Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

17 Free Variables in Libertarian Theory

It's impossible to derive The One True Libertarianism from a single bumper-sticker-sized axiom like the Zero Aggression Principle. Why? Because there are just too many free variables in the design of one's libertarian ethical/political system. A list of such variables would include:

  • Enfranchisement variables
    • rights of animals and species
    • rights of the unborn
    • rights of children
    • rights of the mentally disabled
    • rights of the comatose, the cryonically suspended, etc
    • rights of the dead (e.g. to bind the living with a covenant)
    • rights of inheritance
    • rights of corporate persons
  • Property variables
    • rights in natural (i.e. non-excludable) resources e.g. atmosphere, water, non-solid minerals, spectrum, orbits
    • rights in excludable resources e.g. land, solid minerals
    • rights in intellectual property e.g. copyright, patents
    • justness of original property acquisition
    • status of stolen property
  • Aggression variables
    • [added 2007-06-24] whether blackmail is aggression
    • forms of allowable judicial punishment
    • rules for allowable extra-judicial defense and retaliation
    • thresholds for reckless endangerment
    • extent to which unequal associations are coercive
The Zero Aggression Principle gives no definitive guidance on these issues, and anyone who claims that the ZAP sufficiently defines libertarianism is saying that libertarianism is hopelessly inadequate for determining the rules of a polity. Further, if one accepts the existence of the state, then the core libertarian principle of minimizing aggression doesn't give clear guidance on
  • the procedures and organization of the state;
  • the extent of one's right to immigrate across borders separating radically different levels of liberty; and
  • whether the state's duty to defend liberty vanishes completely at its borders.
Finally, one who believes in minimizing the role of force initiation in human life might recognize that complete abstinence from force initiation is not optimal as a single and inviolable principle of political economy. 20th-century advances in the theory of political economy suggest it is fundamentally important that the state
There clearly is a lot of room for principled disagreement among the 16% to 20% of Americans who want more personal and economic liberty than we have today. The Libertarian Party is the only party advocating increased personal and economic liberty, and yet we attract votes from only about one tenth of our natural constituency, and registration and membership from far less than that.

This is a measure of how badly we have botched our political opportunity by squabbling over who should or should not be counted as libertarian. The definition of libertarian is clear: one who advocates minimizing aggression against those whom no reasonably tolerant person disputes should be franchised for protection by the polity. No definition of "libertarian" can ever deterministically uncompress into a reasonably complete political theory, much less a complete system of jurisprudence. However, the ordinary-language definition of "libertarian" is more than adequate for unifying America's liberty-lovers for effective political action -- if effective political action is indeed what they really want.

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