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L. Neil Smith's
Number 174, May 20, 2002

[Letters to the editor are welcome on any and all subjects. To ensure their acceptance, please try to keep them under 500 words. Sign your letter in the text body with your name and e-mail address as you wish them to appear.]

Letter from Julian Morrison

Letter from Jonathan Taylor

Letter from Charles Novins

Letter from John Pate

Letter from Curt Howland

Letter from Jay

2nd Letter from Curt Howland

Letter from Dr Sean Gabb

Letters from Bill Bunn and Bill Westmiller

3rd Letter from Curt Howland

This is regarding "THE DEATH PENALTY" essay by Patrick Martin.

Who is this "we"? Who is this "society"?

Mr Martin, you make the classical collectivist error. There is no "society" and it has no "rights". The rights in question are: those of the victim, which were violated or placed in negligent jeopardy, and those of the crook, which he forfeits by his assault.

Who has a right to kill the crook? To percieve this, treat murder or rape as a property crime, a crime against the self-ownership of the victim. The victim has a right to revenge or restitution, a property right which is like any other property transferrable, shareable, inheritable. Therefore, the victim, his inheritors, anyone explicitly delegated by either of the above may wreak vengeance. Not some arbitrary non-delegated third party. Not "the state" - a nonexistent thing in any case.

For what crimes may the victim et al kill the crook? Strictest NIOF would say: any of them. If you initiate force, you forfeit all rights with regard to the victim, you may be shot on the spot - or however later you're found out. Normally this would not be the case, because people would tend to treat small crimes proportionately and would offer arbitration instead.

Julian Morrison [julian@extropy.demon.co.uk]

First of all, kudos to Mr. Martin for writing an article that was very thought provoking and interesting.

While I agree in principle with the spirit of where Mr. Martin is heading, I believe the specifics leave a little to be desired.

For starters, including rape and arson as capital crimes seems to me to be a can of worms best left closed. For one thing, if we include those two crimes, then what about statutory rape / child molestation? What about vehicular manslaughter? Surely those two crimes are almost as heinous as rape and arson, respectively. Where do we draw the line on what is and is not a capital crime, if not when there has been a murder committed?

Furthermore, rape (above and beyond even the other crimes mentioned) can be a very difficult crime to prove sometimes, as by its very nature there are often no witnesses and very little physical evidence. Now, I am not belittling the seriousness of the crime, or even disagreeing with the principle that rapists deserve a 0.4" circular brain hemorrhage, however if it is not the intended victim, at the time of the crime - who most assuredly has the knowledge that a crime is about to take place and the right to prevent it, the question of whether or not a crime has taken place can often be murky - too murky for me to be comfortable consigning someone to die in a case of "he says rough sex, she says rape".

That is without even delving into the realm of "the obvious attempt to carry out these crimes". I read that line, and had a flash back to Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry", being asked how he established "attempt to commit rape." Short of his answer in the film, I don't know that there's an answer that would satisfy me.

In short, leaving capital punishment in the hands of the intended victim, at the time of the crime, is the best, simplest way to insure a system consistent with a free society. While I agree with many of the principles espoused, in implementation, it would be too close to a police state for my taste.

Jonathan Taylor [fenr1swolf@yahoo.com]

I enjoyed your note on the death penalty. FYI, my view is that murderers and the like (you correctly note there are few crimes that merit death) certainly ought to be killed. We disagree, however, over whether government can ever execute this function reasonably well. I say no.

I think your view diverges from mine (mistakenly, by my estimation) in the following key passage:

"... I understand that rights are not cumulative, and that the community at large has no more or greater right to pursue any course of action than does any individual. However, I submit that the community, in the form of a properly limited government, has no less of a right to act in defense of its members than does any individual within it."

So you have two propositions:

  1. Government can do no more than an individual is permitted
  2. Government needn't do less than what an individual is permitted

I disagree with (2), and I think you built my disagreement into your paragraph when you said "...a properly limited government..." Doesn't limited government MEAN that the government (or, more properly, the individuals who act as its agents) have fewer available courses of action than a private party?

In the end, I rejoice when a miscreant is repelled and erased by an honest property owner with a gun defending his life and property. However, even if you imagined that government's rights were precisely equal to an individual's, would it be sensible to allow my defending homeowner to imprison the invader and meticulously kill him at a later time? Perhaps it would, I'm not sure, but you can see that the capital punishment process at least appears to be somewhat more than what an individual might undertake.

In the end, however, we disagree because you are suggesting an "ideal" which I (and L's who agree) believe can never be. Think you can set up a system where the government will get something like this right? I think giving death chambers to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to a teen-ager.

Charles Novins [charles@novins.com]

"Many seem to feel that the killing of a person for the commission of a crime, no matter how heinous, by the state, is inconsistent with Libertarian principles ..." - Patrick Martin

This may or may not be true, who cares, straw man. The problem with capital punishment by "the state" is simple and easy to understand and totally ignored by Patrick's essay and nothing to do with whatever Libertarianism is taken to mean. The fundamental point is that state killing leaves no-one with personal responsibility for the act. OK you say, a lynch-mob is ... no it isn't. Each individual member of the lynch mob is personally responsible for his or her part in the action. Now, I submit that the Ted Bundys of this world would be dealt with by lynch mobs if there was no government. I don't have a problem with that.

So let's get to cases alluded to in Patrick's essay. If someone wants to kill Joe the Wino then I don't have a problem with that. If he's anything like the winos that hang around here then good riddance to bad rubbish. If someone wants to kill my friend I do have a problem with that and retribution is on the way, in my own inimitable style. If a lynch mob does it then I'm going to have to go all Clint Eastwood on them and/or organise a big bunch of my pals (it wouldn't take very many of them to cause a lot of mayhem for sure). If someone points out to me that there's a crazy serial killer at large emulating Ted Bundy and maybe we ought to do something about it then I'm interested and probably ready to join in the game. But I'll answer to my friends, not the law, for my actions. Either you believe most people are reasonable and of good intentions or you may as well give up now. Value people for who they are, not what they are.

I have a real problem with the state being given license by "the people" to murder in their name -- somebody else other than me is giving an "officer of the law" license to murder in my name! That way leads to war and madness. I mean does nobody round here read history books? Count me out!

There's no such thing as limited government so get over it guys. Never forget TANSTAAFL.

John Pate [johnny@dvc.org.uk]

On Capital Punishment: I cannot delegate murder. I may be so aghast at the crime some troglodyte commits that I would see them dead for it, but then how will I object when the State decides the same thing about me?

I can imagine killing someone in cold blood. There are people (most are paid with tax money) who I consider threats, and as the thought experiment goes "If you were transported back in time, to stand behind Hitler in his bunker with a knife in your hand, could you kill him who is no threat to you?" maybe I could kill them myself. Maybe.

Those I so consider direct threats, those few in all the world I might murder if I had the opportunity, what if I'm wrong? Every advancement in forensics proves the innocence of death row inmates, some of whom have been convicted for many years. Efficient "justice" would have resulted in the death of innocent people.

Like most of the people who read this (if any do), I believe that the victim of a violent assault should (must!) have at their disposal the means to defend themselves. Preferably lethal means, since there is little doubt in the mind of a rapee who the raper is.

Charles Manson wouldn't last very long in a world of armed citizens.

A mother who murders her child's molester would not be convicted by a jury of her peers.

The answer? I don't know. And because of the imperfection of my knowledge, I prefer to fall on the side of caution. I will not delegate to the State the power to murder, because the State cannot be punished when it makes a mistake. For example, I have yet to see a legislator, cop, or judge punished because the enactment or enforcement of a 'law' resulted in injury or death.

Curt Howland [Howland@Priss.com]

"I'd like to open the floor for suggestions: "What are ya gonna do about it?"

Get in the car and drive. There aren't check points and security searches along the highways - yet.

Jay [jayphailey@juno.com]

I was sent a link to a document called the "Tao Of Gun". Written from the position of a "New Age" theorist, I find its arguments both refreshing and surprisingly familiar.


The "New Age" concepts take self ownership to the spiritual level, not focusing very much on the physical dimension which ownership of labor and property could be said to apply to.

This may be why the "New Age" groupies tend to be bleeding heart liberals (other peoples blood, of course), while the Christians seem to see the spiritual realm as belong to G-D and to consider it as personal property would therefore be blaspheme. As has been noticed by many, the practicing Christians tend to be lumped together as stone- hearted conservatives.

Let me summarize with this: To discuss a subject with another human being, one must be able to converse in a mutually understandable language. If I use the word 'karma' around a Christian, or 'hell' around a Buddhist, both may write me off as being woefully uninformed. This is not a good foundation for persuasive discussion.

So here is someone who writes while focused on the New Age spiritual awareness and metaphysical constructions, and is arguing in favor of the individual carrying of arms.

It behooves us all to understand the logic and language of his arguments, even if (especially if) we do not agree with his world view. Discovering that others are also rational, reasoning people is a good way to treat them with respect, even while disagreeing with their beliefs about the non-physical world.

Self defense, whether couched in terms of protecting the creations G-d from abuse, or in materializing the context of complete self determination, stands the test of logical analysis. It is the prohibitionists of all colours who betray their fear and self-loathing with their efforts to immaculate those around them.

We who argue for individual rights must do so with unassailable reason, in language our audience will understand. Richard Roberts has done so in spades.

Curt Howland [Howland@Priss.com]

London, Friday, 17th April 2002, For Immediate Use
Contact Details: 020 8286 9563 or 07799 475859


The tragic accident at Potters Bar has diverted attention away from a serious development in the Railtrack saga, says the Libertarian Alliance, the radical free market and civil liberties think tank and pressure group. The wreckage of the accident has buried not merely the bodies of the victims, but uncomfortable truths recently uttered by the new Railtrack Chief Executive. ...

To read more: www.libertarian.co.uk/news/nr006.htm

Dr Sean Gabb [old.whig@btinternet.com]

Mr Antle writes, in his article "ABORTION AND LIBERTARIANISM: A CONCLUSION", in his next-to-last paragraph, that "just because regulation of every act by a pregnant woman that might conceivably put some fetus at risk would be undesirable does not mean that there is a right to destroy that fetus for any reason or no reason whatsoever". And certainly he's right about that.

But why is one violation of the rights of the unborn a matter not to be punished by the state thru the criminal law, while another is? What clear and compelling distinction might he draw? Surely he won't simply insist that the criminal law should simply reflect his own personal preferences?

- - -

Mr. Westmiller wrote in his article "ABORTION: PRO-CHOICE (CONCLUSION)". regarding persons of diminished capacity:

"Having _any_ capacity [for reason] is sufficient and the law ought to presume that a person retains some intellectual capacity until it can be proven otherwise."

But why then ought the law not presume the same for, say, a chimpanzee or a porpoise, or even a clam?

(And if we should build a computer with as much capacity for reason as you and I have, should this computer then be protected by the criminal law?)

But, on the other hand, if capacity for reason makes us uniquely human, so what? (Our DNA also makes us uniquely human, and makes every flake of our dandruff also "uniquely human", but so what?) Why ought "uniquely human" be protected anyway?

What is special about humans that the criminal law ought to protect us and not porpoises and chimpanzees? Do we have no better argument than a simple prejudice for our own kind? And on this prejudice we should empower the state to rule us?

Why should it be more acceptable to enact into law our prejudice for our own species than a prejudice for our own color?

(I'm not asking that the criminal law ought to protect chimpanzees and porpoises, but only asking that our correspondents enunciate a clear and compelling rationale for just whom the state ought to protect thru the criminal law. A rationale that rises above mere prejudice. My answer is at www.reninet.com/maile/billbunn/political/soapbox/Bounds%20of%2 0Criminal%20Law.html

Bill Bunn [billbunn@free-market.net]

* * * * * * * * * * *

Bill Bunn seems to be making a simple request: provide and defend all the evidence of the past several millenia which make it proper for the law to presume that human beings have a capacity for reason -- which other animals do not. Sure.

Yes, I do have a presumption against any computer program or animal or alien having the capacity for reason, but I don't preclude the possibility that such a thing might be shown in the future. In which case, that entity would have a proper claim to rights.

Bill Westmiller [westmiller@aol.com]

After reading www.columbian.com/05142002/opinion/282067.html

Dear Michael and The Columbian,

I wonder if you've looked at this from the other direction. What if "infringe" meant just that? What if the 2nd Amendment actually did mean M1 tanks, Blackhawk helicopters and even thermonuclear warheads?

In context, it would then have included cannon-bearing ships, able to lay waste to entire cities of colonial America just as thermonuclear warheads now are able to lay waste to present day cities. And if you look at the writings of the time, you'll find private ownership of exactly those kinds of crew-operated weapons of mass destruction, even documented in the Constitution itself under "Letters of Marque and Reprisal". Prey tell, just who was it those letter were to be issued to if not private individuals?

The present day equivalent would be privately owned M1 tanks and other crew-operated weapons.

How about the Stinger missile? This one-man weapon, able to remove from the skies virtually any craft made by man (save the SR-71 and its successor whatever that may be), matches exactly the type of weapon the Supreme Court stated as explicitly protected under the 2nd Amendment in their 1939 US vs. Miller decision. The difference between most pundants and me is that I've read the decision. Have you?

Please don't misunderstand me, I am as against some idiot poisoning or blowing up his neighbors as anyone else. However, I realize that a 5- gallon can of gasoline, kept to refuel the family lawnmower, is far more dangerous than a nucear warhead, if for no other reason than a nuclear warhead is infinitely more expensive. While Bill Gates might be able to have his own nuclear warhead, my neighbor is fully able to keep multiple cans of highly volitile and explosive gasoline in his garage, leaking fumes into his hot-water heater.

What you call a "lunatic" is merely a realist. Try to get liability insurance as a homeowner who has guns, and what happens? NOTHING. No effect at all. What do these insurance companies know that Handgun Control and its mezmerized minions cannot grasp? Simple facts. Weapons do not cause crime.

While HCI and you are decrying the dangers of arms, insurance companies look at actual numbers. Firearms in the home are absurdly normal. Four-thousand pound guided missiles with flamable warheads are buzzing around the highways every day, capable of vast destruction. While more people by far than by firearms die by such weapons, you're bemoaning the private ownership of a helicopter. In many cities, it's easier to own a helicopter than a gun. Try it!

A lunatic is someone who cannot tell reality from fantasy. Your fantasies of thermonuclear warheads, while your childs schoolroom is distroyed by a student on prescription anti-depressants who gets their hands on a perfectly legal 25 pound can of propane and a match, demonstrate who is and is not a lunatic.

Curt Howland [Howland@Priss.com]


The State vs. The People, by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman

Is America becoming a police state? Friends of liberty need to know.

Some say the U.S. is already a police state. Others watch the news for signs that their country is about to cross an indefinable line. Since September 11, 2001, the question has become more urgent. When do roving wiretaps, random checkpoints, mysterious "detentions," and military tribunals cross over from being emergency measures to being the tools of a government permanently and irrevocably out of control?

The State vs. the People examines these crucial issues. But first, it answers this fundamental question: "What is a police state?"

Order from JPFO NOW!

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