That nutty old Dr. Walter Block is at it again, being a principled libertarian and rationally evaluating even difficult situations. This time around, his interlocutor has cut right to the chase, and set up an extremely blunt limit situation to challenge him with:
Should the following situations be considered evil?:
– A man who steals food because he has no money to feed his family, assuming that in the place where he lives there is no charitable entity that can provide free food.
– A man who is forced to kill an innocent person because the survival of the entire human species depends on it.
On the other hand, certainly, these are violations of the Non-Aggression Principle, which any libertarian would condemn, but could not previous cases constitute exceptions?
The question of evil is always a vexing one. Dr. Block, rather sensibly, begs off from professing to be some universal moral authority, and evaluates the situations in his capacity as a libertarian theorist, as we’ll see.
Bumbling Bees loves you. You know that. And Bumbling Bees is good to you. Other web sites are phoning it in this time of year — wasting your time with boring retrospectives and "Best of 2016" lists, as though said lists don’t begin and end with the utter annihilation of Hillary Clinton. Well, you’ll have none of that here. We’ll be soldiering boldly onward into 2017, because the weird don’t rest, so neither do we.
And neither does Slate, which has just published the absolute worst opinion piece of the year. I know what you’re thinking: mighty bold claim for January second. Still and all, I am confident this piece will survive 363 days of challenges. It’s a piece about a big problem with self-driving cars. Now, let’s play a little game. Take a minute or so and think about what this piece could possibly be saying. What could be this big problem with self-driving cars? What mind-bogglingly stupid thing do you suppose Slate has chosen to ring in the new year? Think of the dumbest thing you can possibly imagine, and then check and see how close you were.
Walter Block is at it again. I do understand that I’m running the risk of turning this site into a commentary volume on the collected works of Walter Block; I soldier on regardless, since Dr. Block is once again staking out a position that many libertarians find repellent, in this case the spanking of one’s children. Among many libertarians, spanking is held to be an obvious violation of the non-aggression principle, and it’s not hard to see why; the actual hitting of another human being does appear to be a fairly clear case of aggression. Here, however, Dr. Block makes the case that not only is spanking not necessarily a violation of the NAP, but that it would be defensible even if it were.
Children (and the mentally handicapped, the senile, etc.) are not yet (will never be, unless somehow cured) full rights bearing human beings. It is licit to use force, violence, whatever, "against" them, for their own good, of course. To not do so is to abnegate parental, guardianship obligations.
On the face of it, this seems rather stark and no small amount arbitrary. After all, the argument could well run, at what point do "children" become "not-children" and therefore acquire full rights? At what stage of mental handicap do rights begin to decay? Set aside the borderline cases for the moment, though, and consider the other extreme. To allow Dr. Block to explain:
In the early stages of her career, Agatha Christie was known for writing engaging whodunits full of lively characters and utterly madcap plot twists. As she matured as a writer, however, Dame Agatha became less interested in zany new ways to kill the dead bodies, and more interested in pursuing heady philosophical investigations about the nature of justice. Many of the stories from her middle period have barely any mystery to them at all; the cast is so small and the events so clear that the focus becomes less on trying to figure out who the killer is and more on investigating the killer’s motivation and that of the detective exposing the truth — as often as not that indefatigable Belgian, Hercule Poirot.
All of which brings us to Curtain. Written at the peak of Dame Agatha’s career (though not published until the end), Curtain opposes Poirot with a villain who is utterly and unapologetically evil, who commits heinous crimes for the sheer pleasure of it, who cannot be dissuaded, and whose crimes, by their very nature, are beyond the reach of the law. If you’ve never read Curtain, beware the rest of this post, as it will be filled with spoilers. If you have, however (or if you don’t care), read on as we explore what Dame Agatha had to teach us about the relationship of justice, the non-aggression principle, and morality.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Alicia Dearn, she’s a lawyer and establishment libertarian who worked in the Gary Johnson 2012 campaign, then went on to lobby for his VP slot in 2016 (only to get passed over for the worst possible choice). Last week, she made the following pronouncement:
Libertarians who think that the anti-discrimination laws are against libertarian ethics are wrong and need to re-examine their thinking.
I’m one of those horrible wrong libertarians, as I believe I’ve made clear once or twice recently, so I consider myself fortunate that I have Alicia Dearn to hand to guide me through reëxamining my thinking. Let’s see what she has for us!
To think I was actually worried when Rand Paul suspended his campaign. Who would be there to make laughable, libertarian-lite remarks and to take utterly nonsensical positions in an attempt to compromise every principle with every claimant? Fortunately for me, Gary Johnson was there to take up the mantle, and, so far, he’s done a bang-up job of continuing the Rand Paulian message muddying. I’ve already reported that he declared religious freedom a "black hole" and said that he believes that the federal government should have unlimited authority to police human interaction so the dread bogeyman called "discrimination" wouldn’t force him to be a social conservative. Here’s the quotation most apropos to today:
[T]he objective here is to say that discrimination is not allowed for by business… I just see religious freedom, as a category, as just being a black hole.
So that was your Libertarian Party nominee for president last week. The reason I bring this up again is because the Clinton News Network had one of its laughable "Libertarian Party Town Hall" specials, in which Gary Johnson frustrates the network by sounding like a more feminine Hillary Clinton rather than a more feminine Donald Trump, and thus siphons voters from entirely the wrong side. Among many, many other moments of weirdness, Gary Johnson said this thing:
It’s been pointed out to me that I was perhaps a bit too harsh in last week’s article, What Libertarianism Is and What Libertarianism Is Not. In that article, I lambaste the Libertarian Party and its current comedy revue of a presidential ticket for being terrible exemplars of libertarianism; indeed, my pithy Facebook summary read in part "there is nothing libertarian about the Libertarian Party." I stand by every word I wrote in both article and summary; the Libertarian Party is currently miles afield of what it actually means to be a libertarian. I checked: the phrase "non-aggression principle" appears only twice on the party’s web site, once in a quote from Ron Paul describing the great Mary Ruwart’s book, Healing Our World, and once as the title of a talk to be given at the 2014 Libertarian Party of Oklahoma state convention. The fact that the core principle of the libertarian philosophy goes effectively unmentioned on the Libertarian Party’s web site speaks volumes.
All of which is not to say, however, that the Libertarian Party is completely worthless. It’s terrible at spreading libertarian ideas, to be sure, but it’s effective at attracting people who are beginning to think libertarian thoughts; in a sense, it’s sort of like a big magnet that helps to draw in what Albert Jay Nock called the "Remnant." Many people are drawn to the Libertarian Party because they’ve noticed that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans offer a single alternative to endless war, and many others because they’ve begun to realize what a cruel, inhuman farce the drug war is — at this time, those are the two major issues that push people in the libertarian direction, and the Libertarian Party is there to catch the pushees.
I have people asking me why I don’t support Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign. He’s the Libertarian Party nominee, after all — as a libertarian, shouldn’t I support him, if only to get more exposure for libertarianism? It’s an argument that’s not without a basis, but there’s a bit of question begging involved, since it tacitly asserts that more exposure for Johnson and the LP (and, hilariously, William Weld) will lead to more exposure for libertarianism. I’m not convinced this is the case; it seems more likely merely to bring more attention to the kind of bastardized, milquetoast libertarianism that even has room for Mitt Romney and Jeb!. I consider myself a "big tent" libertarian, but if the tent has gotten so big that it can accommodate not just William Weld but Jeb Bush, we’ve clearly left the big top behind in favor of the sideshow.
The real problem is one of definition; many "movement" libertarians simply don’t understand what libertarianism actually is. There’s a substantial cohort out there with the (entirely correct) conviction that both the Republican and Democratic parties are disastrous and the desire to fix the system. These people latch on to the Libertarian Party because it’s an alternative with some appealing talking points, and not because they truly understand libertarianism and want to promote it. So far, there’s nothing wrong with any of this; we all have to start somewhere, and I myself was once that exact person, so please don’t read me as being disdainful of people who are attracted to some elements of libertarianism without a fully developed libertarian theory. Unless, that is, those people are in the upper echelons of the Libertarian Party, in which case, yes, please do read me that way.
This morning, I opened my inbox to find a press release from the Libertarian Party bearing the headline "Libertarian Party Calls for an End to All Violence." This was promising; an end to all violence is more or less exactly what libertarianism seeks, founded as it is upon the rock of the non-aggression principle. The LP, however, has been at best an inconsistent advocate against violence throughout the years, and, indeed, this particular press release turns out to be entirely about killings of and by police officers, and addresses nothing else whatsoever; certainly a more limited scope than one could expect from a call "for an end to all violence."
The killing needs to stop. All of it. None of these shootings were justified — not the shootings by the police, not the shootings of the police. The Libertarian Party denounces all killing.
That’s not a bad start. Surely, though, it can’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that the LP should consider mentioning the endless wars somewhere in its denunciation of all killing, no? Perhaps the issue here is that the LP’s own presidential ticket doesn’t call for ending the wars, preferring instead the weak-kneed and noncommittal stance of "mov[ing] quickly and decisively to refocus U.S. efforts and resources to attack the real threats we face in a strategic, thoughtful way." Apparently, the Libertarian Party only denounces all killing unless it’s sufficiently "thoughtful."
James E. Miller, writing for Taki’s Magazine, certainly thinks so. While he has some interesting and some worthwhile things to say, it’s interesting to note that he also clearly has no idea what he’s talking about — he doesn’t exhibit any knowledge of what libertarianism is, where it comes from, or what its aims are, nor does he appear to care very much. His article is very much an alt-right victory lap, heavy on the fist-pumping and potty mouth, and rather light on the actual research. Still and all, he’s not entirely wrong, as we see when he opens his piece with:
There is no libertarian moment.
Miller is entirely correct; the libertarian moment does not exist. It never did. What exists in America is perhaps best described as an anti-establishment moment; the great mass of the American people is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with "business as usual" in Washington, and wants a change it can believe in — hence the rise of Obama in 2008, and the popularity of perceived "outsider" candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, not one of whom has the tiniest shred of libertarian leaning. Ron Paul also received the benefit of this "moment," and that misled a lot of people into believing that America was now ripe for a libertarian revolution, in spite of the fact that a greater-than-ever (and still rising) percentage of Americans is presently dependent on government largesse in one form or another. However attractive the idea of liberty may be, most people will take the money instead.