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a large part of what's wrong with libertarians


it's a samizdata piece by Perry. genital piercings got banned in Georgia.

now, if i heard that, i'd think it was an annoying hangup as there's nothing morally wrong with genital piercings.

but that's not how Perry reacts. he is mad that something he sees as a freedom *can* be banned. he thinks that you own your genetalia, therefore all laws about them are invalid. this view is significantly *worse* than the original mistake. the original mistake of thinking genital piercings are bad is just one mistaken judgment. Perry's view is a recipie to get an unlimited number of issues wrong.

in comments, someone whines that the authors of the law consider themselves fiscal conservatives. either he thinks fiscal conservatives must oppose all new laws that would cost money (absurd), or he thinks they must oppose all frivilous laws. but the authors of the law don't consider it frivilous (duh). they probably *are* fiscal conservatives.

also in comments apparently the law was aimed at genital mutilation and nailed piercing too b/c the authors didn't know consentual piercing even existed. so this is even less bad than it originally seemed.

but how does Perry take the news?

The fact a bunch of ignorant jackasses can make something consensual illegal just like that is the problem.

so Perry thinks everything consentual should be legal. period. wife burning? spanking? ok in a perfect society (with better notions of what consent is and better mechanisms to prevent systematic coercion) they should be legal. in a bad enough society you couldn't set up institutions that care about consent anyways. but they should not be legal, unconditionally, in all imaginable societies. and more to the point, in the real world, there are lots of examples of illegal consentual things that should be illegal.

for example the story of british ppl going to india and banning wife burning. the natives say "but it's our custom" and the brits say "we have a custom too. when someone burns his wife we hang him". (this story could be a myth, dunno, but it doesn't matter). banning wife burning was important and good in that situation.

banning spanking in the US is arguably a good idea. even if it's not, it probably will be in the nearish future. (doing it would change the situation for many abused children in positive ways) saying there can be no debate b/c of Libertarian Principles would be rather lame. pretending the laws against assault and battery can protect children today would umm ... well it doesn't.


besides this, what is and isn't consent is non-obvious. can i download music? well in one analysis, this is consentual b/c the only ppl in the equation are me and the person i'm getting it from, and we both consent. in another, the creator of the music has to consent too, and doesn't, so it's not. (who has to consent must always be decided b/c it can't be the whole universe, it has to be the *relevant* people. who's relevant?). thus Perry's analysis (consentual stuff should always be legal) wouldn't even tell us what should be legal. pretending his statement supports one meaning of consent over another (his in particular) would be invalid.

Elliot Temple on March 31, 2004

Messages (4)

so Perry thinks everything consentual should be legal.

Well, yes actually, I do, though the broader philosophical issue is rather more complex than that. The guidelines as to what should be illegal are really quite simple: morality. Consent is a related issue but not the same thing at all.

Clearly if a woman wants to stick a gold ring through her clitoris, there really is no moral issue at stake here, therefore just because someone else finds it 'ikky', that is not a reason to make it illegal.

Wife burning clearly falls to a different category. You have for some reason concluded from the fact I do not confuse 'custom' with 'morality' that I am a moral relativist, which is quite incorrect. Wife burning can be objectively defined as morally incorrect regardless of what the custom is. Consent is not the issue unless a plausible argument that it is 'informed suicide' can be made (which I rather doubt, given that forced consent is not consent at all). Either way, the moral analysis is really not difficult and thus the less important 'should it be legal?' question is a no-brainer.

Likewise downloading music is an issue of property rights, and property rights are morally derived at their core. So the issue of consent by the owner is really quite obvious. The only 'non-obvious' element is *who* the owner actually is when it comes to a 'virtual product' and thus from *whom* the consent must be given in order for the act to have a moral basis (which is to say, for it not to be theft). The actually basis for deciding if it should be legal or illegal however is a moral issue (the right to property) and then mechanism of consent a second order issue in determining the specific instances. The answer can be debated but the basis upon which that can happen is really quite straightforward.

With all due respect, your deductions on the implications of my position on making genital piercing are simply incorrect.


Perry de Havilland at 4:11 AM on April 1, 2004 | #527 | reply | quote


You talk in terms of what's obvious and what's clear, but then claim to be a Popperian fallibilist. Which is it? Are some things obvious/clear (manifest), or was Popper right that none are (whatever you think is manifest, you could be wrong about)?

Elliot at 5:30 AM on April 1, 2004 | #528 | reply | quote


I was very impressed with this post which from a libertarian perspective was quite well-reasoned. I found it impressive enough that I added it to my blogroll so I can visit this site again. (Please don't take any offense at the diversity of company you keep on the roll for my curiosity knows few bounds.) I also periodically read Samizdata and find much enjoyment from how well the site is laid out.

Yet, I would like to say that I wonder why you identify in your title as the problem being with libertarians. This seems to be a possible problem within the movement or a possible problem with some individuals who are libertarian.

You are right. Cutting off debate by appeal to the authority of libertarian principle would be rather lame. A strong reason why it is lame is that it is the responsibility of a presenter to demonstrate that a principle should be accepted and how it applies.

I happen to be a libertarian that lives in Georgia. I always take the onus of persuasion upon myself. I like debate with as many positions as I can find. I enjoyed the post. I did not enjoy the title.

BilLee at 1:29 AM on April 8, 2004 | #529 | reply | quote

I'm glad you liked my post. :-)

To avoid any misunderstanding, let me say I do consider myself a libertarian.

I think it is a flaw in the libertarian movement, not just some individuals. In my experience it's very common among libertarians and rare from anyone else. And it's not really an error a Statist would make. The specific flaw I mean is not using one's principles as premises (which is not distinctly libertarian), but rather being upset about things being illegal on basically the basis that we ought to be able to do whatever we want (short of violating the non-aggression principle).

The problem goes: there really are things we *shouldn't* do. Libertarians figured out that doesn't mean they should be banned. Banning stuff to control behavior isn't generally a brilliant idea. Great, so far libertarians are ahead of the game. But many seem to stop thinking about it there, and assume people who want to ban things just don't understand what libertarians do. However, there are some circumstances where, temporarily (read: not forever), some things we'd like to be a legal should be illegal.

An example would be laws against being a Nazi in Germany. Normally, having a Nazi ideology and talking about it should be legal, and it is in the USA. But because of special circumstances, it's not legal in Germany and shouldn't be legal either.

Elliot at 3:48 AM on April 8, 2004 | #530 | reply | quote

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