Why Anarchism Does Not Solve the Problem of Coercion: IP Version

Even committed anarcho-capitalists, such as Murrary Rothbard and Walter Block, have disagreed on the propriety of intellectual property laws. (Rothbard thought copyrights were acceptable; Block does not.)

So, imagine you and I are such ancaps: perhaps my credo is that copyright is entirely valid, while your anthem is that copyright is theft. I compose an avant-garde, dissonant ballet entitled, say, The Right in Autumn (its subject matter being the decline of the American conservative movement). I copyright the work by registering it with my protection racket agency. But you, as mentioned, have no truck with copyright, and you decide to put the work on at your venue, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, which you have just opened. I hear about the performance and send my boys around to collect my copyright fee; you meet them in the wings with derisive laughter and call my attempt to charge you "un vero scherzo," telling my lads they have as much chance of collecting as they do of getting a fairy's kiss. Soon the argument reaches a point where it is impossible to hear the music.

How will this end? Well, one thing is clear: whatever sermon, narrative or prayer resolves the situation, we had better say our Pater Nosters, because one of us going to believe he was coerced unjustly. After all, it takes two to tango.


  1. "a fairy's kiss"

    Serious style points if you knew Stravinsky wrote a ballet with that name.

    1. How long ago did I have to know this to get the points?

    2. And what is the total count of Stravinsky references?

  2. :)
    No no. The Sacre stuff is too obvious for *serious* style points. That's the conceit of the piece after all.

    I think I'll give you the points anyway for overall cleverness.

    If you have smuggled in Vyshinsky and Sandra Dee references under my nose then your my new blog hero!

    Ballet and its title, cat calls, correct theatre, drowned out, and possibly a fantastique scherzo. I miss any?

    1. Yes: "Credo," "Anthem," "A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer," "Pater Noster," and "Scherzo" are all Stravinsky pieces. And yes, "Fairy's Kiss" was deliberate, but I only knew it was a Stravinsky piece as of two hours ago.

    2. Oh, and "Tango": I just missed one!

  3. I did allude to Scherzo Fantastique, his opus 3. Credo is too generic, as is Tango. I'll give you "A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer" which is pretty specific and I totally missed, and "Pater Noster."

  4. I don't know if the fallacy you're engaging in has a fancy Latin name. It is, however, obvious once pointed out.

    People do not exist side by side in a vacuum. There is something called "Society" which is built up out of the innumerable actions and decisions we make in order to deal with each other, the result of voluntary interaction.

    Two people have a disagreement, they take that disagreement to an adjudicator who assesses the quality and quantity of their claims and applies the "Social Standard" to determine what is a fair and just outcome.

    The Common Law of the Anglosphere provides a great deal of background for such judgements. The principle of private property, tempered with "traditional use", "easement", "right of way", provides the tools necessary to deal with the vast majority of problems.

    Would the idea of "Intellectual Property" be defendable without the statutes of Copyright and Patent to create it? Maybe, but I believe it would come down to force or fraud.

    Was the idea actually stolen, or just copied?

    Was there fraud where one individual claimed to have invented/written something that they did not? Or was it merely coincidental invention?

    Without force or fraud, I don't see how someone can be punished since there was no victim.

    1. "I don't know if the fallacy you're engaging in has a fancy Latin name. It is, however, obvious once pointed out."

      Well, no Curt, it isn't, because I have NO idea what "fallacy" you think you have pointed out.

      "People do not exist side by side in a vacuum. There is something called "Society"..."

      Right you are, Curt. Where do you think the protection agency I mentioned came from, Mars? It is part of "something called Society."

      "Two people have a disagreement, they take that disagreement to an adjudicator who assesses the quality and quantity of their claims..."

      Again, right you are. You were thinking that somehow, on my way to a PhD in politics, I had failed to hear about "judges"?!

      Let me walk you through this with real small baby steps.

      Gene writes a ballet. He copyrights it, since he thinks IP is just.

      Curt puts it on without paying Gene anything, since he thinks IP is unjust.

      Gene sues.

      If the adjudicator is Murray Rothbard, he says, "Curt stole from Gene: Curt, you must pay up."

      Curt believes he is being unjustly coerced to pay.

      If the adjudicator is Walter Block, he says, "Gene, pipe down: Curt can put on your ballet for free if he wants: copyright is nonsense."

      Now Gene believes his property is being stolen from him with no recompense.

      One way or the other, someone is coerced to accept an arrangement they believe is unjust.

    2. I think the Latin is 'Et tu Rothbard?' It is often confused with 'Et tu Block?' which actually means something very different.

    3. PhD in politics? Very funny. Excellent joke.

    4. No, Curt, it wasn't a joke, believe me. But the need to mock the achievements of others shows you up as a jerk.

      So long, Curt.

  5. Anonymous5:06 PM

    "Why Anarchism Does Not Solve the Problem of Coercion: IP Version"

    Dr. Callahan, since when do libertarians claim there will be no coercion in a libertarian society? Certainly even libertarians will disagree from time to time about what constitutes aggression. This doesn't mean that there is no correct side.

    1. OK, interventionist, we need to carefully pull apart several claims here. On the one hand, there are serious intellectual debates, such as that between Rothbard and some of his followers, on topics such as "Are copyright laws just?" And I agree with you: someone is right here and someone is wrong.

      On the other hand, there is libertarian propaganda. This *often* takes the form of claims such as "Libertarians are in favor of anything that's peaceful," or "Libertarianism is the only political philosophy that rejects aggression." THOSE claims are my target here. What I am pointing out is that, *of course* if you agree with all of someone's tenets as to what constitutes justice, their platform will be "non-coercive" for you! But libertarianism is "down on all fours" with all other political stances in this regard: libertarians are quite willing (as they should be!) to coerce those they believe are acting unjustly, even if those they coerce believe they are acting justly.

      Just like all other political stances.

      None of the above means that libertarianism is wrong. It just means libertarians should cut out the nonsense propaganda.

    2. Anonymous8:39 PM

      I think the first quote ("Libertarians are in favor of anything that's peaceful,") is clearly propagandistic. As you point out, libertarians are quite willing to use violence against others.

      But if we assume libertarianism is correct, shouldn't libertarians be able to say that it "is the only political philosophy that rejects aggression"? By itself, I again agree, it's propagandistic, just as if the US government goes around telling people to be patriotic and buy war bonds. But if it's backed up with logic and reason, do you agree it's not really propaganda?

      I'm actually having a struggle properly defining propaganda. It seemed initially to be very subjective, and so I tried to see libertarianism from your point of view in order to understand what it really is.

  6. Anonymous5:11 PM

    How is this any different than current jurisdictional differences?

    1. Well, Joe, that is exactly my point: it is not any different! I'm not saying here that ancap would necessarily make things worse, not at all! I'm saying some people will still find themselves "being coerced."

  7. Anonymous2:24 AM

    As an ancap, I have no issue with coercion per se, as long as it doesn't involve the initiation of physical force. Coercion can perform some important societal functions. Therefore, it's not a "problem" I ever thought ancap needed to "solve."

    1. Poppies, the whole point of the above example is that either the pro-IP guy or the anti-IP guy is going to believe force was initiated against him. Who initiated force is a matter of one's moral framework, not a simple fact one can read off from physical movements. Ancapistan doesn't involve the initiation of force to those who are in favor of plutocracy, but those of us who aren't disagree.

    2. Anonymous3:10 AM

      Okay, I think I understand more fully now, thank you. So, illustrating the same issue, I could describe a guy who feels force was initiated against himself because some other guy gave him the stink eye. Definitely not something solved by ancap, but again, not something that I think cries out for solution in and of itself.

      By the by, what is your response to response 8 in Roderick Long's "Ten Objections" speech? I believe you're of the "ancap ⇒ plutocracy" position, if I recall earlier posts in this blog accurately.

    3. OK, iamallears, but don't you see the the IP disagreement between Rothbard and Block is a little more serious than the evil eye example?

    4. Oh, do you have a link for Long?

    5. Anonymous11:12 PM

      The seriousness of the disagreement is a matter of one's moral framework, don't you think? ;)

      I don't find different IP perspectives all that impactful in the big scheme of things, as long as guns don't get ta blazin'.

      The Long speech is at http://www.lewrockwell.com/long/long11.html

      I think it's a semi-masterpiece, but maybe I'm just overly smitten with the arguments.

    6. OK, marshmallows, what about this one: one anarchist thinks that property in land is fine, up to whatever extent one can buy in voluntary transactions: use makes no difference. Another anarchist thinks ownership of land is only provisional, and based on productive use of the land, so that anything left wild can be homesteaded. Anarchist B homesteads land he thinks is unowned but anarchist A thinks is his.

      Not important? I think the different takes on this matter impact the whole structure of society.


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