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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Libertarians Are So Worked Up About Abortion Rights

It is puzzling that so many libertarian thinkers get so worked up if you suggest the obvious fact that abortion is, you know, killing, and that the fetus has not been liberated from anything but life. (There are, of course, refreshing exceptions to this rule.)

The reason, I believe, is the issue of obligation: If abortion really is wrong, that implies that one could have an obligation to care for one of one's fellow beings into which one has not voluntarily contracted. Denying that any such obligation can exist is part of establishing the reign of the ego over reality, of the ego installing itself as Supreme Being. Yes, the libertarian ego realizes it must compromise with other egos that occupy bodies out and walking around in the world, since they might have guns and could kill one. But fetuses can't kill you! If they become a barrier to the ego's desires they can be chopped up at your pleasure.

12 comments:

  1. "The reason, I believe, is the issue of obligation: If abortion really is wrong, that implies that one could have an obligation to care for one of one's fellow beings into which one has not voluntarily contracted. Denying that any such obligation can exist is part of establishing the reign of the ego over reality..."

    But libertarians don't believe that the only means by which one may assume a positive duty to another is contract. If I aggressively push you off of a bridge into an icy creek, every libertarian in the world (so far as I can tell) would say I have a duty to rescue you, even though as a mere passerby I would have no such duty. By voluntarily subjecting you to peril, I thereby assume a duty to rescue you from said peril, to pay restitution for damages, and so on--with no contractual "meeting of the minds" required.

    Insofar as a fetus is a rights-bearer, we can say that parents have placed this rights-bearer into a position of peril such that they have assumed a positive duty to said rights-bearer. Whether this peril is created intentionally (as with planned pregnancy), by negligence (having unsafe sex), or through bad luck (prophylactic failure), the question of whether parents owe a fetus any duty turns on whether the fetus is in fact a rights-bearer, an awfully tough question to answer conclusively.

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  2. It seems to me even simpler than that, especially with regards to property rights. If, through an act known as likely to create a new property owner, a property owner can, a. create a new property owner, and then, b. violate the rights of the new property owner (even to the point of death), then no property owner can have any particular objection to their rights being violated.
    So pro-abortion libertarians are contradicting themselves. Given the fact that many have recently gotten rid of the intellectual property contradiction, I have hopes they'll get rid of this one too.

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  3. August: only if you accept the premise that a fetus is already a property owner. Even if we accept that a newborn baby owns himself, it doesn't follow that an unborn baby does (though it's easier to make that argument) or that a fertilized egg does, because they may lack the necessary qualities to be considered human beings. (What those qualities would be - I have no idea and I don't care. I don't think self-ownership is a useful concept anyway.)

    That is in essence all there is to the abortion issue for the first principles -type libertarians - does the fetus have rights or not? If basic libertarian theory and reason dictated that it did, then the rug would be pulled from under the pro-choice crowd, who would have no choice but to become pro-lifers. (The reverse wouldn't follow - the pro-lifers who persisted in their beliefs would simply be rendered delusional, but not necessarily harmful)

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  4. "the libertarian ego realizes it must compromise with other egos that occupy bodies out and walking around in the world, since they might have guns and could kill one. But fetuses can't kill you! If they become a barrier to the ego's desires they can be chopped up at your pleasure."

    I think libertarians believe in negative rights so they believe you can't just go around killing people not cause it might harm you, but because its just wrong.

    Of course in reality the way order is maintained and criminals are dealt with involves reactionary violence. But just cause order is maintained practically through violence doesn't mean the libertarian refrains from killing just because someone might shoot them back anymore than it means a pacifist only refrains from killing just cause someone might shoot them back - It means that those who don't refrain from killing for whatever reason are dealt with appropriately (because not killing others is a libertarian value, contrary to what you say).

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  5. "because not killing others is a libertarian value, contrary to what you say"

    OK, Avram, then why aren't libertarians universally opposed to abortion, which obviously is killing -- after all, the whole point of it is to kill the fetus?

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  6. "But libertarians don't believe that the only means by which one may assume a positive duty to another is contract. If I aggressively push you off of a bridge into an icy creek, every libertarian in the world (so far as I can tell) would say I have a duty to rescue you..."

    Ok, Dick, how about, "Many libertarians believe that it is only through one's voluntary actions that one can take on an obligation"?

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  7. "So pro-abortion libertarians are contradicting themselves."

    August, I can only hope your view carries the day.

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  8. Gene,

    I dunno. But I am opposed.

    The standard pro abortion libertarian argument afaik is the baby is "invading" the mother's body.

    I don't think that justifies killing the baby though even on proportional punishment grounds (which imo is a very extreme sort of punishment) as death != proportional to trespass.

    So I dunno why all libertarians aren't opposed to abortion.

    Ask them not me.

    I could similarly ask you why aren't all people who believe obligation exists opposed to abortion?

    In any case I don't think my original claim that libertarians believe in a "right to life" or atleast a "property right to your own body" and think killing is wrong based on that and not on "he'll shoot me back" is incorrect.

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  9. Avram, I applaud your sentiments here.

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  10. "But libertarians don't believe that the only means by which one may assume a positive duty to another is contract. If I aggressively push you off of a bridge into an icy creek, every libertarian in the world (so far as I can tell) would say I have a duty to rescue you..."

    OK, Dick, read "contract" as shorthand for "Entered into by a voluntary action of one's own."

    Here's another good question: Why are libertarians so frantic to avoid admitting that they don't believe in positive obligations?

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  11. "Ok, Dick, how about, 'Many libertarians believe that it is only through one's voluntary actions that one can take on an obligation'?"

    Not to be pedantic, but I would have to say the word "voluntary" should be deleted, if we are using the word "action" in the Misesean sense. If I'm Patty Hearst robbing the bank because I am coerced to do so, we might get into trouble by quibbling over whether that was a "voluntary action." I suspect you mean "voluntary" in the sense of "non-reflexive" or "willed," but that word might also mean "uncoerced." If someone points a gun at me and tells me to go rob someone, I think I should refuse. The fact of my being aggressed against does not justify my aggressing against a third party (although I think that such a transgressor is less blameworthy).

    Also, I would insert the word "positive" before "obligation" since libertarians assert that we all have a negative obligation to avoid using force against peaceful people.

    Can we meet in the middle at "Many libertarians believe that it is only through one's actions that one can take on a positive obligation"?

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  12. 'Can we meet in the middle at "Many libertarians believe that it is only through one's actions that one can take on a positive obligation"? '

    Very well then. I accept that.

    A side note: Will you be able to host New Year's Rockin' Eve this year?

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