L. Neil Smith's
Number 162, February 25, 2002
Debates Dominate

"The correct Libertarian position on abortion is that it should be the same as the capital murder of a child."

Bruce Elmore rbelmore@attbi.com

First, it is incredibly arrogant to think you are the final authority on what "The Libertarian Position" should be.

Second, one of the issues you conveniently ignore is when life begins. Until, there is agreement on that issue, there is not going to be much agreement on abortion.

Third, any attempt to make abortion illegal overlooks the truly stupid and bad job done through government by gun. Abortion has been illegal before. That didn't stop abortion, it merely put more people at risk.

There are ministers, doctors and scientists who do not agree on when life starts. Putting such decisions into the hands of politicians creates bigger problems and suppresses solutions.

If you wish to set up a charity or attempt to make government honor contracts so that those who want children can make their own arrangements with the pregnant, by all means do so.

If you want to make your opinion the highest law of the land, read "First", again.

Live Long & Free,

Don Winfield tbjltd@mindspring.com


Delighted to see Patrick Martin's ruminations on the 'Non-Aggression Principle'; with a philosophic examination that's long overdue. His first commentary (TLE #161) demonstrates the first principle of rule making: whatever's simple isn't clear and whatever's clear isn't simple. Every effort to communicate is dependent upon the meaning and context of words.

What Patrick itemizes as 'exceptions' to the non-initiation principle are mere explanations of very complex ideas about what constitutes "force" and whether uninformed consent is "voluntary". The individual words simply aren't capable of encompassing all of the premises that must apply to real circumstances. It doesn't make the words "wrong", only insufficient.

For example, ElNeil's formulation forbids "advocat[ing]" the initiation of force. Well, so much for freedom of speech! Somebody ought to knock Smith across the noggin for that one ... oops ... I guess I just ceased to be a libertarian.

My biggest problem with the LNS credo is that it's only half of a half-baked potato. Most people with common ethics can recognize an initiation of force as bad (unless they work for the government), but the more serious social dilemma is the just and proper application of retaliatory force. The credo makes no mention of this factor in human relationships and I suspect that its absence is the most critical fault in any anarchist philosophy. Even Neil's books assume a general social agreement about the propriety of certain levels of compensation and retaliatory coercion. But it's never explicitly stated or defended on the basis of fundamental ethical principles.

I won't bore your readers with a long dissertation on the critical nature of the word "justice" in guiding the response to initiated force, but merely observe that it's usually the "invisible elephant" in any forum discussing libertarian philosophy. It isn't uncommon to hear self-proclaimed libertarians suggesting that -- once a person has initiated force -- any level and degree of retaliation against them is perfectly suitable.

My own formulation is simply that a libertarian is an advocate of liberty. Most any dictionary will properly define the word "liberty", but the premises and implications of that idea have filled thousands of volumes and will undoubtedly fill thousands more.

Martin's discussion of what constitutes "force" and what the proper response should be is certainly a welcome addition. I hope his future installments will tackle the word "justice".

Bill Westmiller westmiller@aol.com

PS: I'm looking forward to a discussion of the word "person" in the context of initiating force against "unborn persons" in the near future.

I wanted to address Patrick K Martin's article, "Some Limitations of the Non-Aggression Doctrine".

Referring to scenarios 1 and 2, I am of the opinion that until a child stands up and demands autonomy based on the NAP himself, and takes responsibility for himself, he is not an individual under the terms of the NAP. Instead, he is PROPERTY, owned by the parent.

The parent must take responsibility for any damage caused by his property. He has the right to regulate his property's actions; this means the answer to scenario #1 is "no". He also has the right to defend his property from being violated; therefore, the answer to scenario #2 is also "no".

A counter-scenario might be, if I saw a parent beating the hell out of his kid, would I be initiating force if I went over and smacked the parent silly, would be "yes". I'd gladly take responsibility for my actions, too.

As for scenario #3, if I shot some men who were apparently in the process of raping a woman, yes, I would be initiating force. I would also be potentially morally wrong; what if this were actually consensual sex on the kinky side? Their deaths would be on my head.

This would change radically, however, if the woman even breathed a request for help. Her requesting assistance, and my responding to her request, would establish a relationship between us and we would not quite be "strangers" any more. I could then assist in any way I saw fit. If it later turned out she "didn't mean it", that would be her fault, not mine.

John Hoffman theshadow@shambala.net

"They've perverted the constitution". That's a summary of so many articles here and in any other libertarian arena. "They've twisted the grammar, made up esoteric BS to redefine black as white and up as down. They've outright lied and decided inconvenient bits just plain didn't apply anymore."

"So lets get back to the original intent of the constitution!"

I've heard it said that the essence of madness is to repeat a failing strategy in the blind assurance that, this time, it will work. The constitution of the USA, while a nuisance and a mess in many ethical ways, was still about as unambiguous and you could be in the grammar of the day. "you may do this, that, and the other, and nothing else". Not much ambiguity there. Yet the governments since that time have to an ever increasing extent wriggled though it. How?

They cheated.

The government are not bound by the constitution, and they never were. They are bound by the public belief in the constitution and the fear of revolt if they overstep too unsubtly. They've learned gradualism, patriotic irrationalism, obfuscation. They've learned that if it's too technical for Joe Public, he'll ignore it. That if it's done slowly, and explained with reference to "the war" or "the children" then Joe Public will even back it up and help. Lots of little strategies like these.

Obviously there's a fundamental fallacy here. That is IMO: that a government is a lawful thing. That it can be created by words or bound by them. That it can, even in theory, be restrained.

Lets look at this from an alien's perspective for a moment. Zog from the planet Zork looks at a government, what does he see? A gang. A bunch of people who force other people to do as they're told, and who milk this controlled population for danegeld.

What constrains a gang? A gang is constrained only by what it can get away with.

Government is the ultimate lawless thing. It is force without comebacks. How do they perceive the constitution? As an excuse. The constitution gives them powers for free; they can wrap themselves in the flag and hide behind it. The constitution is their beachhead, from which they can reach out, and to which they can retreat if ethically questioned. The constitution says "government may do only this" - they read it as "government do at least this, and call you unpatriotic if you try and squeeze it further".

So how can you rewrite the constitution to prevent this? Duh, you can't. If banging your head against a brick wall didn't allow you to pass through last time, it won't this time either.

Government cannot be constrained - except by abolishing government.

Julian Morrison julian@extropy.demon.co.uk


As Patrick Martin correctly points out, the doctrine, claimed by TLE as the distinguishing feature of libertarianism, that "no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being", is seriously flawed. However, he was unable to formulate a better one.

Here it is. You are responsible for your own actions and must ensure restitution for any harm you do.

You can initiate force to your heart's content, so long as you pay for it. Those you initiate force against must end up no worse off, in their own estimation, than they otherwise would have been in fact. There are subtleties in that formulation that cover a wide range of difficult cases.

You can forcibly prevent your toddler drinking poison because you are inflicting no net harm; the loss of utility, which is real, consequent upon your use of coercion, is more than outweighed by the prevention of the loss of utility consequent upon drinking poison. Your action would still be justified, on the same grounds, even if the person involved were a grown-up; your action entails a net benefit, not harm.

A trickier case is that of a person stuffing himself with chocolate and making himself sick. Here the positive utility of eating chocolate and the negative utilities of either being sick or being coerced are more finely balanced. In the case of an adult we should normally assume that he knows his own mind well enough to make an appropriate choice. In the case of a sufficiently young child there may be some doubt. In both cases, though, it is the person's own preferences that count, not ours, not even the ones we think they ought to have; but nor is it the satisfactions they mistakenly or ignorantly expected to feel; only those they actually do, will or would feel, according to rational and knowledgeable expectation. Thus, if they don't mind being sick, but hate being coerced, that is strong reason not to intervene (or if we do intervene, to make it up to them some other way), even if we ourselves happen to consider being sick worse than being coerced; on the other hand, if they don't like being sick, but falsely believe they won't be, that is reason (though not necessarily overwhelming reason) to stop them.

You need to ensure that each person harmed will receive restitution at least equal to the net harm experienced, but you don't have to make direct restitution for each actual harm. You can instead legitimately make an insurance or gambling arrangement with any willing party so that your expected payment net of costs equals the expected harm.

Probably the main reason libertarians espouse the simplistic and absolutist form of the doctrine is that they are afraid of opening the door to further statist violations of the rights of individuals "for their own good"; and there can be no question but that the formulation I have given could easily be misused in that fashion. That is unfortunate, but probably unavoidable. The world is a complex place, and there are always going to be difficult cases that crude mantras cannot adequately address. The "non-aggression" doctrine is a good rule of thumb for many cases. The "restitution" doctrine is a better one. It is not perfect, and with ingenuity one can manufacture extreme and improbable scenarios in which it falls down, and some individuals must be treated unjustly to avoid worse injustices to others. However, its careful application will cover almost all circumstances any of us is at all likely to meet.

Paul Birch paul@paulbirch.net

Hi John,

Mr. Dave Kopp, replying to my LTE in TLE #160, said some comments that I felt needed a response. I think most people know about multiple charges for the same crime based on slightly different laws, or even sometimes completely different laws being used that cause a defendant to be guiltier until plea bargained down.

As far as any personal experience I have had with the "justice" system, let's just say I've seen the inside of a courtroom or two. I can see how Mr. Kopp might have gotten the impression that it was a completely new revelation to me that prosecutors pile redundant charges against a defendant. That rotten practice has been known to me for some time now, but now in light of the events of 9/11 it is going to sour and stink even more.

They say (Yes, those "they" people again) that war is the health of the state, but we're not at war and we haven't been in a declared war since WW2. If war is the health of the state then undeclared war must be like a super-mega-vitamin to the state. The events of 9/11 are putting the state on steroids. I really just want to stress that even though, as Mr. Kopp quoted, "that train already left the station" it's pulling cars that haven't even been built yet.

Kevin J Tull thejclib2@juno.com

If I may inject my two cents plus tax($1.93)regarding Mr. Hutchinson's letter:

Mr. Trinward: "If you insist on tying ANY sexual relations involving intercourse to an IMPLICIT acceptance of the risk of conception, and offer NO alternative to someone who -- despite HER best intentions, and all the precautions possible (or simply the heat of the moment?) -- finds herself with a zygote inside."

Mr. Hutchinson: "This argument seems to rely on the force of word capitalization. First, does one need to accept a risk before one can be held accountable for having taken it?..."

Mr. Bastard: Not necessarily. I may, in a moment of stupidity, leave the door to my home unlocked. However, should I just let the opportunistic intruder rifle through my belongings and drink all the beer in my fridge unmolested? I hardly think so. It's CONSIDERATE of me to post my property "No Trespassing" and to lock my door, but that doesn't mean that not doing so strips me of my right to bust a cap in whoever decides they can take up residence on my land.

Mr. Hutchinson: "... which leads me to my second objection: all the precautions possible? Why do condoms and birth control count as precautions, while abstinence doesn't?"

Mr. Bastard: All these things count as precautions, and were I in Mr. Trinward's place, I would have modified the phrase to read: '...all REASONABLE precautions.' Again, I don't think that my lack of finances or foresight to equip my property with laser motion detectors, land mines, automatic death rays or whatever, gives an intruder the right to be there.

Mr. Hutchinson: "... Most disturbing to me, though, is "best intentions" and "the heat of the moment." Many, many, many people who we can agree have committed crimes had good intentions, or acted in the heat of the moment, or both. I hardly see how it excuses them."

Mr. Bastard: Pregnancy is a crime? Well, given the swarms of idiots I see reproducing like mad, expecting us to pay for, raise, and excuse the horrid behavior of their offspring, I suppose some people might want to make that argument...!

Mr. Trinward: "You are consigning every woman to chattel slavery, by the mere fact that she is the one who must in your view now submit to 9 months of pregnancy, painful childbirth and 18+ plus years of raising what is now a born child."

Mr. Hutchinson: "Let's drop that last one first; no one said anything about preventing adoption (or we'd be consigning ALL parents to chattel slavery)."

Mr. Bastard: Agreed.

Mr. Hutchinson: "... Furthermore, there is nothing "mere" about the question of whether a murder is being committed, and I fail to see how gestation lengths and childbirth pain affect that question."

Mr. Trinward: "I fully agree that there is a clear zone after which point a decision has been made, whether or not it is explicitly stated, to carry a fetus to term. I DO NOT agree that this zone begins at some point called 'conception.'"

Mr. Hutchinson: "... When, then, DOES this zone begin?"

Mr. Bastard: Funny you should ask. As far as I'm concerned, it begins when the fetus has the capability to survive on it's own, without artificial aid. Before that, it is technically a parasite, and as such, has no rights of it's own. I think that moment should be at least as easy to pin down as "conception." A tapeworm invading my body, whether or not I "risked" it being there by eating steak tartare, is toast as soon as I find out about it. If it jumps out of my colon and starts living on it's own, I'll choose to leave it be. Mr. Hutchinson, I do realize this is a sticky subject for pretty much all of the USA. We probably won't change each others' minds on the subject, but I appreciate a calm, reasoned discourse on any controversial matter. Hope you and Mr. Trinward don't mind me adding my perspective.

John John-the-Bastard@mn.rr.com

Rebuttal to Patrick K Martin's article "Some Limitations of the Non-Aggression Doctrine Pt1".

Sorry, those aren't really good arguments against the non-aggression principle. #1 & #2 are resolved when you accept that minor children are not free agents yet. It is the parent's responsibility to raise their children to the best of their ability and conscience. Allowing a child to drink anti-freeze or engage in sex would be irresponsible. If the child managed to survive they would probably even have a cause of action against the negligent parent whenever they grew up enough to realize it.

That leaves #3, the example of stumbling onto a rape in progress. If we assume one of those observed "words and gestures" resembled the young lady yelling something like "HELP!" a reasonable person could justify slaughtering the three aggressors thus: When the fair damsel in distress cried "help" it can be taken as a macro for the following, "I am being subjected to aggression beyond my ability to defend myself and seek allies." As the subject of aggression she would be fully justified in killing her attackers under any reading of libertarian philosophy and is permitted to delegate that violent any way she pleases. And anyone who chooses to accept her implied contract, with no payment specified except the pleasure to be gained from eliminating some undesirable genes from the pool, is safely within the non-aggression principle when he/she pulls the trigger.

John Morris jmorris@beau.lib.la.us

Subj: Horsemeat

Dear TLE,

Let us remember our manners here. As an avid horseman when I can afford it, I have had the occasion of having to deal with a dead horse. When calling around to find out what to do, I learned that a professional butcher risks their "butchers license" and prosecution if they even touch a dead horse (in California).

This had nothing to do with wanting to eat the meat, it had to do with reducing the problem to manageable size. The fact is that the undue vehemence with which the power elite "enforced" the law prevented me from hiring a professional to do something that was technically perfectly legal to do, a case in point of what happens when legislating religion and morality.

And by Cromm, people, are we still arguing about abortion? Can't we simply agree it's not governments place to force an answer on everyone? Anything more is a religious argument neither side can win.

Curt Howland Howland@Priss.com

Patrick K Martin has failed to grasp an important aspect of the non-aggression principle: namely, that it should be applied to interaction occurring between adult humans and other adult humans. His scenarios where an adult steps in to protect his own children from harm are (in my view) perfectly acceptable in a libertarian society. Children do have rights, delegated to the adult or adults responsible for them - who may decide how much of that responsibility may be delegated back to the child. A parent should at any time be free to exercise the right of self-defence on behalf of his own child if he considers the child may be incapable of protecting himself.

The scenario where a paedophile is trying to dupe a child into a sexual relationship is where appropriate retaliatory force could be used if the parent or guardian considers their child incapable of giving consent - with the aggressor immobilised by any means available. (A howitzer springs to mind as the weapon of choice if it were my children involved.)

Jumping into a fight between adults is a little trickier. It is your choice whether to become involved or not, and a libertarian would expect to have to compensate any innocent parties if he started shooting first before asking questions. Of course the woman in question in the given scenario would be legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon - a known turn-off for potential rapists and muggers - and the street would be privately owned and likely to be secure and safe at all hours of the day and night.

I believe there should be a law stating at what age a contract becomes binding on an individual - the age of sovereign adulthood. Voting rights would be attached to this. But the age at which sexual activity is allowed, alcohol may be drunk, or a firearm may be used by a minor should be the decision of the adults responsible for that child. If a child does wrong its guardians should be made to compensate the victim. This would tend to motivate parents to properly supervise their children, thus preventing much of the juvenile crime that currently afflicts our communities.

Richard McGrath mongrel@contact.net.nz

Dear Editor,

And a gung hay fat choy to you, too! Happy new year to all my friends from China.

With regard to: SOME LIMITATIONS OF THE NON-AGGRESSION DOCTRINE by Patrick K Martin , Part I: As Concerns Individuals

It does not seem to me that Patrick has thoroughly grasped the concept behind:

No one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation.

Retaliatory force and defensive force are not initiatory, which is sufficient to each of the scenarios that Patrick offers. If force is used in retaliation against another person who has initiated force, or in defense of life, liberty, or property against even the threat of force or the threat of harm, it is not initiatory force, and it is not wrong.

I'm going to paraphrase here to try to get closer to the 500 word preference you express for letters, John. Patrick should feel free to object if I've summarized too much.

Scenario 1 shows a toddler wanting to drink anti-freeze. I am amazed that mommy may put something equally green and shiny in baby's bottle. Nevertheless, it is not initiatory force to defend the toddler against death by removing anti-freeze from his possession. Yes, it may take force to "snatch this cup of liquid death away from" the toddler, but that is not initiating force. That is using force in a defensive role, to defend the life of the toddler.

I suspect, and the folks over at might well agree, that one can persuade the toddler not to drink the anti-freeze without using force, and without any other form of coercion. Talking to the toddler might help, and having a history of providing good advice would also help. But, for my own part, I think that coercion used to save a life can be justified, because you can't expect the child to grow up at all if the child dies. It would be better for everyone, including the child, if you could save the child's life without coercion, but you may not feel you have time for that. Go ahead, then, and use force to defend the child's life: it is not initiatory force.

Spanking the child certainly has no merit. Spanking the child for attempting to drink something similar to what mommy has given the child in the past is irrational. The child should not be taught to fear trying new things; it should be taught to appreciate your wisdom.

2) A twenty five year old man has convinced your eight year old child to consent to activities of a sexual nature. You enter the room, just as the deed is about to be accomplished.

Again, the use of force to defend the life, liberty, and property of the child is not wrong, and is certainly not initiatory. I believe the child has property in her virginity, as well as in her body. The older man may feel he has obtained the consent of the child but I am not at all sure that I would agree.

I do think that shooting the man in front of the child would not be the best possible solution, especially if, as you say, the child is about to engage in sexual activities with the man. Seeing someone's guts spew all over the nearest wall is a traumatic experience; if the child feels sufficient emotional comfort from this person to consent to sex, that trauma is going to be pretty major. Mind you, confronted with that very situation, I might well do that very thing. I don't claim to always act rationally.

Yes, killing the adult or stomping him into the carpet is the use of force. It is arguable that it is defensive force, done to defend the life and property of the child.

Under Libertarian doctrine, the concept of "age of consent" is done away with.

That is mistaken. Some libertarians do away with the age of consent idea, and others do not. For my own part, I think the age of consent issue is nonsense, about as worthy as the old doctrine that a woman could not own property because of her gender, or the doctrine that a negro slave could not own property because of his skin color or his status as a slave.

Age of consent as a doctrine attempts to address the issue of competence. It does so by making erroneous assumptions about the competence of retarded adults, and equally erroneous assumptions about the competence of children of normal intelligence. A retarded adult may not be competent to enter into a contract, consent to sexual activities, or even dress himself. But, being over 18, the retarded adult may not find protection within the framework of the law. (A severely retarded adult, intelligence quotient of around 69, was recently released from death row here in Texas after DNA evidence cleared him of a 1982 rape/murder for which he had been imprisoned for over a decade. The law which does such a poor job of protecting retarded adults cannot be regarded as suitable protection for children of normal intelligence.)

It is possible that your eight-year-old child has the mental capacity to consent to sex with a twenty-five-year-old adult. To find out, you would have a conversation with your child. That would not be facilitated by having the brains of the adult spattered all over the rug and wall.

In your third case, you see three men forcing a young lady to disrobe, and you suspect from their words and gestures that they are initiating rape. You are armed and unobserved. I say, kill the three men, right away.

It would not be the initiation of force. The three men who are initiating rape are initiating force. Therefore, anything done in retaliation by the victim, or in defense of the intended victim by a third party is not and cannot be initiatory force. It is pure defensive force, it is moral, and it should be done. Kill them, remove their genitalia with a knife, place the genitalia in the mouth, remove the head, post it on a sharpened stake, and add a sign: "sic semper rapina!" Thus always to those who take by force.

Whether or not the woman about to be raped is a stranger is not relevant. It creates value for me to kill rapists when I encounter them so that women I do know won't be raped. In general, gavage, when encountered, should be resisted by everyone, because it is a bad thing. Bad things should be taken out of the market.

Thus, unless you are threatened with force, you may not resort to it on another individual's behalf.

Nonsense, Patrick. Using force on another individual's behalf is appropriate defensive force. Anyone who has a life, who has liberty, or has property should use force to defend the life, liberty, and property of everyone else, always. That way, all attacks on life, liberty, and property are hard to perpetrate.

You appear not to understand libertarian philosophy at all.

Now, I know this all seems a little extreme,

No, it seems completely mistaken. You are asserting that people with libertarian values would object to saving a child who is about to drink anti-freeze or killing three rapists who are about to commit rape. You are mistaken.

There is at least some doubt about whether an eight-year-old could give effective consent, which doubt I think justifies intervention to at least delay sexual activities until consent has been ascertained. It may well be that an attack on the adult attempting to have sex with the child is very appropriate, since coercion may have been used to obtain the appearance of consent.

Moral principles are absolutes, they are black or white, there is no gray.

Yes, that is true. But, moral principles are stated in a particular fashion, using particular words, so that there would be fewer errors about their meaning. If you insist upon ignoring the meaning of the phrase "initiate force" and replace it with "use any sort of force" then you are misunderstanding the principle which is described.

Killing someone to protect your life is acceptable. Killing someone to protect your child's life is acceptable. Killing someone to protect your property is acceptable. The exact circumstances do matter, but the use of force to defend life, liberty, or property, even the life of a complete stranger or her liberty or her property, is acceptable to any libertarian. If using force is never acceptable, you are talking to a pacifist who may be confused about what it means to be libertarian.

was not handed to us out of a burning bush after all,

To be clear, the history of the Judeo-Christian religion as documented in Scripture includes the modification of covenants, including the covenant of the ten commandments that was associated with a burning bush. God has shown Himself to be willing to negotiate.

I just play one on the net.

Omniscience appears not to be a part of your act.

Yes, spanking is force, and I recommend that it be used sparingly and with an understanding of its limitations and drawbacks, but when a child is too young to understand rational discourse it is very effective, and in my view, the lesser evil.

I question whether a child is ever too young to benefit more from rational discourse than from a spanking. Raising children without use of coercion is difficult, but worthwhile.

First, let me state clearly that any adult who finds young children sexually attractive is, in my opinion, in need of a deep and immediate dose of corrective therapy from Dr. Browning of the 1911 school.

Gee, I thought the famous gun from 1911 was a Colt .45. Perhaps Browning made one too?

There are some distinctions which you have chosen to overlook. Adults may find "children" as the word is used in our culture to be sexually attractive, even though those children are not especially young. Anyone under the age of 18 is a child. It is not necessarily possible to determine a fourteen-year-old child from an eighteen-year-old child by inspecting the child or their purported photo ID. You may be happy to argue that it is very easy to tell an eight-year-old child from one of 18, and I would agree. However, sadly, the law does not make much distinction between consensual sex between an adult and a sixteen-year-old from an adult and an eight-year-old.

So, if your definition of "young children" is limited to those under the age of puberty, then I agree that adults who find them sexually attractive are not normal, and possibly not sane. That brings us to another distinction: finding a child sexually attractive is one thing, and acting on that view is another. A person should be free to think what he pleases, even if you don't like it. Acting on those thoughts is another matter.

Thoughts cannot bring harm. Actions do have the potential to bring harm. Therefore, your proposal to kill anyone who thinks that eight-year-old children are sexually attractive is wrong. A proposal to kill anyone who engages in sex with eight-year-old children has considerably greater merit.

The problem is, when we decide that children have the right to determine for themselves when they are ready to accept responsibility for their actions, we make this kind of situation inevitable.

No, we don't. Nor does the child. By taking responsibility for her own actions, a child has the opportunity to act on knowledge. The kind of situation you describe is not inevitable if the child is informed of the fact that, for example, anal sex is very painful. If you refuse to take the child seriously, and refuse to have the child gain knowledge about sex in any way, then the child may not have any information to use in defense against sexual predators. But, that isn't a problem that relates to the child taking responsibility for her life.

The problem that arises from adult sexual predators taking advantage of children is mostly a problem with the adults involved. It is definitely a problem that there are adults who want to stick their penises into the anuses of very young boys and girls. It is also a problem of fraud that many of these adults make no representations about the actual pain their behavior is going to cause to a virgin child. It is also a problem that a lot of adults don't teach their children that sex acts can be very painful. Indeed, many adults seem to feel that they protect children from drugs, sex, tobacco, and alcohol by failing to tell them anything about any of these things. I think that is a mistaken concept.

While a child might be educated on certain subjects, like sex or drugs or any other so called ADULT activity, they often lack the kind of life experience which is required to make a truly informed decision.

That is equally true if we state "While an adult might be educated on certain subjects...they often lack the kind of life experience which is required to make a truly informed decision." It is as true of most fifty-year-olds as it is of most eight-year-olds. People, lacking experience, make unwise choices. Often, these lead to death.

On this point I must disagree with most libertarians, I do not believe that children have rights.

Sadly, I think most people who call themselves libertarians would agree. Most libertarians seem to think that adults own the children they have conceived. I disagree. I think each child owns himself.

Instead, I believe that adults have responsibilities toward children.

I don't disagree. Nor, in fact, do any libertarians I've ever met. Freedom and responsibility are two features of the same thing. (It just so happens that the folks over at TCS seem to be the most convinced of the responsibilities of adults toward children of any group of folks I've ever met.)

Until a child reaches a certain level of mental and emotional development, it is simply impossible for him or her to make informed decisions concerning their lives.

Correct. Adding information to the child may help. Adding a spanking does not.

But, let us agree that some children are, at some age, too young to make informed choices. Therefore, your actions to defend the child are not wrong. Taking anti-freeze away from a toddler, or sex with an adult away from an eight-year-old is a defensive action which may be justified. You should do what you think is right. (You should also think about what you think is right.)

Instead, parents and other adults must have both the authority as well as the responsibility to make those decisions for the child.

Most adults assume this authority. But, authority is a feature of a different approach: authoritarianism is in contrast to libertarianism. I am a propertarian, which is a sort of property-oriented libertarian. I am only libertarian in the sense that I'm not authoritarian. But I am vehemently not authoritarian.

The concept of "age of consent" is an attempt to provide that, as well as providing the child with a set point at which the interference of the adult will cease.

No. Age of consent is an attempt to evade adult responsibilities and to use "magic numbers" as a substitute for reason and judgement.

What is magic about the age of twenty-five? Nothing magic happened to me, but suddenly, my price for insurance dropped and I was "qualified" to run for Congress. Nothing magic happened when I hit thirty, but I was suddenly suited to a seat in the Senate (pending the agreement of a majority of dimwits casting votes in a given election). Nothing magic happened when Bill Clinton reached thirty-five, but he became "qualified" for the position of president of the United States. By these examples, I think you can see some danger inherent in the supposition that by reaching a certain age, anything special has happened.

I will grant you one clear-cut exception: the age of puberty. Puberty represents an actual, physical set of changes that allows us to identify children and adults as being very different. Puberty is an age which varies widely by individual, however. Children as young as six have given birth, and children as old as seventeen have not begun puberty.

Puberty is clearly not the age thirteen for every individual, but at that age certain cultures, including one that remarks upon a burning bush in its history, Judaism, grants adulthood to males and females. But is the age thirteen agreeable to you? I wouldn't know. It is not agreeable in every jurisdiction, certainly.

The problem with the age of consent doctrine is that it is nonsense. It attempts to impose a uniform numerical standard on a situation that isn't uniform. It attempts to use the magic quality of a number (13, 18, 21, 25, etc.) to substitute for reason and judgement.

What do I mean? I mean that one can use reason and use judgement to determine whether an individual has the ability to enter into contracts, engage in sexual activities as consensual behavior, operate a gun, drive a car, or do anything else. How? You examine the individual and use your head. You ask questions, you make observations, you follow-up with practical choices. An adult who is unable to coherently answer the question "what is your name" may be retarded. A child who is capable of solving a complex quadratic equation without error may be quite mature.

Ethics are situational. It is wrong to sign a contract with a retarded adult, taking all that person's property, when they don't understand what is happening. It is equally wrong to force a child to sit through classes in a public school because they are "not yet sixteen" and therefore compulsory attendance applies. It is stupid to try to come up with one age for everybody. Each individual is different.

Recently, a company in which I have a substantial interest contracted with a fifteen-year-old to write extensive code. We have paid that "child" several thousand dollars, and we have obtained excellent code. It seems to me that anyone capable of writing complex computer code is very likely competent to enter into a contract to sell such code.

But, if we were to go by the "laws of the state of Texas" we would find that such behavior was a violation. There are child labor laws to "protect" the child. Fortunately, there are other jurisdictions relevant to the example.

You can have sex at thirteen,

In New Jersey, yes. Not in whatever jurisdiction still wants to prosecute Roman Polanski, though.

own a rifle at sixteen,

Which is nonsense. I have met twelve-year-olds who are better at shooting with rifles than me, and have observed adults whose behavior with a rifle is extremely dangerous to all around them.

join the army

In the Congo, the army can join you at age 12.

or get a credit-card at eighteen, and drink at twenty-one, provided some busybody doesn't decide to rain on your parade for some other, and possibly completely unrelated reason.

You can vote at eighteen, but you can't buy a shot of whiskey to make the pain of your lack of choices in voting go away. Now that is unjust!

Age of consent should mean just that, one age at which you are legally entitled to do anything you wish, and go to jail for it if you get caught.

Okay. That age is zero. Individuals who are alive and able to express a desire to do a thing should be entitled to do that thing, even if it is bad for them, unless it involves initiating force against others. Individuals are responsible for the harm they cause, even to others, regardless of their age or ability to pay.

If this age were placed at a reasonable level, say sixteen,

Why is 16 a magic number for everything? I observe that ten-year-olds are driving automobiles and farm vehicles in rural settings. How dreadful for their families that you won't permit them to work until they are 16.

and a mechanism for parental consent were established,

What does parental consent have to do with the child? If the parent does not consent to their child being an adult at age 18, does that matter? Would it matter at 16? Who are these people who claim to be parents, anyway? What proof do they offer of even a genetic claim of relationship?

And why does that relationship grant them superiority in the ability of the child to take responsibility for her own actions? Parents don't have a veto power, and children who are put upon by parents often go to the trouble of proving that fact.

I believe the kind of dilemma envisioned by my little scenario could be avoided, at least in the main.

Well, if you apply enough force, you'll find out that your lever is broken.


Jim Davidson jim@goldbarter.com

The rules of human interaction are different for children than for adults. I don't see any problem with saying that the non-aggression principle doesn't apply to children. I guess you could call that an exception. I really don't look at it that way.

As to your rape example, I suppose that if you see a crime in progress and decide to intervene then the victim might be in the right to complain that you shouldn't have interfered. But it's a reasonable assumption that the victim would be gratefull if you could offer help. I honestly don't see how the complaining victim could claim the such a do-gooder was actually initiating the use of force. He's not using force against the victim in any way. He's retaliating against criminals. The victim actions are not being restricted by the good samaritan in any way, nor is he injured by him.

I don't know if you will mention the exceptions to the non-aggression principle I make so I'll mention them here. I would steal bread if I was dying of starvation, and I would kill and eat people in a "lifeboat situation" after a certain point. The principle that guides these exceptions is that everyone has the right to retaliate against those who initiate force, and one should not initiate force otherwise it makes you the enemy of everyone you meet. But if you're going to die anyway, it's better to violate the rights of a few people and try to make it up to them later if you can. In other words, the advantage of obeying the non-aggression principle is no longer an advantage if you die by obeying it.

Steve euclid@softcom.net

In the article: Some Limitations of the Non-Agression Doctrine by Patrick K Martin in TLE #161 Mr. Martin takes issue with the non-aggression principle. However in doing so some crucial errors were made. Consider the following:


As you race screaming to snatch this cup of liquid death away from the most important person in your life, and proceed to manually stimulate his little nervous system by the repeated application of your hand to his gluteus maximus, you ask yourself, "Am I initiating force against this person?"


Yes. Under the doctrine, you have no right to interfere with the child's right to drink the antifreeze, and removing it from the child's possession without the child's consent (to say nothing of spanking the child) is an act of force. The mere fact that death will result from his actions, or the fact that the child is not capable of understanding the peril inherent in his actions, in no way justifies you taking action."

This answer to the question relies upon a bit of smoke and mirrors in that it ignores the distinction between "Person" as moral agent, and "person" as merely possessing human DNA. Moral agency requires rationality in a fairly basic sense that is not found in infants or toddlers. Consider the other side of this coin, the toddlers actions. Is the toddler morally culpable if he were accidentally cause the house to catch fire? Absolutely not. We are correct in citing his actions as part of the causal chain that lead to the house catching fire, but no one holds the child morally responsible for actions of which he cannot be aware. In other words because we do not hold this entity to be morally responsible, he cannot be a moral agent, therefore not a "person" in the sense used in the nonaggression principle. At the same time certainly the toddler does indeed possess human DNA and therefore is a person in that regard. We must be careful not to equivocate.

The same equivocation occurs in the next scenario in which the 8 year old is convinced to engage in sex. While 8 year olds are beginning to display some of the characteristics of a moral agent, certainly they have not achieved that status given the very limited understanding of reality, rationality, and consequences.

The final example, that of the thugs attacking the woman in an alley, there is a presumption of no acts of aggression having occurred, however clearly this is not the case. While no act of aggression has occurred to you as an individual, an act of aggression is occurring to the woman and returning this to a null state is not itself an initiation of force. One cannot initiate force secondarily. However this is not the only solution to this problem. As the author notes, you could draw attention to yourself. He claims however that this is a violation of the non-aggression principle, but fails to show this. The only explanation offered is that a situation now exists that would not have existed previously. So? This is true with each breath we take and with any action we take in any situation. Our existence itself, or the taking of any action cannot itself be considered aggressive.

The author goes on to state that moral principles are absolutes, which is simply false. Kantians hold this, but Kantians are easily proven to be mistaken. Consider the moral rule: Do not Kill. Certainly this is not absolute for as we each know we can morally kill in self defense and perhaps other situations as well. It does not follow from this fact however that moral relativity holds. When determining the nature of morality we must abandon the method used for the last several millennia, that of declaring what ought to be morality and then seeking to force this upon the world. Rather we should approach it just as we do any subject we take seriously, and start with observation and offer description rather than declaration.

The author alludes to a different guideline, though I would argue that non is necessary but only that a better understanding of the actual nature of morality is called for. To this end we ought to adopt the approach which has been the backbone of philosophy from its inception and which has been borrowed by the sciences to advance our knowledge of the world around us. Let us observe the nature of morality as it is rather than as we would have it be. In doing so we find a greater understanding of the nonaggression principle as a rule of thumb. To this end I suggest a reading of Bernard Gert's _Morality: Its Nature and Justification_, for Gert takes this proven approach to gaining understanding of reality. I take issue with some of the conclusions Gert draws with regard to the moral rules, but the method is tried and true and allows us to judge his descriptions against reality to determine if they are accurate.

As I said the non-aggression principle is a rule of thumb which can be better understood through a better understanding of morality itself. Morality is not some absolute set of ideas given from a burning bush, from a god, or from some specialist in the field. It is a part of reality that we can examine for ourselves, using critical observation and critical reasoning to determine the characteristics of morality, just as we do with physics, or any other science. If instead we take the non-aggression principle to be an absolute rule, with no understanding of its foundation, and we equivocate as to the meaning of "person" it appears, as Mr. Martin noted, to be flawed. So instead of attacking the principle as though it exists only in a vacuum, let us seek to understand its foundations and the aspect of reality we call morality.

Brian Tomlinson storm@hackboy.com

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