Category Archives: Anti-voluntaryism

Libertarians desperately trying to justify basic compassion.

I’ve already commented many times on this blog about the fundamental cruelty underlying Libertarianism, voluntaryism, and other related ideologies. The root of this cruelty is their refusal to acknowledge so-called “positive rights,” i.e. rights which obligate other people to provide something. They believe that we all have rights, but that we can have no guarantee of access to the resources that make the expression of those rights possible. The end result is that Libertarians only really believe in human rights for those who can afford them. Children, women, people in emergency situations, and poor people, are basically useless and should be left to suffer or die, because the free market resolves everything and anything that’s left is not worth resolving (or is not even a problem).

This leads to problems with Libertarians who actually have some empathy or compassion. They are left with three possible resolutions:

1. Disagree with the cruel conclusions without disagreeing with the logic that leads to them. This seems to be the tack that most Libertarian commentators take on this blog. Unfortunately for them, it is nonsensical, because they can’t point out why the conclusions are wrong. All they can do is complain loudly that we’re misinterpreting their ideology, without actually telling us what the misinterpretation is.

2. Declare that those cruel conclusions are exceptions which should be dealt with using different rules. These people can both maintain the validity of Libertarian logic while asserting that it can lead to a just society if we just patch it up correctly. In this view, the free market is the best economic system that exists, it’s just slightly imperfect.

3. Agree with the cruel conclusions but reframe them as being kinder “in the long run.” The free market is perfect and expanding it can only bring positive changes to everyone. Some people just have to be left by the wayside. Once all the poor people with the bad time preferences die out, you see, everyone will be better off.

This leads me to an entry called Why Did Hayek Support a Basic Income?, by Matt Zwolinski. Zwolinski takes the second option: while he believes that most problems in workplaces are justifiable, he believes that there are some exceptions, and that these exceptions should be patched using a minimum income program (mincome).

Now, it may seem that a Libertarian could never contort themselves enough to justify supporting mincome, which is, after all, a socialist idea. Zwolinski has managed to do it, although it all hinges upon an equivocation on the word “freedom.” Let me first look at his definition of freedom:

A slave is unfree because his every decision is subject to interference at the will of his master. To be free, in contrast, is to be able to act according to one’s own decisions and plans, without having to seek the approval of any higher authority…

This is why Hayek saw a powerful regulatory state as a threat to individual freedom. The state’s regulations are always implicitly or explicitly backed by threats – “Do this or else!” – and thereby coerce citizens into acting in accordance with the will of the regulator (or the will of the special interests served by the regulator), instead of their own.

This, coupled with the fact that Zwolinski sees nothing wrong in principle about business owners telling their employees what to do, leads me to believe that Zwolinski is talking about freedom1 (i.e. freedom from physical coercion and nothing else). Obviously it is true that the slave is unfree, but this does not therefore mean that everyone else is free. An employee in a capitalist workplace is not “able to act according to [their] own decisions and plans.” People who grew up in a strict religion or cult, when they become adults, do not become magically “able to act according to [their] own decisions and plans.” Being “able to act according to [our] own decisions and plans” implies freedom1,2,3: the absence (or potential absence) of external determinism acting upon them.

Hayek’s commitment to freedom and opposition to coercion also explains his libertarian belief that free markets and private property are a necessary precondition of political freedom. After all, one of the most important functions that rights of property serve is to provide individuals with a domain in which they need not seek the approval of any other person in order to act as they wish. Property rights provide individuals with a kind of jurisdiction over which their own will is law.

Again, a very clear signal that Zwolinski is solely talking about freedom1. Anyone who proposes that free markets and private property are a necessary precondition of freedom is clearly not talking about freedom from the “kind of jurisdiction,” by which people control each other, provided by private property. If you believe in freedom1,2,3, on the other hand, such a statement is contradictory. Clearly anyone who is ruled by the will of another, whether through government programs or the threat of force of arms brought about by private property, cannot be free1,2,3.

This is the basic paradox of Libertarianism: they claim to believe in freedom from tyranny, but at the same time they advocate another form of tyranny, that of private property owners forcing everyone else to bend to their will in order to access their resources. Basically, private property owners in a Libertarian system are nothing more than tyrants in miniature, exerting a monopoly of power over a territory. Instead of one all-powerful and sporadically accountable government, they believe in hundreds of thousands of all-powerful and completely unaccountable governments who can still collude and establish cartels, which is not much of an improvement.

The fact that property rights provide individuals with “a domain… over which their own will is law” is precisely what’s wrong with property rights and why they are anti-freedom. Freedom cannot exist at the expense of other people. Rights which authorize coercion against other people are not real rights.

Zwolinski quotes long lists of wrongdoings by businesses against their workers, and then proceeds to whitewash most of them by saying that they are “necessary cost-control measure[s],” whatever that’s supposed to mean (necessary for what?). But then he says:

Are we really willing to say that each and every one of the outrages documented by Bertram et al. is the product of workers’ free choice, rather than (what they appear to be) something imposed on workers against their will by those who wield power over them?

If libertarians are concerned to protect the freedom of all, and not just the freedom of most, we will want some mechanism that catches those who fall through the cracks left by imperfect market competition. We will want, too, some mechanism for protecting individuals whose economic vulnerability renders them vulnerable to domination outside the marketplace – the woman, for example, who stays with her abusive husband because she lacks the financial resources to support herself without him.

You will note here that we have now completely switched gears. “Imperfect market competition,” in Libertarian theory, is an oxymoron. Most importantly, the equivocation has now come into play, as he’s now clearly talking about freedom1,2,3. In fact, his examples perfectly demonstrate this fact. The previous examples, which are “imposed on workers against their will,” concerned compensatory power. And the example of the woman who stays with her abusive husband is a case of conditioned power as much as it’s about money, if not more.

That was the magic trick. He’s equated a defense of freedom1 with something based on freedom1,2,3, which means that he can pretend to be compassionate (i.e. a supporter of freedom1,2,3) while still supporting a cruel and evil system (one based on freedom1). So, in a sense, his argument is not in the second category as I said before, but also just a logical fallacy. Because he doesn’t expect people to realize this, he thinks his readers will think of him as being a Libertarian of the second category. Well, he is, after all, addressing other Libertarians, and presumably he knows how smart they all really are.

And now, the conclusion:

Cases such as these point the way to a freedom-based case for a Basic Income Guarantee, of the sort that Hayek might very well have had in mind. A basic income gives people an option – to exit the labor market, to relocate to a more competitive market, to invest in training, to take an entrepreneurial risk, and so on. And the existence of that option allows them to escape subjection to the will of others. It enables them to say “no” to proposals that only extreme desperation would ever drive them to accept. It allows them to govern their lives according to their own plans, their own goals, and their own desires. It enables them to be free.

The point of a basic income isn’t to give everyone the same amount of wealth. It is to ensure that everyone has enough access to material wealth to render them immune to the coercive power of others.

From a Libertarian standpoint, this is pure nonsense, because the free market is the optimal state of the economy and gives the greatest amount of freedom and prosperity to everyone. This is a socialist argument. Zwolinski is only able to make it because he’s switched his conception of freedom to freedom1,2,3.

From a socialist standpoint, I would say that these are all good points, but if your goal is freedom and prosperity for all, then why bother with a capitalist economy at all? Capitalism has always been about funneling these things towards the elite classes, the minority, against the majority. There is no point in patching up the free market with a mincome if you could just not have a free market and be better off in most, if not all, regards.

But his goal here is not to present a correct account of freedom, his goal is to present an account of compassionate Libertarianism. Unfortunately for him, he is only able to do so by stealing the radical conception of freedom. This is only another practical demonstration of why Libertarianism is a bankrupt ideology.

If you’re a voluntaryist who’s pissed at me, debate me!

Recently I have become aware of certain voluntaryists who are not particularly impressed by the fact that my anti-voluntaryist entries (especially this one) rank very highly on Google when they search “voluntaryism.” I think that’s great! People should be exposed to the utter vacuity of voluntaryism.

If you don’t like it, and you can’t comment because the comments are closed on these old entries, you know what you can do? You can debate me on this very blog. And people will see that, too! However, keep in mind that the first debate I had with a voluntaryist didn’t go very well for them. You might want to read that first and prepare to counter those points.

If you want to start a debate, simply write a response to any anti-voluntaryist entry I’ve written (preferably The Voluntaryist Delusion, as it is the most exhaustive, and we’d just come back to the points I wrote there anyway), and post the URL here. But I will only do debates one at a time, in case more than one person starts at one time (optimistic, I know).

The problems with the Non-Aggression Principle.

The NAP (Non-Aggression Principle) is generally considered to be a fundamental principle of Libertarianism, anarcho-capitalists, and other voluntaryist types. Readers of this blog will know what I think about that ideological group, so it will come as little surprise that I do not support the NAP. I also think that it reflects the flaws of Libertarianism and other such ideologies.

But first, how is the NAP formulated? Mises Institute has this to say on the subject:

The non-aggression principle (also called the non-aggression axiom, or the anti-coercion or zero aggression principle or non-initiation of force) is an ethical stance which asserts that “aggression” is inherently illegitimate. “Aggression” is defined as the “initiation” of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property.

Most formulations are content with stating that aggression is invalid, without making any statement about any other form of action. Walter Block (professional whackjob) seems to disagree with this, and proposes something quite different:

The non-aggression axiom is the lynchpin of the philosophy of libertarianism. It states, simply, that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another.

These two definitions may seem very similar, but the second adds a great deal more: that any action which does not fall afoul of the NAP should be legal. On the first, and more common, definition, there is no evaluation of actions which do not fall afoul of the NAP. But one necessarily follows from the other: if any non-aggressive action was illegal, then it would have to be dealt with using government force, which would go against the NAP. So the position that the initiation of aggression is illegitimate can only lead to the position that any other action must be legal. Libertarians do not just support outrageous positions because they’re whackos: they support outrageous positions because they have no other choice. Any condemnation of an action which is not based on the initiation of force would lead to the unraveling of their position.

For instance, there are Libertarians who oppose abortion, but they do so based on the argument that abortion is an initiation of force. This argument happens to be complete nonsense, but it is the only way they can argue on the subject: any other form of argumentation would mean abandoning the NAP.

As such, the NAP shares the main problem of voluntaryism, the position that anything voluntary is ethical. Often, I am told that this definition is incorrect, because their position is merely that non-voluntary arrangements are wrong. But one leads logically into the other: if any voluntary arrangement was wrong, then it would have to be broken up by some other arrangement which would have to be non-voluntary (in order to do the breaking up). The two scenarios are clearly very similar.

Based on this, one could reasonably argue that the NAP is wrong because there are plenty of wrong actions which do not represent an initiation of aggression. For one thing, most violent acts are not initiations of aggression but continuations of chains of aggression. A war has one act of initiation and then innumerable follow-ups: does that mean that only the initiation was wrong? If the NAP is correct, then that must be the case. But there is no substantive difference between the first act of war and the one millionth, apart from a place in a causal order. Why should that have moral relevance at all?

A related problem is the impossibility of finding the specific act that initiated aggression in any large-scale real-life case. The Mises Institute Wiki addresses, and completely fails to answer, this point:

A version of this second criticism is often upheld by libertarian socialists and others, who claim that almost every patch of land on Earth was stolen (i.e. obtained through initiation of force) at some point in its history. The stolen land was later inherited or sold until it reached its present owners. Thus, property over land and natural resources is based on the initiation of force. Among those who make this argument, some (such as followers of Henry George) claim that private property over natural resources is unique in being based on the initiation of force, while others hold that, by extension, private property over all goods derives from violence, because natural resources are required in the production of all goods.

Libertarians often reply to the “who started it?” problem by contending that the difficulty in determining who is the transgressor should not dissuade us from engaging in that process.

But if every form of aggression today exists only because of aggression performed in the past, then what use is the NAP at all? Modern capitalism, which caused the general form of our current societies, could only have existed thanks to the massive, worldwide acts of aggression we call the enclosure of the commons. And those were done by kingdoms, massive centers of power, which were themselves established on the basis of aggression. If the NAP does not recognize these as forms of aggression, then nothing could possibly be aggression. And if the NAP does recognize these as aggression, then ultimately no action performed in the present can be said to initiate anything. You might as well just say that the initial transgressor was one of the first humans, and declare everything we do non-aggression.

Note that the wiki doesn’t have an answer to the objection. The objection is not that finding the initiator is difficult, but that it is impossible, precisely because of the fact that every action has causes that go back in time. There is no “process” that can arrive at some kind of truth here because the concept of “initiation of aggression” is too vague of a concept to be used as a standard in the first place. Generally speaking, acts of aggression are not random events. There are any numbers of large-scale acts of aggression which define who we are as a society and why we do the things we do. There is not one “initiator,” or if we pick one, it’s because we stop at an arbitrary point along the way.

Take, for example, the case of the Zapatista. I argued in a blog exchange that they were justified in using violence to reclaim the lands that were stolen from them. Voluntaryists declare that those people are wrong in initiating violence, but by that standard the Mexicans of European descent are also wrong for initiating violence against them. In practice, “initiation of force” means “the people whose actions I disagree with.”

I don’t want to belabor the point, since, while I do think it is a problem, I don’t see this as being the main problem with the NAP. There are two fatal problems with the NAP, and they are the circularity of “aggression” as a standard and the invalidity of property rights.

When Libertarians use the word “aggression,” they actually mean aggression1: physical violence, or the threat of physical violence (since they believe in property rights, they include property within the scope of violence). But physical violence, condign power, is only one of the means governments and private individuals have to aggress, and probably the least important one nowadays insofar as internal control is concerned. One can argue for aggression1,2 or aggression1,2,3 as more complete, more useful definitions of “aggression.”

Arguing for one definition over another is beyond the scope of this entry, but my point here is that we have no particular reason to choose one over the other. Therefore the use of aggression1 in the NAP is purely arbitrary. There is no justification for the NAP that proves the superiority of aggression1 over any other definition:

Performative contradiction: This is basically the idea that “you can’t be for aggression because being free from aggression is necessary for rational discussion.” I’ve already argued against this concept here. But besides that, the concept of performative contradiction applies equally to aggression1,2 and aggression1,2,3. We could hardly say that two parties are engaged in rational discussion if one of them has been brainwashed or is paid to argue for one side (for example), any more than we’d say a rational discussion is taking place if it’s under the threat of violence.

Consequentialist: The consequentialist argument hinges around the position that banning aggression1 leads to more desirable results than not doing so. But this is exactly what other people will argue about banning aggression1,2 or aggression1,2,3. There’s no reason to favor the NAP advocate over the others a priori, and to argue for one side against the others would require more evidence than a circular argument.

Self-ownership: I’ve already shown how self-ownership is a nonsense concept. But even if we accept as valid the belief that one owns oneself, whatever that means, it does not prove anything about aggression, because the only forms of ownership we know are that of animate beings (or organizations controlled by animate beings) owning inanimate objects.

Estoppel: This is a concept made up by Stephan Kinsella drawn from his legal experience. He argues that someone who initiates aggression is thereby making aggression against themselves permissible as well. His argument is unclear, because it fails to distinguish between initiation of aggression with self-defense, a distinction which the NAP most definitely makes, therefore the estoppel argument fails to prove the NAP. But most importantly, it fails to prove that the only relevant form of aggression is aggression1. One could make the exact same point he makes, but by replacing aggression1 with aggression1,2 or aggression1,2,3.

Ethical intuitionism: This one’s easy because I’ve already written about how evolutionary intuitionism implies a wider conception of aggression than aggression1. Granted, this is only one form of ethical intuitionism, but there’s no particular reason to choose any other one over mine. Again, a separate argument is needed, and the NAP does not provide it.

The upshot is that the validity of the NAP is circular because it assumes that its specific conception of aggression is valid, and that all other conceptions are invalid, without any evidence to support it. Because of that, it is an invalid principle.

Another fatal problem is that the NAP is based on property rights, which, as I’ve discussed before, are contradictory nonsense. And if property rights are nonsensical, then the NAP, which includes property rights, must also be nonsensical. And again, if there’s no reason to choose that specific ownership scheme over any other, then the NAP is circular as well.

We see the nonsensical nature of property reflected in the ways in which the NAP returns absurd results. For instance, NAP advocates come out in favor of bigotry:

If a church doesn’t agree with gay marriage, they do have the moral right to deny weddings on their property, but no right outside of that. Similarly, a devout Christian bakery owner has the right to deny service to a gay couple if they wish (again, the current anti-discrimination laws not withstanding)…

If someone refuses service on their property, any attempt to force them to provide it constitutes aggression and is wrong.

But there cannot be a “right” not to provide a service based on personal prejudice, since it would infringe on the real right of the customers to procure food (for example). The fact that one does so on one’s private property is of no ethical relevance, and it’s silly to claim otherwise.

Other examples that shows where the NAP breaks down are the flagpole scenario and the abandoned cabin scenario. The first is a scenario where a person A falls to their certain death but manages to hang onto a flagpole owned by a person B. The second is a scenario where a person A is lost in the woods, starving, and finds a cabin with a “no trespassing” at the front, owned by a person B. The question is, who is in the right? Any reasonable person would say that person A is in the right. But according to the NAP, person B is justified in using force against person A in both cases. This conclusion is so insane that many Libertarians do everything they can to distance themselves from it. But Walter Block disagrees:

Suppose the owner of the apartment on the 15th floor has recently been victimized by a rape, perpetrated upon her by a member of the same ethnic or racial group as the person now hand walking his way down her flag pole, soon to uninvitedly enter her apartment. May she not shoot him in self-defense before he enters her premises? Or, suppose that the owner of the cabin in the woods has been victimized by several break-ins in the past few months, and has finally decided to do something in defense of his property. Or, suppose that the owner, himself, views his cabin as his own life preserver. Then, may he not take steps to safeguard his property? To ask these questions is to answer them, at least for the consistent libertarian.

The funny thing is that, on this blog, I’ve invited voluntaryists to debunk Block’s arguments from their own perspective, and they have always failed to do so (some examples: the boulder scenario, child prostitution, sexual harassment). If you accept the NAP as your standard, then his argument is solid. The correct conclusion to draw is that the NAP breaks down in emergency situations and returns absurd results because it is an absurd principle. It is absolutely insane for anyone to suggest that a person should be shot for trying to save their own lives.

Another fatal flaw is that the NAP implies such severe childism that it would make a Quiverfull fundamentalist blush. Because the NAP implies that there is no such thing as a positive right, and children are dependent on adults for the fulfillment of most of their rights, children are formulated by Libertarian theory as being worthless pieces of flesh whose only value lies in child labor. This is the absurd end result of an absurd principle.

This is not a problem specific to the NAP, or to Libertarianism: it is shared by all abstract, individualist ideologies which do not take society into account or outright reject its existence. It is an irreducible (from a political standpoint), biological fact that we are social animals. To ignore it is to escape reality into fantasy land.

Why is being against methodological individualism so important?

I have often said that methodological individualism, the view that every social phenomenon can only be explained as being caused by individuals, is profoundly wrong and leads to irrational conclusions. But it seems like such an obscure issue to make a point about. If you ask people what “methodological individualism” is, you’d get mostly blank stares.

The funny thing is how prevalent it is amongst our modern political ideologies. It is the driving idea behind neo-liberalism. It is also the foundation of post-modernism. These two ideas exist in completely different areas of the political spectrum. It is also behind most of political reasoning: no matter the issue, we seem to believe that we can talk about it by solely referring to individual actions and individual merit or demerit. If Christians and other woo-woos can attack science on the basis of its reductionism (reducing all phenomena to “atoms banging around”), a charge which is mostly spurious, then all the more should we attack this political reductionism (reducing all social phenomena to individual action “in a vacuum”).

Atheism is the first threshold that one must cross intellectually, because most people are indoctrinated into some religion or other, and religion is a closed system which does not admit of intellectual progress. Some Christians may be able to transcend their Christianity, especially if they are in less extreme denominations, but by and large they are the exception, not the rule. It is very rare that you’ll find a committed religious person who does not also support hierarchies (so-called “Christian Anarchists” notwithstanding). Hierarchies are inscribed in monotheistic religions: the hierarchy between God and humans, the hierarchy between men and women, the hierarchy between humans and the natural world, and so on.

Still, most atheists are unable to progress very far beyond that point, so what is holding them back? What is the belief holding them back? I’ve tried to identify what that belief is, and I think it must be something like methodological individualism.

Religion is an extreme example of methodological individualism. After all, it seeks to explain the entire universe through the actions of only one individual: God. But beyond that trivial aspect, religion also tries to explain social issues through individual actions: crime is caused by unsaved, Satanic individuals (or Satanic conspiracies), poverty is caused by lack of faith or other personal shortcomings, and lack of faith itself is caused by you simply not trying hard enough. Crackpots even try to blame meteorological phenomena on individual sins. Often they simply cannot explain things that happen to us, shrugging them off as “God’s will.” But ultimately, the “choice” to be saved, or to not be saved, is the source of every good or bad thing in our lives, including our eternal fate.

Politics work in a similar way, just less extreme. We see issues through narratives, and we evaluate narratives by judging the archetype or stereotype involved. This means that we evaluate issues by looking at (imaginary) individual actions. This is methodological individualism, too.

The best sign of methodological individualism, at least from the liberal side, is when they interpret a socio-political critique as a personal attack. They are so indoctrinated to believe that politics is only about individual actions that they cannot even conceive of a critique of something greater than themselves. From their perspective, there is nothing greater than themselves. They follow Thatcher’s principle that “there is no such thing as society… [t]here are individual men and women, and there are families,” even though they may greatly disagree with Thatcher’s policies, because they have accepted the basic premise of neo-liberalism.

All the mainstream political movements, on all sides, are branches of neo-liberalism, which is an extreme-right ideology. So what they’re doing is trying to argue for liberal concepts by using extreme-right framing. It can’t work. So that’s the situation we’re in today. If you don’t understand how harmful this premise is, you won’t be able to reason your way beyond it.

Voluntaryism is probably the most well-intentioned methodological individualist position there is, which is why I was one for a while, and why I’ve taken so much pains to debunk it. In my view, if voluntaryism is debunked (which I think it is), then no individualist position can hold water, because they are all worse. Voluntaryists, of course, disagree that their position is debunked, but by and large their objections are very weak (a lot of moving the goalposts and tu quoque fallacies, mostly, which doesn’t add to a hill of beans).

The problem with voluntaryism is, in a large part, the problem of methodological individualism: the refusal to acknowledge the nature of institutions, a nature which mostly lies outside of individual action. But if you don’t understand institutions, then you can’t understand society. Society just cannot be reduced to individual actions, no matter how hard you try. This means you will always get wrong results. We see this in neo-liberalism, where these beliefs are implanted in order to further the capitalist agenda. We see this in post-modernism, where these beliefs are pushed in order to destroy any systemic analysis and reduce truth to a set of personal, innate traits. Their objective has never been to uncover the truth.

People who do break through this individualist premise are able to move on and construct theories which are much better at explaining social phenomena. Feminism (the systemic analysis of the gender hierarchy) makes a lot more sense than sexism (more specifically, the belief that individual women are responsible for their own exploitation). Anti-racism (the systemic analysis of the race hierarchy) makes a lot more sense than racism (the belief that individual POC are responsible for their own exploitation). Anti-capitalism (the systemic analysis of capitalism and how it affects society) makes a lot more sense than neo-liberalist rhetoric (which posits that individuals are responsible for their own economic exploitation). Anarchism (the systemic analysis of political hierarchies) makes a lot more sense than the rhetoric designed to support political hierarchies (that people are innately evil and must be governed, that people cannot do anything without hierarchies, in general, that individuals alone are incapable). The conclusions of the systemic analyses are much closer to reality than those of the individualist ideologies. But sexism, racism and neo-liberalism were never designed to uncover any truth anyway: they are rationalizations for exploitation and oppression, in the exact same way that Christian apologetics is a rationalization for Christianity. And they fail for the same reasons.

Libertarianism and childism.

Libertarianism is an ideology which is appealing to logical types because it is based on clear-cut, simple principles which seem coherent, such as non-aggression and private property. I’ve already discussed how these principles are bizarre on their face. They are reason enough to reject this whole ideological mish-mash we call Libertarianism.

But there is another major issue that remains relatively untouched: the profound, repulsive, disgusting misopedia that lies at the core of Libertarian thought. It alone is sufficient to outright reject Libertarianism and its own bastard offspring, “anarcho-capitalism,” as evil ideologies unfit for human beings living on this planet.

Let’s start on the entry where Matt Bruenig expressed surprise that some libertarians were arguing whether there should be parental licenses, pointing out that Murray Rothbard, one of the founders of “anarcho-capitalist” thought, stated:

No man can therefore have a “right” to compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced… As a corollary this means that, in the free society, no man may be saddled with the legal obligation to do anything for another, since that would invade the former’s rights; the only legal obligation one man has to another is to respect the other man’s rights.

Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive.

This is a statement of profound child-hatred, but it does follow logically from Libertarianism’s rejection of “positive rights.” If there can be no such thing as “positive rights,” then every individual must fend for themselves, without further recourse than free market charity if they fail. Parenting duties are therefore nothing more than a form of charity. And if children are unable to fend for themselves and receive no charity from their parents, then they must die.

You may be thinking that surely no one actually believes this and that Rothbard must really mean something else entirely. But this is no misunderstanding. He lays down his theory of children in chapter 14 of The Ethics of Liberty, and you can read it for yourself if you wish. Here, I mainly want to show his theoretical rationalizations of this evil doctrine.

Let us examine the implications of the doctrine that parents should have a legally enforceable obligation to keep their children alive. The argument for this obligation contains two components: that the parents created the child by a freely chosen, purposive act; and that the child is temporarily helpless and not a self-owner.

These two “components” of the obligation as imagined by Rothbard are both absolute nonsense. There is no such thing as a “freely chosen” act, and there is no such thing as a “self-owner.” So no, this is not the proper basis for the obligation to keep children alive. This is just Rothbard’s fanciful straw man.

The argument for this obligation is very simple: we should do no harm to other people, and starving a child to death is a pretty damn clear example of harming someone. Starving a child is a premeditated act of murder. Of course “anarcho-capitalists” are far too rational to believe in such a silly thing as intuitionist morality, so they cannot ever acknowledge this simple fact.

Parents do not, on the whole, kill their children deliberately because they have a stake in the child’s survival: whatever psychological motivation they had for procreating (however noble or depraved) can only be fulfilled by the child’s continued existence.

If we consider first the argument from helplessness, then first, we may make the general point that it is a philosophical fallacy to maintain that A’s needs properly impose coercive obligations on B to satisfy these needs. For one thing, B’s rights are then violated.

It is of no concern to me that the child is helpless. Harming a human being is wrong no matter how helpless it is. But we observe here again the compulsive rejection of “positive rights” presented as if it was a complete argument. What Rothbard tells us here is this: the child’s needs cannot possibly entail that the parents must satisfy them, because that would mean “imposing” on the parents’ “rights” to decide not to satisfy them.

But this is asinine. No parent has the “right” to murder their child, any more than anyone has the “right” to murder innocent people. Such a “right” should be violated, and must be violated. But Rothbard then raises a somewhat better objection:

Secondly, if a helpless child may be said to impose legal obligations on someone else, why specifically on its parents, and not on other people? What do the parents have to do with it?

Now here is a point where I actually agree with him, and I’ve said as much in the past: there is no possible logical argument demonstrating that having sex is sufficient justification to own another human being. The family structure is a bankrupt ideology from the get-go.

But Rothbard is not advocating against the family structure, he’s advocating for childism. He has no qualms with children being owned by their parents: in fact, he believes the parent-child relation to be a property claim like any other, that the child is literally an owned object. Now that’s objectification for you:

Now if a parent may own his child (within the framework of non-aggression and runaway freedom), then he may also transfer that ownership to someone else. He may give the child out for adoption, or he may sell the rights to the child in a voluntary contract. In short, we must face the fact that the purely free society will have a flourishing free market in children. Superficially, this sounds monstrous and inhuman. But closer thought will reveal the superior humanism of such a market. For we must realize that there is a market for children now, but that since the government prohibits sale of children at a price, the parents may now only give their children away to a licensed adoption agency free of charge.

Think about this carefully. The child has already been objectified, so a parent may “sell the rights” to their child in a “voluntary contract.” Voluntary? Of course, the child has no say in it, since ey’s already an object! The only people who need to agree are the parent and the buyer!

Not only that, but we are then astounded to learn that this is “superior humanism.” A society where children can legally be starved to death and otherwise deprived of their basic human rights because they are literally objects of property shows “superior humanism” to the current state of affairs, says Rothbard, because there is an overabundance of children waiting to be adopted.

But even from a fanatical free market standpoint, his reasoning makes no sense. Rothbard argues that the price of children (who are a commodity, remember) is set at zero, and therefore there is a child shortage. But his complaint is about all the children who don’t get adopted. Far from there being a shortage, there is a vast surplus of this walking, talking commodity!

So much for free market logic.

Rothbard sheds tears about the rights of parents being violated by the government taking away children because of neglect, but then sheds more tears for… children:

The rights of children, even more than those of parents, have been systematically invaded by the state… Supposedly “humanitarian” child labor laws have systematically forcibly prevented children from entering the labor force, thereby privileging their adult competitors.

And there, I think, lies the chewy center of Rothbard’s childism: like many capitalists, he yearns for the good old days when children could be exploited as a work resource for their parents’ benefit. This is obviously not a new form of childism, but perhaps the oldest one that has ever existed, and holds that children exist, not to grow up and develop, but to serve their family’s material interests.

Because they pledge allegiance to unworkable principles disconnected from morality, Libertarians are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they wish to protect children, they have to accept the existence of “positive rights,” which contradicts the very core of Libertarian theory. To accept the positive rights of children on the basis of vital need (which would lead to major harm if not fulfilled) must logically lead one to accept the positive rights of anyone who has a vital need, which can only lead to the complete destruction of Libertarianism.

Some have tried to reconcile Libertarian theory with child protection. For instance, Roderick Long has tried to argue that, while there is no such thing as “positive rights,” child protection is a “derivative” of “negative rights.”

First I need to explain to you his hypothetical, because there is a fatal error in it. He sets up a hypothetical where a pilot named Stan takes people up on a plane, and then abandons them. Long is trying to argue that Stan had an obligation to lead them to safety instead of bailing out, and from there deduces the principle that “[i]f S voluntarily places O in a situation where S’s failure to take positive action on O’s behalf will result in O’s death, then such a failure on S’s part is a killing, not merely a letting-die.”

That’s what I’ve been saying. And Long makes a clever argument for it based on consent: the passengers did not consent to just be taken up in the air, but to get back down as well. But that’s where his error lies:

And the passengers consented to being brought there on the understanding that Stan would return them safely to the ground; they would not have consented to be carried upward if they had known that Stan was going to bail out. Thus, if Stan bails out, he has violated the conditions under which the passengers’ ascent was voluntary; and so Stan’s total behavior toward the passengers (carry them upward and then leaving them there) counts as a violation of their negative right not to be killed without their consent.

Likewise, the child did not consent to be killed by starvation. But neither did he consent to be born. Therefore the hypothetical cannot possibly have any relevance to the case of child protection, and it’s surprising that Long, clever as he is, didn’t realize this. The child’s situation is not at all analogous to a passenger: it is more analogous to someone in a coma being taken on a plane, coming awake just in time to see the pilot bailing out. Consent has never entered the equation (the impossibility of consent implies non-consent), and therefore cannot be used to justify child protection.

Another standard response, which appears in Rothbard’s book as well as in David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom, is to claim that a child has rights when ey is able to run away from home. Yes, you read that correctly. Here is a quote from The Machinery of Freedom:

What rights should parents or, in their default, other adults, have over children? Philosophically, this involves the difficult problem of when a baby becomes, in some sense, a human being. Practically, I think that there is a simple solution. Any child above some very low age (say, nine years old) who is willing to arrange for his own support should be free from the authority of his parents. For the first year of his freedom, the child would retain the option of returning to his family; during this period he might be required to visit the family and reaffirm his decision several times. After he had supported himself for a year, his parents would no longer be obligated to take him back.

How is a nine year old supposed to survive without eir parents? Child labor, one presumes (aha!). And a child has no rights until ey runs away from home. What sort of magical transformation is this? Is there a specific distance from one’s parents that turns on the “rights” gene? By what transubstantiation does distance from home turn worthless property into human flesh?

The runaway solution is not only bizarre, but it does not answer the problem. It assumes that until a certain age child abuse is still justified. Before that age, the child does not qualify as a human being.

And that age is, for what reason only Friedman can say, determined by a psychological desire, and the physical and psychological capacity, to leave the home. How is this an even remotely fair test? The children who are the most abused and indoctrinated will be the least likely to have the capacity to leave. Pedagogy would become a game of who can best brainwash their children not to leave the home.

The contortions Libertarians have to go through to acknowledge and try to deal with the problem of child abuse are ridiculous. If they cannot deal with such a simple, cut-and-dry issue in an even remotely logical or moral fashion, we have no reason to care at all about what they have to say.

I realize that, as per their usual modus operandi, Libertarians are going to come on here (if any of them still remember my blog) and comment that they don’t believe that children are literally property and they don’t believe in starving children to death. It’s always Libertarians and voluntaryists who do this, at least on this blog.

Such comments are tiresome because they reflect a total lack of self-awareness. Obviously no one in their right mind believes that children are literally property or in starving children to death: that’s the whole point of my argument. If you’re going to make that sort of asinine comment, just don’t bother, you obviously don’t have the intelligence to grasp anything more than the most basic of arguments. Go watch football or whatever.

The circular justification for Libertarianism.

In this entry, Roderick Long wants to convince us that Libertarianism is actually not bizarre but really derived “from a quite ordinary set of values.” But first, a word on the capital L. He is not talking about anti-authoritarianism here but rather about that peculiar American ideology (or as Chomsky would say, an American aberration), which is why I capitalize the word. He does not, perhaps to let us equate his “libertarianism” with the anti-authoritarian tradition, which is very silly since property rights are the opposite of anti-authoritarianism. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We start with a bang:

Libertarians believe that there is, fundamentally, only one right: the right not to be aggressed against. All further rights are simply applications of, rather than supplements to, this basic right. Hence the vast panoply of other rights – positive rights, welfare rights – recognized by existing political regimes is dismissed as illegitimate.

And we run into our first problem. How is this “right not to be aggressed against” (merely a restatement of the Non-Aggression Principle, it seems like) justified? Long himself says that his goal is not to justify this supposedly all-encompassing right, because his objective is merely to show that it is not strange. He then dismisses this strangeness in one fell swoop:

But whatever the grounds, even those who reject the Positive Thesis will agree that it is attractive and that there is nothing mysterious about embracing it…

So Long actually wants to glide over the first part of his entire thesis. He does not, in fact, want to demonstrate that the “right not to be aggressed against” is derived from an “ordinary set of values”: he actually wants to use the “right not to be aggressed against” as his “ordinary values” and the bedrock of his argument that Libertarianism is not bizarre.

The problem with the “right not to be aggressed against” is not its bizarreness (although he could at least have pretended to care about that issue, since it was his avowed objective at the beginning of the article) but the fact that it is utterly meaningless. The concept of aggression is not primary, and in itself it has no content, but rather depends on a whole conceptual underpinning of freedom, equality, power, and so on. How wide or narrow these concepts are defined will inevitably lead us to wildly different concepts of aggression. To a believer in rights1 like Long, aggression necessarily means aggression1, in which anything other than physical or verbal coercion is not aggression.

Long’s prestidigitation act involves smuggling in premises while pretending to remain objective. And this is where the misdirection happens:

If an activity involves no use of force, then there can be no right to suppress it by force, since such a use of force would be aggression, and so would violate the obligation component of the right not to be aggressed against.

So the use of force is used as Long’s standard to determine whether an action is a form of aggression or not. But how does he define force? The premises of his formal argument for the “right not to be aggressed against” include the following premises:

2. Aggression = initiatory force. (Premise.)

5. An activity constitutes non-initiatory force just in case it is a use of force to restrain others from initiating force against one. (Premise.)

Force is defined in terms of force: we are trapped in the circular file. But as we will see, Long does have a very specific conception of aggression/force in mind: a conception which includes “property rights” as non-aggression, and egalitarianism or self-government as aggression. He’s misdirecting us on purpose: as long as he doesn’t define “aggression” or “force,” he can keep us agreeing with him with his vague-sounding principles (no one likes the word “aggression”) and keep us agreeing when he starts getting into specifics. So let’s get into these specifics.

Since libertarians accept the Positive Thesis, they can acknowledge a right to control external resources only insofar as interference with such control would constitute initiatory force. This brings us back to the question of specifying what counts as force. Imagine a world in which people freely expropriate other people’s possessions; nobody initiates force directly against another person’s body, but subject to that constraint, people regularly grab any external resource they can get their hands on, regardless of who has made or been using the resource. Any conception of aggression according to which the world so described is free of aggression is not a plausible one.

I agree with Long that such a conception of aggression is not a plausible one. No one would want to live in a “grab-all-you-can” ownership system. And yet it is the most “objective” system that anyone can come up with; Matt Bruenig even argues that it is the system most consistent with non-aggression:

Since grabbing pieces of the world is permissible and violently preventing grabbing is not, the grab-what-you-can world satisifes the non-aggression principle and no other world does.

I think it is that second clause that is most important here. Bruenig is arguing that all other ownership systems we can conceive, or at least all the ownership systems people propose, involve using force against people’s bodies. “Property rights,” as conceived by Long, are inherently based on force in that they delimitate some forms of “grabbing” which must be stopped by force and some which must not, and the patterns of land ownership we observe today are the result of massive worldwide violence (the enclosure of the commons). The necessity of using force is true of any libsoc system as well, or any other ownership system that is not “grab-what-you-can.”

You might say, so what? Obviously no one subscribes to the “grab-what-you-can” system, so it’s not relevant. Libertarians don’t believe all forms of physical violence are aggression. That’s true enough, but, as I pointed out before, that belief is not primary but is rather based on prior premises about freedom, equality, power, and so on. Unless those premises are explicitly listed and justified, there is no reason to accept any specific conception of aggression.

Another reason to consider the “grab-what-you-can” system is that it’s a great metaphor for “negative right” dissociated from “positive right.” In the Libertarian view, we have “negative rights,” rights not to be aggressed in our body or actions, but we have no “positive rights,” rights to access resources to support that body or actions.

But, as I’ve pointed out many times on this blog, a “negative right” dissociated from its corresponding “positive right” is not a right at all: the right to life is meaningless without the right to access health care and other life necessities, the right to assemble is meaningless without access to a place to assemble in, the right to free expression is meaningless without access to the tools of that expression, that the right to justice is meaningless without the means to be treated as an equal, and so on. A “negative right” is not a tool of freedom but a mere theoretical curiosity which reduces itself to “the more money you have, the more power you have.” In short, might makes right.

I say the “grab-what-you-can” system is a good metaphor for the Libertarian “negative rights” construct because they are both scenarios in which you are protected from physical harm (in theory) but where you can make no claim on the resources necessary for your survival. Libertarians seem to intuitively understand that the “grab-what-you-can” system is a horrible idea for that very reason.

You might reply that Libertarians also believe in “property rights,” so the two scenarios are different. First, I did say it was a metaphor, not a literal identity. Second, adding “property rights” into the mix only makes the scenario even worse: now not only can you lack the resources for your continued survival, but other people can exclude you from those resources as well. How does that provide any sort of improvement over the “grab-what-you-can” system? At least in that system there is more equality in that no one can appropriate anything, and a person in need can always grab resources from other people in order to survive.

So it seems at least somewhat problematic for Long to reject the “grab-what-you-can” system out of hand. There is a deeper problem there. I contend that this is because the notion of stand-alone “negative rights” is absurd on its face.

Now, remember the magic act? This is where you’re supposed to clap:

Libertarian property rights are, famously, governed by principles of justice in initial appropriation (mixing one’s labour with previously unowned resources), justice in transfer (mutual consent), and justice in rectification (say, restitution plus damages).

It is easy to see how the right not to be aggressed against will be interpreted here: I count as initiating force against a person if I seize an external resource that she is entitled to by the application of those three principles.

So now Long has put actual content into the term “aggression”: aggression means seizing resources that didn’t involve mixing your labor, transferring a resource that was obtained in this way, or is not the result of an act of restitution.

There are fatal problems with this already: the whole “mixing your labor” principle is incompatible with “property rights”, and, even if you can justify a person’s initial property claim, there’s no way to logically justify transferring a property claim to someone else. So Long’s list of “libertarian property rights” are conceptually dead in the water.

More importantly, Long does not even try to demonstrate that these “property rights” are not strange, which I thought was part of his intent. Remember that Long is proceeding backwards from logic, establishing his “right to not be aggressed” as primary and stating that the “right to property” is nothing but “an instantiation” of it. As I’ve already discussed, this is illogical: aggression cannot be primary to property, because our beliefs about property determine to a large extent what we consider to be aggression. So Long’s “property rights” are a very strange animal indeed, and he fails to answer to that.

To me, this failure, coupled with his refusal to normalize the “right to not be aggressed,” means that he has not at all discussed the supposed topic of his entry, which was to show that Libertarian norms are not strange.

I could simply end here, but he goes into some specifics against the welfare-statism position. I am not a statist and therefore these objections do not apply to my libsoc position, but I find that his questions entail interesting questions for Long, and the Libertarian position as well.

Suppose that the disparity of wealth between Scrooge and Cratchit is great enough to trigger an entitlement on Cratchit’s part to some portion of Scrooge’s resources. Several difficulties immediately arise.

First, if Cratchit was initially as wealthy as Scrooge, and through some misfortune has become poor overnight, then Scrooge, through no action of his own, has unwittingly passed from rightful possession to wrongful possession of the resources in question. If seizing resources is to count as force, as it must if property rights are to be based on the right not to be aggressed against, then from Cratchit’s suddenly acquiring title to (and thus a right to seize) these resources in Scrooge’s possession, it follows that Scrooge’s possession of them must suddenly have come to count as aggression (since otherwise Cratchit’s seizure of the resources would be initiatory force). But any conception of aggression according to which one can become an aggressor merely by undergoing a [one-sided, quantified] change seems inadequate.

First of all, I want to point out that this is an invalid definition of the welfare-statist position. Long speaks as if the welfare-statist position describes ownership relations between individuals. But in reality the welfare-statist position describes ownership relations between individuals and the State. It is the “property rights” position, Long’s position, which describes ownership relations between individuals mediated by the State. So Long has this exactly backwards.

This basic error dictates Long’s subsequent errors. He wonders how a simple change in one person’s bank account changes Scrooge from not being an aggressor, because his possession is entirely legitimate, to being an aggressor towards Cratchit, because his possession of a certain portion of money is no longer legitimate. But surely that can’t be right: if the State can decide at any time that a portion of your resources is no longer yours, then it was never your property in the first place; property implies exclusive control, and you clearly did not have exclusive control over that portion of resources if the State can suddenly claim control over it and supersede your claim.

Cratchit, on the other hand, cannot take that portion of resources legitimately. Such a thing would be considered theft and severely punished by the State, because the State claims a monopoly over violence or threats of violence, including resource redistribution. Long claims that Cratchit acquires a title to some of Scrooge’s possessions, but this is fantasy: nothing like this actually happens in a welfare state in real life.

This whole passage from Long is a garbled mess, and the effects of his error continue in this next passage:

Moreover, how great must the disparity of wealth between Scrooge and Cratchit be before the transfer of property rights is triggered? To what percentage of Scrooge’s resources does Cratchit become entitled? If there are many Scrooges and many Cratchits, by what means are we determine how much which Cratchits may take from which Scrooges? The Rawlsian Difference Principle and other such guidelines would be of little help here, for they specify no determinate outcome; one cannot say, e.g., that any given Cratchit has a right to keep seizing resources from any given Scrooge until the disparity in their respective socioeconomic conditions is reduced to a point that is favorable to the worst-off person, for that yields no concrete guidance.

No, Cratchit is not entitled to any percentage of Scrooge’s resources because he is not entitled to any specific person’s resources; Cratchit is entitled to a portion of the resources seized by the State, from all manners of private and corporate sources, for redistribution purposes. Again, no Cratchit can take anything from any Scrooge for their personal gain, even if they work for the IRS.

But consider Long’s main criticism against welfare-statism, that the redistribution process is essentially arbitrary. How does that criticism not apply to any ownership system? Free market economic theory entails that the owners of means of production deserve to receive their employees’ entire production and pay back wages set by the market. There is no more justification for such an arrangement than there is for particular welfare redistributions, which are determined by the democratic interplay of political interests. Neither of them are arrived at by any kind of objective process.

In the previous quote, Long also complained about the arbitrariness of a conception of aggression where the status of aggressor can change based on a specific variable. Fair enough. But all hierarchical systems are ultimately arbitrary: why should certain specific people have the power to define ethics for an entire society and enforce them, and everyone else not have that power?

Libertarians are divided on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, immigration and Intellectual Property. Who gets to decide which positions on these issues are right for their society? Why those people and those positions and not others? The answer has to be some form of interplay of political interests; but that’s also where the arbitrariness of welfare-statism comes from. So what’s the difference really?

This leads us to a conclusion by Long:

Since governments, on any liberal view, are not mystical bodies of social union but are simply collections of individuals, on an equal moral footing with the individuals they govern, a government can have no rights in excess of the sum of the rights of the individuals composing it.

This is a radical proposition by Long, and it doesn’t sound very Libertarian at all. After all, I know of no Libertarian who advocates against State police (although they might want it to be privatized), and having a police implies unequal powers. A cop is not, by definition, on an “equal moral footing” with his targets, and must, by definition, have “rights in excess of the sum of the rights of the individuals” he targets.

I know Long fancies himself an “anarcho-capitalist,” a laughable chimera of anti-authoritarianism and economic tyranny, and therefore does not claim any belief in State police. Nevertheless, any implementation of capitalism requires government; no free society could structurally withstand the kind of massive inequalities generated by capitalism, and it’s been a rule of history that lack of freedom goes hand-in-hand with inequality levels (see for example the city-states of the Middle Ages or the difference between Amerindian societies and their oppressors).

That’s the end of my review of Long’s article. The basic reasoning is all wrong, and the stated goal of the article is not even touched on. There is a serious attempt to address counter-arguments, but not on any of the main points. Using welfare-statism as his opposition is pointless since, as he points out himself, welfare-statism also upholds “property rights.” The analysis would have been much deeper if Long had chosen as his opposition a position which rejects “property rights” (e.g. actual Anarchism).

So what is the “quite ordinary set of values” which Long believes underlies Libertarianism?

1. The “right not to be aggressed.” This may look ordinary simply from the use of the word “aggressed.” Of course I value not being aggressed, and who doesn’t? But we all have different conceptions of what aggression means. This value is only “ordinary” because it is a rhetorical trick.

2. We have no other rights than the “right not to be aggressed.” This is a very bizarre value, and I certainly do not share it. Long can only demonstrate this because he’s banking on the abstracted meaning of “aggression” as being a bad thing. But this is sophistry, not reasoning.

3. “Property rights.” This is perhaps an ordinary value insofar as our Western societies go, but Long’s ultra-right-wing stand against welfare certainly is not ordinary at all, and is not a value shared by many. He tries to answer this point by stating that the Libertarian conception of property is more consistent than the welfare-statist one, but in that he failed.

The depravity of the concept of “implied consent.”

Hang on, I got it… women who drink give their “implicit consent” to having sex with anyone. There, problem solved!

Consent is the absolute bare minimum criterion for social interactions. Therefore, any concept that tries to dilute or trivialize consent is coercive by definition. The concept of “implied consent” is one I’ve recently discovered. I’ve never heard of such a concept, but it is an actual legal concept used to prosecute individuals.

It seems to be mostly used to prosecute drivers who refuse to take alcohol tests. Here is one example:

Section 724.011 of the Texas State Transportation Code states that anyone who is arrested for Texas DWI “is deemed to have consented, subject to this chapter, to submit to the taking of one or more specimens of the person’s breath or blood for analysis to determine the alcohol concentration or the presence in the person’s body of a controlled substance, drug, dangerous drug, or other substance.” Basically, whenever you stick your keys in your ignition and start your car, you are consenting to take an alcohol or drug test if a police officer deems it necessary.

But it can also be applied to other actions:

In many common law jurisdictions, a couple who married were deemed to have given “implied consent” to have sex with each other, a doctrine which barred prosecution of a spouse for rape. This doctrine is now considered obsolete in most countries.

Nice way to put it, “obsolete.” The use of words here is so blatant that I can’t even believe it! That can’t possibly have been on purpose (or could it?).

Anyhow, the principle here is that by doing one action, we are giving some unrelated form of “consent”. And unrelated they must be, otherwise we wouldn’t call it “implicit.” Starting your car is not a signal of consent to submitting to a breath test. Getting married to someone is not a signal of consent to having sex with them at any time. There is no communication in either case that the act was agreed upon.

But even if there was, consent cannot be given prospectively. Saying you will have sex with someone at any time, and then not wanting to have sex with them and still being forced to do so, is rape. Saying you will submit to any breath test in the future, and then refusing to take one, is absolutely your right, legal doctrine notwithstanding.

The argument mounted by the statists would probably be around the lines of “driving is a privilege, not a right, so you have to submit to the State’s restrictions in the name of everyone’s security.” Well, I would disagree that driving is not a right, given that the vast majority of the population needs to drive to get to work or to buy necessities. So that’s out the window.

But besides that, even if we assume for the sake of the argument that driving is a privilege, there is still no link between that and “implied consent,” which is a contradiction in terms. One may argue that the State should impose restrictions on driving, but one cannot argue that “implied consent” justifies them. Either consent is present or it is not, and in the latter case one can only provide justification by appealing to the virtues of authoritarianism. That, at least, would be honest.

People who accept this concept of “implicit consent” become so intellectually depraved that they start making up “degrees of consent,” such as in this diagram from a paper called The Scale of Consent:

So now you give your consent simply by existing in a society which has a tradition of doing something, say… honor killings, or female genital mutilation. Sorry you happened to be born in a society where these things are promoted, but you gave your consent by being born! You didn’t consent to being born either, but there you were, a sexy little fetus, just asking for it… Let’s face it, you deserved it.

I bring up rape not just to be glib, but also because it is very much the end point of this slippery slope. Here is one example from an antifeminist arguing that “implied consent” justifies rape:

Teach young women what the words implied consent mean. If you leave the keys in the ignition of your car, the law takes that as your implied consent to have people steal your car. We’re working on teaching people NOT to steal cars, but so far, no luck.

If you get really trashed, start making out with a man, go to his room, remove your clothes, then change your mind AND DON’T SAY ANYTHING, you have implied consent. Claiming you were “paralyzed with fear” is bullshit. If you have changed your mind, you have to SAY that. Otherwise your actions have implied consent. You can’t wake up the next day and decide you were raped.

You may complain that her reasoning is flawed, but how is it any different from other cases of “implied consent”? Objectively, there is no more relation between getting drunk or making out with someone and agreeing to sex than there is between putting your keys in the ignition and agreeing to take a breath test.

Taken to its logical conclusion, we must conclude that any crime can potentially be justified by some kind of “implicit consent.” Being in a gang could be “implied consent” to be murdered. Walking outside at night could be “implied consent” to getting kidnapped. There is really no inherent limit here.

We can also apply this “reasoning” to other radical ideologies. Atheists “implicitly consent” to a traditional religion by being born in that tradition. Anarchists “implicitly consent” to a State by being born within its borders and using its services. Antinatalists “implicitly consent” to being subjected to life’s down sides because they are alive. All of this is pure illogical nonsense, but such “reasoning” is always used, in some form or other.

What is sex-negativity?

Before we get into the murky waters of sex-negativity (a beast which we are told cannot exist, does not exist, or is the domain of spinsters and lesbians, as if spinsters and lesbians don’t like sex by default), we have to first define which sex-positivity we are reacting to.

There are two general kinds of sex-positivity: “being sex-positive,” which is more of a personal attribute than an ideology and designates people who are open about sexuality and who promote the act of sex as being healthy and not a shameful thing, and “sex-positive feminism,” an ideology which is based on the premise that not only is sex not a bad thing as a whole, but should be entirely divorced from ethical or political considerations as long as consent is present:

Communicating consent is complicated, but consent is the only thing that makes sex okay, so we have to make every effort to respect it. All sex is completely fine with me as long as it’s consensual. Seriously, I really don’t care what you do — as long as it’s consensual.

[S]ex-positivity is the belief that sex and sexiness are… okay. It’s the belief that people shouldn’t be judged by the sex they have. It’s the belief that consent matters and social norms do not. It’s the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it’s not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is). It’s the belief that neither “slut” nor “prude” should be an insult. It’s the belief that every sexual and gender identity is valid.

People who have read my entries on consent probably already see where this is going. Sex-pozzies, like capitalists, make consent the only condition for morality. But even more than that, sex-pozzies reduce consent to the mechanical act of saying “yes” or of “enthusiastic consent,” which is merely a term for agreeing by saying “hell yes!” instead of just “yes.” But saying “yes” or even “hell yes!” is a far cry from even rudimentary consent; I’ve already discussed how most of the conditions necessary for consent have nothing to do with the act of saying “yes,” or saying anything at all.

How wrong this ideology can get is demonstrated by the sex-pozzie support of pornography and prostitution. “Consent” in these areas is basically worthless because of the economic inequality and psychological attacks that push women into these “industries.” And yet the simple act of the “yes” (not even a prospective “yes”) is enough for sex-pozzies to approve of women getting exploited, degraded, trafficked, being inflicted diseases, and so on. BDSM is another example of an area where abuse and violence are commonplace, but sex-pozzies defend it because “it’s sex and you can’t criticize sex.” There is no atrocity they won’t rubber-stamp in the name of the sacrosanct “yes.” They are the true yes-men/yes-handmaidens.

“Sex-positive feminism,” as a movement, has as its objective to remove sexuality from the realm of feminist systemic criticism. It is therefore anti-feminist in practice, despite its proponents’ general commitment to feminism. It says that any issue which they deem sexual in nature, be it actual sex, BDSM, pornography or prostitution, must not be analyzed or criticized. Instead, they contend, we should fall back to the “default” position that “consent is the standard of morality.”

Sex-negativity, therefore, means opposition to this stance: that sexuality must be subject to systemic criticism like everything else, and that woman-hating in sexual areas must not be given a free pass. It is nothing more than the consistent application of feminist principles to actual sex, BDSM, consent in sex, pornography and prostitution. It is nothing more than the proposition that sex is affected by patriarchal norms.

There is nothing incredible about this proposition. It should be obvious to all feminists that sex, like all other areas of life, is affected by patriarchal norms. So why do so many so-called feminists reject this proposition?

Patriarchal norms dictate how men and women should have sex, and these norms are reproduced in pornography, which is then reproduced against women in general, against prostitutes, and is used to objectify and degrade women in pornography even more over time. As someone else has once commented, pornography is “a manual for the political subordination of women and mass pre-genocidal women-hating propaganda.” But if you think pornography is hunky-dory and sweep all its verbal and physical abuse under the rug of “well, they said yes, so it’s all good,” then you can’t possibly begin to understand the problem here. If you think patriarchal conditioning is “normal,” then you won’t be able to realize what it is, and you won’t be able to see how sexuality as a whole is affected.

I think this is also reflected in how sex-pozzies treat the issue of women performing their gender by wearing high heels, shaving their legs, wearing makeup, and so on. Sex-pozzies have to trivialize the subject and turn everyone who doesn’t do the same as being obsessed or “slut-shaming”:

A lot of criticism of sex-positive feminism is really criticism of sexy women. It’s hard to find a piece that isn’t dripping with disgusted descriptions of women who wear high heels and shave their legs and then they giggle and they act all flirty and give blowjobs, oh my God. And it’s hard for me to see the difference between this and plain old slut-shaming. It always seems undercut with the implication that sexy women aren’t just unfeminist, they’re icky.

This is absolute bullshit because I’ve never read any sex-negative entry that was about women who wear high heels being disgusting, and the author sure couldn’t give any examples or even quotes, because there aren’t any. Frankly, I think this is just plain prejudice against radfem: because radfem womyn are called ugly and mean, they must be ugly and mean, and therefore must be jealous of the beeeautiful sex-pozzies, right? Right?

But my main point in using this quote was to point out the maneuver of trying to shut down criticism of gender performance by making this criticism seem emotional and back-stabbing, two traits stereotypically applied to women. The implicit conclusion is that only emotional wrecks dare to criticize gender performance, because it’s just “normal” and that’s all there is to it.

We also see it in the new phenomenon of “slutwalking.” “Slut” is a term used by men (and handmaidens) to associate certain non-conforming traits to high libido, and then circularly to associate high libido with non-conformity (because she is or does X which is non-conforming, she must have sex with a lot of men, therefore she does not conform to the standards of sexual purity that we impose on women). “Slutwalking” is trying to normalize this conformist labeling process by severing the connection between high libido and non-conformity, which is silly because that connection is part and parcel of gender roles and is not something that can be changed on an individual basis.

This goes to the core of the difference between sex-pozzies and their opponents, who acknowledge that the issues that concern sex-pozzies, including BDSM, prostitution, pornography, and sex in general, can be generally reduced to the domination of women by men:

[T]he way you fuck is not “private,” apolitical, or outside the realm of critique. Sex does not happen in a vacuum immune to outside structural influences; in fact, it can (and does) replicate inescapable systems of power and dominance. Being sex-negative means acknowledging that sex, and kink, have nothing intrinsically “good” or “positive” about them (in direct contrast to sex-positive feminists, many of whom argue that sex is an inherent good and that less charitable opinions toward sex are the result of a poisonous, prudish society).

This is not to say that sex-negativity means stating that all sex is bad. While it is true that some expressions of sex are unhealthy and ethically wrong, others are not. Always most potent in the sex-pozzies’ arsenal of lies is the constantly repeated Big Lie that “radfems think all sex is bad.” Despite the constant repetition of the lie, no quote from any radfem book or blog has ever be given for this claim (at least, to my knowledge) because no such quote exists.

What the sex-negative do believe is that, as Jillian Horowitz states in the quote above, sexual acts are not immune from “structural influences.” This means that all sexual acts can be criticized, but it does not mean that all sex is bad. All movies can be criticized, but this does not mean that all movies are bad, either. It’s abhorrent that our views on sex are so aberrated that we’ve at the point where acknowledging that sex acts are not magically good and are a valid subject of criticism is considered “negative,” and that this view must absolutely be equated with a wholesale rejection of sex.

“Sex-positive feminism” is a movement which, in actuality, mostly benefits white privileged men and women. The extremism of the sex-pozzies’ belief in sex entails the marginalization of individuals who do not like sex, such as asexuals, people with low or non-existent libidos, rape survivors, child abuse survivors, and victims of the systems of exploitation that the sex-pozzies support:

[Sex-pozzies] don’t care about rape victims, prostituted women, porn actresses, homosexual people, women who like sex but not phallocentric sex, or actual feminists.

I don’t think that most of them don’t care per se, but that they are blind to the massive exploitation of women that they are supporting: they are not able to recognize it as exploitation any more than capitalists are able to recognize work contracts as exploitation. Privilege is transparent: you can only see it if you are told exactly where to look and actually make the effort. Most people don’t because they see no need in making the effort to look for something they don’t experience.

When we look at the issues, sex-pozzies actually don’t appear very different from funfems. Funfems consider the exploitation of their own bodies to be “empowering,” including pornography, prostitution and BDSM. Funfems, like sex-pozzies, consider consent to be the alpha and the omega of morality. The main difference is that sex-positivism is more theoretical in nature and funfem is more frivolous in nature.

“Sex-positive feminism” was itself a reaction to the anti-pornography movement spearheaded by people like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon (who are now demonized for it). Fundamentally it is defined by its defense of pornography, and therefore by its defense of the exploitation and objectification of women, which is why it is an anti-feminist movement.

The arguments of sex-pozzies regarding pornography are very similar to those used by “individualist feminist” Wendy McElroy: we think women who use pornography or who work in pornography are “damaged,” the reduction of consent to a “yes” act, falsely representing the “anti” side as an alliance between radical feminists (anti-women-haters) and Christian fundamentalists (women-haters).

Why are these “feminist” positions, “funfeminism,” “sex-positive feminism” and “individualistic feminism,” so similar? They’re all about me, me, me, and ignore the systemic objectification and exploitation of women. I have written many times about how evaluating actions in a vacuum must necessarily lead to support for the status quo (see for example). I will not repeat myself here, but merely point out that this the root error of all these “feminist” ideologies, which “analyze” sexual acts as if they existed in a vacuum devoid of patriarchal incentives or financial incentives. This is fantasy land.

I already discussed the vital role of pornography in reproducing patriarchal norms. On the sex-pozzie side, I also quoted Pervocracy saying that “It’s the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it’s not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is).” But this implies that there can be such a thing as “valid pornography” and “sex work.” These premises are self-contradictory: pornography is the commodification of the objectification of women, and prostitution is organized rape at best; commodifying the objectification of women cannot be “valid” and the rape of women cannot be “work.”

What about the wonderfully bizarre concept of “feminist porn”: who has ever seen such a unicorn? Where is this noble unicorn hiding in the lush, vibrant forest of pornography? Will someone one day find the magical .mpg file that contains it and share it with the world? Or are we merely to stick with the reasoned conclusion that belief in such a thing is an absolute steaming pile of shit?

Pornography is not about sex, anyhow, it’s about men dominating women. As I’ve said before, arguing that anyone who’s against pornography is anti-sex is as obtuse as stating that anyone who’s against McDonalds is anti-food. McDonalds food is mass-produced, artificial, loveless food, and pornography at its best is mass-produced, artificial, loveless sex.

Some complain that the term “sex-negative” is not good publicity and that we should be using the term “sex-critical.” The trouble is, good publicity for who? Men? Sex-positive women? Why should feminists appeal to either of these groups? The label should be descriptive, and “sex-negative” is descriptive as an opposition to “sex-positive.”

I also want to mention that I am also necessarily a sex-negative person by virtue of being an antinatalist: all antinatalists by definition believe that sex for procreation is wrong, therefore they cannot accept [procreative] sex uncritically either. It is impossible to be an antinatalist and sex-positive; this is not a statement of bigotry or partisanship but a simple logical deduction.

I give the summation and final word to Meghan Murphy:

Glickman argues that ‘sex-positivity’ is “the idea that the only relevant measure of a particular sexual act, practice, or desire is how the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants are cared for.” And, yeah, I think we ‘get’ that. And we don’t agree. At all. We think it is much more complicated then individuals simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (though of course consent is a key part of sex, assuming that our intent is not to rape). Where the ‘sex-positivity’ defenders seem to get off track is in this ‘judgement’ discourse. In the obsessive need to make all representations and manifestations of sex and ‘sexiness’ about individuals, the point that feminists are making is completely missed. That is that this isn’t all about individuals and that your sexuality has been influenced by a myriad of factors, all which have been shaped by patriarchy.

And there you go.