled, balding, and (among older ones) wrinkled..."

    As soon as I quit libertarianism, I slimmed down, my eyesight improved, and my hair grew back.

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  18. Daniel,

    Natalist claims are based largely on hysteria so I reject natalism based merely on that (the non-hysterical claims are also not convincing).

    Gene,

    Libertarianism increased my speed and endurance while running. I also became a better mountain climbing after adopting libertarianism.

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  19. Gary -
    re: "Natalist claims are based largely on hysteria so I reject natalism based merely on that (the non-hysterical claims are also not convincing)."

    Well, no. Or I should say, not all are. Don't tell me I don't understand libertarianism when you're here just dismissing positions of people like Hoppe who are not just foaming at the mouth. He's very wrong, in my opinion, but he's not hysterical and he firmly grounds his arguments in the logical implications of private property rights as he sees it.

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  20. You get a lot more hurrahs from people when you attack libertarianism, directly or indirectly, in your blog posts than when you post on anything else, I find.

    Anyway, I found this interesting:

    The other thing that bothers me about these claims that Breivik couldn't be a libertarian because he was anti-immigrant and nationalist is that we have such a blatantly obvious and widely celebrated cases of anti-immigrant, nationalist libertarianism: Hans Hermann Hoppe.

    Hoppe isn't a nationalist; he's a cultural conservative. And he dislikes the entry of multiple cultures clashing in society (a typical conservative position). He has no love for the nation.

    His arguments are that the state ought to imitate what would occur under a state of private property anarchy. That is, there would be large discrimination by property owners (you don't invite strangers into YOUR living room), but the immigrants that should be allowed entry by the state are those that would be allowed in anyway because they are skilled laborers, friends, relatives, etc. They would be invited by private property owners in a private property society and so the state ought to let them in.

    It's a more nuanced argument of "keep out the riff raff." He certainly thinks it's a good idea economically and politically. His position on cultural conservatism is really tangential (I've read his works more than anyone here).

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  21. "This shooter was not a libertarian, regardless of his writings or speeches."

    Anonymous, "no true scotsman" is a logical fallacy, not a principle of reasoning!

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  22. Remember, I've never read Hoppe, but I really can't imagine what he has to offer that I haven't heard from a lot of other claimants regarding natalism - and those claimants were always people who added a hyphenated word to their libertarianism - libertarian-republican, or paleo-libertarian, or libertarian-conservative, libertarian-nationalist, or libertarian-patriot, or whatever. I guess the hyphenating is in large part because being a libertarian implicates a certain softness when it comes to immigration, nationalism, etc., and for a fair number of hyphenated types your loyalty to country is a big deal and they are suspicious of people not born in the U.S. when it comes to stuff like that (plus there is the whole "club attitude" - you're born into the club so that means the club should give you preference).

    One of the logical implications of property rights are that you may hire who you may want to hire; not that you have to hire people merely because they were born in the artificial borders of a country.

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  23. Mattheus,

    Lots and lots of private property owners use "illegal" so-called unskilled labor in the U.S.; they are the people they "naturally" want to work for them because most Americans do not fit the sort of laborer they need (mostly because the skill-set, etc. are different). And this provides tremendous benefit for Americans; it provides lots and lots managerial, etc. type jobs for Americans (something on the order of a couple of hundred billion dollars in wages every year to the American "middle class").

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  24. Don't forget that the worst act of terrorist violence perpetrated in the US prior to 9/11, was the Oklahoma City bombing. I won't blame libertarians writ large for that--just like I don't blame Islam for 9/11, or any particular ideology for the Oslo attacks last weekend--but this isn't the first time that someone who engages in libertarianish arguments, at least on economic matters (McVeigh and the broader militia movement, like the Tea Party and Breivik, are rather clearly social reactionaries) has committed mass murder, ostensibly in the defense of liberty.

    Much of US libertarianism and pseudo-libertarianism likes to style itself as the modern-day heirs to the colonial political elite which expelled the British and later founded the United States. Both the "militias" and the "tea party" are clear Revolutionary War references, and the dogma of these elements on the political right contain numerous quotes from various revolutionary war figures exhorting political violence against tyranny (most of which were originally made in the context of advancing and supporting an already-occurring rebellion). And in much of the rhetoric from the same quarters, the modern democratic state is frequently described as--guess what--"tyranny".

    Unfortunately, respectable libertarians (the sort which aren't just reactionary Republicans trying to appear reasonable) occasionally sanction this sort of stuff.

    The problem with calling something "tyranny" is that, in the minds of some, gives license to political violence.

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  25. the NAP is the foundation of libertarianism, and this guy aggressed

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  26. Gary,

    Lots and lots of private property owners use "illegal" so-called unskilled labor in the U.S.; they are the people they "naturally" want to work for them because most Americans do not fit the sort of laborer they need (mostly because the skill-set, etc. are different).

    I agree (and so does Hoppe). These people would be invited laborers in a private property society, contracted to work for a wage and be productive. Nobody here thinks that migrant workers ought to be kept out.

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  27. Mattheus -
    If you think of the nation as a tribe or extended kin-group he most certainly is a nationalist. "Nation" is a notoriously slippery concept, but I don't think it's a stretch to say he's a nationalist.

    Gene and Anonymous -
    On the "no true Scotsman" point, I would say this - perhaps it need not be a logical fallacy, but you certainly make your comment utterly useless when you say things like this. If this is the case then you can only truly know a person's ideology after they're dead. It becomes a eulogy rather than a useful category. And for that matter it becomes one of many eulogies. Very few ideologies actually countenance this sort of thing, after all.

    Ideologies are ideas that people have about society. We can be strict about them or not (for example, the question of whether the Tea Party or Ron Paul supporters are libertarian would change depending on how strict we want to be). Presumably we don't want to be TOO strict, because if an ideology can only be faithfully held by half a dozen crusty professors, what good is the term? The question that seems the most important to me is "Can a member of this ideology lash out violently in defense or to propogate his beliefs?". The answer with libertarians is "absolutely, yes".

    If we define everyone and everything after the fact, it doesn't seem like a very meaningful conversation.

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  28. re: "the NAP is the foundation of libertarianism, and this guy aggressed"

    He would argue that immigrants were aggressors and coercers as were their politcal enablers. Indeed, libertarians of many stripes admit that (1.) governing authorities are aggressors, and (2.) violence in response to aggression is different because it's not the initiation of force.

    You can't just define this away so easily, I don't think.

    In fact, if using force against aggressors is not initiating force, and is therefore consistent with the NAP, I don't see how the NAP can be used against any action against governing bodies for libertarians who think that government is by its very nature the aggressor. They may have OTHER arguments against using force against governments, but they can't use the NAP.

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  29. re: "The problem with calling something "tyranny" is that, in the minds of some, gives license to political violence."

    Gene Callahan makes precisely this point in the link I provide in the post.

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  30. While I won't label Glenn Beck as a Libertarian (he's clearly not, despite some agreeement on some issues), his take on the matter is outrageous--he compares the slaughtered campers to the "Hitler Youth".

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  31. For me my conclusion about these sort of people is this - ultimately they are generally fairly unique conglomerations of "identities." That's just a sub-set of the multiplication, commodification, etc. of identity in the modern world (which 99.999999% of the time leads to awesome results).

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  32. Case of ... Americans trying to categorize European political ideologies with American ideological categories ...

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  33. "This shooter was not a libertarian, regardless of his writings or speeches."

    Anonymous, is a logical fallacy, not a principle of reasoning!
    -----------------------------

    Gene: Try again. That's not the "No true Scotsman" fallacy. ALL Scotsman are, in fact, by definition, from Scotland. That fallacy does not apply here.I can write a 1500 page manifesto supporting vegetarianism, but if I eat meat, I'm not a vegetarian. If someone points out that vegetarians do not eat meat, that's not a "No true Scotsman" fallacy. Sorry, but you're wrong.

    A person is ONLY what they do, not what they write. Philosophy and wisdom are a collection of BEHAVIORS, not words.

    -Ed

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  34. Beliefs are behaviors, not writings.

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  35. Does a TRUE vegetarian eat meat, Gene? What if he's written a 1500 page manifesto? Does the manifesto tell you a single thing about whether he was a vegetarian, or are you going to find out if he ate meat or not?

    -Ed

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  36. anon, don't be a putz. The difference between a vegetarian and a libertarian is that one is defined by actions and another is defined by a set of political beliefs.

    Here: by way of illustration, i'll commit the same fallacy in reverse:

    If you're such a libertarian, let's see you smash the state.

    Oh what? But surely there's been a time when you smashed the state, though right? What?! Never?!

    OK Guise, anon is not a real libertarian, but rather some kind of accomodationist poseur. Therefore we can dismiss his comments.

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  37. "With many American libertarians being obese, neckbearded, bespectacled, balding, and (among older ones) wrinkled, it may be too much justice to them to suggest Breivik was a libertarian! I can not recall one handsome libertarian, or even a physically fit one. LewRockwell.Com is full of dietary fad articles, typical of fatties who want shortcuts to becoming thin. The last I checked, they are all still fatty fat fats and haven't lost weight, in spite of their search for polemical contrarian nutritionists. Haha.

    By the way, you have given far too much of a voice to an ultra-marginal group of libertarians, through either your criticisms or your conceded praise for them. Yes, it's a bizzaro world idea that we will start seeing libertarian terror attacks soon. Yes, you lack a sense of proportion on the issue of libertarians. "

    Okay, we get it. You've gone from taking petty pot shots at LRC and MI to outright hostility toward them. The only real difference is you're not cowering before Liberty Student.

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  38. "Anonymous, "no true scotsman" is a logical fallacy, not a principle of reasoning!"

    Gene, if you intend on continuing to be dishonest, then you're going to have to reconsider your childish tantrums at those who call you out on that.

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  39. The funny thing is, that when one would really read the manifesto of this guy then it should be clear that he really is not a libertarian (Except one would define libertarianism with being against marxism...). And this does not only follow from what Breivik policy stands are, he even states himself that his is not a libertarian. He was drawn to that when he was young, but when he noticed that libertarianism stood in the way of his monoculturism he abandoned it! And not only that, he was willing to force his ideas of monoculurism with force on other people. That's awful!

    And as far as there are real libertarians who intend to force with violence their ideas on society, I am with Daniel and condemn that vigorously!

    So I conclude with Mises: "Against what is stupid, nonsensical, erroneous, and evil, liberalism fights with the weapons of the mind, and not with brute force and repression."

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  40. @Anonymous
    I simply have my vulgar side, although I try my level best to be respectable on most occasions.

    For the record, I consider libertystudent a friend. He is, in fact, on my Mises.Org friends list, and he was the one who invited me. We have often talked and spoken on pleasant terms on the forum, save for some moments of him as a moderator telling me not to post about certain things (He too considers me a little vulgar). So there.

    Furthermore, I still post at Mises.Org forums now and then, and I still have my admiration for the people who work at Mises Institute. And for the cool people in the forums there.

    And I can still make a few jokes about "Haha, libertarians are fatty fat fatties." Because it has nothing to do with libertarian ideas. Just with the fact that many of them are fat.

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  41. "Libertarianism often seeks to design a polity based on logical constructions and opposes itself to states that are the result of gradual evolution and emergent order (and are therefore likely to be much more robust and consistent with human flourishing than the blueprint-societies libertarians have in mind)."

    Is this seriously how you see libertarianism? Have you no familiarity with the concept of spontaneous order? Or the anthropological FACT that states don't evolve as you seem to be implying that they do? That they only come into existence by the initiation of force? That it is the statist position that advocates for central planning, and the libertarians that understand that the knowledge problem precludes any sort of "blueprint-making"? And that it is these facts that makes the limiting of government power necessary for the flourishing of mankind?

    I'm seriously disturbed by your reading of libertarian texts (and wonder additionally: which ones have led you to these conclusions??). You claim to take libertarianism seriously, yet your rebuffs of its content are based on elementary misconceptions regarding its core principles.

    Please help me understand.

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  42. JP -
    I definitely have familiarity with the concept of spontaneous order.

    I also have familiarity with real world examples where libertarians prefer to substitute their own quite broad, quite radical ideas about social organization for an organization that has evolved over decades if not centuries.

    re: "the libertarians that understand that the knowledge problem precludes any sort of "blueprint-making"?"

    You would think the people that talk about the knowledge problem would be able to apply it, but the evidence suggests they don't. The most extensive, least tested plans that you see offered at least in the United States are by libertarians.

    re: "And that it is these facts that makes the limiting of government power necessary for the flourishing of mankind?"

    Well right - I would agree that we need to limit government power. This is not a view that is exclusive to libertarianism, JP.


    Perhaps this thought experiment would help you figure out who really takes the knowledge problem and spontaneous order seriously, JP.

    Ask yourself what your ideal society would be. Now answer a few questions:

    1. - How different is it from actual society?

    2. - What restrictions on governance would you have to impose for your ideal society to be maintained (i.e. - could there be any substantial representative democracy or would this have to be restricted?)

    3. - Do you have any empirical evidence supporting your ideal society: not supporting "limited government" in general... lots of people including lots of non-libertarians support that - but actual empirical examples of something resembling your ideal society succeeding and persisting?

    4. - If not, where did you come up with your ideal society? Did you think it up or get the idea from someone else who thought it up?

    5. - Given the possibility that any human could be wrong, what in your ideal society allows for correction if your ideal ends up being wrong?

    If you answer all those questions honestly I think you'll find that my own perspective that we should have a constitutionally limited, decentralized, democratic republic with the freedom to act in pursuit of the public good (not just to enforce the law) is much more cognizant of the knowledge problem, spontaneous order, and the necessity for evolution and adaptation than yours is (assuming you have a typical minarchist/extremely limited government view typical of libertarians).

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  43. "The most extensive, least tested plans that you see offered at least in the United States are by libertarians."

    --I guess it doesn't follow from the fact that libertarian plans aren't tested (in a democratic society in which the libertarian position is a very small minority), that they don't work. I'm still not quite certain what you mean by "extensive...plans," though, so perhaps you could give me an example of one such "extensive, untested plan."

    Now, with respect to your thought experiment: You ask me to devise a utopian end-state society. I'm not willing to engage you here. Markets are self-correcting in ways that governments and legislators cannot be. See early British Common Law. Following Nozick, "utopia is a framework for utopia."

    Decentralized, voluntary societies competing within the minarchist framework is the closest thing that I'll give you to anything close to what "ideal society" means to me.

    My own vision for an ideal society does not, in fact, seem far from your own. We differ on the issue of giving governments power to act according to the common good only insofar as:

    1) The "common good," and government actions toward "the common good" is determined democratically by popular sentiment.

    --Popular sentiment in times of crisis, as history tells us, leads to unconstitutional government policy, which, again, as history and economics tells us, leads to unintended negative consequences.

    2) Political ideas of what the "common good" entails override constitutional restrictions on government power.

    --Democracy seems necessary for liberalism, but, as history tells us, democracy will also lead to the destruction of liberalism.

    Decentralization and freedom of mobility go a long way, I think, it mitigating the corrosive effects of democracy on human freedom.

    So, tell me again: Is it that I'm not a libertarian, because I take spontaneous order/knowledge problems seriously? Or is it that your view of libertarianism is exceedingly narrow?

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  44. JP -
    The disagreement is not over markets and its not over common law. The disagreement is over libertarianism.

    Libertarianism as I understand it is a minarchist framework of government where democratic self-government on virtually all issues is precluded. Private action supplies all goods and services, with various exceptions for policing.

    No society has ever functioned like this. No society like this has ever emerged as a result of spontaneous order. We have no reason to expect such a society to emerge from spontaneous order. Any conceptions of this sort of society have been dreamed up or deduced by the human mind, and all such conceptions of this sort of society would have to be imposed on people by some central force because they show no tendency to evolve naturally out of decentralized agent interaction. This sort of society is also not very robust. If you are wrong and this won't work, there's little ability of the system to adapt itself short of the overthrow of this libertarian order, because you don't afford people the right to make these decisions collectively (because the very idea of collective decision making is illegitimate).

    In other words, while you talk about spontaneous order you don't seem to take it very seriously.

    Acknowledgement of spontaneous order would seem to require that we:

    1. Recognize that free people interacting and experimenting and making decisions will converge on good, robust, thriving social orders, and

    2. No single person can think up a social order that would be likely to be superior.

    I like the sort of social order that I like because I can say empirically that it's adaptive, it has evolved over time, it's clearly successful and flexible and people seem to flourish under it and live well.

    You can't say this for your minarchist framework, so I have a hard time believing you're really thinking about or applying the lessons of spontaneous order.

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  45. What does Walter Block say about violence against statists?

    "Would you have any moral reservations about breaking into this gang's [meaning the government's] warehouse in the middle of the night, assuming that you could get away with it for sure, and relieve them of their ill-gotten booty? No more so than with any other gang, criminal conspiracy, or group of pirates. These people are the lowest of the low, and pretty much anything you do to or against them will be more than fully deserved."

    Get that? "Pretty much anything you do to or against them will be more than fully deserved"! *Pretty much anything*.

    But perhaps Block is not a libertarian.

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  46. 'I'm still not quite certain what you mean by "extensive...plans," though, so perhaps you could give me an example of one such "extensive, untested plan."'

    _Ethics of Liberty_, Rothbard. The law is planned out in advance to the extent that questions like whether parents are allowed to let their children starve to death are answered in advance. (Spoiler: They are.) That's pretty extensive.

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  47. "Have you no familiarity with the concept of spontaneous order? Or the anthropological FACT that states don't evolve as you seem to be implying that they do? That they only come into existence by the initiation of force?"

    Hmm, where did this FACT come from? I don't think it is backed up by, oh, say, HISTORY. (Since we've taken to shouting.) I know Rothbard simply declared that that is how states come about, but I don't recall him ever backing that up with a single bit of historical evidence. And why in the world do you think force can't be involved in a spontaneous process? Spontaneous means "not planned out in advance," and NOT "not involving violence!

    Are you trying to claim that some conquer suddenly dreamed up the idea of a state out of whole cloth on the day he defeated some rival tribe? That seems highly unlikely.

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  48. JP, do you know that the percentage of male deaths caused by warfare, is *way* higher in stateless societies than in ones with states? It is sometimes as high as 60%, compared with about 2% for the US and Europe during the 20th century. (Source: War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage, S. Pinker)

    The state was a solution to violence.

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  49. "Get that? "Pretty much anything you do to or against them will be more than fully deserved"! *Pretty much anything*."

    Block goes on to say

    "And the answer must be in the affirmative for the
    libertarian, but subject to one constraint: no innocent persons must perish, or even be (physically) harmed, as they were at the blowing up in 1995 of the
    Murrah Building in Oklahoma"

    Sorry Gene, try again.

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  50. "Libertarianism as I understand it is a minarchist framework of government where democratic self-government on virtually all issues is precluded. Private action supplies all goods and services, with various exceptions for policing."

    Not all libertarians are minarchists.

    And to be fair, to my knowledge, no civil society (read: no state) has ever truly evolved out of spontaneous order. Governments (again, to my knowledge, which is subject to its own limitations, which are vast) never arise out of the social contract type scenario delineated below:

    "free people interacting and experimenting and making decisions will converge on good, robust, thriving social orders."

    That does not mean that they should not; nor does it mean that they can not; nor does it mean that social contract theories are not theoretically valuable.

    Libertarianism, as I understand it, is that broad political philosophy that finds its roots in classical liberal and Austrian thought and whose cardinal value is none other than individual liberty. The foundation of this value is either deontological or it is utilitarian. As I understand libertarianism, it is precisely that framework which allows "FREE people" to interact and experiment" (emphasis mine). The social good that results from purposeful individual action cannot be attained by restricting individual liberty (as long as that individual liberty is consistent with the individual liberty of others--at precisely which point this is is of great debate between libertarians), because restricting the ways in which consenting adults interact voluntarily conflicts with the unintended positive consequences of human action.

    In order to allow consenting adults to interact freely and contractually, you must first have a framework that protects individual liberty to act freely and contractually. This is why Nozick's framework is minarchist by nature. Minarchy maximizes the ways in which consenting adults may interact by minimizing unjustifiable coercive intrusion into individual lives: "Utopia will consist of utopias , of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions...communities will wax and wane...[where people] are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue and attempt to realize their own version of the good life...but where no one can impose is utopian vision on others" (ASU 312).

    But he is also quite clear on the value of competitive experimentation: "...utopia is meta-utopia: the environment in which utopian experiments may be tried out; the environment in which people are free to do their own thing; the environment which must, to a great extent, be realized first, if more particular utopian visions are to be realized stably" (ASU 312).

    In light of the different meanings that each of us is intending by the word "libertarian," it seems that our disagreement is mostly semantic. Nevertheless, your definition of libertarian is so narrow as to exclude many of the self-identifying libertarians that I know personally.

    I won't say more on this. I do appreciate your insight and thank you for explaining more fully your understanding of libertarianism. I also understand, and find problematic, the tensions between libertarian theory and libertarian practice, as well as the appeal of theoretical societies that actually evolve according to spontaneous order.

    All the best

    JP

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  51. "The state was a solution to violence."

    Socialism, the leading killer of humans throughout all of history, says hi.

    They are still finding mass graves in Russia.

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  52. Carl -
    But is Block being consistent with his own earlier claim?

    If such violence is acceptable against the state, isn't it acceptable against the state's agents?

    Now - perhaps Block can slip out of justifying McVeigh because of the kids involved - and also this Norwegian summer camp. But he still seems like he's providing logical foundation for the attack on the prime minister's office or for something like Waco.

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  53. Oops, sorry, I mixed up two sources: the author of the above is Keeley, not Pinker.

    More: "Eibl-Eibesfeldt comments that ‘the often repeated claim that hunters and food-gatherers in general are more peaceful than people at a higher cultural level is certainly false, and so obviously false that one wonders how it can persist so stubbornly in the face of the overwhelming abundance of long known facts’. Keeley concludes that ‘peaceful prestate societies were very rare; warfare between them was very frequent, and most adult men in such groups saw combat repeatedly in a lifetime… In fact, primitive warfare was much more deadly than that conducted between civilized states because of the greater frequency of combat and the more merciless way it was conducted’ (p.174)." -- http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/003424.html

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  54. The first sentence of the 7th block of text of my last post should not read "in order to allow..." but, rather, "In order for consenting adults to be able to interact freely and contractually..."

    Typo, sorry.

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  55. "Sorry Gene, try again."

    Why? This all implies it is just fine to kill "statists," who are NOT innocent, according to Block.

    Sorry, Carl, try again.

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  56. re: "Nevertheless, your definition of libertarian is so narrow as to exclude many of the self-identifying libertarians that I know personally."

    Well it is what it is. If we're going to talk about classical liberalism more broadly many more people could be called libertarian and perhaps I could be called libertarian.

    But there is clearly a group of people that are more distinctly minarchist and that recognize a community that other minarchists are a part of and that I and others in the limited government/pro-market/liberal tradition are not a part of. I refer to these people as "libertarian" on this blog, and there's usually no major problem associated with tossing anarcho-capitalists in with them because in most cases that come up on here there's no effective difference. Clearly in other contexts my definition might be too narrow.

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  57. "Socialism, the leading killer of humans throughout all of history, says hi."

    As a percentage of the population? Nope. Primitive warfare wins.

    And to say that the state was a solution to violence is, of course, not to say that EVERY state reduces violence. Locks are a solution to crime, but a lock can be used to aid a kidnapping.

    But you really don't care about logic here, do you, Carl? This is about scoring rhetorical points.

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  58. Daniel -

    I am not trying to promote Block's ideas, just correcting Gene on his "selective reading". Block comes off as a little vague on the issue, but if you read the latter part of that essay, he is very, very clear that not a single individual should be harmed, whether he works for the state or not.

    I expect at this time there to be a lot of "misreadings" into ideology by people who want to try and advance their argument against ideas they were opposed to, before the Oslo massacre. Gene obviously has a bias against libertarianism, which he is absolutely free to have. But to try and misquote one author of the subject to validate a claim that libertarianism, the ideology that supports private property above all, is the basis for violent action and subsequent violations of private property, is just absurd.

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  59. "Now - perhaps Block can slip out of justifying McVeigh because of the kids involved - and also this Norwegian summer camp. But he still seems like he's providing logical foundation for the attack on the prime minister's office..."

    I'm not sure about the summer camp. This was a camp of 16-and-over young adults who were members of the Labour Party, intending to advocate the welfare state, expand it, etc. It seems they are guilty of Block's "crime" of "statism," right? Not innocents at all, per Block.

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  60. Gene -
    re: "But you really don't care about logic here, do you, Carl? This is about scoring rhetorical points."

    Recent research suggests these things are closely related: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/04/25/is-reasoning-built-for-winning-arguments-rather-than-finding-truth/

    One might even call it the "limits of reason"... which reminds me, I need to respond to your follow up email on that.

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  61. Ah, Carl, is this the part where Block "Block comes off as a little vague on the issue, but if you read the latter part of that essay, he is very, very clear that not a single individual should be harmed, whether he works for the state or not"?

    "We have seen that in the libertarian philosophy, the death penalty is justified for those whose crimes rise to a sufficient degree of severity. Surely, there are heads of state whose evil deeds many times eclipse such a level. Thus, it would altogether be justified to end their lives by violence."

    Now, the question is, did you deliberately lie, or just make up your claim out of thin air?

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  62. Daniel,

    Fair enough. Thanks again for clarifying. My reading of this post marks my first visit to your blog, so my objections to your definition are not informed by any knowledge regarding what typically goes on here.

    Take care,

    JP

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  63. "But you really don't care about logic here, do you, Carl? This is about scoring rhetorical points."

    The irony in this is hilarious. Go back and read the drivel you have been writing, Gene.

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  64. Gene,

    I assume you are opposed to the Nuremberg trials, then?

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  65. "But to try and misquote one author of the subject to validate a claim that libertarianism, the ideology that supports private property above all, is the basis for violent action..."

    Yes, the ideas of the man who supports "murder park" could not possibly be the basis for violent action, Carl.

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  66. Carl -
    re: "I assume you are opposed to the Nuremberg trials, then?"

    Can you take a minute to think about what you write before you post?

    I'm guessing Gene does support the Nuremberg trials.

    I'm guessing he would say that the Nazis should not have been tried for the charge of "being an agent of a state institution". While that's a criminal offense for Block apparently, it's not for Gene (or me).

    We would prefer to try the Nazis not simply for being agents of a state but for... I don't know... genocide perhaps. Crimes against humanity. Violation of the rule of law.

    Not every agent of a state is guilty of these things.

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  67. "The irony in this is hilarious. Go back and read the drivel you have been writing, Gene."

    I have shown quite conclusively that your claim that Block "is very, very clear that not a single individual should be harmed, whether he works for the state or not" is unequivocally false, since he very, very explicitly advocates assassination. Are you going to explain why you made such a claim? Are you going to withdraw your "drivel" remark since it has been shown beyond any doubt that I was right here and you were wrong?

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  68. "But to try and misquote one author of the subject to validate a claim that libertarianism, the ideology that supports private property above all, is the basis for violent action..."

    Hey, Carl, I was right there in the room at the Mises Institute when Walter (with whom I have co-authored two papers, btw!) advocated that the punishment for rape should be that the victim gets to anally rape the perpetrator with, say, a broomstick, and more brutally than she was raped. (He had some proportion, I think, like twice as badly.)

    That violent enough for ya?

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  69. Wow Gene, that must have been a scene!

    Hmmm... I wonder if there might be a market (in a truly free society, tm)for professional rapists to carry out such retributive justice with precision? After all, you wouldn't want to accidentally sodomize the guilty party 2.5 times as hard as you were raped, and thus put yourself on the hook for another full rape experience. That wouldn't do at all.

    I can see the TV commercials now.

    ANNOUNCER: Have you been raped? Has your PrivSec called to schedule Broomstick Justice? Don't do the dirty-work yourself- call Anderson Rapists at 1-800-RAPE-PRO --We love to rape, and it shows. For victims on a budget, we offer our concierge service: we'll pair you with a sexual sadist who will perform justice under his or her own liability... That's Anderson Rapists at 1-1-800-RAPE-PRO. Call NOW!

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  70. re: "and thus put yourself on the hook for another full rape experience"

    Or I suppose it would be 6.25 times the experience.

    This is getting disturbing.

    Let's stop.

    But before we stop, let's just note that these flimsy claims about "a libertarian would never say this sort of thing" are absurd. Libertarians have been anti-immigration. Libertarians have been pro-violence. We have empirical evidence - this is not an open question. Libertarianism is not an antidote to the human condition. No ideology is. None.

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  71. "Wow Gene, that must have been a scene!"

    In defense of LVMI, pretty much everyone there, including Hoppe, was not pleased with Walter that day.

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  72. Gene, your quote of Block is misplaced. In this paper Block give an example where an individual is FIRST robbed by a Mafia, THEN he tries to get his stolen property back and IN THE PROCESS of doing so he harms the Mafia's agents who are trying to prevent him from doing so. Would you please be so kind to let me know where is the injustice in this example? A ) Is it the act of ROBBERY by the Mafia's agents, B) is it the act of restitution performed by the Mafia's victim (which involves the physical harm of individuals trying to prevent the JUST owner of the property to gain possession of what is rightfully his)?

    Mr. Block does not (explicitly) specify the course of actions, that is, whether the victim first finds out that the Mafia keeps its loot (a part of which is his now-stolen property) in a store-house where there are "guards" who do not have guns with them, but rather are there in order to politely give back the loot to the robbed-original-property owners who find the store-house and express their wish to get their belongings back, and whether the victim knowing this information buys himself a kalashnikov goes to the store-house murders all the "guards" and takes his property; or whether the "guards" actually ARE guards, are NOT polite (i.e. do not want to cooperate) but rather hostile and prefer to try their best to stop any victim of their robberies from performing restitution. In the second case where the guards are guards and as such they respectfully DECLINE to peacefully give back what is NOT THEIRS, THEN:

    "pretty much anything you do to or against them will be more than fully deserved."

    what Block is NOT saying is EXACTLY WHAT YOU TRY TO INSINUATE HE IS SAYING, and that is what you paint to be as a LIBERTARIAN CALLING, something as a duty that makes one a real libertarian, and this duty is supposed to be: go ahead and murder the state and its agents.

    regarding the "scene" which you witnessed: I do not see how this is relevant to Block's theories or libertarianism at all. as a matter of fact his suggestion is not ABSURD as you try to portrait it.

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  73. "I think you'll find that my own perspective that we should have a constitutionally limited, decentralized, democratic republic with the freedom to act in pursuit of the public good (not just to enforce the law) is much more cognizant of the knowledge problem, spontaneous order, and the necessity for evolution and adaptation than yours is"

    Doesn't that assume, implicitly, that whatever happens is right--in this case that democratic politics automatically leads to some sort of optimal outcome? Absent a theory to support that claim—and public choice theory provides reasons to reject it—is it any more plausible than the claim that (say) violent revolution leads to an optimal outcome? Fascism? Any other mechanism for producing outcomes?

    Why is it the particular set of institutions you favor, ones in which some people get to impose large costs on others via the political process, that has these desirable characteristics?

    I think the usual view of libertarians is a much weaker claim--that under some circumstances spontaneous order produces desirable outcomes. The obvious simple example is a perfectly competitive market. I have an old piece, a review of Ellickson's _Order Without Law_ that's up on my web site, which tries to look at the circumstances in which one can or cannot expect a system of private norms to be efficient in the economic sense.

    So far as the central point of the discussion, I should say I agree with you that libertarianism is no guarantee that someone will reject violence, even the extreme sort that occurred in Norway. As with other philosophical positions, the conclusions depend on more than the philosophy. One can usually imagine a set of factual beliefs that would lead from moral position X to actions Y.

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