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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Thought Experiment

IN THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT FUTURE, NEXT SUNDAY AD: Ancapistan has been established in what is today Switzerland. There are competing defense agencies, but they have formed a defense cooperative to fend off a potential attack from, let us say, France, the government of which is highly disturbed to have an example of successful anarchy right next door.

The "Swiss" defense plan involves elaborate traps set along the "non-borders" for any invading army. They ought to work, but whether they will do so depends greatly on their being unknown to the enemy.

A French invasion looms. On its eve, a resident of Swisscapistan informs you that he has (through legal but perhaps sneaky means) obtained the entire Swiss defense plan. Furthermore, he hates this anarchy crap, longs for a good old-fashioned boot on his neck, and intends to send the plans to the French, meaning the certainly Swisscapistan will fall to the upcoming invasion.

Are you, or anyone else in Swisscapistan, justly permitted to prevent this disclosure by force or by the threat of force?

16 comments:

  1. They might say he should be stopped, but the stopper should be liable for the agression committed!

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  2. As I'm sure you are aware, there are a number of difficulties that arise prior to the realization of such a hypothetical scenario. Why would France take on a vastly more efficient matrix of PDAs? Why would the French support a war with peacefully trading individuals who do not operate under a state? How would the French military occupy Swisscapistan when the populace would likely be even more heavily armed and with correspondingly more effective defensive weaponry; the US has a hard enough time in the Middle East. France is weaker than the US and Ancapistan would be wealthier and better armed than Afghan/Iraqi insurgents.

    There's no guarantee of a successful defense, naturally, but let's look at the scenario:

    Kinsella might argue that troops who have assembled at a border as a result of some directive towards invasion is an invitation to war. In that context, someone who directly aids a clearly soon-to-be aggressor in their aggression, such an individual has essentially cast their lot.

    This might be likened to a wrestling match where someone hands the opponent a chair.

    I'm sure there's a more nuanced answer that involves contracts which provide for certain punishments in the event of disclosing defense plans and various issues in proportionality involved but overall I think that the informant could be stopped by force. Whether this is just, I'm not entirely clear on but my intuition is that it is.

    What is your thinking on the matter?

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  3. Well, anarcho-capitalism doesn't necessarily entail strict adherence to the NAP, it only asks for very decentralized power that works in a roughly free market manner. Therefore it's plausible (insofar as ancapism itself is in any way plausible) that someone would come along and kill the potential gumflapper before he does any harm, and the killer would be tried and either found guilty or not, depending on the circumstances, prosecution, justice firms and laws. There's no internal inconsistency there, just as nobody expects there to be zero murders in Ancapistan anyway despite murder being coercive and unlibertarian. (You could even be a hardcore NAPper and still commit the crime yourself, as long as you were willing to pay the cost in a Socratic manner)

    At least this is how I envision a market anarchy (I'm not an ancap though). But if your point was to illustrate the absurdity of NAP as a focal point for political ethics, then I agree - it's silly.

    Of course, there are pacifists who wouldn't lay a hand on this guy and who would accept the cost of invading Frenchmen (although they probably wouldn't have such strong defense contractors anyway). The rationale for this would probably be something like this: "Well, I want liberty and peace, but I understand that I have to start with myself, so the only thing I can do to proliferate these ideas is to set a good example. Thus if some people want to harm me, I won't answer back with violence, but I don't have to associate with them either."

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  4. traumerei, in a thought experiment, you are supposed to accept the scenario as created, unless it is impossible. But:

    "As I'm sure you are aware, there are a number of difficulties that arise prior to the realization of such a hypothetical scenario. Why would France take on a vastly more efficient matrix of PDAs?"

    Hmm, why would the English have taken on the "vastly more efficient" Irish PDAs (of a sort)?

    "Why would the French support a war with peacefully trading individuals who do not operate under a state?"

    Have you actually read anything on the history of war?

    "How would the French military occupy Swisscapistan when the populace would likely be even more heavily armed and with correspondingly more effective defensive weaponry."

    Neutron bombs. Wipe out the population, take over the resources. Or whatever. It happens.

    "What is your thinking on the matter?"

    Plug the traitor between the eyes with a .44.

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  5. Do you think the distinction between defensive, responsive force and aggressive force or objective threat is, always and everywhere, arbitrary and subjective? One man's defense is another man's offense, and who's to say otherwise?

    If not, do you think this guy qualifies as an objective threat, in this scenario?

    If so, he's fair game for defensive force, even under the NAP. Yes?

    If no, I'd guess we have different *whats* in mind by the term "NAP". The NAP isn't the "all that" it's sometimes billed as, but this isn't much of a gotcha, or even an especially tough test, how I parse it.

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  6. "They might say he should be stopped, but the stopper should be liable for the agression committed!"

    I'm familiar with that response, but find it bizzare and incoherent. It is a good thing to do but should be punished?!

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  7. "Of course, there are pacifists who wouldn't lay a hand on this guy and who would accept the cost of invading Frenchmen (although they probably wouldn't have such strong defense contractors anyway). The rationale for this would probably be something like this: "Well, I want liberty and peace, but I understand that I have to start with myself, so the only thing I can do to proliferate these ideas is to set a good example."

    Yes, that would be Bob Murphy, for instance. His position I understand and respect. I still think it is whack, but there you have it.

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  8. "Do you think the distinction between defensive, responsive force and aggressive force or objective threat is, always and everywhere, arbitrary and subjective? One man's defense is another man's offense, and who's to say otherwise?"

    Not at all.

    "If not, do you think this guy qualifies as an objective threat, in this scenario?"

    Yes, he does.

    "If so, he's fair game for defensive force, even under the NAP. Yes?"

    No. Not under any formulation of it I've encountered. I've never seen. Do I have a "property right" in not feeling threatened? Do I own the idea of the plan the traitor is about to reveal? All he's doing, he might claim, is publishing some facts he happens to have learned (by legal means, we stipulated). How is *that* a violation of someone's property rights?

    Now maybe someone has formulated the NAP to include acts that threaten or enable rights violations as rights violations. But Rothbard, for instance, was wise enough to avoid THAT road. Because now Pandora's box is opened. My neighbor keeps a mean dog? Threat of being bitten! He barbecues? Threat of fire! Keeps a gun? Threat of being shot! (By the robber who steals his gun.) I'm pretty sure we could get the whole modern state past *that* NAP.

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  9. Or, Nathan, imagine the "traitor" is just an idiot instead. He is not even aware France exists. He just hates secrets, and wants to publish, right on the eve of the French attack. And he refuses to believe in this stupid idea of "France" when you try to get him to desist.

    What then?

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  10. "traumerei, in a thought experiment, you are supposed to accept the scenario as created, unless it is impossible."

    Right, which is why those difficulties I raised only prefaced my answer.

    "Hmm, why would the English have taken on the 'vastly more efficient' Irish PDAs (of a sort)?"

    No guarantees of success. I would think that the Irish at that time were less developed than the English. It's not really a criticism of the efficiency of PDAs to say that statist China would defeat ancap Somalia. Statist China versus ancap China would be a different story. Considering Switzerland has been fairly successful in deterring aggression, I'd argue "Swisscapistan" would be even better.

    "Have you actually read anything on the history of war?"

    I'll assume that was a rhetorical question. France isn't waging war against Swisscapistan since that nation-state does not actually exist even as a political construct in your scenario. Since this scenario takes place in the near future, we might assume that war takes on a similar character to modern wars. A low tolerance for casualties, the difficulty in controlling information flows etc. makes land grabs more difficult. Maybe if you phrased it in terms of aliens and some generic ancap society instead of a rather specific scenario involving modern France and essentially modern Switzerland ...

    "Neutron bombs. Wipe out the population, take over the resources. Or whatever. It happens."

    I'm not aware of any historical wartime use of neutron bombs. But ok, here's my personal take. The use of coercion is situational. I would attempt to coerce, hopefully without killing, that person into not handing over the defense plan. Although I would feel justified, I can't say I'd be all that surprised if that person or his PDA/friends interpreted my action as aggression and retaliated.

    I'm under no illusion that I can initiate force and not have some expectation of retaliation - even if my use of force is justifiable. It might not be fair but that's life.

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  11. "No. Not under any formulation of it I've encountered. I've never seen. Do I have a "property right" in not feeling threatened? Do I own the idea of the plan the traitor is about to reveal? All he's doing, he might claim, is publishing some facts he happens to have learned (by legal means, we stipulated). How is *that* a violation of someone's property rights?"

    Maybe I'm just making up my own NAP, but the way I take it is that the primary violation is against a person's life or liberty, property being only an accessory concern to those (and possibly, for a non-propertarian, out of bounds entirely). The question I'd ask -- and would regard as an NAP concern -- is if life, liberty or livelihood are being threatened, and I think we'd both say yes, indeed they are, in the given scenario. Perhaps that's just not ever an NAP concern? It's sounding like the standard take regards "is property being threatened?" as the most important, or sole, concern. I've always thought it was about non-aggression against *people*, not *property*, but mayhap not.

    I agree that making the concern about objective and justified responsive and defensive force opens up something of a Pandora's box, but I don't see how such a box can remain closed, short of full-out come-what-may pacifism. And there's no way to remove the necessity of individual human judgment from the concretes that action consists in. If the NAP's main concern is about property, well, what's *that*, then? It's just another Pandora's box. But there ain't nothin' in the human realm that's anything 'cept as people's choices make it, and there's no way around that.

    Once you've allowed that there is an objective distinction between defensive, responsive force and aggressive, initiatory force, the challenge for any would-be just state is how to keep itself from engaging in the latter. The challenge for all persons everywhere -- acting alone or in consort -- is what to do with (or how to avoid) both individuals and states (or corporations, gangs, etc.) who do fall into that category. And yes, the challenge is also to figure out when that neighbor's dog -- or your own -- constitutes a valid threat, and what's a valid response. We could get *something* from that, but I don't think (m)any modern states -- as they actually are and act -- pass the test of objectively responsive force in the bulk of the force they use. Do you?

    And yes, I think people can be innocent, idiotic or otherwise ignorant but nonetheless actual threats, justifing the use of force being used against them defensively. Is a harm about to be done to life or limb? If yes, that's the A in NAP, and can be defended against, the way I understood it. But it sounds like whatever I understood was something else than the standard referent of that term entirely.

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  12. What a delightful paradox for the anarcho-capitalists.

    For those who really take seriously their natural rights/natural law ethics:

    (1) they have no moral right whatsoever to prevent him from selling them out.

    Their anarcho-capitalism system would quickly collapse as the French invaded successfully - falling by its own principles of non-aggression.

    If the anarcho-capitalists adhered to some utilitarian/consequentialist ethics, then they would have no difficulty constructing a moral argument to use force to stop the man from selling them out.

    David Friedman uses utilitarianism/consequentialism to defend an anarcho-capitalist system. But I have yet to meet a Rothbardian who is a utilitarian.

    Great post.

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  13. Thanks, John Maynard!

    I think if you are a utlitarian you are by definition not a Rothbardian!

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  14. Ah, LK, taking a break from Krugman-in-Wonderland are we?

    "For those who really take seriously their natural rights/natural law ethics:

    (1) they have no moral right whatsoever to prevent him from selling them out."

    Why is that?

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  15. '"For those who really take seriously their natural rights/natural law ethics:

    (1) they have no moral right whatsoever to prevent him from selling them out."

    Why is that?'

    Well, traumerei, it's pretty clear to me that, say, Walter Block would not think they have such a right. He does not even think it should be illegal to pry loose the fingers of the person clinging to your balcony after falling from their own above and let them plunge to their death, since they are "trespassing."

    But Jan Lester, presented by me with a similar problem several years ago at an LA meeting, had no problem choosing defense, and offered a reasonable justification for the choice. So it depends on how one formulates natural rights.

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  16. Thanks Gene, you anticipated my objection to LK's implication that the only anarchocapitalists who take natural law/ethics seriously are those who believe solely in NAP.

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