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L. Neil Smith's
Number 569, May 9, 2010

"That damned birth certificate"

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The Libertarian Free Lunch
by Paul Bonneau
2 -dot- paulbx1 -at- dfgh -dot- net

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Libertarians commonly assert "there's no free lunch", but there is a sense in which almost all of them do believe in a free lunch.

Let's imagine a scenario in which virtually anyone, but particularly enforcers for the state, can kill you and get away with it, and face no risk to themselves in doing it. In such a scenario, is there any sense at all in which you have a "right to life"?

This scenario is a description of current reality, for at least some libertarians!

First, it's well known that risk of arrest of murderers goes way down if the murderer refrains from killing anyone he knows or with whom he associates. With a little bit of care, this risk is about zero. That's why people who get it in their heads to be serial killers can get away with it so long, sometimes indefinitely. Since a given libertarian knows only a tiny percentage of all people, virtually anyone can kill him with little risk.

The internet has made infamous the frequency with which cops kill and get only an administrative vacation for doing it. So that holds as well for our libertarian victim.

Of course the state itself is by far the most murderous agent in history. The irony of a libertarian, depending on the state to protect his life, is striking.

Finally, and most telling, many libertarians cannot even bother themselves to go around armed at all times. So any potential killer faces no risk from his intended victim in such a case.

Is there any sense at all in which these libertarians have a "right to life"?

The same might be said for property rights. How many libertarians surrender their property (via taxes or civil forfeiture) with little more than a grumble? (Yes, I do the same, for now; but I don't imagine I have a right to property.) When a free-lance thug tries to steal something, at least some libertarians are capable of killing him or driving him off with maybe a couple holes in him. But when the state thug does this (and how much more frequent and damaging an occurrence is this), how many libertarians would do the same thing? Right to grumble, yeah, but is there any sense in which you have a "right to property", after putting up with that? You have a right to however much the state thug decides to leave you. Some right!

A free lunch is the notion that people deserve stuff without earning it. The libertarian free lunch is "rights"! Libertarians typically believe they have "rights" merely by virtue of their being warm bodies. This is exactly like a socialist believing he has a right to "free" health care. The distinction between positive and negative rights is beside the point; it's still a free lunch.

You have a right to something if, and only if, right now, you are capable of keeping someone else from taking it, and you are willing to do so. Your right to life depends on your willingness and ability to drive off or kill anyone who comes to kill you, or who threatens to kill you. Your right to property depends on your willingness and ability to drive off or kill anyone who comes to steal from you, or who threatens to steal from you.

When that is the case, then there is no longer any need to talk about "rights", is there? It's a superfluous concept. You just do what you have to do.

Get over it, folks. In the current reality, we have no right to anything. We will only have it the day we give up on grumbling, the day we decide to get off our duffs and take it. In a weird sense, belief in rights, particularly rights allegedly protected by the state, is the very thing that keeps us from actually having them.

I used to say "I could never be a conservative, because conservatives love government far too much for my taste." It's also true I could never again be a liberal, because liberals love violence too much for my taste (state violence, I mean). Looks like I might have to start saying I can no longer be a libertarian, because libertarians believe in a free lunch, the biggest free lunch of all.

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