19 Little questions for Non-Libertarians

Every thinking Libertarian had already answered the “19 tough questions for Libertarians” before they were even asked, in the course of merely organizing his own thoughts. i’m not going to be the thousandth person to answer those questions; i want to play a different game instead. The following are questions that are very easy for Libertarians, and i suspect consistent theorists of other stripes will find them easy as well. The only people who will find them hard are people who have accepted mainstream understanding, and as a consequence keep shouting “But what about the roads??” in my face. Let’s see how you do!

1. If citizens are equals, is it right for some citizens to have power over the innocent activities of others, as the employee at city hall has the power to prevent one man from building a house, while allowing another? Can a discretionary power like this ever be moral, without being mutual?

2. Can position, title, etc. make an act right to do, when it would be wrong to do without the position or title? Does becoming “king” grant the authority to lie? Does becoming “president” grant the authority to order assassinations or wiretaps? If Diane Feinstein tried to take my guns with the aid of only burglar’s tools, i think we would all recognize her as a thief. Does trying to accomplish the same project with different tools (legislation instead of a crowbar) have a morally different character? Does her position actually alter her moral authority? And if so, how is this miracle accomplished?

3. Similarly, if it is wrong for a citizen to do something to his neighbor directly, such as seize his property or impede his livelihood, is it right for him to do these same things indirectly by electing or lobbying an official who will order the seizure or deny a permit in order to accomplish the same thing? Can the act become more moral merely by becoming less direct?

4. When is violence necessary, and should it be employed or threatened in cases where it is not absolutely necessary? Is the necessity of building a road, park, or school, so great that we are right to tell the previous occupants of that land “Give us your land, or we will use firearms to remove you.”? Is the necessity great enough to justify the same threat behind taxation, or conscription of labor, or nationalization of equipment? It has always seemed to me that violence was a tool for defense against violence and fraud, against crime. How is it justified to use the same terrible weapons, the police, courts, prisons, confiscations, etc. against people who have committed no crime, but merely possess  something we want? Conscription, taxation, imminent domain, nationalization, are all weapons of law, aimed at people who have not violated it. Does another man having something we want justify us in treating him as if he had stolen it?

5. Does society arise from government, or from voluntary interactions?

6. Does an election give the victors the right to impose any conditions they wish upon the losers? If there is a limit to what an election can justify, is the limit the same, or different from the limits on what neighbors can justly impose on each other? Why should they be any different? Why should the authority of the vote be exercised with more scope and less restraint than any of the other powers of the citizen? Why should it seem abnormal for the neighborhood to form a mob and burn down one citizen’s store, but normal for them to close it down through city hall?

7. What are rights, and what rights does a person have? Can ephemeral “rights” like “the right to healthcare” or “the right to a wage above $10.09 an hour” be really descriptive of the eternal moral universe, or the nature of man’s mutual duties? Or is there some more definite, essential domain of self-ownership in each person, which no other person can violate without doing evil?

8. Do you and i have the same moral obligations towards one another, or different ones? Do i owe you different duties and respect than you owe to me? Can our titles or positions change the obligations that exist between two equal human beings?

9. If the citizen can be trusted with the vote which controls a nuclear arsenal, can he not be trusted with control of a firearm? If not, what magic in the democratic process adds so much to his wisdom? Is an elected government to be trusted with a nuclear arsenal because it is actually un-democratic enough to prevent the voter (who was too irresponsible to be allowed a rifle) from exercising his foolishness? Is then the very virtue of government that it fails to represent?

10. Is it right to require marriage licenses? If a man swore to a woman that he would stay with her and care for her children until he died, could city hall absolve him from his commitment, by refusing to grant a license? If city hall issued a marriage license for a cake and a vacuum cleaner, would it then be possible to form a real marriage union out of those two parts? In short, does city hall have any authority over marriage at all, or does it arise from personal commitments beyond the reach of earthly power?

11. Is it right to require occupational licenses? If an act is evil, the license should never be granted for it. And if it is not evil, the license should never be demanded. Is it right that many of those who wish to make a living driving a cab, cutting hair, preparing meals, and a thousand other trades, will be prevented from doing so, by an officer of the law?

12. Is it possible for legislation to produce prosperity?

13. It may be just for a soldier to shoot at another soldier during a war; is this because a declared state of “war” relaxes morality and makes previously unjust things now morally acceptable? If this is so (that the justification for a soldier shooting another soldier arises from the state of war) why is the soldier not justified in shooting the other soldier when he is fleeing or waving a white flag? If a government may simply say “war” and change the realities of right and wrong, why can it not speak some other magic word and override the white flag, or any other rule? Or, instead, is it possible that the soldier is justified in fighting his opponent by his opponent’s consent to the fight? Could it be that the white flag revokes the authority to shoot, because the man waving the white flag was the one who granted that authority in the first place?

14. Are we living in a society, or not? Do our interactions need to be directed from above, because we are incapable of cooperating without being forced? Do we have social bonds and involvements, feelings of duty and respect, consciences that forbid some indulgences and demand some sacrifices, and a general code of unforced civil conduct even in those spheres of interaction where no one has yet legislated? Do customers simply seize merchandise and flee the store, except when a cop is looking? Do employers withhold paychecks until they are forced to pay them? Or is mutual cooperation both normal and obviously necessary? Does the law actually make society, or is it a restraint on another force that seeks to break it?

15. Is an able-bodied man, in a land full of fertile soil, rain, and sunlight, capable of providing for himself when not subject to injustices and interferences? If he finds himself in poverty, is it a wiser course to create an institution of permanent charity to sustain him in poverty, or to look for injustices and interferences in his path, and knock them down? Is it a wise policy to at the same time desperately shovel money into the slums, while sending out police officers to throw men in jail for operating cabs without medallions, or giving haircuts without licenses? Should politicians feel less guilty for forbidding a man to make a living, because they afterwards cut him a welfare check?

16. Quite apart from its other qualities, is the illegal drug trade in this country (the only entrepreneurial field not absolutely forbidden to inner-city youths) suffering from supply shortages, credit breakdowns, failed investments, and all trappings of recessions? Has cocaine required a bailout? Has the heavily-regulated banking industry been as resilient and efficient with its Trillions of dollars of subsidy as marijuana has been with the active opposition of the state? Has the lack of oversight and aid doomed the remaining unregulated industries to chaos and failure? Has the intimate involvement between the monetary authority of the Federal government and the industry it oversees produced a smoothly functioning, or even adequately functioning system? Or have those industries (fractional reserve banking in particular) that rely on government power simply reached a greater level of instability than they could have ever attained without the public bearing a portion of the risk?

17. Does the victim of an assault, rape, or theft, have the right to use force in self-defense? If so, is this right related or unrelated to the justification for using police and prisons against the perpetrators of assault, rape, etc? Is it a mere coincidence that self-defense and police defense have this apparent similarity? If police defense’s justification arises from the same source as the right of self-defense, should the police defense be exercised against things against which the citizen obviously should not use violence? It is right for me to oppose a mugger with either my fists or my neighborhood police; can it be right for me to use the police force to oppose someone i have no business opposing with my fists? Can it really be right for me to send the police against my neighbor over the color of his house or the nature of his livelihood?

18. How did the non-restoration of a Somali national government after the civil war actually affect the public in that country? Are they better or worse off without a central government than they were under the last regime? How did they do compared to their neighbors? Was the loss of national government a disaster? How do the realities compare to the assumptions?

19. Does your view of the necessary functions of government correspond more with that of Bush/Obama, or of Thomas Jefferson?


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