We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Thinking aloud on a mountainside

Imagine you are mountain climbing or hill walking with a friend. Disaster strikes, and your friend is badly injured. Weather conditions are such that if you leave him overnight, he will certainly die. With great difficulty you are able to half carry, half drag him most of the way down the mountain. At last you see the road in the distance. Making your friend comfortable as best you can, you leave him, stagger to the road, and wait a long time for a car to pass this lonely spot. Eventually one does – you stop it by practically throwing yourself in front of it – and tell the driver that there is a seriously injured man some way up the hill who badly needs help.

“I’m not getting blood all over the seats of my car,” says the driver and speeds off.

By the time another car comes it is too late.

Something a little like this happened to a man called Charles Handley climbing in Scotland in the 1950s or 60s. In 1985 the BBC made a gripping dramatised reconstruction starring Gareth Thomas (Blake from Blake’s 7) called Duel with An Teallach. In fact Handley’s experience was even worse: despite his incredible efforts at rescue, An Teallach claimed two of his friends that day. I could watch the play again online and clarify my nearly thirty year-old memories of it, but I won’t because it was one of the grimmest things I have ever seen.

Have you guessed where this post is going? Tweak the story a little. Now Charles Handley has a gun. You have a gun. You can damn well make that driver help you get your friend to safety. And if that means he has to carry your friend on his back to the car so that you can keep the gun trained on him, too bad.

Do you do it?

Stealing his car, even without the intention “permanently to deprive” him of it, as the Theft Act puts it, is a violation of his property rights. Temporarily enslaving him to help you carry your friend down to the car is even worse. I think I would do it, even so. Afterwards I would admit the crime, pay compensation and submit to punishment.

As anyone who has read Perry de Havilland’s post from yesterday will have guessed by now, what I have tried to do above is make a similar thought experiment to the one about being forced to rescue a drowning baby used by Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, the one pretty much everybody but me had no sympathy for. I tried to present a scenario that would appeal rather more to the Samizdata audience than Bowman’s somewhat contrived one. I have tried to inveigle you into sympathising with the bad guy – the government – in Jaded Voluntaryist’s excellent re-casting of Bowman’s analogy:

As an aside, this is not even close to describing welfarism. The people holding the gun aren’t disabled. And the baby isn’t drowning. And it isn’t a baby. And you’re not able bodied (at least not compared to the gun wielder). In fact, in his metaphor he has the relative power relationship completely backwards.
The able bodied arsehole is waving the gun at a disabled man, ordering him to carry some random stranger on his back. A stranger who may be disabled, or may be stupid, or may be lazy, or may just be unlucky. The stranger’s complicity aside, none of that is the disabled victim’s fault. And yet carry him he must because he’s not the one with the gun.

Will I be joining the vast majority of citizens in the countries of the developed world in supporting the welfare state, then? No. There is one crucial element of Bowman’s analogy that I have kept in my scenario, but which, as Jaded Voluntaryist implied when he said the baby was not drowning, does not apply to welfarism. That element is that my story depicted desperate circumstances, which is another way of saying it was a one-off. Welfarism is a system of indefinitely repeated thefts and partial enslavements. They say that it is a continuous crisis, that as there are always babies drowning somewhere you must always be rescuing them, but the insincerity of this claim is demonstrated by the fact that “somewhere” only includes the territory of your nation, state or other tax-gathering unit. Babies outside that arbitrary circle – glug, glug, goodbye. And how can it be justified for you to be forced to spend, say, 55% of your time baby-rescuing but not 56%, or every waking hour?

Overlapping this, welfarism is legitimized repeated thefts and partial enslavements. The man with the gun does not acknowledge or make reparation for his crime. It is he who decides what constitutes crime.

Furthermore there are all the factors that Jaded Voluntaryist implied in his re-casting of Bowman’s analogy. It is not just babies you have to keep rescuing, but adults, and once your presence is a predictable part of the system, those adults start acting like babies on the assumption that you will always be there. That is not likely to end well for you or them.

I will refrain from re-stating further objections to the system of welfare. I am sure most of you have thought of them already, but all these thoughts did lead me to another topic upon which the opinions of Samizdata readers and writers are much harder to predict.

Having to carry a stranger because otherwise the stranger will die is approximately the position of a pregnant woman expecting an unwanted child.

A key part of the pro-abortion argument is opposition to forcing a woman to give up part of her body and her time to carry the child. Foetus. Whatever. For instance, this comment from yesterday’s Guardian by commenter ZappBrannigan says,

Don’t let them win the battle of symbols. Don’t use their terminology. They are not “pro-life”. I propose “mandatory-gestation” instead.

Or here is commenter Thaizinred from the same comment thread:

No already born person has a right to directly use another person’s body to stay alive. People aren’t forced to donate their bodies, or body parts, even if someone else will die without them, even if the person who will die is their child.

The latter’s argument overstates the case. The pregant woman does not have to permanently give up her body or her body parts, but the general point is starkly made, and in a way that will resonate with many libertarians.

I am anti-abortion with reservations and get-out clauses. So I mock the Guardian readers and other “liberals” (in the degraded modern sense) who one minute angrily make the arguments above; who denounce anyone who opposes welfare or jibs at high taxes as a callous, selfish sociopath; who would abort themselves with a rusty coathanger rather than admit that Ayn Rand ever said a good word – and who next minute channel Rand , becoming the purest of pure no-forced-assistance libertarians when the topic is abortion. Such people end up saying that you must give half your time to helping strangers in no particular danger but have no obligation to bear temporary inconvenience to save the life of a being you caused to exist.

So much for them. What about you? To some, I would guess, it is very simple. You are not inconsistent. You are pure libertarians, perhaps indeed Objectivists and proud of it, and you make your stand on the property right of the woman to permanent, uninterrupted, unconstrained use of her own body. You might, perhaps, also think that the foetus is not human until birth but your argument does not rest on that, as Thaizinred’s comment did not.

To use another analogy, your view is that if the captain of a ship at sea sees survivors of a shipwreck clinging to wreckage, the captain can and, for some of you, ought to rescue them, but he does not have to and must not be compelled to.

A minority of libertarians – including me – have views more like these guys: that the foetus becomes human before birth (I shall leave aside the question of exactly when, or if “when” can be exact) and his, her, or its parents (I am trying not to beg the question of whether the foetus is human by choice of pronouns) owe him, her or it protection whatever the inconvenience just as they owe protection to their one day old or one year old child.

And suddenly I’ve run out of steam. This always happens when I talk about abortion and the related question of obligations to small children. There are so many sides to the question. What about rape? What about unintended conception? What about the difference between actively killing and merely withdrawing sustenance? Can I come up with a reason to forbid the Spartans to expose their babies on the mountainside that does not open the door to welfarism and all its ruinous consequences? What about this, that and t’other?

Abortion is a sharp issue. Not many of us have carried out a life or death rescue, with or without force being used. Quite a lot of people have had abortions or been closely affected by them. I hope discussion won’t be too acrimonious, but I think almost anything is better discussed than not.

94 comments to Thinking aloud on a mountainside

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    For myself, I have followed the practice that if I am not willing or able to bear the consequences of what I want to do, then I should not do it. I should not do something beyond my power to undo. That includes taking a life (which includes plausibly threatening to take a life) in something other than defense.

    Years ago a friend of mine was walking along a lake shore. Some kids had been playing on the ice and one of them fell through. My friend and the person he was with stole a boat from in front of one of the lake front houses and rescued the boy. They were of course lauded as heroes and the boat owner was pleased his boat had been able to help. But I am confident that had the homeowner not been so forgiving, my friend would have faced prosecution and sentencing proudly.

    Do not do (or threaten to do) something for which you can not or will not bear the full consequences. Since we can’t know the possible harm from violently forcing an unwilling person to do something, violent force is ruled out.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Using the property rights argument for abortion is highly problematic, which is why it is largely avoided in favour of the stronger and inherantly unprovable “they’re not human” argument.

    In the first instance, with very few exceptions, babies are present in their mother’s womb with her implied consent, since everyone with a primary school level education or higher knows where babies come from. What’s more those babies are incapable of voluntarily leaving, and to remove them results in their death. If a dinner party guest has a seizure, you don’t immediately acquire the right to smash their brains in with a golf club simply because they can’t leave punctually after coffee.

    And even in the cases where the baby is not their with your permission (i.e. rape), it is difficult to see how one can argue that any of that is the baby’s fault. If someone leaves a baby on your doorstep, you do not have the right to kill them and discard the body – and rightly so. I always view the argument against abortion following rape as akin to a child being washed onto the deck of your boat during a storm, while you are 9 months from a safe harbour. I can envisage no circumstances where it would be acceptable to just kick them over the side.

    Finally, even if we accept the mother’s right to evict an unwanted baby, the fact that she is incapable of bringing this to fruition without hiring what is for all intents and purposes an assassin renders this a functionally useless right. Even if the mother has the right, the hired assassin most definately does not.

    So frankly the property rights arguments have never washed for me. Either unborn babies are human beings, or they are not. If they are humans, then they have rights. If they are not, then whatever you do does not matter.

    The legal situation in places like the USA is currently absurd, where 30 seconds before delivery it is hypothetically legal to kill the baby and dispose of them in the medical waste, and 30 seconds afterwards it is infanticide for which you can spend the rest of your life in prison. It seems to me as obvious that full term babies are human.

    This presents a new problem. If babies at birth are human, and 5 seconds before conception are not – then they become human at some point between these two events. And given that we cannot precisely define when humanity begins, in my view we are left with only one reasonable course of action.

    If I have a room on my property, then obviously I should be free to blindly lob a hand grenade into it whenever I please, provided in so doing I will not harm an innocent. However, if I know that an innocent child will be in that room at some point over the next 9 months, and I have no way of knowing when that will be, then for me to practice my property rights through my hand grenade ritual has the potential to make a murderer out of me. The safest course of action is for me to abstain until such time as I know that no one will be harmed.

  • dagny taggart

    one cannot be a libertarian and support a ‘right to life’ since such a right always necessarily involves the ‘right’ to anothers property. Human beings,in order to live, require things such as medicine, food and shelter, and so any ‘right to life’ would mean they are entitled to those things. The so called ‘right to life’ is the demon seed from which the modern welfare state is grown.

  • Lee Moore

    Abortion is a far more complicated question than I thought when I was a naive young university student. Now I’m an naive old retiree I realise that there’s a bit more to it than I thought. There’s the implied consent thing, with the rape complication. Note that rape is not merely absence of consent but involves an active and serious violation of rights (though not by the creature.) And also the how-much-am-I-committing-to complication. (I originally wondered whether Natalie’s tale was going to involve her dumping her friend herself, because she no longer had the strength to keep dragging him.) Then there’s the please-leave-the-premises v. kindly-hold-still-while-I-stove-your-head-in distinction. And that’s all before you get onto the what-rights-does-this-creature-have-and-when-does-it-acquire-them question. Incidentally I don’t think one can seriously dispute that the creature, at any stage post its creation, ie fertilisation, is anything other than a human being. It’s human (ie not leopard) and it’s a being (ie a whole organism, not a mere component.) The question is really – when does it acquire some moral rights and why.

    Incidentally, unlike JV, I’m quite happy with the boat owner being allowed to take down the safety rail and let the child be washed off the deck again.(Though I wouldn’t think much of someone who did that.) I’ll reserve judgement on the actual pushing it over the side bit, but even that is clearly morally different from bashing its head in on the deck.

    The only thing about abortion that I’m pretty sure of is that 100% of what you hear on the telly is a mishmash of illogical slogans.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    A further point that Randian “absolute” property rights advocates overlook are the priciples of proportion and culpability. These are the principles by which we can weigh competing property rights claims to come to fair resolutions in the case of conflicts. Firstly proportion: if you scratch my car it is reasonable of me to ask you to give up your rights over some of your personal property in order to make good on the damage. The cost of the repair would be a proportional claim. Demanding one of your kidneys would not. An unborn baby requires room and board for 9 months. In return the mother who aborts demands the baby’s life. This is not proportional.

    Secondly , culpability. If in the middle of the night I hear someone crashing around in the downstairs of my house and I find a meth head with a machete, it is fair for me to kill him. My property rights (both my house and my body) trump his property rights (his body) because he is the aggressor, and he is culpable for his actions through acting with malice toward me. It is also proportional since not killing him could reasonably be expected to result in the loss of my own life. If however I find a crying child from next door who says “mummy wont wake up” and I still proceed to shoot him, this could in no way be reasonable because he was not culpable for the harm he did me, did not act with malice, was not responsible for his actions, and the restitution I demanded was not proportional to the harm done. Even if we accept that unborn babies are transgressing the mother’s property rights (which is problematic due to implied consent as I have previously said), those babies could not be said to have acted culpably in so doing. Accordingly demanding they make restitution with their very lives could not be considered reasonable.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    dagny taggert,

    That is why I am not “pro-life”, but rather I oppose abortion. It is not that I would compel the creation of life, but rather I oppose its taking. It’s that non-aggression principle thing.

  • Richard Epstein says, in Simple Rules for a Complex World, that in basic common law, if you are faced with peril of death, you are entitled to take another person’s property to save your own life. I believe they have a right to demand compensation for the loss of the property, after the emergency is over, and to be paid for it at fair market value; and this seems to require that you make it possible for them to identify you and ask for repayment. But they do not have the right to refuse you, and if they try, you can legitimately take the property by force. (This seems to dispose of the old conundrum of theoretical libertarianism about telling the man dying of thirst, “You can have this water if you agree to be my slave” or “if you agree you owe me a million dollars.”)

    The rationale for this seems to be double. On one hand, property rights are not sacred, or a Kantian duty; they are a means to human survival, and they must not prevent human survival outright. But on the other hand, if you do take someone’s property in an emergency, and you are a decent person and not a parasite, you will not want to refuse them compensation, and a court would properly order them compensation for what they actually lost (the property, or its replacement cost), but not for what they might have speculatively lost (the ability to demand an insane price)—so the law ought to regularize the solution that would be arrived at anyway.

    But clearly this has to have limits. If there is a lethal drought, and they try to take your last water, they may be condemning you or your family to die of thirst; you have as much right to seize the water back from them as they had to seize it from you—the law can’t demand that you surrender your own life to save theirs. If water is critically scarce in general, and can be expected to remain so—if it’s not a temporary emergency but a lasting lack—then the idea of a “fair price” for water being tolerably low goes out the window; the fair market value of water may be a thousand dollars a gallon! If someone is bringing water at their own expense to a drought-ridden area, and the government seizes it by force, this will prevent people from bringing water in, and thus prolong the harm of the drought; so seizure of water can’t legitimately apply in that case. (S. M. Stirling dramatizes this in Dies the Fire, vividly.)

    All of this seems to apply to abortion. As I understand it, the constitutional rationale for late-term abortion being protected is that the pregnant woman can’t be denied an abortion when continuing the pregnancy could kill her. She has a right to save her own life. This is separate, I believe, from the “privacy” argument for early abortion that is the most discussed part of Roe v. Wade. There are limits to its force, but in practice, late-term abortion is so hazardous that it make little medical sense if the pregnant woman’s life is not threatened (and in the case currently in the news, it appears that what was being called “abortion” was actually induced labor, delivery, and infanticide—that is, getting the unborn infant out alive was easier than surgical abortion). And I certainly am not going to say that if a pregnant woman is faced with death from continuing her pregnancy, or even with a substantial risk of death, she should not be allowed to save her own life. That, to me, is the rock on which hard-core antiabortion and absolute fetal rights to life must break.

  • Mr Ed

    Pedant alert: whilst the scenario is not stated as having been set anywhere, but an incident n Scotland is mentioned, the Theft Act 1968 (an Act of the UK Parliament) is also mentioned, but that Act does not apply to Scotland, except in terms of amendments and repeals, as Scots criminal law is separate. Time to put the croissants on and comment more in due course.

  • Myno

    For the purpose of the following exploratory argument, let me assert that the entity is a human from the moment of conception. The removal of the human from the mother’s womb does not necessarily result in its death. With the advancement of technology, the ability of people to keep pre-term humans alive and able to grow to and past the normal birth time has increased greatly over the past hundred years. Where a mother can elect to have a procedure that removes the human from her body, and the human can be provided sufficient medical care to allow that human to survive, then that would appear to be a moral way for the woman to end her pregnancy.

    In that context, I revisit JV’s example of an invited dinner party guest (human) who has a seizure, and hence becomes more of a burden than the dinner host anticipated. I certainly agree that one ought not use a golf club to smash the guest’s brains in if the guest proves incapable of agreeably leaving after dessert. (I feel that that example is a bit overdrawn, perhaps by being targeted upon the late-term debate.) Just because the dinner guest is incapable of taking action on their own behalf, that condition does not inescapably saddle the host with the responsibility of caring for the guest for an extended period. The host may reasonably seek outside assistance, and if such is available, transfer the guest to the care of such parties.

    For me the intriguing part of this analysis is when it is applied to the removal of a human from the mother, in a (surgical) way that would theoretically allow for the external survival of the human (no bashed in brain scenarios here), but at a gestation time prior to that at which extant technology can reasonably assure its continued survival.

    The dinner guest analogy I favor hence is a slightly different one. It is of the neighbor child invited over for dinner, whose parents are killed in an accident. Does the host owe the child more than hospitable assistance in finding a new home? And what if no such new home is forthcoming? Is the host morally bound to provide for the child until the child attains an age where he/she can take responsibility for his/her own life? If the host declines to accept continued responsibility for the life of the guest, and the guest dies arguably therefrom, is the host responsible for that death? Via such arguments moral hazard arises.

    The admittedly tricky part is that the mother invited the guest in (modulo rape cases) under circumstances that invite society to offer strong opinions as to how long that invitation was for. As soon as that determination resides with anyone other than the host — the mother — moral hazard gains supremacy.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Yes, this is a much more believable scenario that the wheelchair-bound gun toter, in a number of ways, not least of which is that the person to be rescued is not just a generic child: it’s a person, possibly a child, whom the gun toter has a personal attachment to.

    This and the previous post led me to look up Duty to Rescue on wikipedia, and it turns out that, in a civil law system, the driver in the above example would face criminal charges, which strikes me as appropriate on consequentialist grounds.

    However i must stress once more what is implicit in Jaded Voluntaryist’s comment:
    “The able bodied arsehole is waving the gun at a disabled man, ordering him to carry some random stranger on his back.”
    The way i understand this is, even when a moral case can be made for a private person to use violence or to steal on consequentialist grounds, there are still reasons to fear entrusting the State with the legal right to use violence or to steal.
    In practice, the opposite is the case: police officers have a legal right to commandeer a car when they need it, and we don’t.
    To be fair i am not aware that this right has been abused.

  • Robert

    Murray Rothbard (I think) argued that a foetus has the same rights, but no more, than an adult human.
    He argued that no adult human has the right to live parasitically on the body of another.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Robert. Rothbard is often a jerk, as they say in the States. The foetus is not a parasite, but is in fact seized by the mother upon implantation and force-fed nutrients and cannot stop itself from growing. A parasite, such as a fluke, feeds on the host against its host’s design, whereas an embryo is an integral feature of a mammalian life cycle, and its development is a natural aspect of human biology.

    The question is whether the mother’s right to self-ownership extends to terminating a life dependant on her body. There can be no claim in damages against a foetus for being born or gestating, as those responsible for the situation are the parents, or, in some instances, the father or non-maternal gamete provider. Volenti non fit injura, injury is not done to the willing.

  • John B

    Coercion at gunpoint in a good cause. The problem here is not the ‘one off’ circumstances, but the principle. Once the principle is accepted who then draws the line? It is of course the gun-holder who believes his circumstances warrants his extreme actions in forcing another to help.

    Thus the Social Democrat believes coercion to make others help their ‘casualty’ is warranted and justified. And more so because the worthy victims are numerous and ever present.

    Abortion: the uncertainty about when it is a Human life has already been resolved by Common Law, the product of many centuries, perhaps millennia of Human experience and wisdom. Under Common Law Human life begins at birth, not before, and receives the full protection of the Law thereafter.

    The waltz on the head of a pin started when politicians and activists, and of course godbotherers, waded in with their two penn’orth and started legislating. There is no such thing as an improvement of the Common Law, just an accommodation to serve those with big mouths and deep pockets and that tump card ‘morals’.

  • Paul Marks

    As far as I know it has not been established that Mr Bowman is in fact “pro life” – indeed I doubt he cares about babies at all (in his hour long talk Mr Bowman gave every sign of being a university P.C. person – and being pro baby is not P.C.).

    It was clear within seconds that the baby was metaphorical (not a real person), the real object was to justify income “re” distribution (in a few society income and weath are not distributed so I object to the “re” in redistribution – as well as objecting to the concept).

    Perhaps more interestingly Mr Bowman described himself as a consequientialist – yet gave no sign of being aware of the extenive literature on the negitive consequences of government welfaris. This is odd as there is a extensive literature on such consequences – dateing back some thousands of years.

    Libertarins tend to be aware of the work of such writers as “Losing Ground” and the economic and social evil of the “Underclass” – and (although perhaps as a joke) Mr Bowman kept calling himself a libertarian and talking about “we” libertarians. However, even non libertarians are aware of such people as Plato, Aristotle and Cicero.

    Plato was certainly not libertarian in his politics (indeed the closest modern concept to describe Plato would be socialist – although an honest socialist without any cant about how collectivism is really “freedom”, or how the state will “wither away”) yet he is quite open about how promising the poor the goods of the rich is the way a constitution is subverted, and collapses into chaos or tyranny (not oppposites – in fact they are close kin). Plato did not have to make leap of thought to know this – as it was a common experience of many cities in his own time (including Athens itself). I would have thought that a policy leading to either tyranny or chaos (or both) is quite a negative feature (a negative CONSEQUENCE), but there we go.

    Aristotle was not a libertarian either (indeed he attacks Lycrophon – a defender of the minimal state property rights view of politics), but Aristotle is realistic enough to know that the state handing out money or goods is like pouring liquid into a container with no bottom in it – indeed worse, for such a policy corrupts both those doing the handing out (the state machine) and those getting the hand-outs.

    Cicero was, as is well known, a conservative (unlike Plato or even Aristotle – for Aristotle also wanted to make radical changes to the state in order to direct it to making people “good”). To Cicero (unlike the Greek thinkers) such things as education are nothing to with the state.

    Cicero the great defender of the Res-Publica couldm indeed, step into a modern, conservative (not RINO) Republican event and fit right in – once he had learnned English. Alough if he was at conservative Catholic event he would not even have to do that (although he might find their Latin rather stiff and formal).

    However, just because Cicero was a conservative does not mean that his position (that a vast population of welfare dependents is a threat to the Res-Publica) should have be dismissed out of hand. Nor should his conception of natural law which, like both mainstream Aritotelians and mainstream Stoics, does not include a state welfare role as part of the natural law (although what one does AFTER one has got a vast population of dependents is a different question from whether it is a good idea to creat a vast population of dependents).

    Law is based upon the viture of justice (to each their own) not the principle of benevolence (mercy-charity), so it is hard to see how it can be a matter of legal right (as legal right comes from justice, to each their own, not the virtue of benevolence-charity). But even if we reject all concept of justice (as a real thing – rather than “justice” simply meaning the whims of the state) and follow a strictly consequientialist line, it is hard to see how this line could lead us to a policy of creating a vast population of dependents (although, I REPEAT, what one does after such a population has been created is not the same question as whether it is a good idea to creat such a policy).

    For example (a real one – not a mythical baby in a lake example) most of Scotland had no compulsory Poor Rate till the Act of 1845 – the Rev. Chalmers (the leading organiser of voluntary aid in Glasgow) opposed the introduction of such a tax, and from the libertarian point of view the Rev. Chalmers was correct. If someone says “I am a libertarian and I think the introduction of the compulsory Poor Rate in Scotland in 1845 was correct” the word “libertarian” has been radically redefined.

    To give a couple of other examples…….

    In England and Wales before the early 1900s tax funded poverty relief was limited to that of the Act of 1834 (BBC please note this was NOT the “introduction” of tax for the poor in England and Wales, contrary to the a certain floppy haired Manchester “historian”, it was in fact a partial ROLLING BACK of previously high levels of Poor Rates in most [athough not all] England and Wales). Were such things as the National Insurance Act of 1911 the correct policy move or not?

    The Majority Report of the commission on poverty (informed by people in the tradition of Octabia Hill and C. S. Locke – people who had worked all their lives in the PRACTICAL help of the poor) said “NO” – it was the “Minority Report” (written by socialist fanatics who had never lifted a finger to help the poor in their lives) that said “Yes”.

    If someone says “I am a libertarian and I think the National Insurance Act of 1911 was the correct policy move” then the word “libertarian” has been radically redefined – turned round 180 degrees, so it is now in alliance with Mr and Mrs Webb, G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells). No longer interested in such things as the 80% (and rising) of industrial workers who were members of mutual aid “Friendly Societies”, and interested in apeing the Prussia of the tradition of Frederick the Great and Bismark instead.

    More recent examples………..

    When I was born (yes, I know, by parents had to fight off the saber tooth tiger from our cave at the time) even the little mountain country of Andorra had no Welfare State – its “Social Security” system was not established till 1966. Was this the correct more or not? If a “libertarian” says it was – then the word “libertarian” had been radically changed (reversed).

    Want larger country examples?

    The United States before the 1960s had no Federal government funded health care (other than for present and former Federal government employees) was the introduction of such things as Medicare and Medicaid a good move or a bad one?

    There were also no “Food Stamps” in the United States – was the introduction of this scheme a good thing or a bad one.

    If someone says “a good thing” then they are actually LESS of a libertarian than Aristotle (let alone his opponent Lycrophon) and actually MORE collectivist even than Plato (at least in this respect).

    Do not like American examples?

    How about Switzerland?

    Was the introducvtion of government unemployment “insurance” in Switzerland in the mid 1970s a good thing or bad thing?

    Someone who says “a good thing” or “I do not know” a libertarian? I am not asking for a plan of how to get rid of it (not large numbers of people have been made depedent upon it) I am simply asking whether it was a good thing to create in the first place – something a libertarian should not find a difficult question to answer.

    But then (alas) there are some people in the world who can, for example, discuss government overseas aid without mentioning the work of Peter Bauer – and they are not all ignorant ministers in the Mr Cameron’s government

    Indeed some of them seem to think that Mr Cameron and co are too free market (not hoplessly social democratic – but actually too free market) and that libertarians should be MORE statist than Mr Cameron and co.

    By the way – I am not in the least sorry that all the above is concrete (i.e. to do with real history and actual examples). That is who I am – and in the reation of others to reality I can tell friends from enemies.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It’s good to see mention of Lycophron, one of my favorite Greeks. (He gets a mention in The Open Society, too.) If only there were more Greeks like him today!

    There is another remark that I’d like to comment on:
    the closest modern concept to describe Plato would be socialist – although an honest socialist without any cant about how collectivism is really “freedom”, or how the state will “wither away”

    My understanding is that Plato was what (inspired by Hayek) i call a “collectivist of the Right”; by which i do not mean somebody on which the inane and meaningless label “right-wing” has been attached: i mean a collectivist who accepts the reality that more power to the State means more power to the ruling class. That includes not only Plato, Mussolini, and Hitler, but also Saint-Simon, Comte … and Lenin; and in fact the leadership of all communist regimes.
    It also includes US “progressivism”, both pre-ww2 and now. (Not sure about the period in between.)

    By contrast, i call collectivists of the Left those who claim that the ruling class can be abolished: at a guess (because i have not studied any of them) that includes Rousseau, Proudhon, Marx, and official social democratic doctrine.

    This is in no way meant as an apology for Rousseau, Proudhon, and Marx: in fact, it is a remark on their hypocrisy. However, i note that social democratic regimes have not been as evil as communist regimes, and SOME social democratic regimes still have a AAA credit rating (unlike the UK and US.)

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – Plato yes.

    On Lycrophon – my first internet name was “Lyrophon” (back at the start of the internet).

    Alas we do not have his works.

    We do not even have the full text of the basic works of Cicero – the most well known Roman writer.

  • Jacob

    I think that a person can be made (or forced by law) to help save a life, if it doesn’t endanger the saver’s life. One should sacrifice some work, and some material goods for this cause, in an emergency. (He can be compensated for his expenses later).

    There are laws, for example, that decree that you must report a crime if you happen to know about it, and try to prevent it if possible. I think they’re justified.
    In Israel a girl was sentenced to 3 years in jail for failing to prevent prime minister Rabin’s murder in 1995. Turns out that the murderer was some kind of friend of hers, and had boasted to her he was going to kill the PM, and she failed to report it.

    This is about emergencies, extraordinary cases, and I don’t see how you can connect them to regular welfare payments.

    As to abortion: there is a conflict between the “rights” of the fetus and those of the mother. I think the rights of the mother trump those of the fetus, which isn’t really a “person” yet, until birth. In ordinary situations, “rights” must be defined in such a way that there be no conflict between the rights of A and those of B. In this case it is impossible to reconcile the rights of the mother and those of the fetus (which isn’t a baby yet), so we need determine which is more important. Seems to me that the “pro life” position: “abortion is murder, and never justified” is too harsh and unjust towards the mother, and extreme.

  • Lee Moore

    “In ordinary situations, “rights” must be defined in such a way that there be no conflict between the rights of A and those of B. In this case it is impossible to reconcile the rights of the mother and those of the fetus (which isn’t a baby yet)”

    I don’t think so. If the fetus is a human being with the same rights as a born human being, then the “ordinary” rules apply. You have to define the rights so that they are symmetrical – ie so that they don’t clash. If you find that they do, you have defined them wrong. If the fetus isn’t a human being with the same rights as a born human being, and doesn’t acquire any until it’s born, then you don’t have any clash of rights. You only get to a clash of rights if you assign the fetus some class B rights inferior to the rights of a born human being. If you do this (an unusual but by no means impossible position) then you resolve the conflict of rights within your class B definition.

    But for most people, who grant human rights digitally, 0 or 1, you should never face a clash of rights.

  • RRS

    Rights, rights, rights –

    And not one reference to obligations on which all “rights” are based.

    How about considering what are the “obligations” in all these situations with their contingencies.

    Life does not start with and is not made up of “Rights;” it is made up of obligations, which are also constraints; and, to the extent recognized, accepted and performed create the conditions of “Rights.”

  • Julie near Chicago


    A very good posting. I just have to observe this:

    “Afterwards I would admit the crime, pay compensation and submit to punishment.”

    I think that’s as close as one could come to justice.

  • Julie near Chicago


    Natalie, you wrote,

    “The pregnant woman does not have to permanently give up her body or her body parts….”

    Here is a recent comment of my own that turns on that very point.

    . . . .

    First, any sensible discussion about its permissibility has to begin with an agreement in principle as to when, in the developmental process from fertilization to full adulthood, human life begins.

    There are those “bioethicists” or “medical ethicists” who figure that anyone younger or very much older than 25 is not at his or her prime, so therefore is fair game for being killed off if it would free up resources to support the well-being or proper development of those in their prime. I won’t name any names…I feel the red mist settling over me!

    So for purposes of discussion, let us pretend we’re all agreed that we are talking about an organism which, though not fully developed, has the attributes which define it as being somewhere on the continuum of what is properly called human life (which could begin at conception, if one believes a soul attaches at conception, or a week or two later perhaps–I’d be very conservative about the estimate myself).

    Now. People generally argue for the permissibility of abortion on one or more of four grounds:

    1. The mother doesn’t want the baby.

    2. The child is the result of incest.

    3. The mother was raped.

    4. The mother is seriously at risk of losing her life or a major and possibly defining part of her human capacity.


    I see two salient features here.

    First, all humans have the right to life (unless, usual caveat, they’ve given up that right by demanding the lives of innocent others). Therefore they have the right to defend their lives against unprovoked aggression. Thus, not only the mother but also the very young human in her womb has that right. The fact that the young being is not yet in a position to defend itself–the fact that it lacks a weapon, lacks the power to try, lacks even the mental equipment that would enable it to make moral estimates and choices–is neither here nor there.

    The other factor is the principle that rightful defense of one’s life does not include the right to yank an innocent bystander in front of one as a human shield against a speeding bullet.

    Now let us consider.

    1. The mother doesn’t want the baby. Too bad, Toots. You opened the door and you were aware of the possibilities. The new organism exists only because you opened the door. You have no right to do away with the potential kid, no matter how upsetting it is. Actions have consequences. (But as consolation, if you really don’t want it, it will almost certainly be adoptable.)

    2. Incest. You’re kidding, right? Incest is “taboo” mostly for reasons of not depreciating the gene pool, and partly (presumably) for psychological reasons. But where both parties to it are consenting adults, the gene business is immaterial because, again, it’s not the potential kid’s doing that he exists with his suspect, possibly defective genes; and with that out of the way, the argument for (1) above applies.

    3. Rape. I feel terrible for the mother in this case, I really do. But the fault lies not with the potential baby in her womb, who remains totally innocent and killing whom would accomplish nothing in the way of justice, but rather with the rapist. She doesn’t get to abort just because the rape was, well, rape–against her will, unless she was mentally feeble or so young that she truly didn’t understand. (In a case like that, it’s up to the parents or guardian; and the fact remains that they can look after the mother, but the baby is altogether innocent and has the same right to life as does the mother–and her parents or guardians). So this woman, too, should bear the baby and see that he or she is adopted at birth, if she cannot stand the thought of living with and caring for him or her for eighteen years or so.

    4. The mother’s life or human functionality is at serious risk. This, to me, is the only really hard case. But in this case, I come down on the side of the mother, who also has the right to her life, and to defend it. Here I think that since she is facing giving up, in essence, the whole of her remaining life, exactly as is the baby, she has the right to defend it to the utmost. She has the power; she may rightfully exercise that power.

    —-In all the other cases, at worst the mother is asked to give up not her whole life, but only whatever portion of her time, her attention, her effort–it takes, until the young one can navigate the adult world well enough to survive; by custom, let’s say until he or she is 18. After that the mom can go back to living her own life on her own terms, without further moral responsibility for the offspring*. But an aborted (killed) human has the entire rest of its life taken from it. In the last analysis, that’s the underlying reason why libertarians should oppose abortion in all cases save that of the risk to the life of the mother.

    . . .

    If that analysis is correct–and I think it is–there is still plenty of room for lots of details, where the Devil is famously said to reside. Nevertheless, even the non-religious among us should be thinking along these lines when we consider the morality of abortion.

  • Julie near Chicago

    *Sigh*…I suppose for the sake of thoroughness, I should amend Reason 1 in the argument for abortion, thusly:

    1a. The mother simply doesn’t want the baby.

    1b. The mother may “want” the baby, but she does not want the responsibility, or to give up time that she’d prefer to spend in some other way.

    1c. The mother feels, or honestly believes, that she will not be able to provide properly for the child, whether emotionally, materially, or in some other way.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    My one big beef with people on the libertarian end of the political scale has always been their fervent, unquestioning support for abortion. Since I regard it as tantamount to infanticide, I find a world in which it is practised casually to be utterly intolerable. The only way I can get out of bed in the mornings is if I do not allow myself to dwell on these things too closely. Even engaging in this debate has caused me to have little sleep for the last 2 days.

    However I’m glad to see a spectrum of opinions here. It makes me realise that perhaps my views are not quite so unusual as I thought.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Whoops I posed under my old screen name above, which I no longer consider entirely accurate 😉

  • dagny taggart

    First, all humans have the right to life

    If this is the case then humans also have a ‘right’ to food, medicine, shelter ext.
    In other words the ‘right to life’ means one is entitled to wealth and resources regardless of whether one has earned them. The ‘right to life’ is the very seed of the modern welfare state

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Dagny, that would depend on whether you define the right to life in the classical “negative” sense or in the socialist “positive” sense. It could be a negative right inasmuch as others are forbidden from actively depriving you of it, or it could a positive right that obliges others to ensure you continue to live no matter the cost.

    It is not a term I would use myself, but if I were to do so I would mean it in the former rather than the latter sense.

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – agreed.

    But the “positive” view is older than modern socialists.

    One need not go as far as Brian Tierney (who argues that “positive” rights were always a part of the rights tradition [he also denies a clear contrast between natural rights and natural law] and that “compulsory charity” [dry water, square circle] was the position of all theologians in the Middle Ages) to see the “positive” view of right at work.

    For example John Locke (under the influence of Samual Pufendorf) writes that a ship’s captain, with a cargo of food, who sails on past a port in which there are starving people (in the hope of getting higher price for the food at the next port) is “no doubt guilty of murder” (??????). If this is so we are all “murderers” as there are starving people today (perhaps in a nearby city in spite of [or because of] the Welfare State) so if we have food and do not sell it to them at a price they can afford (say ZERO) then we are “murderers”. This shows a total lack of understanding of what law is (under both Roman and Common Law conceptions of the term) and I find it hard to see how so many great minds can become so twisted that they lose sight (at times – not always) of the most basic and obvious things.

    Jacques Maritain (the French follower of Thomas Aquinas) accepted that ideas about “rights” are fundementally opposed – but he argued that some sort of provisional agreement can and should be made with the collectivists (hence his work with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – where he worked alongside fanatical collectivists, and apologists for totalitarianism, E.H. Carr and Harold Laski). I would say that the great Maritain is just wrong.

    Of course one can work with someone, such as John Locke, who, once-in-a-blue-Moon, goes off the rails – but how can work (on natural rights and their basis in natural law) with someone (such as Harold Laski) who is very much part of the “dry liquid” and “square circle” School of Thought? It is folly – and it leads to a botched mess – which is what both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights are.

  • Paul Marks

    Although I agree with Julie – the above should read “Jaded Voluntarist”.

  • Alastair James

    Most of the arguments above in favour of a strong line against abortion seem to start from the premise that all human’s have a right not be aggressed against; foetuses are human, therfore… and off we go. I can rarely disagree with the arguments after that but I do fundamentally disagree with the premise. If you are superstitious and believe an imortal soul then that argument may flow for you and your co-religionists. But I don’t think you have any right to impose that view on those pregnant women who aren’t superstitious. So for a more universal rule we cannot consider such a soul in the argument.

    For me, for a being to have any rights (of a positive or negative kind) it must have some sense of conciousness and suffering and be capable at least in principle of comprehending its rights (even if only emotionally). Therefore for me a 1 day old embryo has no more right not to be aggressed against than a fingernail; and a foetus of many months has less rights than an adult dolphpin or great ape.

    “Where is the line?” many will ask. It’s horribly blurry. But I’m afraid that is the real world, much as many authors on this website appear to wish that instead of real life we could make all our moral deicions in the harmless environment of a university philosophy department (albeit a privately funded one of course). Does that mean I think that infanticide or the homicide of the severly mentally impaired is morally acceptable? If I sat in a University Department and followed my logic with absolute rigour then I would have to say “yes” wouldn’t I? And in extreme and completely unrealistic circumstances: say, a pregnant mother washed up on a desert island who killed her baby quickly, immediately after it’s birth, I would say she would need to live with the emotional consequences but the baby would not have enough self awareness to have rights.

    But in the real world we make moral deicions in a social context. Morals are rules for living together with as little friction as possible. They would be completely unnecessary in a universe with only one sentient being in it. And in a social world lots of slippery slope questions start to come in along with debates about “we don’t know where that line is but we’re damn close to it now”, not to mention the emotional suffering of others aware of what may be happening.

    So for me bottom line is that a one day embryo has no rights because it has no mind at all. A fully sentient, mentally well, adult human being has all the negative rights that most on this site would agree it does. Somewhere in between there is a line. There is no objective way (at least at the moment) of knowing where that line is. Personally I’m reasonably emotionally comfortable with the place most legal systems place it and we have to accept that there will be people who have strong emotional views a long way on either side of those current lines. I think all you have a right to do if you disagree with the placing of the line, is to argue your view with people considering having or conducting abortions and hence to seek to change their minds about where the line lies. I don’t think your “it’s human the moment it’s conceived” argument is a strong enough one to warrant you using force to stop an abortion.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I don’t think your “it’s human the moment it’s conceived” argument is a strong enough one to warrant you using force to stop an abortion.

    I think it’s more a case of “You can’t prove a foetus is not human”, and that the cost associated with erring on the side of caution and being wrong is far lower than the cost of not doing so.

    The “blob of cells” argument is something of a straw man. Very few women are ever aware they are pregnant before 5/6 weeks, by which time the baby has two eyes, ears, arms, legs, a brain and so on. So outside the very specific case of morning after pills, it’s a non-issue.

  • Paul Marks

    Specifically on abortion…..

    Improvement in technology may deal with the matter – allowing a baby to be removed from a women, who does not want the baby, without the baby dying (technology to allow the baby to develop without need of the woman).

    However, the truly radical supporters of abortion are also supporters of killing babies AFTER they are born.

    Barack Obama is one of these supporters of infanticide (as his record in Illinois shows – but the “mainstream” media do not report it), and a doctor is on trial in Philidelphia for putting these ideas into practice.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Improvement in technology may deal with the matter – allowing a baby to be removed from a women, who does not want the baby, without the baby dying (technology to allow the baby to develop without need of the woman).

    That’s been my dream Paul, for a long time.

    If anyone ever develops viable foetal transplant technology, or a workable synthetic womb, then that is a man whose hand I would like to shake because they will have effectively rendered abortion a moot point. There was talk for a while of artificial wombs using liquid breathing as seen in The Abyss, but nothing ever seemed to come of it.

    I get the impression that foetal medicine is considered something of a fringe science by those with the “if they’re defective get rid of em – plenty more where they came from” attitude, and this holds it back.

  • Alastair James

    I’m not suggesting that a foetus isn’t human. I’m contending that it’s not its humanity that gives it rights. What I think gives a being rights is a mind. I then contend that when a mind is sufficiently mature to accrue rights is not an objective fact, but that, objectively it is not at the point of conception, since an embryo has no brain in which to have a mind. Whether the brain of a 6 week old foetus has a mind is matter of judgement not objective fact. In my judgement it doesn’t. If in your judgement it does then of course you won’t have or conduct an abortion. Not sure if Paul Marks’ comment was a response to mine, but if it was then obviously associating my argument with Barack Obama is a rhetorical trick not a counter argument.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Alastair if the defining criteria for rights is a mind and not humanity, then those with cognitive impairments and brain damage should have no rights by your definition.

    Would you support experimentation upon them? Harvesting them for organs? Reprocessing their living bodies into useful chemical supplements?

    The reason rights should be “human rights” is because any other criteria gives rise the sorts of horrors I described above.

  • Alastair James

    I addressed that partially in my original post. I will expand. I don’t think it is acceptable to experiment on such a person for two unrelated reasons. The first is that it is fiendishly difficult to know how much sentience there is in an adult with mental impairment. It is a different judgement call to a foetus with an undeveloped pre frontal cortex and no Social life experiences. Secondly, and and more strongly in my view, though I suspect less compellingly to this audience, I think it creates a slippery slope and it is, for good evolutionary (socially and genetically ) reasons, widely seen as repugnant. Before someone argues that abortion creates a slippery slope I would contend that it empirically doesn’t. Abortion is common in the less religious western societies, infanticide is not.

  • Alastair James

    While we’re at it JV, if the defining requirement is humanity then if we were to be visited tomorrow by a clearly sentient being from another world would you not accord them any rights? Or if some scientific breakthrough demonstrated dolphins were as sentient and intelligent as us, or in some remote jungle we discovered a tribe of neanderthals?

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’m open to expanding the definition of humanity and thereby enfranchising, but not contracting it and thereby disenfranchising Alistair.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    Alastair James,

    For me, for a being to have any rights (of a positive or negative kind) it must have some sense of conciousness and suffering and be capable at least in principle of comprehending its rights

    You would deny life to my 57(?) year old cousin. He had a brain injury from illness when he was an infant and is certainly incapable of comprehending rights. He lives in institutions or shelters under continuous supervision. You are not the first person to think this is proper. It does not put you in good company but it is not an entirely indefensible position. It does deny the entire concept of guardianship. He would certainly die at the hands of others or of starvation if there weren’t many unrelated people who represent him and look out for his rights.

    But another odd thing about your formulation is that you would extend rights to many domestic pets. My dogs will defend their food from each other and yet without any prompting, they avoided my mother’s food even when she offered it to them. At some point before we got them, they had learned a social order where they were to stay away from elderly persons’ food dishes. No enforcement or supervision is necessary. They have a clear understanding of what they have a right to and what they do not. Simplistic, yes. But it meets your benchmark.

    Skills testing people to qualify them for rights is a very dangerous path to eugenics.

  • dagny taggart

    One cannot say that a 1 month old foetus has a ‘right to life’ and that a cow does not without recourse to religion and metaphysics, (that from conception the foetus has some magical human ‘essence’ or soul that separates it from other animals) since an adult cow is neurologically more complex and sentient than a young foetus.

    Rights are ethical principles applicable only to beings capable of reason and choice. Not animals and Zygotes

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Now you’re just being silly Dagny. A person need not understand a right in order to possess it since others can enact it on their behalf.

    My children have no concept of having a right to bodily integrity, but just watch what happens if someone tries to violate that right while I’m in sight.

  • RRS

    J V’s example to Dagny demonstrates a point:

    Children’s Rights are composed of the obligations of adults in their relationships with children. The protectors are obligated to protect and would be violators are constrained by the obligation not to violate.

    Animal-Rights are composed of the obligations of humans in their relations with animals.

    Abortion-Rights, in the current political sense (“The Right to Choose”) are composed of the obligations not to use the mechanisms of governments to control specific areas of choice in human conduct.

    If you will review all of the commentary following my last previous post about “Rights, rights, rights,” practically every single contingent situation is related to specific obligations in the final analysis.

  • Jacob

    When considering abortion, the debate ends right at the beggining when one side declares it a “foetus” and the other a “baby”. It is either 0 or 1. There is no point in debating beyond this point as there is no way one side can convince the other.

    I think the 0 or 1 model is not always correct, or rather, not always possible to implement.

    Srange that once you utter “abortion”, all other themes are forgotten.

    What about the duty (or lack thereof) of saving a person in an emergency?
    What about the duty to report and try to prevent a crime ?

  • Jacob

    In the abortion debate, it is about the question whether to use **state** coertion to prevent abortion or to prosecute and punish the woman and the doctor who helps her. [nobody forces a woman to have an abortion].

    I think that, given the tough and irresolvable moral debate, we should be cautious in applying state coertion.

    Take the case of the woman who performed the abortion by herself (wihtout external aid), and nobody ever knew she was pregnant. Would you still prosecute her ?

  • a_random_guy

    For me, for a being to have any rights (of a positive or negative kind) it must have some sense of conciousness and suffering and be capable at least in principle of comprehending its rights

    You would deny life to my 57(?) year old cousin. He had a brain injury from illness when he was an infant and is certainly incapable of comprehending rights.

    I usually just lurk, but would like to chime on on this point. If we accept, at least for argument’s sake, Alistair James’ contention that a mind is necessary to have rights, then consider: A brain-dead person may be killed, or at least let die by removing the machines. I have been there, witnessed the decision by the family, and could only think “yes, this is right”.

    Brain-death is, however, a continuum. I recently saw a television special praising the heroic efforts of a family that has literally given up everything in order to care for their severely brain-damaged child; in addition, of course, government health care invests immense amounts of tax monies for continuing health care. This child will never function much above a reflexive level: swallowing, reacting to touch; it cannot speak, it cannot control voluntary muscles. I believe it would be kinder to have killed the child, because it is not – and never will be – “human”.

    Whenever one moves about in a gray zone, there is the risk of mistakes. However, one cannot pretend that the gray zone does not exist; the sheer cost of preserving every vestige of life is simply too enormous.

    Where does the 57-year-old cousin fall in this gray zone? I have no idea, because I do not know his situation. If he lacks all higher order brain functions, then yes: it could be proper to decide to not continue his life.

    Moving back to the concept of abortion: An early foetus has no higher brain functions; early enough, and it has no brain. If there is a difference, it lies in potential: a foetus may (if all goes well) develop these things. But potential does not eliminate the gray zone. Eggs and sperm also have potential; shall we, as in Life of Bryan, revere these and require men and women to fertilize all possible eggs? Clearly not, because potential is not actuality.

    Which was a long and roundabout way of saying that I think the argument of brain function is a valid one. Indeed, we apply it all the time: We think nothing of stepping on an ant, but do not casually run over a stray dog; if a dog dies, we are less concerned than if a person dies. The scale is a continuum, and we really cannot pretend otherwise.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Random: you’re overlooking a fairly fundamental distinction. The dog and the ant have essentially no rights at all.

    The brain damged human has all the rights of any other human, but since they are not capable of articulating their wishes those rights are maintained by the action of a guardian. The doctors could not come into that persons room and turn off their ventilator any more than they could come into your room and stab you in the throat. If doctors wish to overrule a guardian and switch off life support, it requires a long and complicated legal process to have the guardian stripped of their powers.

    I’m also rather troubled by your assertion that a brain damaged child is not human. Forgive my brusqness, but who exactly made you the judge of humanity? I’m assuming this child had human parents? Human DNA? Flesh, blood and bone? At least come capacity to repond to their environment?

    That seems to cover all the basics to me. Just because someone is incapable of (for example) posting pithy comments on Samizdata does not mean they are less human than you or I. Indeed I can envisage some circumstances where the opposite might be true.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    My cousin feeds himself and enjoy special treats. He can remember conversations from long ago although they are very limited in scope and vocabulary (to treats in my experience). He remembers people he likes and people he doesn’t like. He gets excited for visitors.

    He does not understand right and wrong, much less rights. As children we were taught to be very careful both of and for him. For one example, we were taught to never walk down stairs in front of him. He may push us down the stairs because he didn’t understand either the etiquette or consequences.

    What kind of deity wannabe appoints it self to judge whether my cousin is “human”?

    The concept of representative guardianship is at least as old as humanity itself.

    The fundamental question is ‘does any human have the right to administer skills test to others for the right to exist?’. The answer is of course ‘No!’ I lack sufficient survival skills to represent myself in court. Are we to declare a world were only lawyers are “human”?

    IMO, once you exist as new and unprecedented DNA, you are entitled to representation. You now can be guided through the legal ins and outs of existence by persons more knowledgeable than yourself. Whether this supports or rejects abortion is both uncertain and irrelevant because the first question clearly is “who is human?” I reject any human’s authority to fitness test any other for that title. That leaves me at ‘new DNA’ as ‘new human being’. At that point right to live inside another human being becomes as much a matter for the courts as the right of somebody to live in my house based on implied contracts. It is for juries to determine the existence and merits of contracts, not the skills tests for humanness.

  • dagny taggart

    rights are derived from the capacity to reason, and thus only adult humans have rights; foetuses and animals do not. A human in a vegetative state is not a moral agent, and as such cannot have rights – otherwise you may as well extend rights to whelks.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    No, rights are derived from self ownership, which stands regardless of your cognitive capacities or awareness of said rights.

    But I must thank you, because you’re doing a better job than I ever could of making my case for me with your Vegetative Humans = Whelks spiel…..

  • Snorri Godhi

    The random guy comes closest to my point of view. Let me point out that very early fetuses not only do not have a brain, they do not even have a nervous system: brain dead people at least have a spinal cord. You do have to believe in souls to believe that killing such fetuses is murder; and mind you, i’d like to believe we have an immortal soul, but i do not think this belief is a solid basis for government.

    After the fetus acquires a functioning nervous system, yes, there is a slippery slope as to when a fetus acquires “rights” (in the same sense as “animal rights”). I favor the concept that killing, say, a 4 month old fetus is not as much of a crime as killing a 5 month old fetus; and not even as much of a crime as killing a gestated human with the same mental abilities as a 4 month old fetus.

    However i cannot say that i have devoted much thought to this issue. What concerns me more are more mundane issues: are taxpayers going to be forced to pay for abortions even if they object to it? and why can’t the issue of abortion be decided democratically, and at the State level, in the US?

  • a_random_guy

    Dagny put it rather more succinctly than I did, but that is essentially what I meant.

    The acquaintance of mine who, following a heart attack, was entirely brain dead: despite his DNA and bodily shape, he was no longer human. Any pretense otherwise would have brought him no benefit and other people much pain. I assert much the same for the child I mentioned: if essentially nothing more than the brain stem is functioning, what the child is no different from the acquaintance I mentioned. I understand that others may differ, but that is my considered opinion.

    If you can accept that a reasonable person may consider the two cases above as undeserving of rights, then we have defined the extreme end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, there is no bright, clear line delineating these two cases from ordinary people, but rather a large and murky zone of everything in between. A brain stem plus a few cells in the visual cortex? What if half the brain stem is dead, but some other part of the brain is functioning? Murky, murky…

    I do not wish to take a position on this gray zone; I simply wish to point out its existence. My reason for this is the earlier discussion of the rights of foetuses, where several people were trying to paint a black-and-white picture. I think a discussion of what makes a particular group of cells – be they a foetus or a brain-dead adult – deserving of full human rights is too important a discussion to solve with black-and-white answers.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    The acquaintance of mine who, following a heart attack, was entirely brain dead: despite his DNA and bodily shape, he was no longer human

    Where do you get that from? By the sounds of things he had gone from being a human being without severe brain damage, to a human being with severe brain damage.

    There is nothing inherant in critical injury that causes you to cease being a human being.

    You appear to be using the word human in your own personal sense, defined by a person’s capacities, and once they fall bellow a certain level you seem to feel at liberty to apply that most chilling of labels to them – that of the unperson.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    The acquaintance of mine who, following a heart attack, was entirely brain dead: despite his DNA and bodily shape, he was no longer human.

    Interesting assertion. Just one question. Who gets do decide if he passes his human being test? Can I administer your test or is their some collective you propose to administer human being tests? Because I lean heavily towards the idea that humanness is embodied in reciprocity. I respect the rights and representatives of anybody with human DNA who (either directly or through their representative) respects “as human” others with human DNA. It ties in closely with generally accepted use of the term “inhuman” to describe certain behaviors. You kind of flunk that test. Of course, so do philosophical collectivists but I don’t have a real problem with that. They are also “inhuman”.

  • dagny taggart

    rights are derived from self ownership

    I totally agree. And self ownership is derived from having the capacity to act rationally and morally –
    self ownership is synonomous with moral agency. Consequently a foetus, an animal or a vegetable cannot ‘own itself’ and thus has no rights.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    So let me ask you this Dagny. Let’s say I’m on my way home and I find you lying injurred in the street. I’m an amateur neurologist and administer an on the spot cognitive fuction test, and conclude you no longer have the capacity to act either rationally or morally.

    Can I do whatever I please to you, since clearly all of your rights have suddenly evaporated?

  • Jacob

    Take another case that I know of: a foetus was diagnosed as brain-dead or brain-damaged, in the womb. The doctors said to the mother that she was not in any kind of danger, but the baby, which probably could be born alive, will be totally limited, have a vegetative existence, and will live no more than a few moths or years. They recommended an abortion. Would “pro-lifers” agree ?
    Here you have that grey-zone.
    What about foetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome (like Sarah Palin’s)? These, of course, are special cases. I think the parents should be allowed to decide without the all-pervasive state breathing ominously on their backs.

    Rights are a social construct. They are meant to protect a person against others, especially against the government.

    Mid proposed we leave the matter to the states. Fine. Does that not imply that if only a state were to decide to permit abortions and not the federal gov. you would accept it? How does that change the moral dilema?

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Doctors are frequently wrong Jacob.

    And what is it specifically about downs that suddenly makes a person unworthy of life?

    You know for folk who are supposed to be concerned about the rights of the individual there seems to be a helluva lot of people you want to exclude from their protection.

  • a_random_guy

    @Jaded: Yes, I used the term “human” in a particular way, which you correctly understood: the person I knew and respected was gone. There remained a body that happened to still have a beating heart. This body was no longer human in any meaningful way.

    You don’t understand how I can say that. I do not understand those who could say otherwise, given the burden that places on family, friends and society. So we will just have to disagree.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    My proposal to leave it to the states is a legal, not moral opinion. The US Constitution does not address the issue. They clearly could have as the dynamics were already well known at that time. Therefore, they clearly intended it to fall under the 9th and 10th Amendments.

    That also allows me to choose a state that most reflects my values.

    Speaking to the moral question, this thread is the most honest discussion of “humanness” that I have encountered. It does not surprise me that it occurs on Samizdata. The question I haven’t seen answered (I might have missed it, though) is who is the proposed governing authority to judge humanness? What bothers me are not the arguments for the rights of the mother. That is something that definitely merits advocacy. I believe that if somebody is threatening your life your have a right to kill them in self defense so it is not a human taking the life of another human that I make a blanket objection to. It is human beings taking it upon themselves to declare who is and who isn’t human. Who is and who isn’t entitled to recognition and due process. That whole chain of logic has been used to justify slavery, genocide, eugenics and many other evils.

    I do not stipulate that all beings with human DNA have a right to life. What I do stipulate is that all beings with human DNA are human.

    My understanding is that Camille Paglia, a most interesting philosopher, holds that life begins at conception but right to life begins later. I would very much like to see her thoughts explained if anyone has a link.

    The idea of “experts” standing in judgement of who gets to be called “human”, extending or withholding all of the rights and liberties that derive from humanness, horrifies me. It cannot end well and never has. If two different sets of parental DNA create new DNA, they have created a new human being. There can be no harm in allowing that new human being (or vegetative human being) to be represented in its own self defense.

  • dagny taggart

    whether a foetus is a ‘human’ or not is not really important, and of course a human in a vegetative state is still a human. Rights are not a physical property of human beings. They aren’t encoded in your DNA, rooted in your hair follicles, or readable via an iris-scanner. It is not a beings ‘humanness’ that grants him rights, it is his individual capacity for moral and rational agency.

    Rights pertain to individuals, not groups. They derive from the basic nature of each individual human.

  • Julie near Chicago


    It is not a beings ‘humanness’ that grants him rights, it is his individual capacity for moral and rational agency.

    Do you intend the word “capacity” to include potential or only actual capability? Because if the latter, then there is nothing morally objectionable in killing newborns, 6-month-olds, or even toddlers, if (as seems the case) they have not yet developed to the point of being able to conceive of morality as such; rather, they learn “must/mustn’t/may” as associated with certain specific acts, but not the various linkages and relationships, that is the reasons, that make an act moral or immoral. They are not yet, presumably, capable of forming the concept of “morality.” Nor do they have a fully-developed capability of acting on moral choices. Nor are they (apparently) able to engage in abstract reasoning. I say, kill ’em all! Then we can have a bonfire with beer, roast kid, and afterwards, toasted marshmallows.

    Also, there’s the other end of the spectrum. What about people who have advanced Alzheimer’s? To the point that they function perhaps at the level of a four-or-five-year-old, but with poorer memory? Do they understand a moral code?

    Some of them are as young as 40, not that it matters.

    Which leads us to Mid’s latest issue:

    The question I haven’t seen answered …. is who is the proposed governing authority to judge humanness?

    Mid, Mid, Mid. C’mon, you know the answer. The “authority”/board/”death panel” (“There! I said it!”) will be headed up by Dr. Zeke, the Sith’s medical advisor (if he still is, and whatever the exact title) and Dr. Peter Singer, who knows that earthworms and vipers have rights which should allow them to take humans, who have none, to court.

    In particular, Dr. Zeke (Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., brother to Hatchetface, a.k.a. Mayor Rahm-bo) feels that since humans reach their prime of mental and physical capabilities around age 25, and after only a few years commence to decline (baseball players are an anomaly, I guess), the bulk of society’s resources (definitely including tax dollars) should go to seeing that only the most likely persons under age 25 should be recipients of the best care, and if not above average should probably be put to sleep. Similarly, once a person has begun his decline–I’d suggest age 30 to be on the safe side; dunno what Dr. Zeke thinks, but he doesn’t give people all that long–there’s no reason to waste resources on him.

    He actually did write a paper (at least one) on this, although I don’t have the reference. Search startpage.com or ixquick.com if have the interest and the stomach.

  • Plamus


    What kind of deity wannabe appoints it self to judge whether my cousin is “human”?

    The concept of representative guardianship is at least as old as humanity itself.

    The fundamental question is ‘does any human have the right to administer skills test to others for the right to exist?’. The answer is of course ‘No!’ I lack sufficient survival skills to represent myself in court. Are we to declare a world were only lawyers are “human”?


    Who gets do decide if he passes his human being test?

    Mid, in the case of the pregnant mother – is she not the guardian? If she decides “abort”, are you not the one who claims the deity position by saying “I know better than you what’s in the best interest of the child”? Are you personally (definitely not “us society as a whole”) ready to assume guardianship of that child if you claim the mother is doing a bad job of it? In the case of your relative, are you personally willing to support his required care out of your pocket (possibly shared with other relatives – that’s perfectly fine, voluntary association and all that jazz)? Pardon the perhaps unnecessarily snappy quip, but I’d guess you are not running an institution funded by yourself that accepts abandoned babies and severely handicapped adults for full care. If that is so, are you laying a claim on my resources to support your own beliefs?

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    I do not claim to know what is in the best interest of the child. I only claim the child is a human being and entitled to be treated as one. I’ve made clear multiple times and ways that humanness, right to life, and we can add “best interest”, are separate questions. I am not even certain that dependents have any claim at all against those they depend on. But I am certain that they are human and entitled to representation and habeas corpus.

    I can easily imagine a demented person, perhaps a stroke victim, who made no provision for their care and nobody comes forward to provide it. The question I am addressing is, by what process is their life terminated? They are human. I would hope that advocates come forward to represent them. I certainly presume they would. I would, have and probably will again speak and act in defense of those who cannot speak for themselves. But if no means can be found for their care, then nobody may morally be compelled to provide it. I’ve made clear in many threads these last few days that I reject force based demands. But regardless of the decision reached after due process of law, at all times the person remains a human being with full right of representation and protection of laws.

    I am always suspicious when people insist on conflating several separate questions into a single yes/no question. There is no honest reason to do so. There is no honest reason to resist dividing the question. Address the elements one at a time and if the end result is the same, then okay. The questions are, first, are we talking about a human being? Second, is this human being capable of advocating for their own interest? If not, is there somebody/organization willing to advocate for them? Are there any formal or implied contracts applicable? Etc. There is never an honest reason for avoiding questions and honest answers broken into the smallest increments possible.

    My aunt spent the better part of 30 years planning her son’s care. I don’t know the arrangements. I do not support socialized care but I absolutely reject skills tests as a basis for providing it. Either everybody gets it or nobody gets it. All skills tests to receive socialized benefits result in the situation that Julie described so colorfully.

    but I’d guess you are not running an institution funded by yourself that accepts {…} severely handicapped adults for full care.

    My personal friends will know why I highlighted this passage. I’ll leave it at that.

  • Plamus

    I only claim the child is a human being and entitled to be treated as one.

    By whom? Okay, granted, I am an abominable person, but I do not wish to pay for this child’s treatment “as a human being” – will you hold the gun to my head (to go back to the original example)? Or will you pay yourself? Do not forget, there are hundreds of millions of them right at this moment that you are not paying for.

    I do not support socialized care but I absolutely reject skills tests as a basis for providing it. Either everybody gets it or nobody gets it. All skills tests to receive socialized benefits result in the situation that Julie described so colorfully.

    I am with you on this. My question is: do you support skill tests for NON-socialized care? And if not, are you willing to personally provide care in ALL cases that might fail such a test?

    To make an illustrative example: imagine your cousin’s care costs $10mln/year (or, since I do not know how wealthy your “clan” is, any amount that you and your kin clearly cannot provide. What is your solution then?

  • Richard Thomas

    I think there is too much focus on “what is” in some of these arguments. I think random guy touched on, then dismissed the “potential” thing but I think that it is very important. If you kill me, it is not the fact that I am dead that is at issue so much as the future life you have denied me. If it is “the capacity to act rationally and morally” that defines my rights as a human being, may you then drug me to temporarily remove that capacity then take my life and it not be murder? zygotes, embryos, foetuses, babies, toddlers, the mentally damaged and sleeping people, it is about life *going forward*. The human that is to be, should their development continue unmolested, is clearly (to me) initiated when random chance brings one particular sperm together with one particular egg. That thread of humanity with one end anchored in the combination of DNA and the other in the cessation of essential bodily functions.

    So then we come to obligations. The right to life is, in truth, the right not to be killed, not the right not to die. My own belief here lies along the lines of Jaded and Lee. If you opened the door and let the guest in, you have obligations. Rape and medical necessity clearly make the exception here. This also applies in the case of those in a vegetative state or similar. When the machine is switched off or feeding stopped, the choice is not to kill but not to continue to support. Obligations are a little more tricky here and I won’t dig into those.

    As to the climbers of the original story? They chose to climb didn’t they? Though I think the driver was reprehensible and I have little doubt that I would also follow Natalie’s suggested course of action (transgress then make reparations), the whole bloody thing is pretty much on their own heads.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)


    By courts of law. By the same means that you are treated as a human being. Who pays for you to be treated as a human being? Can I just unilaterally declare you “inhuman” and abrogate your rights? I suspect you are conflating multiple questions. In this case, I think you are reading a lot more into “being treated as a human being” than being treated as a human being. But if the conversation can benefit for clarification of terminology we may and probably will find we are not as far apart as it sometimes seems.

    I am with you on this. My question is: do you support skill tests for NON-socialized care? And if not, are you willing to personally provide care in ALL cases that might fail such a test?

    This makes no sense. I think there is some confusion on terminology. Non-socialized care is covered by whatever contracts (insurance, for fee, etc) apply. See the example of the stroke victim. The stroke victim is entitled to have their situation and preparations examined and represented by any willing representative. I’m sure their insurance company would love to say “they aren’t human anymore” and unilaterally abrogate their contracts. I’m sure some heirs might be eager to claim money set aside for care by saying “but he isn’t human anymore.” But the stroke victim is entitled to habeas corpus through a representative. If the stroke victim set up a fund or purchased insurance for their care, then the contract must be honored even if it takes a volunteer to come forward and advocate on their behalf. Ordinarily they would have assigned a lawyer for that but on thinking about it (and observing some unfortunate situations) I think if any third party wants to advocate for someone, they must be allowed to. I truly believe there will be no shortage of volunteers. There may even be waiting lists of people willing to help.

    There was a time when people looked out for each other and a common thought was “There but for the grace of God go I” and “one day that could be me.” Socialism has nearly destroyed that but I have a lot more confidence in the character of individuals than I do in the character of collectives. I think we will return to that mindset after the present socialist mess implodes but the transition may be ugly for a while.

    My opinion on my cousin’s care is that everybody is entitled to the same care so long as socialism exists in any form. Means and skills testing is a carefully planned and advanced step toward totalitarian collectivism. My aunt had to work in the situation as it is, not as it ought to be. She was very careful in her choice of guardians, I do know that.

  • Plamus

    Mid, I think we may not be too far apart either – my questions were set up in a hypothetical libertarian world, and you are answering in the world we live in. I’ll take the blame for this, since I joined the discussion late.

    If we were to revisit your aunt’s (and I admire her dedication) situation in a world without socialized care… then what? You do not provide care and the unfortunate one dies, or you provide care and you go broke, and they die again, but maybe other family members die too? I have all the sympathy for the world of “There but for the grace of God go I”… but that was a much poorer world where a) a LOT of people died no matter what, and b) people were not individuals – they were defined by the communities they lived in. If you were a relatively rich community, you could afford the luxury (and a luxury it was) to provide for widows and orphans. If you were not, they went first. It’s true, you can afford to take care of your cousin, and hat off to you. Can you afford to do it for every child in Africa and India, especially since your attempt creates an incentive to make more of them? It sucks to be in that position, but you have to perform triage – the kid in Uganda goes, my cousin lives. The moment you did that, consciously or (more likely) unconsciously, you admitted some human beings are less worthy than others, because you share genes with ones, and not with the others, no? The food that goes to your cousin could probably sustain 5 children in Ethiopia. Let’s face it – the whole “human life is invaluable” trope is… crap. Human life is priced every day, in terms of other human lives. By keeping your cousin alive, you (and your aunt) have declared many other humans not worthy of life. I am not blaming you for it; in fact, I am all for it, but… how can you claim a random fetus must live rather than die if you are not willing to let your cousin die for that cause?

  • Plamus

    Richard Thomas:

    If you opened the door and let the guest in, you have obligations.

    True, but… it’s exactly those obligations you will not dig into (and I cannot blame you for it) that get tricky. Girl says “yes” in the heat of the moment, gets pregnant, has obligations, cannot fulfill them… now what? Indentured servitude would take care of it, but we are SO civilized and cannot have it, so… is it now MY obligation? What did I do wrong to deserve the “honor”? And is her child more worthy of life than 5 children in Africa (or – yes, I am a monster – my early retirement or my vacation in the Turks and Caicos)?

  • Jacob

    “The idea of “experts” standing in judgement…”

    It’s not “experts”. It’s the mother that carries the foetus in the womb who does the judging.

    On the contrary, you want to impose on her the judgement of “experts” (lawyers, judges, whatever). The argument about who is “human”, as an abstract concept, is irrelevant. The question is – how, and by whom, do you resolve actual cases. The question is also about the mother’s rights, and life, and a trade-off or conflict between mother’s rights and foetus rights. You seem to forget there is a problem at all, a conflict of rights, and the mother has rights too.

    In the case of the Down child: you wish to have the “experts” impose on the mother the terrible burden of caring for it, which might ruin the mothers life. Or, alternatively, if the mother is incapable, you want to impose the burden on whom? On “society”?? On other people? By what right?

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’ll leave it at this I think. Consider the following.

    Human beings have rights. To kill a human being without provocation is murder and is undesirable.

    If a foetus does not qualify as a human, and yet we treat it as such, this mean unwilling but healthy mothers have to endure 9 months of discomfort and inconvenience before the next opportunity of unloading the child will present itself.

    However, if a foetus does qualify as a human and yet we treat it as if it is not, then we will have permitted an act of murder to take place through the act of abortion.

    Acting in the circumstances where we are actually right has essentially no penalty, but the relative weightings of the consequences of being wrong are decidely uneven. The consequences of assuming foetuses to be inhuman and being wrong are much more severe than the consequences of assuming them to be human and being wrong.

    Given that the question of the humanity of foetuses is philosophical and inherantly ambiguous this means we must perform a cost-benefit analysis, weigting our preferential outcomes accordingly. Because of the consequences of being wrong about a foetuses humanity, before other data has been introduced the decision tree should be heavily weighted in favour of not aborting at the outset.

    Within the context of a property rights argument, the mother’s property rights over her own body come into conflict with the property rights of her baby over its body. Now since the baby cannot be considered an aggressor, responding with deadly force is not immediately justifiable. Abritration is usually considered the fair dispute resolution process in no-fault conflicts. Since the mother is one of the parties in the dispute, she cannot represent the foetus. And as I previously hinted, in bog standard pregnancy the least bad option in terms of outcomes for both parties is the completion of the pregnancy followed by immediate adoption.

    However, it is also worth mentioning that part of the reason that emotions run high on the pro abortion side (the reasons for the antis being obvious) is that it is not just about abortion. Abortion is a key component of a sociological construct that people of a particular political bent value greatly. If it is undermined, the whole will begin to crumble. Abortion was first popularised in the USSR, where it was used to reinforce the idea that men and women are not just equal, but also equivalent and interchangeable. If abortion ceases to be readily available, this decidely Marxist idea will be under threat. The threat itself does not just come from the lack of available of abortion, but from the consequences of not aborting itself.

    It is well known that if a women carries a pregancy to term, whether wanted or unwanted, then most healthy women will tend to bond with their baby. By the end of the pregnancy she will have gone from not wanting the baby to wanting it. If this happens, the pro-abortion agenda of the Mathusians, the Eugenicists and the Social Marxists will have been completely undermined. Accordingly, it is critical that they persuade mothers to undertake abortion at a stage when they are still persuadable.

  • Mr Ed

    In the rabbit, a starving pregnant doe may simply abort and absorb an unborn foetus with the effect of preserving the life of the mother and this has the effect of giving the mother valuable nutrients a second shot at a successful partum in better times. From the biological point of view, the future viable mother is worth more than the offspring taking the view of the species as a whole.

    If the continued pregnancy would kill the mother, the defence of necessity is available under common law in England and Wales to a criminal charge that might otherwise arise from termination. That to me seems indisputably correct. Hard cases reveal bad law, they do not make it.

    JV is quite right that the political debate on abortion runs under the shadow of the Death Cult of Socialism.

  • Jacob

    “JV is quite right that the political debate on abortion runs under the shadow of the Death Cult of Socialism.”

    And the other side is also right that the debate on abortion runs under the shadow of religion and superstition.

    So, it’s a draw…

  • Paul Marks

    Ah these religious folk, such as Thomas Aquinas or John Adams, so ignorant and stupid……… babies do not reason, neither do adults when they are asleep.

    Of course some atheists also have a problem with abortion – such as the late Christopher Hitchens (a leftist) and Simon Heffer (who is not a lefist).

    More interestingly (for the present purpose) Sam Bowman may NOT be the knee jerk P.C. person he appeared to be. Certain of his “tweets” indicate that he may actually be Pro Life himself – which would mean I was wrong in thinking the baby was just a dishonest metaphore.

    I still hold him to be wrong – but I may have to repent of thinking him dishonest.

  • Jacob

    I have a healthy respect for religion, but I don’t share all it’s premises.

    If you tell me: “this is so because Religion says so”, I’ll answer: I need more reasons.
    The “pro life” position is mainly driven by religious beleifs and it’s residuals. This, in itself, doesn’t prove it is wrong. It’s just an observation, to counter the claim of “death cult of socialism”.

  • Midwesterner


    This is what trusts and guardianships are for. And for the utterly indigent, I’m old enough to remember an orphanage. One of my parents very best friends, the picture of he and his wife is still on the fridge because it always have been, was raised in an orphanage. While I obviously don’t remember it from the time their friend was there, it still existed in my childhood as an old fashioned orphanage. It was entirely supported by volunteers and contributions. It still exists and, being in that paradise of political virtue better known as ‘Chicago’, it has probably had to adapt quite a bit from its original model to be allowed to continue. But their mission statement is worth noting – “Strengthening families to care for children and caring for children when families cannot.”

    We are not defined by the communities we live in, we define the communities we live in. I suspect Paul Marks and others think I am an “atomistic” individualist because of the way I continually return to that condition as a fundamental requirement for civil association. I am not. I am a social individualist. There are two ways we can survive in the face of the state of nature; as collectives or as cooperatives. It should be pretty clear by my presence here which one I choose. In a cooperative we seek out and associate with people who share our values. The people on this site who have declared how they would shun the person who left an injured stranger to die are not joking. Just because they would not violently force the person to act morally by their own code, they will still judge and treat that person to the extent they can. There are a people on this planet that I would do absolutely nothing to assist because of their character and how they have treated others. I will help people to genuine need to the extent I can and associate with others who share that value. Simple question, if you were the injured stranger, who would you prefer to take your chances with, the average commenter at HuffPo, Salon, DailyKos etc or the average commenter here?

    I reject utilitarian arguments on moral grounds but an observation is in order. Compare societies with absolute protections of individual life, liberty and property. Now compare it to societies run for “the greater good”. Where are the children and elderly dying and where do they live in well fed safety? If you were utterly destitute, would you go to a resource rich collectivist state or a resource poor state that respects and protects individual life, liberty and property? Even if I had no property and was too disabled to work, I would choose the society the respects the individual. The people who build those societies are better human beings.

    All I can do is try to make the society I live in one that respects the individual and cares for non-productive members. I’ve said it in other threads but this is a good time to point something out again. Julie has already touched on it in this thread. Collectivism is morally compelled to utilize resources efficiently, “for the greater good”. Collectivism is morally compelled to remove resource from unproductive members and redistribute it to productive members. The only, the only kind of society where it is morally permissible to ‘squander’ resources on the helpless and useless is a society where each person is entitled to utilize their own life, liberty and property by their own moral code.

  • mose jefferson

    Plamus, your concept of guardian rights is questionable, and your arguement amounts to a matter of convenience.
    I’m still waiting for a humane reason to deny humanity to certain humans.
    I’m also wondering how many comments this thread can hold!

  • Midwesterner

    Girl says “yes” in the heat of the moment, gets pregnant, has obligations, cannot fulfill them… now what?

    ‘Scuse me? Ain’t there an accidental daddy involved as well? Allowing an emotional waiver from the facts of nature seems a rather dangerous practice. It isn’t unheard of and murderers have had sentences reduced because they acted in the heat of passion. There are other less extreme examples no doubt.

    Engaging in reckless behavior, whether drunk driving, texting while driving, unprotected sex, it doesn’t matter, the consequences don’t make exceptions. There is an anti-drunk driving ad on the TV here currently where the drunk driver’s buddy is dying in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and the drunk driver says “we were only buzzed”. The medic says “Really? In that case he’ll be fine.”.

    Back to your hypothetical, throughout history there have been societies where the mothers you describe were cared for to term and the child went to an adopting home. Resist the urge to forget the father but there is a problem in the present law. If the father is to have responsibilities, then he also has rights. If he can be compelled to support a child because the mother wants to keep it, then he must also have the option of keeping it, regardless of what you think of abortion.

  • Alastair James

    If people don’t mind I would quite like to change the subject slightly. The only conclusion I think we can all agree on is that we don’t agree on this very emotive subject! As a minimal statist I can see a democratic mechanism which passes laws on the subjects of abortion, euthanasia, rights of the severely mentally impaired, etc. I would be very interested to know how those anarcho-capitalists on the site, who believe that law can be generated privately with no state involvement at all, believe that these issues would be addressed in their world given the very strong differences of opinion on these subjects.

  • Jacob

    “each person is entitled to utilize their own life, liberty and property by their own moral code.”

    That goes without saying.

    Now, what about that mother?

  • Midwesterner


    I lean strongly toward philosophical anarchism although the best I hope for is a return to the US Constitution.

    In an anarchic society, everything is by voluntary association. I would/will seek reciprocal rights contracts with others. The reciprocity will extend to mutual defense so the restraints on members that I will demand in order to join are going to be rigorous.

    The difference between anarchy and minarchy is quite simple. In a minarchy, there is one constitution/contract that binds everyone. In an anarchy, there are competing constitutions/contracts. Various constitutional contracts will have lesser levels of reciprocity between each other.

    Let’s say you belong to reciprocity contract ‘A’ and I belong to reciprocity contract ‘B’. The level of reciprocity between two members of my contract might extend into details of intellectual property or many other areas were there are gradations that can’t be avoided. My group might declare 25 year copyrights and yours might declare 50 year copyrights and our two associations might compromise to recognize each others copyrights for 35 years. If some association decided it wasn’t going to recognize any copyrights at all, they might find themselves completely without reciprocity from any other organizations.

    In an anarchy, there would be nothing to prevent you from joining multiple contracts unless one of them specifically prohibited it. If one contract association went completely off the rails in an anarchy, other contracts would fill into the void. If contract ‘C’ had gone utterly bonkers, they might be boycotted by members of other contracts to the point that there was no point in joining it.

    The reason I don’t like minarchy is because it can be captured. The US Constitution is a minarchist contract. It allows its member states to do mostly as they see fit. It was usurped by a national authority that calls itself ‘federal’ even though there is little federal about it. It was captured by special interests. In an anarchy, those special interests would be denied the power of compulsion against members of other contracts and there association would soon become a weak niche or disappear entirely.

    Up the thread (this one or another?) somebody mentioned Bismarck and power to act. It is through association we gain the power to act and to resist outside force. Without any association at all, a person is in an unprotected state of nature. In an anarchy we would join the association(s) that most closely reflect our choices, our associations would ally on looser terms with associations that most closely reflect their choices, etc. It would be much like Canada and the US share many things, differ on many things and negotiate the differences. The difference in an anarchy is that one or the other would not be granted a monopoly on people based on where they live.

    The sole difference as I see between minarchy and anarchy is whether one association has a binding monopoly on membership. An anarchic system would be tiered degrees of agreement. I consider monopoly power to be more dangerous that the confusion that will be caused by competition. Others think differently. Until we can experiment it is all just opinions. 🙂

  • Mr Ed

    @ Jacob, socialism is a religion without a God, the State having taken the place of a God. The death is either the treatment for opponents, (for the more hurried Socialists), or the consequence for many as the chickens come home to roost.

    ‘Der Staat ist Gott’ – Hegel.

    ‘L’état? c’est moi.’ Louis XIV.

  • Alastair James

    Midwest I get all that but how does it work with abortion. If you consider abortion murder and join a society of the like minded and I don’t consider it to be such and join a society of my coopinionists then when one of my societies members has an abortion do you expect your society to seek to arrest my friend and mine to defend her?

  • Midwesterner

    You had to suspect this was coming. The market will decide. Some associations will prosper and some will not. I no more propose waging war on other associations than on other countries. I don’t live my values as well as I’d like, but I try. I seek the company and association of people with whom I share the most values. Not surprisingly (this is a libertarianish website) some of the people I find the most general agreement with, disagree with me on this point. I hope to persuade people and am doing what I can here. In an anarchic system of associations, I will probably seek associations that do not enter into any reciprocal obligation to defend yours. Nobody should be compelled to defend something they think is wrong. But nothing more than that. I don’t propose anything more than market pressure and where available, rational discussion.

    Any society that claims the right to sit in judgement of who is human and who, though possessing human DNA, is not human, is in defiance of the laws of nature. Many societies have tried that in various rationalizations in the past and it has never turned out well.

    I reject utilitarian justifications, but I think pinning the gauge up against the non-aggression end of the scale, combined with reciprocal defense of those who share that value, will yield the strongest society/association.

    One parting thought, as I think this thread is winding down, rational beings grow, develop and change their minds about things. Sometimes when I come across comments of mine from years ago, I realize that the discussions on Samizdata combined with more thought on various matters, has lead me to make substantial changes in what I believe or, in Samizdata jargon, my meta-context, the assumptions I make when I don’t know I am making them. Anyone who stands firm on what they believe is not rational, they are doctrinal. Either you look for answers to the questions you have or questions to the answers you have. Anyone who puts the questions first is going to grow and change. But it is usually a slow process and I never expect anybody to have any epiphanies while I am debating them.

  • Plamus


    I hope to persuade people and am doing what I can here. In an anarchic system of associations, I will probably seek associations that do not enter into any reciprocal obligation to defend yours. Nobody should be compelled to defend something they think is wrong. But nothing more than that. I don’t propose anything more than market pressure and where available, rational discussion.

    I am okay with that that. As long as you choose only to disassociate with me for practicing my beliefs (which you do not share), and/or try to convince me to change my mind, we have no quarrel. Sadly, in modern society, we do not have an anarchic system of free association, and it’s the “pro-life” side that sometimes and some places goes on to try to ban abortion, which is a no-no in my book – your values, not mine. To note, I find it no less objectionable when, for example, the federal government forces private hospitals to offer abortions, or pharmacists to sell birth control. Like you, I want the market to sort the issues – and we’re both SOL. Free association is so passé, n’est-ce pas?

  • Paul Marks

    Jacob the idea that religous people just say “God said no – so it is no” is a parody.

    It is an extreme form of Calvinism (“theological moral voluntarism” – with good and evil being defined simply as the will, whims, of God).

    Historically (and unsurprisingly) this form of religion tends (over the generations) to collapse into no religion at all.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Jacob, 4/23 at 3:27 pm, thus:

    ‘“each person is entitled to utilize their own life, liberty and property by their own moral code.”

    ‘That goes without saying.

    ‘Now, what about that mother?’

    I believe that libertarians do not extend the stated principle so far as to allow the person to use his or her life, liberty, and property to commit murder.

    There’s this thing called “the Non-Aggression Principle,” see. 😉

  • Dale Amon

    Or use a similar scenario to the original one. A baby is drowning. You are its mother and cannot swim. A healthy able bodied person refuses to go in to save your child.
    You have a hidden carry permit. You *will* take out your gun and say “Save my baby asshole!” There are some parts of the human psyche that simply trump all else.

  • Paul Marks

    Juile – have you not heard? The Non-Aggression Principle is old hat now.

    The old version of the “Libertarian Left” (Kevin Carson and co) claimed to be believe in it – but the new left do not even pretend to believe in “NAP” (they openly sneer at it – alothough they reverse themselves if anyone takes them up on their challenge, in practice).

    What will the new version of “libertarianism” be like?

    Ask the Chicago Machine – they have been practicing it for years…..

    Although, you know all of the above.

    And (Dale please note) these people do NOT care about babies.

  • Jacob

    “Jacob the idea that religous people just say “God said no – so it is no” is a parody.”

    Well, no, it’s not a parody.
    Most religious people beleive in what their rabi, or their pope, tells them that God decreed.

    As to the non religious – seems to me, this extremist anti abortion stance is somehow an inheritance from religious ideas, even if inheritted unconsciously.

    To Julie:
    “the Non-Aggression Principle,” see [hated emoticon]”.

    How does the Non-Aggresion Principle allow you to interfere in what a woman does to herself?

    As I said, it’s either a foetus or a baby. There is no rational way to end this debate. Each one feels the way he feels. Repeating 7 times: “a foetus is a baby” or “the mother’s rights do not matter” doesn’t make it so.

  • Jacob

    I hasten to add that ideas inheritted fro religious ideas aren’t necessarily wrong.

  • dustydog

    Non-aggression policy and everything-is-voluntary allows for slavery. If I have 5 slaves that I rape and abuse, what’s it to you? What is your moral basis for interfering with my relationship with my slaves? [Posit that we are the same race, and the slaves are another race, so you wouldn’t have a justification by claiming that you were protecting yourself from possible enslavement.] What is your moral basis for stopping evil that doesn’t hurt you?

    If everything-is-voluntary holds, then you have no basis for objecting to theft. I want your car, you weren’t there when I stole it, what’s the problem? You want to use force to take back what’s yours?! Sure, I harmed you by stealing, but that’s in the past. Try to persuade me to give back your stuff, see how well that works without the threat of violence to back you up.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I’m not sure we were discussing “third-party aggression,” Jacob. I thought we were discussing whether a mother has a theoretical right to abort.

    However, I’m not aware of anything in libertarian theory that prevents a third party from stepping in to defend one party from being murdered by another. (Although every once in awhile somebody brings it up.)

    I don’t know where you live, but if, say, you personally like walking in Central Park at night, would you mind terribly if I happen to shoot somebody proposing to shoot you–you personally–before he happens to hit you?

  • Midwesterner


    Like most of the regulars here, I support the individual right to Life, liberty and property. Theft is aggression. I will defend my property and I will reclaim it. I have no problem meeting violence with violence, and if necessary I can be persuasive. It is initiating violence against an innocent person that violates the non-aggression principle. Resisting violence by whatever means necessary is a good thing. Cooperative victims who could resist but do not are contributors to violence. I’m not Amish.

  • Midwesterner

    Also, you will know if you follow this blog that I am a strong advocate for reciprocity of both the positive and negative varieties. I seek and support alliances with people who agree with me on reciprocity and non-aggression. If you have slaves, that is an act of extreme aggression so I have no moral restraints on my interactions with you. Your former slaves will probably make pretty strong allies once their liberty is secured.

  • Paul Marks

    Jacob – I have little idea what “most” religous people believe.

    However, I was a bit over-the-top when I dismissed the position as extreme Cavlinism.

    It might be better described as the conflict between stressing the importance of the REASON of God (Thomas Aquinas and co) against stressing the WILL of God (William of Ockham and others).

    It is interesting that, inspite of their hostility to Catholics, the Founders of the United States were very much in the “Reason” camp (against the “Will” camp).