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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Walter Block on Absolute Property Rights, Dramatized


video

UPDATE: As you will see in the comments, even one of Block's admirers not familiar enough with his writings finds this scenario "stupid," and suspects it is some ridiculous caricature of Block's view. But, as you can also see in the comments, all we did was to faithfully film a case Block very explicitly lays out in his own writings!

UPDATE II: Well, now Joseph insists he did know we were merely dramatizing a passage straight out of Block, leaving me with no idea what he objects to.

UPDATE III: I think I may have it. Imagine you know a really nice fellow, a gentleman, bright guy, really polite. He also has a a huge, ugly goiter on the side of his neck. It would be very nice to bring attention to that goiter now, would it?

Well, I think the problem the critics of this post are having is that Walter is just like that fellow, except that his goiter are his conclusions about the legality of acts like this, and by making the video, I am drawing attention to the goiter.

22 comments:

  1. That was both annoying and really stupid. It is taking the most extreme example that could be produced by the small minds that conceived of it. However, one could easily take the polar opposite example and push it to its most extreme. The real question is not the legality or any such matters. The question is which example (between this one and its polar opposite) would be most just by the yardstick of human reason.

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    1. Well, Joseph, you had better complain to Walter, because he offers THAT EXACT EXAMPLE. Here it is, in his own words -- all we did was film it:

      "First, you are standing on the balcony of a 25th story high-rise apartment when, much to your dismay, you lose your footing and fall out. Happily, in your downward descent, you manage to grab onto a flagpole protruding from the 15th floor of the balcony of another apartment, 10 floors below. Unhappily, the owner of this apartment comes out to her balcony, states that you are [trespassing] by holding on to her flag pole, and demands that you let go (e.g., drop another 15 floors to your death). You protest that you only want to hand walk your way down the flag pole, into her apartment, and then right out of it, but she is adamant. As a libertarian, are you bound to obey her?

      "But [the question is misguided, as] libertarianism is a theory concerned with the justified use of aggression, or violence, based on property rights, not morality. Therefore, the only proper questions which can be addressed in this philosophy are of the sort, if the flagpole hanger attempts to come in to the apartment, and the occupant shoots him for trespassing, Would the forces of law and order punish the home owner?... When put in this way, the answer is clear. The owner… is in the right, and the trespasser in the wrong. If force is used to protect property rights, even deadly force, the owner is not guilty of the violation of any licit law"

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    2. Reference: Block, W. 2003, ‘The Non-Aggression Axiom of Libertarianism’, [Online] Available at LewRockwell.com, http://www.lewrockwell.com/block/block26.html.

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    3. What is Walter going to think of you when he hears you think his example is "stupid," Joseph? (And I agree with you: this IS stupid!)

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    4. "It is taking the most extreme example that could be produced by the small minds that conceived of it."

      And when he hears you think he has a "small mind"?!

      Ouch!

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    5. Just to save the comment: That was both annoying and really stupid. It is taking the most extreme example that could be produced by the small minds that conceived of it. However, one could easily take the polar opposite example and push it to its most extreme. The real question is not the legality or any such matters. The question is which example (between this one and its polar opposite) would be most just by the yardstick of human reason.

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  2. What are two of Walter's answers to the proposed example?

    "These arguments implicitly assume that libertarianism is a moral philosophy, a guide to proper behavior, as it were. Should the flagpole hanger let go? Should the hiker go off and die? But libertarianism is a theory concerned with the justified use of aggression, or violence, based on property rights, not morality. Therefore, the only proper questions which can be addressed in this philosophy are of the sort, if the flagpole hanger attempts to come in to the apartment, and the occupant shoots him for trespassing, Would the forces of law and order punish the home owner?"

    So far so good, I like it. How about the next one?

    "These examples purposefully try to place us in the mind of the criminal perpetrator of the crime of trespass. We are invited, that is, to empathize with the flag pole hanger, and the hiker, not the respective property owners. But let us reverse this perspective. Suppose the owner of the apartment on the 15th floor has recently been victimized by a rape, perpetrated upon her by a member of the same ethnic or racial group as the person now hand walking his way down her flag pole, soon to uninvitedly enter her apartment. May she not shoot him in self-defense before he enters her premises?"

    That's understandable.

    Yes, as I said, the example that you pose is an extreme example and conceived by small-minded people . No, Walter Block is not small-minded. In fact, he explicitly states, "Let us consider two cases posed by these people". Did he use it as an example of simple-mindedness and then destroy it at its base? Yes.

    Of course, he does give a third answer to the posed example, but instead I will post my own.

    If we were to take your apparent moral reasoning to its logical conclusion, then each and every one of us should drop everything in our lives and dedicate ourselves to find the murderer of John in Philadelphia, or feed Jenaveve in Goa, or house Billy in Dubai, etc. I am going to take a guess that you aren't hot on the trail of John's murderer, feeding Jennie, housing Billy, or anything remotely like that. Please, explain yourself. Why have you not done these things? (not knowing these people is no excuse)

    It's apparent that all you're doing is nothing more than rabble-rousing. You're going to have to do much better that posting such tripe.

    Oh, and regarding this little gem, "And when he hears you think he has a 'small mind'?!"

    Gene, don't pull this little kiddy shit again! Do I agree with everything that Walter says? Nope. In fact, I entirely disagreed with him earlier this week regarding the whole "fisticuffs Koch" story. In fact, I even thought of you in my critique, because it brought up questions of what exactly defines aggression. However, to try to make it look like I am calling Walter "small-minded" is clearly crossing the line. I highly respect him intellectually and in my past correspondence with him he has been more than kind. He's a true gentleman. DO NOT try to twist my words like that in the future. It's intellectually dishonest and it pisses me off beyond belief.

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    1. OK, first of all, Joseph, I have NO clue what you mean by saying Walter "destroyed" the example.

      Q: Does Walter think it should be legal for the property owner to force the "trespasser" off of her property?

      A: Yes, he most certainly does.

      And we filmed this scenario. (Except we didn't have a flagpole.
      "If we were to take your apparent moral reasoning to its logical conclusion, then each and every one of us should drop everything in our lives and dedicate ourselves to find the murderer of John in Philadelphia, or feed Jenaveve in Goa, or house Billy in Dubai..."

      Sure we should, Joseph. If I am obligated not to shoot people who have innocently happened onto my property, then naturally, I am ALSO obligated to become a private detective and hunt down all murderers.

      Doesn't that equation look a bit cracked to you, Joseph?

      "It's apparent that all you're doing is nothing more than rabble-rousing."

      Yes, that rabble at the New York State Political Science Association meetings will have their pitchforks out!

      "You're going to have to do much better that posting such tripe."

      Again, we just acted out Walter's own example. (Your point that he didn't invent it is irrelevant: he deliberately employed it.) Again, you seem to be calling Walter's work tripe!

      'Oh, and regarding this little gem, "And when he hears you think he has a 'small mind'?!"

      'Gene, don't pull this little kiddy shit again!'

      Joseph, I was teasing you! I honestly thought you didn't know the example is straight out of Block.

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  3. That's becuase Block, like Rothbard believe in the religion of natural law.

    de-Jasay, and Hoppe (which you completely misunderstood) have better value free arguments.

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    1. A lot of people have believed in natural law without coming to such crazy conclusions.

      As far as Hoppe goes, I have seen a number of people try to show how Murphy and I "misunderstood" Hoppe. They have all failed miserably: generally they just repeat Hoppe as if we hadn't written anything. On the other hand, every single top *libertarian* philosopher I have read or spoken to on this topic finds Hoppe's argument laughable. So, I'm going to have to say, no, sorry, you have misunderstood things here.

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    2. I hope you read old posts. Out of curiosity, who do you consider to be top libertarian philosophers?

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    3. Who are the top libertarian philosophers?

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  4. For what it's worth, Gene, I don't think Joseph is backtracking or anything here. He is telling you (paraphrasing), "Gene, Block is going out of his way to acknowledge the awkward situations that his position implies. He is being completely straightforward and honest. You, by casting little kids to act out the scene as if it's some sort of 'gotcha' when Block's WHOLE POINT was to test his theory in the hardest case, is the idiotic product of a small mind."

    I am neither endorsing nor criticizing Joseph's position, I'm just explaining what he is saying, and why your two updates to this post are goofy.

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    1. "I don't think Joseph is backtracking or anything here."

      Me either! I assumed, at first, given how angry he was, that he though I was sticking a position in Block's mouth. Now I realize that *I* was wrong: Joseph knew this was his position all along.

      "Block is going out of his way to acknowledge the awkward situations that his position implies."

      Yes, he is. Although I think Walter LOVES the awkward situations his position implies!

      "He is being completely straightforward and honest."

      I agree.

      "You, by casting little kids..."

      My daughter, the director, cast them.

      "as if it's some sort of 'gotcha'"

      WHAT?! I never thought, said, implied this was a "gotcha," except maybe a "self-gotcha" on Block's part.

      I was *illustrating* Block's position, because it is in my PowerPoint, and I thought having it filmed would be more fun than me reading it.

      Now, Block's position is nutty enough that the actors my daughter hired cracked up when they heard it: "What, he thinks THAT should be legal!"

      "

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  5. Gene, I will admit that I did not remember that it was Walter that discussed this particular example, but that I did remember the example, as well as my impression of it when first made aware of it. My impression was that it was conceived by small-minded people, just as I said above. That is to say that they (the conceivers) are looking at it from only one angle, knowing full-well that most people will do the same and thus vilify libertarianism on these simple grounds.

    Now, what I take issue with is the fact that you are playing this off as Walter's example when he clearly says that this is an example that is often posed when challenging libertarianism. In other words, he states outright that he is not the small-mined person who conceived of this example, and he then explains the libertarian treatment of the case (which I think is mostly correct). I did say that he destroys the example, to which you say that you have no idea what I mean by this. Well, the implication is that libertarianism is morally wrong, to which Walter shows that morality is not the basis of libertarianism, rather it is a political philosophy dealing with the just use of force-- he destroyed the example at its root initiative (i.e. proving libertarianism wrong morally). In fact, this was the source of my initial objection, because I saw through this example just as easily as Walter did.

    Now, Bob is correct that I am not backtracking. In fact, when I know I am wrong, I don't backtrack, I come right out and say that I was wrong (you've seen me do this when necessary). Bob was also correct in that I thought that you were trying to dig the knife in deeper by using children as the characters to over-dramatize an already outrageously extreme example. That was more of a small point, but it was still there.

    The biggest problem I had was your reaction to my first comment. You immediately tried to paint it as if I was calling Walter "small-minded" when you know full well that I respect Walter and that Walter was not the one who did conceive of the example. This is what I meant by "rabble-rousing". Now, you didn't just say, "oh look, this admirer of Walter disagrees with him", instead you laid it on rather thick and ignored the fact that nothing that I said disagreed with Walter, nor did I imply that it was he that was "small-minded". Now, you could call into question that I state that it isn't a question of legality or any such matters, whereas Walter says it isn't a question of morality, ok I'll concede that point. However, to my credit I do state that it is a question of what is just by the yardstick of reason (which would include the just use of force).

    Ok, I've clearly spent too much time on discussing the flavor of the comments surrounding this post and haven't really addressed the example itself. Unfortunately, I am in a coffee shop right now and I have other things that I need to get done before the day is through. So, I'll get back later tonight or sometime tomorrow.

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    1. "My impression was that it was conceived by small-minded people, just as I said above..."

      First impression are OFTEN right. That one was way off.

      "Now, what I take issue with is the fact that you are playing this off as Walter's example..."

      No, I am not. I am showing what Walter thinks is legally just in the situation.

      "Well, the implication is that libertarianism is morally wrong, to which Walter shows that morality is not the basis of libertarianism..."

      You can say that again. :-)

      "you were trying to dig the knife in deeper by using children as the characters to over-dramatize an already outrageously extreme example..."

      I can only afford children, Joseph. And my daughter is an actress and writer and makes films.

      "You immediately tried to paint it as if I was calling Walter "small-minded""

      No I did not, Joseph. I was making a joke. A pretty obvious joke, I thought, but I guess I was wrong.

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  6. The worst thing you can do to libertarians is tell them the truth about what they believe.

    (Or just repeat it exactly as they say it.)

    I am reminded of stories of the McCarthy trials, when calling a self-admitted communist a communist in public was an act of wrongful emotional abuse.

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    1. That may be the explanation for which I was searching!

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  7. Gene, just so that you know, I am still pondering this one. To be clear, I still think that it is wrong in that it accuses libertarianism of immorality when that is not the scope of libertarianism (though, I think that it is generally a moral philosophy), however I still am having thoughts on how to reconcile that in a way that satisfies me. While I believe that Walter's conclusion is correct and satisfies my interpretation of libertarianism, I also know that morality is often used as a tool in opposition of such things. Since I generally feel that "just" things must satisfy ethical, logical and practical questions, I have no choice but to attempt to reconcile these in my own mind.

    Basically, with regard to libertarianism as a political philosophy, I think that the example is still "small-minded", but when attempting to reconcile that with other areas of philosophy, that is where the problem arrises. The reason that I haven't responded is that that is what I am trying to solve. Obviously, this problem presents itself with just about every political philosophy known to man (none can really claim the moral high ground), however, I would like to attempt to make that case for libertarianism. On this, I am sure that you understand.

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    1. Ok, I'm a little late in responding to this, but it just occurred to me that Walter Block actually answered the challenge posed here in another theory of his dealing with abortion. Evictionism seems to be at least a provisional answer to the problem posed here. That is to say that one can evict a person from their property, but that they cannot kill the person in doing so. If morality is what you seek, then I feel that this is the most morally justifiable position under these circumstances.

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  8. I'm late coming to this 'debate' (although it is factually incorrect to say that Gene had done anything other than create Block's example) but I just couldn't stop laughing at this. I mean, I'm being serious; this nearly killed me tonight. I thought that this was some kind of parody of the libertarian non-aggression principle, but then reading Block's own words - here and where he was quoted from - cleared things up.

    The best part...? When one of the children (children!) said, "WHAT?! He thinks THAT should be legal...?!"

    Thanks for a great laugh, Dr. Callahan.

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  9. Sorry if I double post on this - I'm not used to this software blogging system.

    I just wanted to say that this is absolutely hilarious. I remembered the 'flagpole' story from awhile back, and after reading it, I realized that folks who subscribed to libertarianism, at least the Rothbardian 'plum line' are... well, perhaps not thinking correctly :=)

    Best two comments?

    1) "Libertarianism isn't concerned with morality."
    Gene: "You can say that again :=) "

    2) The children's reactions: "WHAT?! He thinks that should be legal?!"

    I'm sorry. It's late, and Group Theory has my mind twisted into nuts. Thanks for the laughs, though.

    ~Alex

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