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Kay Hymowitz's Response to Her Libertarian Critics:

Conservative writer Kay Hymowitz's critique of libertarianism, published in Commentary and the Wall Street Journal, has attracted a lot of critics of its own, including responses to some of her points by co-conspirator David Bernstein, and yours truly. My main criticism of Hymowitz's essay was that she falsely conflates libertarians' opposition to government regulation of personal choices with an indiscriminate embrace of 1960s style lifestyle excesses. Believing that Activity X should not be banned by the state does not entail a belief that X is unobjectionable. Now, Hymowitz has written a response to her critics. The response contains some welcome clarifications and concessions, but also perpetuates some of the shortcomings of the original article.

On the plus side, Hymowitz writes that she "strongly agree[s]" with my statement that the "harmful effects of private choices . . . are best dealt with through the private sector." She also admits that "libertarians are not libertines" and claims that some of her critics (possibly including me) misinterpreted her views when we portrayed her as equating libertarianism with near-total relativism about personal choices. To my mind, there is at the very least serious tension between Hymowitz's comments on this score in her new essay, and her claim in her original article that "the libertarian vision of personal morality . . . is not far removed from 'if it feels good, do it,' the cri de coeur of the [1960s] Aquarians." However, I'm willing to accept Hymowitz's assertion that her views have been misinterpreted.

If Hymowitz really does agree that the "harmful effects of private choices . . . are best dealt with through the private sector," then there really isn't much disagreement between her and most libertarians. Why, then, does she continue to attack libertarianism? If I interpret here correctly, it's because she thinks that "libertarians tend to see all criticism of personal behavior as a threat to liberty" and that "Libertarians believe government shouldn't say anything about the family[breakdown] problem. And neither should anyone else."

As I tried to explain in my earlier post, it is simply not true that libertarians "tend to see all criticism of personal behavior as a threat to liberty." Most serious libertarian writers would agree that such criticism poses little danger so long as it isn't coupled with advocacy of using government coercion to "solve" the problem.

In practice, of course, much conservative criticism of personal behavior is combined with advocacy of coercive solutions, which helps explain libertarian suspicion of that criticism. Hymowitz attempts to sidestep this issue by saying that "[o]f those who view family breakdown as a major social problem, I don't know any who argue that we should ban divorce and lock up single mothers." Perhaps so, but there are plenty of conservatives who advocate such policies as censorship of pornography and "obscene" speech, abolition or restriction of no fault divorce, bans on flag burning, and - worst of all - the War on Drugs, which has led to the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people for their nonviolent "personal behavior." Some prominent conservatives, such as Senator Rick Santorum, have argued that "pro-family" morals regulation is the most important conservative public policy objective, a goal to which individual liberty should be subordinated. Conservatives are by no means monolithic in their views on these issues, and it seems that Hymowitz is one of those who opposes such regulations. However, her view is far from being the dominant one in the conservative movement.

As for speaking out about the problem of family breakdown, libertarians not only don't oppose doing so, but have actually been arguing for forty years that family breakdown is in large part a consequence of harmful government policies, such as the perverse incentives created by the welfare system. There would be little point in this kind of libertarian criticism of the state if we actually believed that family breakdown is a good thing, or even a morally neutral one. Hymowitz herself implicitly admits this when she states that "I actually agree with libertarians that many government policies have greatly harmed the family." It is perhaps true that many libertarians dislike the idea of having the government speak on these issues. But if the government's activities in this area really were limited to mere speech (and conservatives embraced such limitations), they would not be a major bone of libertarian-conservative contention.

Hymowitz concludes her response by criticizing what she calls the libertarian "tendency to view individual personal liberty as The Good that should swallow up all others." In reply, I can only reiterate a point I made in my critique of her original essay: believing that protecting liberty is the highest or even the sole legitimate purpose of government does not require libertarians to conclude that it is the highest good for all institutions. Still less does it commit us to believing that it is a good that "swallows up all others." To the contrary, libertarians have long contended that liberty actually facilitates the achievement of other important values and does so far more effectively than government coercion.

Richard S (mail):
The interesting practical arguent is whether individual responsibility can be fostered in a land where the government does not regulate any vices. The law is an educative instrument, which is why handouts tend to breed a certain mentality.

Would a pure libertarian approach to personal morality teach people that it is okay to be libertine? That is not what libertarians want, but would that be its effect?

Has the experiment been tried? I'm not sure any such state has existed in history. Perhaps it's worth trying, or perhaps it's more than human nature will bear.
9.28.2007 6:43pm
Randy R. (mail):
The Wall Street Journal, Robert Bork, and the Moonies at the WAshington Times have been in a constant war with the 1960s. To them, the root of all evil is that decade.

And what is their beef with that decade? Basically, blacks, women and gays decided they were fed up with second class status and demanded equality. People started enjoying sex, due in large part because of birth control, which meant you couldn't control women as easily as in the past. People became concerned about the environment and consumer's rights and passed legislation to keep our air and water clean, and our food free of contanimants.

But the real beef they have is that people realized that many of our religious and political institutions can and should be questioned. "Question authority" makes them shudder.

They long for a mythic time, set supposedly in the 1950s, when men wore grey flannel suits, families went to their protestant church on Sundays, and everyone knew his place in life, and all authority figures were respected and not questioned. And of course, 'authority figures' were always white men.

I don't particularly care about this war with the 60s. It's amusing, in a Don Quixote sort of way. They want this mythic land of Arcardia back! Perhaps Larry Craig can take them back there.

Oops. Not a good example. Okay. The sad story of Craig just goes to show you the high personal costs of living the grey flannel lifestyle, and why I'm glad it's gone for good.
9.28.2007 6:51pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
a land where the government does not regulate any vices

Reading that, I remembered the (legal) brothel in Germany that offered a senior citizen discount. No matter what the vice is, you can find some government that doesn't regulate it. What's the harm you want prevented, how do you propose to prevent it, and how do you know your preventive method works?
9.28.2007 6:52pm
Ilya Somin:
Would a pure libertarian approach to personal morality teach people that it is okay to be libertine? That is not what libertarians want, but would that be its effect?

Has the experiment been tried? I'm not sure any such state has existed in history. Perhaps it's worth trying, or perhaps it's more than human nature will bear.


There probably hasn't been a completely pure libertarian state. However, Hong Kong over the last 50 years has combined economic libertarianism with an almost total absence of morals regulation. The result has been incredible economic growth - and very little social pathology or family breakdown.
9.28.2007 6:59pm
k parker (mail):
Ilya,

Hong Kong is a fascinating study, but before we conclude their example could be followed here, with comparably low social pathology or family breakdown, let's take a look at all the laws we have that (intentionally or not) make it hard for non-governmental entities to bring pressure on people.
9.28.2007 8:23pm
Anonymo the Anonymous:
Would a pure libertarian approach to personal morality teach people that it is okay to be libertine?

We can't answer this question because there can be no such thing as a "pure libertarian approach to personal morality". Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating a certain relationship between individuals and the state. Libertarianism does not tell us how we should behave towards one another, except that we should disavow the aggressive use of force or fraud.

This is not a flaw in libertarianism. Many libertarians would say this is a great strength. Libertarianism has room for the "Aquarians" and the evangelical Christians, provided neither wants to use the state to impose their vision of society on others.

In short, there as many libertarian approaches to personal morality as there are libertarians. Libertarianism no more includes a code of interpersonal morality (aside from its views on the state) than the rules of football tell us how to construct a bridge.
9.28.2007 8:26pm
SenatorX (mail):
That is exactly how I see it Anonymo the Anonymous.

As for Hong Kong I've been making good money in the EWH ETF this year. Though I am out now I'll be buying back in on any decent dip.
9.28.2007 8:47pm
Stating the Obvious (mail):
For those who think libertarians have no concern for family breakdown, I have two words: Charles Murray.
9.28.2007 9:14pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Randy R. writes:

And what is their beef with that decade? Basically, blacks, women and gays decided they were fed up with second class status and demanded equality. People started enjoying sex, due in large part because of birth control, which meant you couldn't control women as easily as in the past.
The fact that you combine the Wall Street Journal (which is more libertarian than conservative, especially on morals issues) with Justice Bork and the Washington Times says a lot about your inabilityto recognize real distinctions.

Do you know any conservatives that believe that blacks and women should be second class citizens? Do you know even one? I've certainly never met any. Indeed, what separates conservatives from what calls itself liberalism today is the belief that the laws should treat blacks the same as whites--just the same legal status, instead of affirmative racism programs.

What has you upset is that those of us who were liberals in the 1960s and 1970s, and supported racial equality and women's liberation, don't find the analogy to homosexuality persuasive. Like a lot of 1970s liberals, I have become conservative as both experience accumulates and the ideology of liberalism turns into some profoundly sick and destructive.
9.28.2007 9:56pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

We can't answer this question because there can be no such thing as a "pure libertarian approach to personal morality". Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating a certain relationship between individuals and the state. Libertarianism does not tell us how we should behave towards one another, except that we should disavow the aggressive use of force or fraud.
This is an accurate statement of the formal system, and one that I used to make when I was a libertarian in the 1980s and early 1990s. But in practice, libertarianism tends to attract people whose support for this position is disproportionately because they personally benefit from a society that does not attempt to encourage, promote, or require adherence to a traditional moral code.

Libertarian Party conventions in California in the 1980s had a bunch of pretty mainstream attendees who just wanted the government to substantially shrink—but it had an awful lot of very out of the mainstream people as well, who were attracted by the idea that no entity was going to be looking over their shoulder.

At a certain level, almost everyone agrees that the government has gone too far. The government should not be telling you how many green leafy vegetables to eat, what ideas you can talk about, or how you spend your money. But there comes an point where libertarian ideas, carried to their reductio ad absurdum, start to sound like lunacy, precisely because there are some shared values that most Americans recognize as valuable.

Do you have the right to torture animals to death? Libertarians who want to find a valid basis for prohibiting this jump through some amazing hoops to find some way to justify such laws.

Should there be laws against having sex in the middle of Main Street? I mean, who is being hurt by this? You don't like seeing this, or having your kids exposed to it? You are just some sort of narrow minded conservative Bible thumping prude!

Hey, as long as you clean up the mess, what's wrong with defecating in the middle of a public street at noon? No one has been hurt.

And of course, the next big hurdle is going to be polygamy—and the ACLU has already announced that it is looking forward to the opportunity to challenge polygamy laws. I mean, who is hurt by polygamy?

And why do we have these arbitrary laws against sex with children? I've had way too many arguments at Libertarian Party conventions with proper libertarian stalwarts insisting that a child has all the same right as an adult. (For the most part, these were people who did not have children of their own, and had no idea how trusting and easily manipulated children are.)

What? Why would we have laws against drunk driving? You only hurt someone if you have an accident. Why are we engaged in "prior restraint"?

And why can't you walk behind someone that you think is too effeminate and scream "Fag!" at him for hour after hour? That's just free speech! (And yes, you would be arrested for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace anywhere in America.)

And there are gobs of liberal arguments that can be advanced as well. I might not agree with the laws that liberals make to solve those problems, but does anyone seriously want to argue that every law must restrain acts of coercion or fraud? There's an awful lot of laws that act primarily in the interest of encouraging civil behavior—and in the absence of those laws, the situation can decline rapidly.

I'm old enough to remember going on walks with my sister in San Diego, who was about ten—and my parents didn't worry about us in the least. Why would they? Those days are gone in most of America.
9.28.2007 10:17pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Do you know any conservatives that believe that blacks and women should be second class citizens? Do you know even one? I've certainly never met any. Indeed, what separates conservatives from what calls itself liberalism today is the belief that the laws should treat blacks the same as whites--just the same legal status, instead of affirmative racism programs.

Well you for one. You refuse to believe that there is such a thing as racism and that it is absolutely impossible that blacks, women or any other minority could possibly have a reason, after we have bent over backwards for them, for the last forty years to feel that they are not treated the same as and do not have the same opportunities as any child of Donald Trump.

It must be nice to live in such a world. (Apparently, you believe I live in such a world, which I find absolutely hilarious).
9.28.2007 11:21pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I'm old enough to remember going on walks with my sister in San Diego, who was about ten—and my parents didn't worry about us in the least. Why would they? Those days are gone in most of America.

Actually, they're not. We just think they are. Crime rates are at lower than they have been in forty years (although they are climbing once again), yet the perception is that the world is so much more dangerous. For instance, the chance of your child being kidnapped by a stranger is almost nil, yet if you watch Fox News, you would think if you take your eyes off your little darling for a second, he or she will disappear.
9.28.2007 11:34pm
Frater Plotter:
Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating a certain relationship between individuals and the state. Libertarianism does not tell us how we should behave towards one another, except that we should disavow the aggressive use of force or fraud.
That is, of course, a huge disavowal.

It means that we must live at peace with our neighbors. We may not resort to violence to shape the lives of those in our society. We have to use reason and persuasion rather than the cudgel or the gun.

It means that anyone seeking to work social change must accomplish it through voluntary means, not by seizing the reins of power. Our society may have preachers and communes advocating radical ways of life -- but it may have no ayatollahs or commissars with the power to impose their radical vision on everyone by force.

It means that peaceful people have nothing to fear. It means a society where government thugs do not break the arms of schoolchildren. It means that families living peacefully need not fear that their children will be taken away because of their religion.

It doesn't just mean that freaks get to be freaks. It means that you don't need to be afraid that the cops will break down your door and torture you because they got the wrong address. It means that you don't need to fear that your child will be drafted to fight a stupid war, or locked up in a cell with a rapist because he decided to smoke a stupid herb.

Libertarianism doesn't mean an end to morals. It means an end to the immoral, terrible, terrorist behavior that has become the staple of government.
9.28.2007 11:35pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
And remember in Clayton's fairy-tale world of long ago drunk driving wasn't that big of a deal.
9.28.2007 11:37pm
Anonymo the Anonymous:
Libertarianism doesn't mean an end to morals. It means an end to the immoral, terrible, terrorist behavior that has become the staple of government.

Well said.
9.28.2007 11:42pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Do you know any conservatives that believe that blacks and women should be second class citizens?"

Notice how Clayton conveniently omits gays from this.

Women? Sure. Many conservatives believe that a woman's place is in the home and not in the workforce. As for blacks, well, if you think racism isn't still a problem, there's not much I can say.
9.28.2007 11:55pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Well you for one. You refuse to believe that there is such a thing as racism and that it is absolutely impossible that blacks, women or any other minority could possibly have a reason, after we have bent over backwards for them, for the last forty years to feel that they are not treated the same as and do not have the same opportunities as any child of Donald Trump.
You are as usual, wrong. I have never denied that there is still racism directed against blacks. Is it the major reason for the discrepancies in results? Nope. Bill Cosby says much the same thing—the major problem holding blacks now is inner city black culture.

I am unaware that women are in a situation equivalent to blacks in the U.S. Discrepancies in salaries are primarily an artifact of preferences that women and men have for the types of employment, and that many women still prefer to spend at least part of the adult lives raising kids.
9.29.2007 12:22am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

And remember in Clayton's fairy-tale world of long ago drunk driving wasn't that big of a deal.
You are correct--it was widely accepted. I am not saying that everything was wonderful before liberals screwed it up. But it wasn't liberals who turned drunk driving into a big deal.
9.29.2007 12:23am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

"Do you know any conservatives that believe that blacks and women should be second class citizens?"

Notice how Clayton conveniently omits gays from this.
Of course. Gays aren't in the equivalent situation. There's nothing warped or depraved about being black or female.

Women? Sure. Many conservatives believe that a woman's place is in the home and not in the workforce.
Conservatives believe that if women want to raise their own kids, instead of putting them in day care, they shouldn't be pressured or nagged by feminists into feeling like second class citizens for wanting to do so.

As for blacks, well, if you think racism isn't still a problem, there's not much I can say.
As Bill Cosby points out, the major problem holding blacks back now isn't racism, but a culture that promotes the view that real men regard females as bitches and hos, and holds education in contempt.

There is still racism directed against blacks—but increasingly, it is the kind of racism that Jesse Jackson talked about some years ago, when he told a reporter that he had reached the age where if he heard footsteps behind on the street at night, if he looked back and saw that they were whites, he felt relieved.
9.29.2007 12:28am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


I'm old enough to remember going on walks with my sister in San Diego, who was about ten—and my parents didn't worry about us in the least. Why would they? Those days are gone in most of America

Actually, they're not. We just think they are. Crime rates are at lower than they have been in forty years (although they are climbing once again), yet the perception is that the world is so much more dangerous. For instance, the chance of your child being kidnapped by a stranger is almost nil, yet if you watch Fox News, you would think if you take your eyes off your little darling for a second, he or she will disappear.
The crimes that the Uniform Crime Reports program counts, such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary--are about where they were in the early 1960s. UCR doesn't count crimes like child molestation or kidnapping.

The chance of your child being kidnapped by a stranger is almost nil? Sorry, but when I lived in Rohnert Park, there were three attempts in a month's time. (And the first of these was the week we finally reached the point we were prepared to let our daughter walk to elementary school a block away by herself.)

Where I live in the Boise area--which has low rates for all the UCR crimes, and very low rates for murder--strangers attempting to molest or persuade children (usually girls) into cars happens almost monthly. It is possible that this was going on at these high rates in 1960, but I am a bit skeptical.
9.29.2007 12:34am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Frater Plotter writes:

It means that anyone seeking to work social change must accomplish it through voluntary means, not by seizing the reins of power. Our society may have preachers and communes advocating radical ways of life -- but it may have no ayatollahs or commissars with the power to impose their radical vision on everyone by force.
Generally, America's problem hasn't been ayatollahs or commissars, but democratic majorities. Sometimes majorities make big mistakes--and those are the times that it is useful to have a Bill of Rights to act as a restraint. But pretending that every law that misses your mantra about "force or fraud" is immoral means scrapping a lot of civilized behavior. Your proud principles sound real good: but answer me the question about how in your world you deal with the guy who gets cats from the pound and slowly skins them alive.

How do you deal with the guy who hangs around playgrounds, and offers ten year olds money to "model" for him?

How do you deal with the person who walks through your neighborhood at all hours of the night pounding on a bass drum? (This is an actual problem that developed in 19th century Redlands, California, leading to a very unlibertarian ordinance that was upheld by the courts.)

How do you deal with the person who puts up posters of horses sodomizing people on his front lawn? He's not using any force or fraud, is he?

What about the guy who decides to defecate in the middle the street--but he cleans it up afterwards? Who has he hurt?

Your wonderful principles fall apart when you start to involve real people and real situations.
9.29.2007 12:43am
Richard S (mail):
"We can't answer this question because there can be no such thing as a "pure libertarian approach to personal morality". Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating a certain relationship between individuals and the state. Libertarianism does not tell us how we should behave towards one another, except that we should disavow the aggressive use of force or fraud."

Interesting slippage here. I did not deny this, although perhaps my language could have been a bit more clear. The question is if the state follows libertarian political ideas strictly the people will be responsible enough to live together in peace. Must the law care about private morality in order for people to care about it? Prof. Somin's menion of Hong Kong might suggest that, at least in certain circumstances it need not. But Hong Kong, given it's peculiar political and historical circumstances might not be a model.

I'm curious about how libertarian the laws of Hong Kong have been. What is marital law like in Hong Kong? Was there no regulation of opium? I confess ignorance of these questions, and am curious.
9.29.2007 12:55am
Frater Plotter:
Clayton:

Generally, America's problem has not been people defecating in the street, either. I think it's quite likely that the number of people who want to defecate in the street is much smaller than the number of police brutality incidents. I would rather have one or two crazies crapping in the street than having police regularly break down doors and kill people who have done no wrong at all.

As for pounding drums at all hours of the night, I consider the imposition of noise into other people's homes to be a form of initiation of force. It isn't an act of violence as overt as shooting guns into their homes, but it is certainly a projection of force (literally, in the physics sense of the word) into the private property of another.

I suspect that the best way of dealing with the fellow who's trying to solicit children to "model" for him is to educate the children to not go with strangers. However, as it happens, children are at a much greater risk of being molested by members of their own governmentally-endorsed nuclear family than by strangers. A child is more likely to be molested by a stepfather than by a stranger; does that mean that we should ban women with children from remarrying?
9.29.2007 1:21am
SenatorX (mail):
Fair questions Clayton and it's where I believe The Rule of Law comes into play in libertarian philosophy. The "force and fraud" is a good core principle but it's not really enough. I believe societies where the individuals have a say in the laws and the laws are deployed with the Rule of Law as well as a focus on individual rights protection can create many rational laws. You certainly name quite a few places where citizens might want to create laws and who knows what the future will be like?

The key is that citizen freedom isn't as much about no laws as it is about non-arbitrary laws.
9.29.2007 1:27am
Publius Endures (www):

Would a pure libertarian approach to personal morality teach people that it is okay to be libertine? That is not what libertarians want, but would that be its effect?


First- what anonymo the anonymous and Frater Plotter said.
Second, a truly pure libertarian approach to personal morality would mean that parents had a legitimate choice about their child's schooling from day one, in which they could have control over the morals their children were taught. This would mean that socially conservative parents could choose to send their kid to a school where the Bible is the foundation for most lessons, a Progressive could send their child to a school where egalitarianism is the foundation, a libertarian could send their child to a school where economics is the foundation, etc., etc.
The concept of public education paid for by all parents (even the ones who are able to afford private school) is anathema to most libertarians because it means that the State gets to instruct their children on many moral values. The fact is, it's nearly impossible for public education to work at all without inevitably touching on some issue that annoys some parent's sense of morality. The most obvious example is that in some places science must be taught in either a completely watered-down fashion or it must offend fundamentalist views on Creation; as a result you have regular wars in Kansas over who controls the State BOE. Math could be taught inoffensively, perhaps, but that's about it- Reading requires the children read books that may or may not have themes the parents like; History is rife with debatable interpretations (and only the State-approved interpretation is taught); State views on handwriting at one time sought to teach all children to write right-handed; even Recess/PE has become controversial as to what games are played. What makes things even more difficult is that both sides of each debate have a legitimate belief about what children should be taught, and oftentimes we're not talking about just a couple of kooks on one side or the other.
9.29.2007 1:35am
Publius Endures (www):

The key is that citizen freedom isn't as much about no laws as it is about non-arbitrary laws.


I like this formulation. It's always seemed to me that an ideal libertarian state would rest on a tiny, Federalist constitution where nearly all law would be common law, and the Federal government's taxation and spending would be limited to defense and infrastructure. The even-stronger emphasis on common law would give judges/juries the greatest amount of flexibility to determine the degree of culpability in a particular act.

Under this system, the vagrant defecating on the street and picking it up would still be committing an offense against the owner of the street (ie, the government)- the act would amount to a trespass since he was violating his common law "license" to use the street. On the other hand, this would also mean that strict liability crimes would be a thing of the past; for instance, an 18 year old could have sex with a mature 15 year old without getting rung up on rape charges, but that same 18 year old could get convicted of rape if that 15 year old was mentally retarded or inebriated, etc.
9.29.2007 2:05am
Frater Plotter:
The questions that Clayton brought up are mostly non-issues; they are extreme, panicky mockeries pretending to be serious issues. But there are some harder policy and legal questions to face libertarianism, that can probably only be resolved by resort to general public agreement (which is to say, democracy):

Abortion. There is a legitimate disagreement among libertarians over this issue, specifically having to do with whether the embryo or fetus is a person with rights. Without an agreed-upon definition of what's meant by a "person", this remains problematic. I, for one, find the moral horror of forcing a woman to bear a child against her will to vastly exceed any other moral issues in first-trimester abortion, since the embryo lacks a nervous system capable of experiencing pain or suffering. I'm not so sure about later abortions.

Child-raising. What duties does a parent have to his or her children, or vice versa? What behavior towards children is permissible? There are substantial disagreements on corporal punishment (spanking) -- is it teaching, or is it criminal battery? If a child of, say, twelve, expresses a desire to leave his or her parents' keeping, is this permissible? How about sixteen? At what age may parents kick a child out of the house?

Immigration. Libertarianism is sometimes suggested to hold well for members of an agreed-upon polity. But who chooses who is to be considered a member of that polity? How can a society that combines libertarianism with democracy sustain itself in the face of immigrants who wish to impose a violent and tyrannical government?

Foreign policy. If the purpose of a libertarian government is to protect certain rights, how about the rights of those in other countries? Should it be permissible for citizens of a libertarian state to profit from trade with (say) slave-holders, torturers, or tyrants in a foreign regime?

Fraud. What constitutes fraud? If I promise to sell you a car and deliver instead a mule-cart, that's clearly fraud. But what if the car I deliver is not as good as I made it out to be? What if the drug I sell you for your cough has a nasty side-effect? Where does "caveat emptor" end and fraud begin?

Pollution. If I set up a machine just upwind of your house that belches out foul-smelling fumes, I am clearly doing you a harm. If these fumes also cause you cancer, scurvy, chloracne, and gout, all the more so. But most harms caused by pollution are harder to prove, and even harder to clean up than just shutting off one machine. As a result, pollution has become highly regulated. How do we sort out the demonstrable harms of puking crap into the air and water, from the regulatory nonsense? You can privatize the parks, but you can't privatize the air ....
9.29.2007 2:20am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Your proud principles sound real good: but answer me the question about how in your world you deal with the guy who gets cats from the pound and slowly skins them alive.
Buy him a cookbook?
9.29.2007 3:10am
Stating the Obvious (mail):
Conservative Clayton: How do you deal with the person who puts up posters of horses sodomizing people on his front lawn? He's not using any force or fraud, is he?

What about the guy who decides to defecate in the middle the street--but he cleans it up afterwards? Who has he hurt?

Your wonderful principles fall apart when you start to involve real people and real situations.
---------
Wow! You live in Texas, right? I had heard things had deteriorated there somewhat--we are, after all, talking about a populace that elected GW governor TWICE--but I hadn't heard the defectating in the street problem had escalated so. Good thing they at least clean it up afterwards.

As to this front yard posting of horses sodomizing women, I know there are a lot of horse farms in Texas. Is this an advertisement for available services, or merely someone sharing his hobbies with the neighbors? I empathize, Clayton, for while the equine sodomization posters may be unique to your part of the world (and I don't mean that accusingly...), I myself have neighbors that insist on putting out lawn posters that--shudder!!--urge people to vote for politicians. It's positively immoral, but what can one do?
9.29.2007 3:30am
Stating the Obvious (mail):
Conservative Clayton: How do you deal with the person who puts up posters of horses sodomizing people on his front lawn? He's not using any force or fraud, is he?

What about the guy who decides to defecate in the middle the street--but he cleans it up afterwards? Who has he hurt?

Your wonderful principles fall apart when you start to involve real people and real situations.
---------
Wow! You live in Texas, right? I had heard things had deteriorated there somewhat--we are, after all, talking about a populace that elected GW governor TWICE--but I hadn't heard the defecating in the street problem had escalated so. Good thing they at least clean it up afterwards.

As to this front yard posting of horses sodomizing women, I know there are a lot of horse farms in Texas. Is this an advertisement for available services, or merely someone sharing his hobbies with the neighbors? I empathize, Clayton, for while the equine sodomization posters may be unique to your part of the world (and I don't mean that accusingly...), I myself have neighbors that insist on putting out lawn posters that--shudder!!--urge people to vote for politicians. It's positively immoral, but what can one do?
9.29.2007 3:33am
Randy R. (mail):
The horses in Texas are gay, so for all us depraved sodomites, we're pretty darn happy!
9.29.2007 10:18am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Generally, America's problem has not been people defecating in the street, either. I think it's quite likely that the number of people who want to defecate in the street is much smaller than the number of police brutality incidents. I would rather have one or two crazies crapping in the street than having police regularly break down doors and kill people who have done no wrong at all.
I would agree with you that no-knock warrants are the bigger problem. But it isn't enough that you point out that there are other problems. You still haven't answered the question of how to deal with these situations that certainly degrade the nature of civil society but do not qualify as "force or fraud." If you are saying that there's no reason to have laws against this, say so. But don't expect most people who are old enough to have confronted difficult situations of urban life to be very sympathetic to your suggestions.


As for pounding drums at all hours of the night, I consider the imposition of noise into other people's homes to be a form of initiation of force. It isn't an act of violence as overt as shooting guns into their homes, but it is certainly a projection of force (literally, in the physics sense of the word) into the private property of another.
So is talking to someone. What principled position separates the guy with the drum from you telling someone about libertarian utopia? Both involve a projection of force "(literally, in the physics sense of the word) into the private property of another."

I suspect that the best way of dealing with the fellow who's trying to solicit children to "model" for him is to educate the children to not go with strangers.
It's a good idea, but it is not sufficient. Even when I was young, kids were warned by parents not to go with a stranger. "I've lost my puppy. Can you help me find him?"

However, as it happens, children are at a much greater risk of being molested by members of their own governmentally-endorsed nuclear family than by strangers. A child is more likely to be molested by a stepfather than by a stranger; does that mean that we should ban women with children from remarrying?
I am glad that you are aware that the risk from the stepfather is higher than from the father. And yes, it might be a good argument for not encouraging divorce by making it so easy. It went from perhaps too hard to clearly too easy in a generation.

You are correct that children are more at risk from their own household than from strangers—but this doesn't change anything, does it? If the stepfather manages to use a combination of rewards and subtle hints of punishment to get the daughter to submit, what does a libertarian say?
9.29.2007 2:14pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Wow! You live in Texas, right?
Idaho, actually.
I had heard things had deteriorated there somewhat--we are, after all, talking about a populace that elected GW governor TWICE--but I hadn't heard the defecating in the street problem had escalated so. Good thing they at least clean it up afterwards.
I am not describing a problem in my neighborhood. We do have laws, you know. But libertarians argue that they have a principled position. If so, they need to articulate how libertarianism's strict "force or fraud" rule for what makes a legitimate law handles such a case.
As to this front yard posting of horses sodomizing women, I know there are a lot of horse farms in Texas. Is this an advertisement for available services, or merely someone sharing his hobbies with the neighbors?
It's an example of something that your wonderful principles don't deal with. And yes, I was thinking of the crowd of gay men in Washington State about whom Zoo was made--for whom size mattered so much that they trained horses to sodomize them. This came to the attention of the authorities when one of the guys died of internal injuries. In libertarian utopia, they could have put up a sign in front of their place advertising, "Come here to get sodomized by horses!"

I empathize, Clayton, for while the equine sodomization posters may be unique to your part of the world (and I don't mean that accusingly...), I myself have neighbors that insist on putting out lawn posters that--shudder!!--urge people to vote for politicians. It's positively immoral, but what can one do?
Here is the core problem of libertarian ideologues: by refusing to accept that there is any core moral code (other than, "force and fraud should be unlawful"--but what makes that a core moral code?), they are unable to distinguish between "horse sodomy here" ads and political ads.
9.29.2007 2:21pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Your proud principles sound real good: but answer me the question about how in your world you deal with the guy who gets cats from the pound and slowly skins them alive.
Buy him a cookbook?
Make sure you tell people that this is what libertarianism takes you to. I'm sure that it will work wonders with your cause.
9.29.2007 2:23pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Frater Plotter writes:

The questions that Clayton brought up are mostly non-issues; they are extreme, panicky mockeries pretending to be serious issues.
They are extreme examples that are not likely to happen on a regular basis (largely because this is still culturally a Christian society), but that demonstrate that the extreme forms of libertarian thought produce unpleasant consequences that call into question whether it is really a principled position that we can live with.
But there are some harder policy and legal questions to face libertarianism, that can probably only be resolved by resort to general public agreement (which is to say, democracy)
And you raise some important points. I don't necessarily agree with all of your points, but I agree that you have pointed out some complexities of applying libertarian ideas to issues that don't fit neatly into the "force of fraud" mantra.

Resorting to democracy to solve these, however, means that libertarianism is not a principled position that solves everything, but merely a possible direction. There's nothing wrong with that approach, but the self-righteous arrogance that says, "We're libertarians, all laws should be limited to matters of force or fraud, everyone that doesn't agree with us is a totalitarian thug" is wrong.
9.29.2007 2:29pm
Frater Plotter:
Clayton: Christianity has little to do with the fact that vanishingly few people defecate on the street, sodomize horses, or molest children. I think that has much more to do with the fact that most people are simply not interested in doing these things.

It is a frequent argument by Christian conservatives that in the absence of Christian moral education, people would feel free to do any random immoral thing. This ignores the fact that most people simply have no motivation to do these things. If the only thing keeping you from defecating in the street and sodomizing horses is your fear of hellfire or jail, then you are a profoundly unusual individual. Most people do not have these urges.
Resorting to democracy to solve these, however, means that libertarianism is not a principled position that solves everything, but merely a possible direction
You are engaging a straw-man here. Nobody has suggested that libertarianism solves everything, only that it solves a range of problems having to do with the scope and power of government. It does so in part by ruling whole categories of human action off-limits to government interference.

Oppressive government does not stop crazies from being crazies. Serial killers, rapists, and religious fanatics all do their thing today in defiance of the law. Thus, it is no argument against libertarianism that it also does not stop crazies from being crazies.

Neither tyranny nor libertarianism can protect you from street-crapping crazies or from immoral, antisocial goons. However, libertarianism allows you to defend yourself against them; whereas tyranny gives a gun to the antisocial goon and calls him a cop, and makes it illegal for you to defend yourself against him.
9.29.2007 6:02pm
Randy R. (mail):
Clayton: ":They are extreme examples that are not likely to happen on a regular basis (largely because this is still culturally a Christian society),"

Of course, these extreme forms of behavior don't happen much in non-Christian societies either. But what the heck, Clayton never was much for accurate observations.
9.29.2007 6:47pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
If so, they need to articulate how libertarianism's strict "force or fraud" rule for what makes a legitimate law handles such a case.
Well, that's an easy one, Clayton. In a libertarian utopia, you tell him to stop or he'll be kicked off the street.

See, in a libertarian utopia, all streets are privately owned. And you can't defecate in a privately-owned street any more than you can defecate in a privately-owned living room. Unless it's yours. (I think we can cross the bridge of private street owners who wish to defecate in the middle of the streets they own if we ever come to it.)
9.29.2007 8:03pm
Stating the Obvious (mail):
Conservative Idahoan (sorry for the mistake) Clayton offers some correctives to my recent post. He seems to think my post was constructive rather than lampooning. Why would I lampoon Clayton's concerns? Because he is so eager to be guaranteed by the use of government force that nothing--no matter how rare--might be in a position to bother him. Live in a free society, of enormous wealth, freedom, peace, and prosperity? Heaven's no, for he *might* OCCASIONALLY be forced to (not participate in, but merely) see an ad for horses available for sodomization purposes. Can we allow freedom? Absolutely not! Why, someone might defacate in public!!

Here's the breaking news, Clayton. We have people who defacate in public NOW. We have horses trained to sodomize willing adult humans NOW. What we don't have NOW is a free society. Get your priorities straight.
9.29.2007 9:27pm
juris_imprudent (mail):

And yes, it might be a good argument for not encouraging divorce by making it so easy. It went from perhaps too hard to clearly too easy in a generation.

Well Goldi-clayton, what would be "juuuuuuuusst right"? ;-)

Besides I thought out-of-wedlock births was the bugbear of the right, moreso than divorce.

You would most likely agree that the major culprit (in both of the above) is gov't support for the devolved family. Well then man, be a heartless libertarian and let the little buggers starve if their parents won't provide for them. You see, we can find common ground.
9.29.2007 9:51pm
jdh (mail) (www):
How do you deal with the guy who hangs around playgrounds, and offers ten year olds money to "model" for him?

He's trespassing, arrest him. Also, take a picture of him, make flyers, and distribute them to all the parents and businesses in the neighborhood. He'll be moving shortly.

How do you deal with the person who walks through your neighborhood at all hours of the night pounding on a bass drum?

The right to property includes quiet and peaceful enjoyment.

How do you deal with the person who puts up posters of horses sodomizing people on his front lawn? He's not using any force or fraud, is he?

He'll be fired from his job unless he has an ironclad contract. And he'll be fishing through the garbage for food, because no one will do business with him.

And why can't you walk behind someone that you think is too effeminate and scream "Fag!" at him for hour after hour? That's just free speech!

No, it's a violation of liberty to be harassed. Also, where is he walking? My guess is he gets arrested, since he's harassing someone on private property.

What about the guy who decides to defecate in the middle the street--but he cleans it up afterwards? Who has he hurt?

Whose street?

I didn't even break a sweat with these.

Oh, one other thing:

Gays aren't in the equivalent situation. There's nothing warped or depraved about being black or female.

I'm guessing you're straight after years of careful consideration. LOL. You knuckle-draggers are a trip.
9.29.2007 11:05pm
Waldo (mail):
Know it's late to the thread, but I have a non-scatalogical question not involving horses.

What's the libertarian position on pornography in the workplace? While employers can limit what employees view on their private computers, why are small business owners prohibited from having a naked screensaver on their private computers in view of their employees? The standard argument that it creates a hostile environment.

But, both pornography and homosexuality are sexual behaviors, protected in private by the Constitution, that others find offensive. The libertarian position would seem to be that government should not prohibit either in public. But the private sector (i.e.- civil society) should be able to, and without government involvement.
9.30.2007 1:42am
Frater Plotter:
What's the libertarian position on pornography in the workplace?
Whose workplace -- yours, mine, or Nina Hartley's? Some workplaces don't just contain pornography; they produce it.

But seriously, folks, I suspect that depends on the terms of the employment contract. I'm not an anarcho-capitalist; I think there's a place for both democratic and common-law procedures in establishing the default terms for employment, as long as individuals can override them in contracts.

If I owned a business, I would be mightily annoyed to find that a middle-manager was making workers uncomfortable on the job by exposing them to porn they didn't want to see. Of course, I'd also be annoyed if that middle-manager was making them uncomfortable by calling them rude names, giving them substandard tools, or making them fill out time-sheets down to the five-minute interval. I'd want workers to spend less time being offended and more time working, after all.
9.30.2007 2:35am
Randy R. (mail):
Stating the Obvious: It isn't about freedom, it's about control. Conservatives like Clayton don't like the fact that you are doing something he disagrees with.

I recall a quote by JP Sartre. He said that when you are on the edge of a cliff, you aren't nervous because you are afraid of falling, you are nervous because you are afraid of jumping.

I say, if you want to jump, go ahead. It might be the only time in your life you actually experienced something exhilerating. But to live a short live and experience a real emotion than lead a long life that experiences nothing.

At least, that's a choice I'd like to have. But others will say that jumping if forbidden.
9.30.2007 2:45am
Eli Rabett (www):
Is firing someone from a job hurtful?

In other words, why are libertarians so mindful of physical force and so oblivious to other types of force?
10.1.2007 2:52pm