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In Germany, they are only obeying orders…

Or perhaps issuing them, as, if reports are true, an unfortunate German woman has found. After 23 years of renting her apartment off the state, in the form of the municipality, Frau Gabrielle Keller is the second German woman who has been told to leave her apartment by the end of the year, reportedly to make way for refugees.

If true, this would be a salutary lesson in life. The words of Dido’s song, Life for Rent, spring to mind (albeit I think the song in point is more about commitment to a relationship).

If my life is for rent, and I don’t learn to buy, well I deserve nothing more than I get, ‘cos nothing I have is truly mine.“.

And look at the lives and effort Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris put into dehousing Germans in WW2, only for them to do it to themselves in peacetime.

Of course, there are lessons here.

1. Private ownership of property (real or otherwise) is the bedrock of civilised life.
2. The State (in any form) is a bad servant and a worse master.
3. If you do have private property, it should be inalienable except in satisfaction of a debt, or by voluntary exchange or gift.

I suspect some form of ’eminent domain’ will probably end up being used in Germany and elsewhere to achieve the State’s desired results in any event, if not on this pretext, on some other. This is not just an issue in Germany, but is a tale re-told across the world, where political convenience leads to particularly cruel acts of government. And of course, the legal position is presumably that a person who occupies a property in Germany as a tenant may be given notice to leave for any reason or no reason whatsoever (unless, of course, discrimination is involved).

The political ramifications of the crisis appear to be that the ‘Ossis’ (the former East Germans and their offspring) now distrust the Kanzerlerin Dr Merkel more than the ‘Wessis’, the former West Germans, per the article.

Only 24 per cent of those polled in the former East named Mrs Merkel as the politician they trust most, down from 32 per cent just a month ago, the survey for the Insa Institute found.
But in the former West, 33 per cent named Mrs Merkel – up from 31 per cent in August.
The West’s larger population means that nationally support for the Chancellor remains strong.

Not that this decision could be put directly at the door of one of the few West Germans to emigrate to East Germany (albeit as an infant), but this is on her watch.

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101 comments to In Germany, they are only obeying orders…

  • Tom

    They may not often need to use eminent domain (American term) or compulsory purchase (English) as in many cases the local authority has a preemption right (rarely exercised historically but now suddenly very useful) on *every* sale. It therefore shouldn’t be much of a problem for the German state to acquire more housing from the private sector for refugees. Germany is the most civilised nation in Europe culturally and its people are immunised to most political nastiness by their history but its legal system is profoundly statist as can hardly be avoided when the state is the fount and origin of all law.

  • Paul Marks

    One of the disturbing aspects of this is that support for the Chancellor of Germany is still “strong” in the western parts of the country.

    After 70 years of whipping themselves over the mass murder of Jews, “liberal” Germany has got itself into the paradoxical mental position of thinking it is turning away from its Nazi past by importing people (the “refugees” – or at least manyt of them) who want to crush what few Jews that are left.

    And their intentions towards Christians are much the same as their intentions towards Jews – although they are not as open in their hatred for Christians as they are in their hatred for the “Zionists” or “Money Jews”.

    When the numbers shift – things will come out into the open.

    However, BEWARE OF FALSE FRIENDS.

    To some people “on the right” – what matters is not the ideas (the beliefs) of the tide of people, but their ethnic group.

    Racism, racism, racism.

    It is no argument to keep someone out that they are different “race” (the “Germany for the Germans” “Scotland for the Scots” “England for the English” stuff) – and many of these people are not really a different “race” anyway.

    There is no reason why a Christian Syrian might not respect the freedom of others – including the freedom to change religions or “insult the prophet”.

    For example the people of Malta are no “darker” than most of the people of Syria.

    What matters is the beliefs (the principles) of human beings.

    Not their freaking skin colour.

  • Paul Marks

    Tom – as you know all law is statist now.

    The Roman Law countries obviously so – and the German Code of 1900 is (although they passionately deny it) really from Roman Law.

    But the Common Law nations also.

    The days of Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke or Chief Justice Sir John Holt are long over.

    These days Parliament can do anything it likes (because Sir William Blackstone said so).

    And “judge made law”?

    That is only as good as the judges are. As good as their understanding of basic legal principles are.

    Look at, for example, American judges since the corruption of the Harvard Law School in the early 1900s.

    F.A. Hayek was mistaken – freedom does not just happen, people have to understand the principles of freedom and MAKE it happen (every day).

    There is no substitute for knowledge of the principles of freedom (the basic principles of property rights justice) and making a choice to do other than we do.

    To do other than our countries have been doing for more than a century.

  • A.C.

    I’m a little confused — maybe “rent” means something different in U.K. vs. U.S. usage? In the U.S. usage, when one rents an apartment, it is a month-to-month arrangement, conveying no property ownership right.

  • Paul Marks

    By “Roman Law” I mean the Imperial codes – that was revived in early modern Europe.

    Not the old judge made law of the Republic – the effort to apply the universal principles of justice (not the 12 tables) to individual cases – the law the Romans developed to deal with aliens in the marketplace and ended up using themselves.

    For example (to return to Imperial “Roman Law”) its doctrines that the ruler (or rulers) is the source of law (the end point of that evilness is Thomas Hobbes) and that the common good (not individual property rights) are what law is about.

    Hence “common carriers” and “public accommodations”.

    The idea that trade is a social act – a matter for the state.

    Remember, even to a liberal such as J.S. Mill economic freedom (the freedom of a butcher or a baker) is NOT under the “simple principle” of liberty.

    That is NOT the view of the old Common Law.

    Indeed to the Common Law there is no such person as a “butcher” or a “baker”.

    There is just a person selling a piece of meat, who may (or may not) also sell a loaf of bread.

    No “caste” and no “public concern”.

    That is the point of Dr Bonham’s case.

    The Common Law understands no such “crime” as practicing a trade without a bit of paper called a “licence”. How is that an aggression? Who is the victim of this “crime”?

    But that was the old Common Law – modern judges would probably laugh at Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke or Chief Justice Sir John Holt – he of 1688 and all that.

  • Chip

    Germany needs to prove its break with anti-Semitism and intolerance by embracing people whose belief system is anti-Semitic and intolerant.

  • John Galt III

    The Jews will never be forgiven for Auschwitz.

  • The real lesson here OUGHT to be that incentives are misaligned in democracy.

    A key to durable and secure property rights over the long run is that political sovereignty is invested in said property rights. This is more the exception than the rule in democracy for obvious reasons. In any case, this is not an argument for monarchy necessarily, but rather an argument for political sovereignty to be synonymous in meaning with political ownership and that legal ownership can only ever operate within the political framework – not above or beyond it. Some reactionaries achieve this by formalism; others with monarchy.

    “Every man’s home is his castle” – a fine notion and perhaps this ought to be true, but few things in life are as consistently and fully false across times, across cultures, across regions as this claim.

  • Mr Ed,

    2. The State (in any form) is a bad servant and a worse master.

    It can be difficult to differentiate what is from what ought to be.

    The State is always the master. When RECOGNIZED as such, it tends to tread a bit more softly on its subjects.

    This is because as sin begets sin so does disorder beget disorder and claiming that the State is anything but the terrible, sovereign master that it is is a lie. How is a lie disorderly?

    The first casualty of war is truth and disorder is war writ large. Hence, in claiming that the government is a servant man effectively and unknowingly declares war on the State. And by the way, for every action there does tend to be a reaction.

  • Pardone

    As if anyone can afford to own their own home in the UK. The concept of being wealthy enough to own property is rather a fantasy for most in Britain.

  • Laird

    Um, did anyone actually read the article? “The flat belongs to the local municipality.” So she doesn’t own the property; she’s merely a tenant, and her landlord (the actual owner of the property) has decided to terminate her lease. Big deal. Assuming that the lease terms were observed (i.e., it is being terminated at expiration, or it’s a month-to-month or at-will tenancy and the proper notice was given), what is there to object about? A property owner should be able to do whatever he chooses with his property, and if that means putting in a new tenant who (for whatever reason) he deems more desirable, that is his right. The mere fact that she has lived there for a long time doesn’t give her any possessory rights to the property.

    For reasons sufficient unto themselves, the German government has decided to open its figurative doors to a large number of Syrian refugees. These people have to live somewhere (a shipping container won’t do long-term), and the town is probably going to put an entire family into a flat previously occupied (as far as I can tell) by just this one woman. That seems to be a reasonable decision, under all the circumstances, and since it is their property it’s their right to do so.

    Why would a libertarian complain about a property owner exercising his lawful rights over that property?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Good posting, Mr Ed, thanks.

    Also thanks to the Sage of Kettering for his comments.

    Somewhere recently I read that the origin of the English Common Law was German common law. ???

    [This is not the way the Great Foot tells it, by the way. Relying on the Encyclopædia Britannica and the BBC (per Footnote 7), the article on Common Law states that

    Common law originated during the Middle Ages in England,[7]…. ]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law%5D

    I am not going to get started on that Universe-class abomination, ‘Eminent Domain.’

    May the originators of this foul doctrine (whatever the locals call it) and all its supporters past present and future reside in a quite warm place invented and populated by the Dark Side of The Force, and administered by a particularly evil caste of Sith, whose taste for and efficacy at providing the maximum of physical and psychological pain rises to the most outstanding level.

    (Full disclosure: There is one, one, circumstance where I keep hopping back and forth from one side of the fence to the other, and that is the case of defense during wartime. In this way I keep my legs flexible and my glutei maximi in reasonably good working order.)

  • Lee Moore

    I’m afraid I don’t see how a society can get by without eminent domain or compulsory purchase. Roads, ports, airports and all that swaddling can’t realistically be done without. It’s a nice idea that an eccentric old b****r could block a new motorway by refusing to sell his field, at whatever price, but only so long as you don’t mind sitting in a traffic jam on the old road until he dies. I think this is where high church libertarian doctrine parts company with reality.

    If one accepts that eminent domain / compulsory purchase is a necessary evil, the problem becomes minimising the incentives to abuse it. Two rules – that :

    (a) compensation is to be higher than market value, say, 150% of appraised market value, and
    (b) the appraising is to be done by a tribunal elected by, say, freeholders rather than the hoi polloi

    should limit the worst abuses.

    (a) would discourage the government from moving in on your land unless they thought they had a pretty good reason and
    (b) would limit their scope for cheating on the valuation

    I might add a third rule – that a disposal by eminent domain or compulsory purchase should be exempt from tax – to prevent the government recouping its costs by taxing the dispossessed owner.

    Of course the chances of any government introducing any of these rules are zero, zero and zero respectively.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, according to libertarians “the municipality” is not properly a “property owner” in the first place; it is merely an administrator or manager of the property, engaged to act in the owners’ interest, like any other rental agency hired to manage a landlord’s rentals.

    Rightly speaking, it is the citizens of the municipality who own the flat and who ought to have the say over whom to accept as a tenant. The municipal government properly acts only as an administrator or manager of the property, according to the citizens’ wishes. In this case it sounds as if the locals generally don’t particularly want Mrs. Keller evicted.

  • Andrew

    It’s a nice idea that an eccentric old b****r could block a new motorway by refusing to sell his field, at whatever price, but only so long as you don’t mind sitting in a traffic jam on the old road until he dies. I think this is where high church libertarian doctrine parts company with reality.

    So the choice is between sitting in traffic or using violence against peaceful people?

    No wonder you wish to sneer at those of us who’ll take the traffic. Although it is amusing that you’ve immediately gone to the lefty stand-by of trying to label those who disagree as religious in their beliefs.

    Your choice is rooted in your philosophy every bit as much as ours is.

  • Shlomo,

    You surely know that originally, voting rights in the United States were limited to those with not insubstantial amounts of property. The tide of populism washed those limits away before too long.

    The trouble with formalism etc. is encapsulated in North/Wallis/Weingast, Violence and Social Orders. Property rights need to be aligned not merely with political sovereignty per se, but with the particular ability to wield violence. At the moment, it is easier than ever before for the common man to do a tremendous amount of damage; and with drones etc., the ability of the individual to cause havoc will only increase. A political scheme that tries to reverse the diffusion of political power, as the various neoreactionary schemes do, will fail.

    I would suggest to you that a more profitable field of study would be the Torah’s periodic resetting of (some specific zero-sum) property rights, via shmitta and yovel (Sabbatical and Jubilee years).

  • Julie near Chicago

    I disagree, Lee. I think the real problem is first to convince people who share your opinion and are used to the present order, that a more moral system could work out fine. And then, in the admittedly unlikely event that you come to the Light *g*, to solve the problem of how to get there from here, if it’s possible to do so at all short of divine intervention such as the Asteroid arriving to urge us to mend our ways.

    In fact, of course, many roads and such have not been run by governments. Both animals and people break trail, and in due course the trails become paths and then sometimes tracks or roads, kept up by the people who live along them or by others whom they or the traffic using the roads pay.

    That’s exactly the way it went originally in the U.S. and, I think, elsewhere.

    In the first place, E.D. is immoral as it constitutes theft: The taking of property without the owner’s willing consent (not mere acquiescence). Some people do consent on condition of sale at a fair (i.e. going) market price; to some people, it’s not the money, it’s that it’s their home, or some other piece of property valued by them in such a way that money is no reimbursement.

    And for some, it’s simply the principle of the thing.

    To allow legal theft is to render the very concept of “property” — of proper ownership — empty and the word meaningless.

    And as is usual when the cure is worse than the (alleged) disease, down the road you have a legal system which doesn’t recognize property rights in the first place.

    Your suggestions seem pretty good as far as they go, if one believes the world will fall off its axis if we don’t have legalized theft; but there’s another factor, which is that too often it’s not those who profit from the theft who bear the costs.

    A case in point:

    My former home is in one of the Far Western Suburbs. The north-south state highway near my home, which when we bought our house was a rural 2-lane highway with very little traffic, has been widened to four lanes and become a major north-south artery.

    At one time there was a plan afoot to construct a superhighway or expressway 1/2 mile to the west of it. The plan was that the new road would pass through our house, literally, as well as those of various others.

    I’m glad that didn’t happen; instead, they widened the old road, to the chagrin of the farmers and the few others who lived in the area. But, make no mistake: I was at the town meeting discussing the plan, and of course some of the attendees were vocal supporters. I registered a strong dissent. (Nobody at any point, as far as I know, asked us and our neighbours our opinion of the proposed new expressway. Somehow the plan just disappeared.)

    But, here’s the thing. I recently reconnected with an old geezer who was a classmate of mine in high school, and who now lives about 10 miles northwest of my former home. The road in question now is State Rt. 47, which runs right past his place, in what was a tiny farming town 25 years ago and is now an up-and-coming Far Far Western Suburb, with another like it perhaps 8 or 10 miles south. There was for a long time talk of building an expressway from a rural town far to our south which would become the home of a southern version of O’Hare Intl. Airport, at least to Frank’s hometown (more expressways already connect it with O’Hare, though with a couple of jogs).

    This road would be built partly over an existing lovely country road, but mostly through beautiful countryside and through people’s farms.

    Naturally, the people along the proposed route have been mostly much against the idea, as have I. (It would pass 15 or so miles to my west, I think.)

    But here is what Frank said: “I wish they would build that road. Rt. 47 has so much traffic, and lots of it is truck traffic, and I don’t want all that going past my house all the time.”

    Frank is a nice guy, and very very far from stupid (one of my class’s academic stars in fact), and salt-of-the-earth and honest-as-the-day-is-long…. But he doesn’t see that the farmers over the hill have just as much right to their property in the condition they prefer as he does to his, ditto.

    Now. If that road is built, Frank’s taxes probably will go up, minutely, to pay for it, insofar as I suppose the State of Illinois will provide part of the funds. So, of course, will the people whose land was stolen from them unless they move out of state. But the point is, I think there will be no downside financially as perceived by Frank and the others like him. Also, I daresay somehow there would be Federal funds involved, which means the road would (on paper, with brain disengaged) cost Frank & neighbours even less.

    What’s not to like? …

    How are you going to get those who profit (not necessarily financially) from the theft of or damage to other people’s property under E.D. to bear the financial costs of whatever the excuse for the Taking is?

  • Lee Moore

    I’m afraid, Julie, I think taxes – another form of legalised theft – are necessary too.

    I quite understand that property is not just a matter of money – if it were there’d be no need for eminent domain, because the owner would always be willing to take a reasonable financial price. But there’s more to life than money. Perhaps I’ve spent a very long time creating a lovely garden – and I might be unwilling to see it destroyed for any money. Well maybe a couple of million pounds. But maybe nobody else in the world values it at more than 100,000 pounds. Voluntary deals only happen when the buyer’s maximum price exceeds the seller’s minimum price. If it doesn’t there’s no deal. And normally that should be the end of the matter. But are there any exceptions to “normally” ?

    So the question is – is it always and necessarily wrong to compel peaceful non violent people to part with their property ? And if you think the answer is yes – including taxes – then fine, we will just have to agree to differ.

  • Mastiff,

    Thanks for the reply. Good stuff.

    The trouble with formalism etc. is encapsulated in North/Wallis/Weingast, Violence and Social Orders.

    I’ve never read it, but it’s on the reading list now.

    Property rights need to be aligned not merely with political sovereignty per se, but with the particular ability to wield violence.

    Agreed – and that’s what I meant by “political sovereignty to be synonymous in meaning with political ownership”.

    At the moment, it is easier than ever before for the common man to do a tremendous amount of damage; and with drones etc., the ability of the individual to cause havoc will only increase.

    Well, measured absolutely, yes the individual common man is ever-more capable of dealing damage based primarily on the ever-increasing capacity of technology to enable him to do so.

    I’d contend, however, that this is an incorrect method of measure. A more telling measure would be weighing the relative capacity of a common man to deal damage relative to the collective state power’s to do so. In the age of the musket individuals were capable of banding together and wrecking havoc if they so chose; these days, what with Apache helicopters at the disposal of the state, that’s not exactly an option.

    Basically: Shay’s Rebellion can’t happen these days. We get the Tea Party instead.

    A political scheme that tries to reverse the diffusion of political power, as the various neoreactionary schemes do, will fail.

    Eh, what diffusion of power? I could argue that power in the Western world is actually quite concentrated in some ways, though if you mean that we can’t put the 1789 toothpaste back into the container then, well, yup.

    Regardless, though, I agree that the schemes of the neo-reactionaries will come to nothing. The disorder wrought by time is inherent, after all.

    I would suggest to you that a more profitable field of study would be the Torah’s periodic resetting of (some specific zero-sum) property rights, via shmitta and yovel (Sabbatical and Jubilee years).

    Could you point me in the right direction to learn more about this please? Any books you could recommend? I’d be very grateful.

  • Mr Ed

    A.C.

    In the U.S. usage, when one rents an apartment, it is a month-to-month arrangement, conveying no property ownership right.

    Certainly in England and Wales, the law on renting now provides for little security of tenure, generally a tenant can be evicted with a court order in a costly and laborious process, but before the late 1980s, there was considerable protection for tenants that made some tenancies effectively life-long, provided that the rent was paid. As for the situation in Germany, it may vary between the Länder (States), but I doubt that it is easy for a private landlord to recover a rented property.

    Here is a BBC piece about rent controls in Berlin, which hints that rent caps will be coming to Germany.

    Encouragingly, the article even contains a nod to the laws of economics, after the usual agitprop for rent controls:

    In June alone, the first month after the law came into effect, Berlin rents fell by 3%.
    Social mix
    “In some areas you really need that: for example in Munich, where people are not able to pay those prices. There you have a Paris or London effect where nobody lives close to the city centre. We don’t want that in Germany,” says Mr Hebecker.
    According to Wibke Werner, from Berlin’s tenant association, the law is popular because Germans see how unaffordable renting has become in other Western cities.
    “London shows what happens if you don’t find a legal way to cap rents. It gets more and more expensive so that in the end only rich people can live in the centre of the city. But maybe we’ll have a chance to save the social mix.”

    But lawyer Carsten Bruekner disagrees.
    He runs an organisation for property owners, Haus und Grund, and says that the law makes renting out flats financially unviable.
    Owners will simply sell rather then rent out flats, so in the long term the law could lead to less rental accommodation on the market.
    Small investors will be hit hardest, he argues, because the legal level set by local authorities is below market value, and often much less than the mortgage that an individual buy-to-let investor may have taken on.
    Florian was unable to get the flat he wanted despite, or maybe even because of, the new rent controls.
    When he mentioned to the landlord that the rent was almost 20% above the legal limit he was suddenly told the flat was no longer available.
    That is because, although rents are capped, tenants can waive their new rights and accept a higher rent. And that is what is happening.
    As a result many say that there is only one real long-term solution to rising rents: to build more flats.

    Laird:

    since it is their property it’s their right to do so.

    Why would a libertarian complain about a property owner exercising his lawful rights over that property?

    As has been pointed out, the property owner is the municipality, which gains property and maintains itself by taxation or theft, so it is not a legitimate property owner. Also, it may well be that the incumbent is presumably paying rent out of her own income, whereas in all likelihood the new tenants would be State funded at least for a while, so the municipality is ‘rent-seeking’. It is also making a decision that may be based on direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of national origin, which may, on its own terms, be unlawful, but that is to burn out the Devil with fire.

    The lesson here is that the State owning ‘social’ housing does not provide security for its tenants, and would a private landlord have been any unkinder to this tenant?

  • Andrew Duffin

    Well I guess it’s only a matter of time before we ALL have to vacate our entire countries to make way for refugees – given the number of potential such (millions if not 10’s of millions) and the unwillingness of the political class to stand up for us in any way shape or form.

    So the Germans are just a bit ahead of the curve, that’s all.

    Nothing to see really, move along.

  • Snorri Godhi

    My perspective on this is heavily biased by the experience of my grandfather, who lost a substantial amount of agricultural land when Mussolini decided to spread the wealth around. I was not yet alive then, as you might have guessed, but i have been thinking about it and have come to the following conclusions:
    * he was lucky to be in Italy rather than the Soviet Union, because he kept some land, his house, and his life, and was even given some compensation;
    * the State has effective ownership of all real estate, whether you like it or not (and i don’t like it anymore than Perry dH does): you have property rights on real estate only to the extent that the State is effectively constrained in the exercise of its power;
    * hence you should invest in real estate only as much money as you can afford to lose if TSHTF.

    Another way of putting it is that Frau Keller is lucky: she could have been evicted from her own apartment.

    Also, i have to agree with Laird: you can reasonably argue that the government (city gov in this case) should not own housing, but i don’t see how you can argue that tenants should never be evicted from government-owned housing: that’s a bit like saying that government employees should never be fired. Nor is it feasible to have a referendum every time a tenant is to be evicted from public housing, as Julie implies.

  • CaptDMO

    Here’s the funny part. Award winning economists in (ie) the US refer to folks who go into loan debt with Gub’mint controlled (FDIC/Operation Choke Point) banks for 15-30 years as home OWNERS in their charts and such.
    On top of that, dreams of “Make big money with NO MONEY DOWN on installation of “green”, gub’mint subsidized solar electric panels on your roof” often include an ADDITIONAL 20 (or so)year lien on the ENTIRE property.
    Apparently, the financial penalties for paying off the notes AHEAD of time can be severe as well.
    Home “owners” indeed!
    At one point, repossession was a sport, for those stalking NINJa (No Income, No Job, No money down) gub’mint “protected” loan obligees. (obligitors? suckers?)

  • In this case, the municipality appears to be invoking a piece of law that allows a property owner to evict a tenant so that they can move into the property themselves. Given that the municipality is not a person and cannot move in, there is scope for a legal challenge. I would. Play the buggers at their own game. Bedsides, rented or owned, kicking someone out of their home and making them homeless in order to import other people is the greater sin. Not least, as already mentioned by Paul – they come from a culture ideologically opposed to those of Europe. It can only end in tears.

  • The lesson here is that the State owning ‘social’ housing does not provide security for its tenants, and would a private landlord have been any unkinder to this tenant?

    Given that she was – it appears – paying out of her own income for over two decades, she was a good client, so a private landlord would have reliable income from her. You don’t, if you want to stay in business, piss off paying clients.

  • Mr Ed

    Is this not an example of ‘ethnic cleansing’?

    Were it so, does that matter (on these facts)?

  • Incunabulum

    If true, I fail to see how this is going to solve their problem. All it does is change the skin color of the people sleeping in the stadium.

    It *is*, however, just another reason why state ownership of housing stock (especially as widespread as it is in Europe) is idiotic.

  • Laird

    Julie and Mr Ed both take issue with my earlier comment, Julie on the basis that the municipality isn’t really the “owner” but is merely the manager of property actually “owned” by the citizens of the community, and Mr Ed on the basis that the municipality is not a legitimate owner since it originally acquired the property through some species of theft (either eminent domain or taxes). I find neither argument persuasive.

    The municipality is a corporate entity, recognized under the law as a fictitious “person” for certain legal purposes among which is the ownership of property. It has a species of fiduciary duty to the citizens (and especially to the taxpayers), but it is very much the owner of the property and as such has every right to manage as it sees fit. If the citizens don’t like the way it is conducting its affairs they have every right to throw out the current management at the next election, but they have no right to meddle in its daily operations. This is very similar to a business corporation: the shareholders elect the directors, who are responsible (through the management they select) for its daily operations, but they don’t get a vote on every routine corporate decision. As to Mr Ed’s point, while we can agree that it is unwise for governments to be in the business of owning and leasing apartments, and we can have a fine debate about the morality of taxation, the fact remains that the municipality does own the flat and has every legal and moral right to manage it as it deems best.

    The German government, by choosing to admit large numbers of refugees and depositing them in towns across the country, has put this municipality into a difficult spot, a situation clearly not of its own making. It is doing the best it can under the circumstances. I find no fault with its decision.

    A separate note: Shlomo Maistre tossed out the comment that “Shay’s [sic] Rebellion can’t happen these days. We get the Tea Party instead.” I would point out to him that Shays’ Rebellion was an utter failure in every sense of the word: it was crushed militarily, and it lead directly to strengthening the power of the central (national) government. The Tea Party movement at least succeeded in throwing out upwards of 60 Democratic congressmen and a few senators as well. Its victory certainly wasn’t complete (after all, it got us Mitch McConnell and soon-to-be-unlamented John Boehner), but it has enjoyed some notable successes (including many at the state level). And its story isn’t completely written yet, either; the ramifications of the 2010 and 2014 elections are still rippling across the political landscape (including the demise of Boehner). Don’t write them off just yet.

  • Laird,

    A separate note: Shlomo Maistre tossed out the comment that “Shay’s [sic] Rebellion can’t happen these days. We get the Tea Party instead.” I would point out to him that Shays’ Rebellion was an utter failure in every sense of the word: it was crushed militarily, and it lead directly to strengthening the power of the central (national) government.

    I never said that Shay’s rebellion was successful. I said that it happened. It’s the sort of thing that does not happen these days due to the perceived and actual distribution of power in society. Moving on.

    The Tea Party movement at least succeeded in throwing out upwards of 60 Democratic congressmen and a few senators as well.

    Gee whiz. Congrats?

    Its victory certainly wasn’t complete (after all, it got us Mitch McConnell and soon-to-be-unlamented John Boehner), but it has enjoyed some notable successes (including many at the state level).

    The Tea Party has largely failed to rein in federal government spending in any substantial way.

    And its story isn’t completely written yet, either; the ramifications of the 2010 and 2014 elections are still rippling across the political landscape (including the demise of Boehner).

    None of that “rippling” will lead to any substantive, durable policy changes.

    Don’t write them off just yet.

    The Tea Party is the sort of phenomenon that happens when liberals move the country leftwards a bit too quickly like the Reagan Revolution, Gingrich’s Contract with America.

    It’s a transient, populist, rightwing uprising that makes a lot of noise, unseats a lot of politicians, and ultimately wins no durable, long-term policy changes. It has arguably won a few minor temporary concessions, much like the Reagan Revolution & Gingrich’s Contract with America did. It will continue to subside in intensity as its supporters get on with their lives and ultimately lead to no durable policy changes to make government smaller in any substantive sense.

  • Julie near Chicago

    There is an ongoing communications problem when people say one thing and later seem to think they said something else, and when others misread a comment and then argue based on misreading. (Or, when discussing a hypothetical, people ignore the givens of the hypothetical and insert other stuff that changes its scenario.) These are both normal human faults, of course; but it’s still frustrating for all concerned.

    In particular, Laird’s comment of October 1, at 1:21 a.m., ended with this precise sentence:

    Why would a libertarian complain about a property owner exercising his lawful rights over that property?

    The thrust of this is not a question about legalities (statute laws — what the enacted law is), although the question does posit “lawful rights,” but rather about libertarian theory, wherefore my answer (at 2:26 a.m.) began:

    ‘Laird, according to libertarians “the municipality” is not properly a “property owner” in the first place….’

    which answers the question Laird asked, which is why “a libertarian” would “complain” about Mrs. Keller’s eviction. It is not an answer based on what the law is, nor is it about legal theory. It is not about the niceties nor the practical problems of drafting statute law. It is an answer to the exact question asked, and explains the fundamental problem libertarians have with this particular eviction based on libertarian views, on libertarian theory.

    I will add this so as to make it explicit: Libertarians do complain about the exercise of “rights” as written in statute law, when the law is not congruent with libertarians’ understanding of what makes a statute law acceptable. This is simply one such case.

    In short, the issue raised and the one I addressed is about theory, not about the written law either in Germany, nor in the municipality, nor anywhere else for that matter.

  • Mr Ed

    has every right to manage as it sees fit.

    Ha ha, right… pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

    It is clearly commiting indirect discrimination on the basis of national origin, and likely direct discrimination too. Have you not heard of the electricity meter case?

    https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/litigation/nikolova-v-cez-electricity

  • Mary Contrary

    Lee Moore:

    So the question is – is it always and necessarily wrong to compel peaceful non violent people to part with their property

    I tend towards yes. There may be exceptions, but none that occur to me immediately. Certainly “I would prefer to knock five minutes off my commute” doesn’t remotely qualify as a legitimate reason for turfing peaceful owners out of their homes.

    If you think that’s an acceptable reason for expropriation, well as you put it, we’ll have “to agree to disagree” as to whether you are a thuggish leech.

  • Lee Moore

    Hi Mary – the general view amongst my acquaintances is that I’m certainly a leech, but too cowardly to be thuggish.

    1. It’s not just 5 minutes off the commute though. An ideologically pure approach to property in land allows me to buy up all the land surrounding your house and imprison you there. The common law came up with rights of way to deal with this sort of thing. We do need roads, and suchlike, and it’s no good offering illustrations of how it would all work out fine if the world was still virgin.

    2. I’ll offer you a for instance since none occurs to you immediately. Suppose you, me and Julie are sitting in my living room having a friendly chat about the meaning of life, when in bursts your large, angry and genuinely thuggish ex husband intent upon throttling you. Julie has not brought her pistol and I am a convinced coward, not the sort of chap to risk myself against your assailant. On the table rests my large and very heavy teapot – slightly chipped and of no commercial value, but dear to me for sentimental family reasons. All Julie can think of in the circumstances to save you from your ex is to seize my old teapot – even as I shout “no Julie, it was my grandma’s !” – and bring it down with terrifying force on your exes head.

    Did she do wrong ? Should she have respected the sanctity of my property – even unto (your) death ?

  • Mary Contrary,

    So the question is – is it always and necessarily wrong to compel peaceful non violent people to part with their property

    I tend towards yes. There may be exceptions, but none that occur to me immediately.

    How about this.

    Bob lives in 1941 England. He is quite fond of bonfires – especially large ones visible to the Luftwaffe. Should the State/others have the right to interfere in Bob’s property rights to enhance their own security? Specifically should the government be able to dictate to Bob when he may light his bonfires given that said bonfires are liable to attract the attention of the Luftwaffe and perhaps interfere with British war strategy?

    I’d of course say yes, as I’m an evil thug, but what say you?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Lee,

    First, I’ve been wanting to say thanks for your response to me way up above. It’s always refreshing to end a civilized disagreement with an agreement to disagree and a cordial handshake. :>)

    The example you give above, about my breaking Mary’s doofus ex’s noggin with your beloved grandma’s teapot, is fraught with peril, because I just know I’ll be hitting my own self upside the chops for the rest of eternity for having destroyed your much-loved memento. Such are sometimes the wages of Doing the Right Thing.

    Still, this is ground that’s been covered several times in this parish. The most recent I can think of is Natalie’s posting “Thinking Alone on a Mountainside,” which garnered a lot of discussion and which was only a few postings after the one about the man who could not (COULD NOT, per the hypothetical, i.e. was UNABLE to) save the baby drowning in the puddle, and asked whether he was in the right to haul out his firearm (or crossbow, I suppose) and extort some perfect stranger passing by to Rescue That Kid Or Else!

    The answer that Natalie and I and some others agreed on (in the discussion of her posting) was that forcing the stranger to help her friend who needed rescuing was indeed a violation of the stranger’s rights, and that rightly or wrongly we would do it and then offer ourselves up for whatever punishment the stranger wished to execute (although I would add, within the bounds of proportionality — which issue may not have been explored at the time). Such would also be my answer to the Baby Question (as specifically stated in the posting), and, alas, in the case of Grandma’s Teapot.

    Now if you want a really interesting case to discuss, suppose it’s not Mary who’s about to leave this mortal realm, but someone all right- (or correct-) thinking people hate and despise, like Shrill or Moobelle. Am I in the wrong to forgo saving the former from WJC (who may or may not remember to be Charming) or the latter from the Sith, given that I value you rather more than either Demon Spawness?

    My sympathies in that case would certainly be with you, your Grandma, and the Teapot, but we all do things in the heat of the moment that we later regret bitterly….

  • Julie near Chicago

    Actually, the reason why this sort of thing is an issue (and I include Shlomo’s point about not imprisoning a guy on his own land) is that libertarianism is about principles involved in living in society, and political — i.e., legal — principles in particular.

    Principles for living are principles of one sort of engineering: the methods and techniques by which one may maximize whatever one values most, and the principles that most in the society believe work best to that end (and remembering that what one guy values most, or thinks he does, may not be what some other person values most (or thinks he does). Libertarianism in and of itself does not rest on one particular theory of ethics, still less of morals; it is applied ethics, as engineering is applied physics.

    (Libertarianism is a branch of applied philosophy, and as such it is looking for a philosophical foundation. For me, the socio-political fact of primary importance about human beings is that the individual is an end in himself; his moral importance does not rest on anything but the fact that he is a human being. But not every libertarian sees things that way, so a lot of our more philosophical discussions here are part of that search, I think. And that is what I find so valuable about Samizdata.)

    Now, one of the problems presented in any engineering project is that of coming as close as possible to achieving different goals, or perhaps I should say “sub-goals,” as in the case of building a bridge, where the primary goal is to build a structure by means of which people can cross the river, but somewhat conflicting sub-goals may be that the bridge must be strong against weight, stresses and strains; it must use the most durable and safest materials; it must be easy and safe to use (an icy rope-bridge across a crevasse is maybe not the ideal here); and one would prefer that it be good-looking.

    The bridge-designer’s job is to come as close as possible to achieving this different goals, and in doing so he will always be forced to make tradeoffs.

    Doctors the same… the Doc judges that he can’t cure the patient of cancer except by poisoning him, which is NOT good for the patient; it’s just that failing to do it is even worse for the patient.

    Breaking Grandma’s teapot to save Mary is indeed an illegitimate act; and libertarianism as such does not require that I save Mary regardless of the cost to Lee or his property, or indeed to myself directly. It would be my moral sense that requires that of me. Think of me as both the doctor and the patient…as the doctor, I know that busting the teapot is not good for me (being against my dearly-held principle of respect for others’ property rights), but I also know that letting Mary be murdered is the worse evil and as such is even worse for me; so, acting as the Patient’s (my) therapist after the fact, I counsel restitution to Lee in whatever form he will accept it; such (proportional) punishment by Lee as he wishes to exact; and self-forgiveness (if I seem in need of it) for having prevented the greater evil.

    So, Life is an engineering discipline: There are always trade-offs.™ And as Libertarianism proposes principles for living (in society), it is an engineering discipline and libertarians will sometimes be faced with making trade-offs. So, like the doctor with the cancer patient, I sacrifice Lee’s teapot to save Mary’s life; and I do require that there be some reasonable (i.e. relatively easy) means of exit from and return to his own property for the landowner.

    This last is a compromise, and frankly I do not do compromise. Except, of course, that I do do compromise, all the time, in the sense of giving up something I value for something I value even more, which is required of all of us who live in society.

    I don’t like it, I mostly rail against it, I am quite sure that we can live together successfully with a whole lot more respect for people’s rights in property and in self-determination than what we presently have; but there are some points where principles of applied disciplines come into conflict, and it’s no good pretending they don’t.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Which brings me back to Lee’s comment above regarding taxes (3:49 a.m.). In the real world of today, taxes are a fact of life. That”s been the case, I guess, at most times and places throughout human history. (I can imagine tribal societies or small multi-tribal societies that don’t have taxes as such, though I can’t point to any examples.)

    But I don’t see why it’s not possible to dispense with taxes, given the right outlook by the government and the governed and the resulting ways of doing things, including writing the laws. I won’t go over it again here, but while it’s certainly not feasible in today’s climate, I don’t see why we can’t work to bring about a time when it IS feasible, and then to bring it into reality.

    I’m also trying to think through a system of voluntary taxation that I have in mind, but it’s not soup yet. Of course, like just about everything else, I’m sure others have gotten there long before me. :>)

  • Laird

    Julie, fair enough; I did gloss over your answer to my question. And perhaps my original question wasn’t very well phrased, because you certainly seem to be a libertarian and the answer apparently satisfies you. However, you are not all libertarians, nor can speak for all of them (a rather diverse tribe). And your answer does not suffice for the subset of libertarians (of which I consider myself a member) who are minarchists, not anarchists. If one accepts the necessity (and legitimacy) of some minimal amount of government, it is not inconceivable that one also accepts the propriety of such government “owning” property. And I do.

    Mr Ed, why on earth would you expect that I would have heard of an obscure Bulgarian electric meter case, and of what relevance is that to this discussion anyway? The instant case does not involve “discrimination on the basis of national origin” (direct or otherwise); it’s merely the municipality attempting to deal with a large influx of destitute people requiring housing. The origin of the refugees is irrelevant. I’m sure if they were all refugees from elsewhere in Germany (following some sort of natural disaster, perhaps) the result would have been the same. Again, it’s a situation where the municipality is doing its best, within the confines of the law, to deal with a bad hand which someone else dealt to it. You don’t like their decision; fine. I think it was entirely rational under the circumstances.

  • and I include Shlomo’s point about not imprisoning a guy on his own land

    I don’t recall saying anything to that effect.

    My point with regards to Bob the bonfire-lover is that his bonfire-making activities should perhaps be strictly regulated in 1941 England for reasonable fear of the Luftwaffe’s bomber division.

  • PapayaSF

    Paul Marks: Your point about the German paradox made me think of it as a bit of stand-up: “Back when Hitler was in power, Germany hated and killed Jews. That was a long time ago, though. Germans of today don’t do that any more. Today, they just bring in guest workers and refugees who hate and kill Jews.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fine, Laird; I think another cordial handshake is in order here. :>)

    I certainly don’t claim to speak for all libertarians, let alone all who call themselves “libertarians.” (Snark!) Nor, she said gently, does Laird speak for all minarchist libertarians, as I am one myself and on this particular issue (instant case and, more importantly in one way at least, the sort of situation it represents) we disagree. I do think, however, that I am far from the only libertarian in my view of the matter.

    Anyhow, I would dearly love to be an anarchist, but I’m not because I just don’t see how it’s on the menu. I think it’s the nature of humans to come together in groups of various sorts, and for those groups to include some who for one reason or another emerge as leaders and then as figures who set rules for the whole group. I think this happens naturally, as a matter of course, though in any given case the process may involve considerable artifice; but such a process there will be.

    Except in the case of profound social upheaval, such as might occur during a war or revolution, or in the case of a natural mega-disaster where the whole society is cut loose from its moorings, so to speak. And there, the anarchic phase it seems to me would prove highly unstable and would wind down as people came together in groups to help each other out, and generally to defend themselves and each other, and to cope.

    . . .

    Shlomo, my apologies. It was Lee Moore who wrote, at 1:07 a.m. on October 2,

    An ideologically pure approach to property in land allows me to buy up all the land surrounding your house and imprison you there.

    But as to Bob and his bonfire in the midst of a wartime blackout, it’s another difficult instance (assuming, to make the thing marginally less problematical, that Bob’s country is not the aggressor in the war). To be painfully honest, I wouldn’t blame the polity nor its agent, The Government, from giving Bob one fair warning and a not-too-immense fine, and if he did it again, hanging him by his toenails over a daytime bonfire on a desert island. This assuming that the government isn’t more than usually daft, and is not intent on repressing or terrorizing or, in short, victimizing its own people.

    As for my original conundrum about E.D. during wartime, it seems to me a case where compromise might be the lesser of the available evils. When I was little, during WW II, my best friend’s dad had to sell their farm to the government because they wanted a very, very large acreage for the storage of ordnance among other things. But the farmers whose land was bought were promised they could buy it back at the same price when the war was over, and the government kept its word, and she and her family moved back to the farm that had already been in their family for generations.

    That seems to me like a reasonable compromise … but I absolutely hate the facts of life that make such things necessary, or seemingly necessary.

  • Mr Ed

    The answer to Bob and his bonfire is to shoot him, or if circumstances permit, put him on trial for treason (or if that does not exist as an offence), deprive him of his property for aiding the enemy and/or reckless endangerment of others.

    If you say, ‘Oh but that would violate his property rights’ I say ‘So what? He is a threat to others lives and is aiding and abetting murder’.

    If you believe that your property rights would extend to practising bomb disposal on live 1,000 lb bombs in your flat, then you really are just in an infantile disorder phase of libertarianism and should stop acting like a 13-year old and grow up (or if you are 13, wait a while), and that is that.

  • Paul Marks

    Well S.M. is saying (as usual) that the state is best limited by submitting totally to despotic power.

    That view makes no sense – and it is offensive.

    One either stands with such things as the Bill of Rights or one stands with a despotic government – and if one stands with the latter one has no business here.

    So that is enough about S.M.

  • Paul Marks

    Chip is correct – and put it much better than I did.

    Germany is trying to break with its anti-Semitic and despotic past …… by encouraging the entry of people who are anti-Semitic and believe in an Oriental Despotism (unlimited) view of government power.

    John Galt was also correct – Jews will never be forgiven for the holocaust.

    Yesterday the Prime Minister of Israel made an impassioned plea at the United Nations to the conscience of the world against the plans of the Iranian regime to commit genocide – only Fox News (of all the international news services) really covered what he said.

    It would appear the world has no conscience.

    Julie – German law comes from the code of 1900 (and other codes) and in spite of denials that one hears from time-to-time it is really “Civil Law” in the European sense of Roman Law.

    It is not an effort, by juries and so on, to find and apply the principles of justice – if need be against the state itself.

    The idea that ordinary people are there to find what is right (what is lawful) is alien to the modern European mindset – although this was not always so.

    Sadly it is not taught in Common Law countries either.

    Such basic things that true law is NOT the “commands of the state” and that juries are there to judge LAW (not just the “facts of the case”) is alien to modern legal education.

    Law is the application to the circumstances of the individual case the general principles of justice these being – to each their own.

    The nonaggression private property rights principle. Regarding both persons and their possessions – especially their land.

    As was declared in 877 AD (as an “old right”) not even a King of France may take the land of one family and give it to another. A King who breaks such fundamental laws is no King at all – and it is the right (and the duty) of people to take up arms against them.

    People who hold that the state is unlimited (that “law” and “crime” are simply the “commands of the state”) are enemies of the West – allies of Oriental Despotism.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul Marks phrases very neatly the case against neo-monarchism.
    I think that the concept of republican freedom, as introduced by Quentin Skinner, is relevant here. For those unacquainted with it, republican freedom is the absence of potential coercion; as opposed to positive freedom sensu Berlin, which is the absence of actual coercion. What the neo-monarchists seem to be saying (and Hobbes and others before them) is that positive freedom is best achieved by demolishing republican freedom. I am sure that Shlomo will correct me if i misinterpreted.

  • Paul Marks

    As for the claim that railways (and so on) can not exist without “eminent domain”.

    The claim is false.

    For example, when the landowners of Stamford objected to the East Coast Mainline going over their land, the railway line went via Peterborough instead.

    There is no economic “need” for such powers of the state.

    The only real argument I can think of is a military one.

    For example in time of war it may be necessary to site artillery on the private property of a pacifist who does not wish this to happen.

    But this is not a special state matter.

    When the forces of evil attack one must fight against them – and one must fight to win. Otherwise the pacifist will be killed or enslaved – along with everyone else.

    The doctrine of “non-resistance” is indeed “slavish” as the Constitution of New Hampshire (1784) correctly states.

    A private “protection agency” would have to use the same harsh methods to win.

    For example Bomber Command (whom I listened to a talk about last night) did not want war – the desire of National Socialist Germany to conquer Europe (indeed the world) made war unavoidable.

    And to win that war the enemies capacity to wage war had to be destroyed.

    No one wanted the deaths of civilians and the destruction of private property, but it was the only way to destroy the war making capacity of Nazi Germany.

    Remember at the start of the bombing campaign against Germany accurate bombing was unknown – bombs fell miles away from their intended targets.

    It was after massive sacrifices of the men of Bomber Command (vast numbers giving their lives) that accuracy was improved to 70 yards.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The strange case of Mary, Julie, Lee, and his teapot immediately reminded me of related debates here, but Julie has already mentioned them and apparently she followed them longer than i did, so i won’t go into that.

    An even closer analogy, however, is to something David D. Friedman wrote in The Machinery of Freedom (first section of the extended postscript):

    Consider the following example. A madman is about to open fire on a crowd; if he does so numerous innocent people will die. The only way to prevent him is to shoot him with a rifle that is within reach of several members of the crowd. The rifle is on the private property of its legitimate owner. He is a well known misanthrope who has publicly stated on numerous occasions that he is opposed to letting anyone use his rifle without his permission, even if it would save hundreds of lives.

    The following analysis is very worth reading, as you would expect. The general conclusion from this and other examples is best expressed by this quote (which actually precedes the above example):

    The longer I have thought about these issues, the more convinced I have become that arguments about fundamental moral principles do not provide answers to enough important questions.

  • Paul Marks

    Thomas Hobbes was no more a defender of Western monarchy than Martin Luther was.

    His view of government was one of unlimited power and non resistance – that if one happened upon the forces of the state slaughtering the innocent one should do nothing to resist.

    This is a view of government akin to that of the Ottoman Empire (see Gladstone on this) not a Christian monarchy.

    Indeed Martin Luther (at least at first) advised non resistance to the Ottoman invasions of Europe.

    He might well see the present tide as just another punishment sent by God.

    Remember that Luther (like Hobbes – and the person-in-Kent) denied free will – and declared reason a “whore” (to David Hume reason was a “slave of the passions”) unable to tell moral right from moral wrong.

    Indeed to Hobbes (as for Luther) “law” is simply the commands of the ruler or the rulers – and the law of God is simply the arbitrary WILL of God. No natural law – no natural justice, no free will to choose to do what is morally right against the desire to do what is morally wrong.

    The men who fought for Charles the First (indeed Charles himself) would have rejected such Hobbesian evil just as much as the men who fought against him would have.

    Only in a degenerate age would such writers as Hobbes and Hume be taken as a guide to philosophy and law.

    Tory writers such as Dr Johnson despised Hobbes as much as Old Whig writers such as Edmund Burke despised such determinist (and justice denying) scum.

    This despotic view of God (and of the state) is that of the Ottoman Empire – and Oriental Despotism generally.

  • Paul Marks

    SG – the lesser evil.

    One takes up the rifle and one shoots the attacker.

    If the owner of the rifle wishes to sue one afterwards (for using the rifle without his permission), one accepts one’s fine without complaint.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul — Exactly.

  • Mr Ed

    He is a well known misanthrope who has publicly stated on numerous occasions that he is opposed to letting anyone use his rifle without his permission, even if it would save hundreds of lives.

    And what does the misanthrope claim is his loss? The bullet and some wear and tear on his rifle. Fine, he may be compensated, in money and with a new bullet. The trespass to his land? Fine, what is the rental value of the land (or that portion of it) that was trespassed? Let him have it (as it were) pro rata, oh 10 seconds rent for 1 square yard of residential property.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Well, looks like everybody here is ready to throw NAP out of the window when it is no longer convenient. We — or rather you — or rather Paul, Julie, and most explicitly Mr Ed — are all utilitarians now.
    To be fair, i don’t definitely remember Julie or Mr Ed taking a position on NAP or utilitarianism, but i seem to remember that Paul expressed some pretty strong opinions about utilitarianism and people who dismiss NAP.

    Julie: incidentally, i still don’t understand how you can say that the municipality has no moral/libertarian right to evict Frau Keller.

  • Mr Ed

    Snorri, are you with the Judean Popular Front or the People’s Front of Judea? 🙂

    I don’t know which post of mine you are referring to, and I assume that the NAP means the Non-Aggression Principle.

    You may not be familiar with legal doctrines and issues of implied consent and de minimis, but I fail to see where you get ‘convenient’ from, it is not an issue of convenience, it is about facts of living and survival, not infantile distinctions.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Looks like we are well past the stage of evicting tenants from housing that they do not own:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34422558
    http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/6583/germany-migrants-housing

  • Snorri Godhi

    Mr Ed, i was referring to your comment at 11:24, where you clearly expressed a utilitarian view: property rights can be violated as long as the owner is compensated for the loss at market value.
    I note that Paul mentioned a punitive “fine” to be paid, presumably in addition to compensation to the owner, so he is less utilitarian, but only slightly.

    Don’t know what you are talking about, in the paragraph about legal doctrines etc, but i can answer your question: i am with the Popular Front.

  • Mr Ed

    Snorri, that is horrific, per the BBC article.

    Hamburg’s new law is described as a temporary, emergency measure. Owners of empty commercial properties will be compensated. The law does not include residential properties.
    But the conservative opposition in the city, in the north of Germany, condemned the move.

    Am I on the only one implying a massive ‘yet’ into ‘The law does not include residential properties’? The CDU does oppose this.

    All they need now is a little fire in the Reichstag…

  • Mr Ed

    Snorri, I am only saying that if he objects to his property being violated in those circumstances, he may claim restitution for his loss as damages,, this is how the law works in many cases, until you get into Equity, the bastard father of socialism.

    I am not making arguments for utilitarianism but noting what the consequences of the actions in question are, for the ‘borrower’ of the rifle (not a thief in English law, no intention to permanently deprive the owner, except perhaps of the bullet, which might be regarded as fungible.)

    BTW you’re a splitter.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Mr Ed, yes, i am a proud splitter! and btw when i called you a utilitarian, i did not mean it as an insult: you don’t need to justify your position.
    Though i also note that i am broadly speaking a consequentialist, but definitely not a utilitarian, because i do not believe in interpersonal utility comparisons; so i do not believe that it makes sense to say that any given amount of compensation for the rifle owner is “fair”, unless he agrees that it is fair, which by hypothesis he doesn’t. I would still grab the rifle with no hesitation, but i won’t try to rationalize that the rifle owner can get fair compensation.

  • Paul Marks,

    Well S.M. is saying (as usual) that the state is best limited by submitting totally to despotic power.

    See my bonfire example.

    That view makes no sense – and it is offensive.

    One either stands with such things as the Bill of Rights or one stands with a despotic government – and if one stands with the latter one has no business here.

    If you’re not going to bother reading my posts, please don’t respond to them.

    As for having “business being here” I’ll defer to Perry de Havilland as to whether I’m no longer welcome here.

    So that is enough about S.M.

    Dismissing my posts without having read and understood them is par for you, right? Reminds me of when I ripped apart your analysis of how Germanic ideas came to England – maybe you’re still a bit sore from that reaming.

    Excellent reply to my bonfire example, by the way.

  • Dear Paul Marks,

    Remember that Luther (like Hobbes – and the person-in-Kent) denied free will – and declared reason a “whore” (to David Hume reason was a “slave of the passions”) unable to tell moral right from moral wrong.

    Indeed to Hobbes (as for Luther) “law” is simply the commands of the ruler or the rulers – and the law of God is simply the arbitrary WILL of God. No natural law – no natural justice, no free will to choose to do what is morally right against the desire to do what is morally wrong.

    LOL

    This is the best considered response I could possibly muster for such thoughts.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, I am as hard-core a libertarian as you are likely to find short of the anarchist crowd, and I explained about that above.

    (As a matter of fact I do understand many of the problems of hard libertarianism, and I can argue against the libertarian position; but that means only that I find such arguments understandable, even strong — not compelling.)

    I also explained about the difficulties involved in taking libertarianism as a foundational moral code rather than as an applied political philosophy.

    And I explained about the difficulties of holding fast to the principle of not transgressing property rights in the most extreme cases of war-time.

    Neither I nor Paul nor, I think, many others of us here are in favor of jettisoning the fundamental principle of regard for the rights of individual persons to autonomy, property, and freedom from aggression in general. “Rights,” properly speaking, only apply to individuals and not to groups qua groups, such as “society” or “the nation.” There are only the rights of the individual individuals who comprise the group. (It’s an extension of usage to talk about the “rights” of some group.)

    One protects the group as a means of protecting its members, rather than the reverse. That is the fundamental distinction between the libertarian (fundamental value: the individual) and the utilitarian (fundamental value: the group, the collective, as such).

    But these are the opposite positions of political philosophy — applied philosophy. As such, other principles come into play here and there, so that in practice a staunch utilitarian may take a seemingly-libertarian position on some particular issue (as for instance, those who argue for the free market because that most benefits “society as a whole”) and those who take a seemingly-utilitarian position on some particular issue (as for instance those who think it acceptable to accept some restrictions on property rights during wartime, on the ground that those who who do not willingly acquiesce to the special rules are going to be just as dead as everybody else if the side loses).

    The question is, which is the greater evil: For utilitarians, to allow people complete (but non-criminal) economic freedom, or to tailor the rules in an attempt to satisfy some other principle of the “collective good,” such as entitlement to food and housing and medical care? For libertarians, in wartime to require people to curtail their activities with their own property, in light of the fact that those people ARE being transgressed against by the requirement and that if their side wins they will be entitled to some sort of proportionate retribution where possible; or to honor every jot and tittle of every individuals’ property rights, even though this is, frankly, impossible in this particular case?

    [If Bob can light his big bonfire during imposed blackout, and other individuals lose their lives as a result of his not being prevented, then their rights have been transgressed. Either way, somebody is treated unjustly (in the libertarian sense).]

    Regardless of whether one is a utilitarian overall or a libertarian overall, the question one always faces is, which is the greater and which the lesser wrong?

    As far as I’m concerned, there’s no shame to being a “consequentialist” (in the lay sense anyway). Almost all human beings are consequentialists: I will do this so that will appoint, I will not do that so that the other won’t happen. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a utilitarian, a libertarian, or a sociopath who doesn’t care one way or the other.

    To fail to be a consequentialist in political and moral matters is all but impossible. (Whether one holds worthwhile opinions as to what the consequences are, is another matter.)

    And, importantly, on what moral grounds?

  • Alisa

    Excellent points, Julie. I would go further and say that not being a consequentialustmeans the same as being reckless.

  • Alisa

    Oh my, typing with one finger…

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, Alisa. 🙂

  • Thailover

    Paul Marx
    The politically right wing are racist? From everything I’ve seen, it’s the left that claim that “minorities” can’t be expected to prosper like ‘normal people’ (non-minorities). And it’s the politically right wing that suggest that being wards of the state, intentionally or unintentionally, is destructive to the individual, to families and even communities. It’s probably not a coincedence that when one thinks of “disadvantaged minorities” in America, one doesn’t think of Jews and Asians. Asians in America are actually receiving DEMERITS when attempting to gain enterance into higher quality universities due to “too much representation” already on campus. Irony of ironies.

  • Thailover

    Sorry Paul “Marks”; no smartassery on my part, just a typo.

  • Thailover

    Julie Near Chicago said,

    “I also explained about the difficulties involved in taking libertarianism as a foundational moral code rather than as an applied political philosophy.”

    Ayn Rand Objectivism. ‘Come over to the dark side. 😉

    Indeed, I too found Libertarianism rife with problems when they take freedom/liberty as an irreducible primary.

    Consider the following hypothetical.

    Bob is standing on a pier by himself. Suddenly a 9yr old girl come running up and stands near Bob. Moments later, she falls in the water. She’s splashing around, screaming for help, barely able to tread water. Bob stares at her with mild curiosity. And old woman is yelling on the shore of the other side of the lake. Bob watches the girl tread water, sometimes going under and then popping back up again. The girl begs Bob to toss the lifesaver on the post just to his left. He never moves. After five minutes, she drowns. Moments later, the police and the old woman arrive. She’s the girl’s great grandmother and 95yrs old. The old woman manages a feeble slap at Bob’s face before being led away. He barely felt it.

    There are prominent libertarian professors that would say that,

    A. The grandmother was wrong to initiate violence.

    B. It would have been wrong for the state to have laws that would force or coerce Bob into doing something against his will, as he’s not a slave to the needs or desires of others.

    I’ve read Rothbard make arguments this bad and loony.

  • Thailover

    “maybe you’re still a bit sore from that reaming.”

    Still winning friends and influencing people I see. Which do your friends enjoy more, having a beer with you or taking a hard knee to the nuts?

  • Still winning friends and influencing people I see.

    I don’t know why you are saying this to me?

    I know that my perspective on government, philosophy, religion, history, life is provocative. I don’t know how that warrants you or Paul Marks attacking me personally or slandering my style or rudely dismissing my comments without having read them.

    Which do your friends enjoy more, having a beer with you or taking a hard knee to the nuts?

    You making this personal with me just seems odd. Again, why are you even saying this?

    I can tell you it’s not easy living in the 21st century with 14th century beliefs. Thanks for making personal what I consider to be a strictly philosophical dispute – much like Paul Marks did.

    Look, I generally like to restrict my comments on Samizdata to grumpy, philosophical rants of the sort that are usually entertaining, occasionally informative, certainly provocative, but never personal. More than a couple have confessed to having learned from me.

    I don’t usually try to piss people off but Paul Marks insulted me by labeling, slandering and dismissing my comments out of hand without having read them – all without me having addressed him at all.

  • PapayaSF

    Regarding the drowning girl hypothetical: there are always purist dogmatists who will take any principle to absurdity. It reminds me of the story of Tom Hayden in his ’60s Berkeley commune, arguing that privacy was a bourgeois notion and so the Revolution required that bathroom doors never be closed. I believe that it was the women who nixed that idea.

    Using common sense and granting some extreme or edge cases is fine with me. Of course the purists will hyperventilate: “You’re not really a libertarian!” But why let the statists win a propaganda victory with a rare hypothetical? If your ideology is so rigid that you consider an expectation of common decency to be “slavery,” then you are off the rails.

    Granting that sort of rare case takes away a powerful argument against liberty in general. Now we can focus on most of the time. And most of the time, liberty works best. I just think that granting 5% makes it easier to defend the other 95%, and I think most libertarians should be happy with a 95% victory.

  • Thailover

    Pardone said,
    “The concept of being wealthy enough to own property is rather a fantasy for most in Britain.”

    There’s a reason a mortgage is a mort-gage. It’s a pledge you’ll be paying on till you’re dead.

  • Thailover

    Shlomo,

    You poor dear. So misunderstood by so many.

  • Thailover,

    To quote someone you’ll never understand:

    The limits of its knowledge are those of its nature.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thailover! Dammit, that’s the second time in the last 3 weeks that I’ve been accused of having been contaminated by Miss Rand!

    Of course (a) it happens to be true, and proud of it!, and (2) at least you are not a self-proclaimed SJW and alleged Old Friend (at least 68 years’ worth — whom I’ve known since we were in Sunday School together) who refers to me rather sneeringly as “a devotée of Ayn Rand,” and who also can’t bring himself to utter the word entrepreneur without a nasty curl of the lip and a real sneer. (I did slap his wrist over that one.)

    Well…I tried for years to be an Objectivist, but in the end I just couldn’t make the grade. I’m afraid I find the logic faulty here and there at a few points that just won’t take the strain. And frankly I was pretty put off by the authoritarian tone and the emotional blackmail. A lot of “Do it my way or you’re a Bad Person!,” and not only from Miss R. Of course it’s possible that there’s something I’m not getting, or wasn’t getting at the time. (My life as a follower began in, I think, 1963, so still heavily in the authoritarian/NBI stage of things….)

    I’m afraid I’ve never been a fan of Rothbard and his crowd in general. “Loony” is not entirely inapt. :>)

    But yes, alas, I must admit to being at the very least a fellow-traveller with the Dark Side. A tough job, but someone’s got to do it. 😉

    Nevertheless, I think she did good work and serious work, and helped a lot to move things along. I just hope the Liberty Train (and the world of ideas and conditions it carries) doesn’t run out of steam. And I do see a magnificent side to her. Wish I could have known her. And as to Libertarians of the time, “hippies of the Right” isn’t the worst of descriptions. Not, of course, to stereotype anyone.

    And I’m inclined to credit the testimony of people who say that Rothbard made up a lot of the junk he slang around about her. Some put the whole thing down to the clash of two quite large egos, and that could well be; but Rothbard was also big on for-god’s-sake Harry Elmer Barnes, which already tells us most of what we need to know. (The rest is that per Paul, Murr was quite sound on economy, and Paul’s opinion on matters economic carries quite a bit of weight with me.)

    . . .

    Is this the same Bob that Shlomo was talking about–the one who holds big bonfires at night during the mandatory blackouts of WW II (I assume)? I must say, not a very public-spirited citizen, is he.

    Well…if I follow my own rules and don’t read anything into your hypothetical that you didn’t state, I can’t say whether or not there are mitigating circumstances, such as that Bob in fact is Not There due to natural or induced mental infirmity, or because he’s one of those people who do become so lost in their own world that they’re literally oblivious of what’s going on around them, thus was actually unaware of the girl’s presence, let alone of the fact that she was drowning.

    But assuming he was perfectly aware, AND in a position to help (what if he couldn’t swim?), I don’t think I would hold Great-Grandma culpable of anything but a perfectly understandable hurt and anger.

    However, I don’t like Good Samaritan laws, so although anyone who knows Bob would be perfectly justified in ostracizing him and publicizing his failure to act, I don’t think he should be held to account legally, and certainly not as a criminal matter.

    And if I start expatiating on that now, the raccoons will have free rein in my attic for yet another day….

  • Julie near Chicago,

    Shlomo, my apologies.

    No problem

    But as to Bob and his bonfire in the midst of a wartime blackout, it’s another difficult instance (assuming, to make the thing marginally less problematical, that Bob’s country is not the aggressor in the war). To be painfully honest, I wouldn’t blame the polity nor its agent, The Government, from giving Bob one fair warning and a not-too-immense fine, and if he did it again, hanging him by his toenails over a daytime bonfire on a desert island. This assuming that the government isn’t more than usually daft, and is not intent on repressing or terrorizing or, in short, victimizing its own people.

    Well, I must confess I was hoping for something unreasonable so I could go off the deep end, but that’s a quite sensible take on the matter; fair enough.

  • Indeed to Hobbes (as for Luther) “law” is simply the commands of the ruler or the rulers – and the law of God is simply the arbitrary WILL of God. No natural law – no natural justice, no free will to choose to do what is morally right against the desire to do what is morally wrong.

    You seem to imply that there is some sort of connection between not accepting free will and belief in despotic/autocratic rule, but political philosophers to the Right of Hobbes – thinkers who in some cases actually believed in divine right hereditary monarchy – were often compatibilists on free will and determinism. So the idea that you need to NOT believe in free will to accept the law of our Creator is patently absurd. But maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re trying to say!

    In any case the idea that the “law” is not the command of rulers is funny to me. Like, for example, I think that the Constitution of the United States is (supposed to be!) the written law of the land, but it’s little consolation when a pronounces Obamacare constitutional! This is what is known as making law and it’s how ruling gets done.

    Tender reader, is law the command of rulers? Who are you going to believe – Paul Marks who says no or your lying eyes which say yes?

  • when a pronounces

    should say:

    when a SCOTUS pronounces

  • Well S.M. is saying (as usual) that the state is best limited by submitting totally to despotic power.

    That view makes no sense – and it is offensive.

    One either stands with such things as the Bill of Rights or one stands with a despotic government – and if one stands with the latter one has no business here.

    Translation: “someone disagrees with me, which is offensive so send him away from these forums! He doesn’t belong here!”

    So juvenile.

  • Laird

    Julie, as a quasi-“Randite” from circa 1963, I think you’d enjoy reading Jerome Tuccille’s “It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand“, the political memoir of someone who was there. Rothbard makes a brief appearance, too.

    Schlomo, leaving aside the apparent personal animosity between you and Paul Marks, I think you’re sort of arguing past each other. I don’t disagree (and I don’t think Paul would, either) that we are all very much being “ruled” (as opposed to merely “governed”), and that we have moved beyond the historic western conception of law as “organic” (arising slowly out of society itself) to statutory law (dictated by an authority on high). Paul is arguing philosophically, that the latter is illegitimate, a bastardizaton of what “law” actually means. You are arguing practically, that the reality is that “law” is what is imposed on us by legislatures and Supreme Courts and regulatory bodies and (increasingly, in the US) by Presidential diktats of highly questionable constitutionality. I think that both positions are correct within their respective contexts.

    Where you and I differ is on the moral propriety of imposed law, whatever its derivation. I’m with Paul that, properly speaking, “law” (or what I conceive of as “natural law”) is an organic property of human society, arising naturally and over long periods of time as a consequence of fundamental human nature. You, at least as I understand it, conceive of “natural law” as something imposed by a supernatural Creator, which can properly be reflected in decrees and statutes. Such a position is an implicit (or possibly explicit; I’m not certain of that) endorsement of despotic/autocratic rule. To my mind that is not different in kind from “law” imposed by any superior agency (kings or parliaments or popes). I have no need of such a supernatural “power source”, and reject as morally illegitimate any such dictated “law” (while obviously acknowledging its practical existence). So while I find some appeal in your rejection of democratic rule in favor of an hereditary monarchy (another discussion), we differ on the fundamental source of any such monarch’s legitimate power.

  • Thailover

    Chip said,
    “Germany needs to prove its break with anti-Semitism and intolerance by embracing people whose belief system is anti-Semitic and intolerant.”

    LOL, indeed, it’s important to be intolerant of all intolerance…except when one is busy being self-righteously offended.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie: all what i said is that you (as well as Paul and Mr Ed) are ready to throw away the NAP in cases such as the DD Friedman example. You don’t seem to deny that.

    OK, that’s not all what i said. I also “accused” you of utilitarianism. That is because you and Paul brought up “the lesser evil”. To choose the lesser evil, you have to identify it, and to identify it, you need to make interpersonal utility comparisons: you are already halfway to utilitarianism. Then you go further: violating the gun owner’s (or either Bob’s) property rights, becomes only one of the evils that need be weighted in finding the lesser evil: NAP becomes subordinate to the greatest happiness (or least unhappiness) for the greatest number.

    Not that i particularly care about your rationalization, as long as you end up doing the same as i would do. Still, for the sake of completeness, here are a few alternatives to utilitarianism:
    * Choose the lesser evil only when the difference between greater and lesser evil is humongous, if the difference is small or very uncertain, so that it could be of the opposite sign, then follow NAP. That would still involve utility comparisons, and it is arbitrary how large the difference needs to be to become humongous, but it’s a step away from utilitarianism.
    * Admit that your personal scale of values/utilities is not shared by others, eg you smash Lee’s teapot on the head of Mary’s ex because you value Mary’s life more than Lee’s teapot (and Mary’s ex’s head into the bargain), but you accept that Lee, not to mention Mary’s ex, sees things differently. This seems to me a significant departure from utilitarianism.
    * Follow your moral intuitions _on a case by case basis_ when they are strong enough to override general principles; eg in the Friedman example, my intuition tells me that NAP is wrong, so i set NAP aside without any qualms; but i do not deny that i am violating NAP.

    As it happens, i am inclined to endorse all 3 departures from NAP libertarianism.

  • Thailover

    Paul Marks said,
    “One either stands with such things as the Bill of Rights or one stands with a despotic government – and if one stands with the latter one has no business here.”

    Shlomo responded, “Translation: ‘someone disagrees with me, which is offensive so send him away from these forums! He doesn’t belong here!’

    So juvenile.”

    Actually…
    It’s more than fairly obvious that Paul Marks was saying that those who “stands with despotic government” literally has no business here, (which requires knowing what “here” means in full context).

    Your constant plying for sympathy is, if you’ll excuse me for saying so, fucking goddamned hilarious.
    “So juvenile.”

    Uh huh…..(rolls eyes).

  • Alisa

    NAP can be a useful principle under certain circumstances, but no more than that. To expand on one of Julie’s other comments here, it is values that really matter: values are the ‘what’ of any moral system, while principles are the ‘how’ of achieving, upholding, or at least not violating those values.

    My personal ultimate value is individual human life and each individual’s complete ownership thereof, and so the only requirment I have for my chosen principles is to uphold that value, or at least not violate it. Private property is valuable to me due to it being the natural and necessary atrribute of individual human life, and as such secondary to it.

    It then follows that to me Mary’s life certainly takes moral precedence over Bob’s teapot. However, private property still being very valuable to me, as above, I would certainly feel obligated to uphold that value by compensating Bob for his loss to a resonable extent (i.e. to the extent that the compensation does not require me to place the value of his lost property above that of someone’s life).

    FWIW, I don’t even see how NAP comes into any of it at all.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, works for me. :>) Well said. (Except that I still think Bob’s teapot beats out Shrill, Moobelle, and a few others we could all name on the scale of values. 😉 )

    You put it very well.

  • Paul Marks said,
    “One either stands with such things as the Bill of Rights or one stands with a despotic government – and if one stands with the latter one has no business here.”

    Shlomo responded, “Translation: ‘someone disagrees with me, which is offensive so send him away from these forums! He doesn’t belong here!’

    So juvenile.”

    Actually…
    It’s more than fairly obvious that Paul Marks was saying that those who “stands with despotic government” literally has no business here, (which requires knowing what “here” means in full context).

    Your constant plying for sympathy is, if you’ll excuse me for saying so, fucking goddamned hilarious.
    “So juvenile.”

    Uh huh…..(rolls eyes).

    1. You selectively quoted only part of Paul Marks’ comment that I was replying to.

    2. You failed to supply any alternative definition of “here” other than Samizdata comment threads.

    3. Not sure how saying Paul Marks is acting in a juvenile manner is plying for sympathy.

    4. Another comment from thai lover remarkably devoid of any worthwhile content.

  • Laird – thanks for your considerate and thoughtful reply. I’ll try to put together a thoughtful comment in response when I have more time.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, thanks for reminding me about Tucille’s book. I hope to get to it in the fullness of time. (What a strange idiom, now that I think of it. *g*)

    By the way, I think you’ve nailed on the differences between Paul and Shlomo. That’s a terrific comment, well thought out, clear, almost certainly correct.

    FWIW, I’m with you on the “Natural Law” issue, if I understand your position correctly. I will go farther: This is surely SQOTD materials:

    …[P]roperly speaking, “law” (or what I conceive of as “natural law”) is an organic property of human society, arising naturally and over long periods of time as a consequence of fundamental human nature.

    Excellent, excellent, excellent!

    . . .

    Snorri, I certainly agree with you as to the impossibility of even ranking, let alone measuring (“so many ‘utils’ “) the differences in the value the same object or condition almost certainly have to different people, or even to the same person at different times. I consider this idea complete fantasy. But to me, while that’s a feature of some or even, perhaps, most varieties of utilitarianism, it’s not the heart of the doctrine. The heart is that some collective is the proper ultimate value, and its good is the ultimate measure of The Good.

    And utilitarianism and libertarianism are both applied political philosophies, and they do stand in opposition to one another.

    Call it “rationalization” if you want. There are professional research mathematicians who reject Cantor’s theories of infinity. That doesn’t prevent the theory and its extensions from being entirely valid within their context of mathematical abstraction and from having implications about the real world, even if we will never hold Cantorian infinity in our hands, like a crystal ball.

    Of course, those aren’t the only available applied political philosophies. Another is that the highest value is whatever the ruler or some god or even some megalomaniac other than a ruler says it is. So the highest value was whatever Kim Sung Ill [sic] said it was, and when we were relieved of his presence the highest value was whatever Kim Jong-Il said it was, etc. Another theory is that the highest value is whatever Allah says it is.

    These also happen to be anathema to libertarians (well, most of those who think themselves “libertarians,” Laird *g*), but whereas I would put utilitarianism and libertarianism at opposite ends of a line, authoritarian theories like those above would be perpendicular to that line.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie: thanks for the thoughtful reply. (That is not meant as a slight to Alisa, though i’m afraid i’ll have to skip replying to her, at least today.)
    It’s bedtime for me, so i’ll focus on just one issue: i don’t think that “we” should alienate utilitarians, and i don’t think of them as polar opposites to Lockeans/NAP libertarians.
    For one thing, for utilitarians, society is just the sum of individuals: the good of society is just the sum of the happiness of its members. One way to put it is that they are individualists in ethics (what matters to them is individual utility/happiness) and collectivists in meta-ethics (interpersonal utility comparisons).
    For another thing, utilitarians are usually willing to face reality; specifically, the reality that the free market is the best way to ensure happiness.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Please forgive the typos, and let me make a more correct restatement:

    It’s not the various applied political philosophies as such that define the “highest value,” or which attempt to demonstrate that X is the “highest value.”

    It is moral philosophy that aims to tell us what is the “highest value,” and on what grounds. The political philosophies are intended to provide the principles to guide us in trying to realize X, the “highest value” in our various circumstances as we go through life.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, likewise I thank you for your thoughtful reply. :>)

    I think we have reached a point where it’s clear that we have different conceptions of what Utilitarianism means. This constitutes real progress, though of course it also introduces the need or at least the reasons for additional trail-breaking.

    You need to get to bed, and I need to get to the hardware store, so we can leave it at that for now.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Perhaps in the light of more recent comments it’s not necessary, but on Oct. 3 at 7:10, Snorri wrote:

    Julie: all what i said is that you (as well as Paul and Mr Ed) are ready to throw away the NAP in cases such as the DD Friedman example. You don’t seem to deny that.

    OK, that’s not all what i said. I also “accused” you of utilitarianism. That is because you and Paul brought up “the lesser evil”. To choose the lesser evil, you have to identify it, and to identify it, you need to make interpersonal utility comparisons: you are already halfway to utilitarianism. Then you go further: violating the gun owner’s (or either Bob’s) property rights, becomes only one of the evils that need be weighted in finding the lesser evil: NAP becomes subordinate to the greatest happiness (or least unhappiness) for the greatest number.

    No, because the NAP prohibits the initiation of aggression. Mary’s ex has initiated the aggression in the situation; my “aggression” against Bob via expropriation of his teapot is a proper response to the ex’s aggression, and no thought nor impulse that prompts me to weaponize the teapot has anything to do with anybody’s happiness, let alone some internalization of the meaning and value of the concept of “utils.”

    I admit to initiating the aggression against Bob, but in the real world one cannot escape having to choose among greater and lesser wrongs. The measure of these wrongs is not (in my view) anybody’s happiness as such, but rather the degree of insult to the principles of self-determination, maintenance of physical bodily integrity, and property rights.

    The same applies to my snatching the forbidden rifle to dispense with the guy who’s shooting up the place. And by the way, David made it part of the scenario that gunman is going to be wasting people in a crowd, but that doesn’t do anything to the principles involved except to imply that the shooting will continue till the guy is rendered incapable. (Because the guy who’s providing the antidote to the gunman’s actions would have no need to do so if the gunman credibly appeared to be finished with his mayhem, or to have changed his mind about his whole project.)

    By the way, the final quote from David seems to indicate that he also is confused about the NAP (or, as I actually prefer, the NIO — Miss Rand again, the “Non-Initiation of Force”), which is a practical guide to upholding the real moral principle, which is that of the sanctity (inviolability) of the individual — until such time as said individual shows by his actions (or by his credible statements of serious intent and his actions which indicate such credibility) that he doesn’t consider himself bound by that moral principle, thus waiving his own right not to be violated.

    I would note yet again that every logical system, including that of a proper moral philosophy, must include postulates: Starting premises not derivable from within the system even after it is worked out (and not part of Gödel’s theorems that are true but unprovable.” If the system is intended to be applicable in the real world, there must be some evidence suggesting that the starting premises are valid in the real world, of course. But the point is that if different people start out with different premises, they will almost certainly arrive at different conclusions in at least some cases. Possibly David overlooks this altogether; or not, of course — I really can’t say.

    . . .

    By the way, “the lesser evil”: It occurred to me somewhere along the way that the issue isn’t really “evil” per se. My appropriation of Bob’s Teapot isn’t “evil” within any serious meaning of that very strong word; what it is, is a wrong, an offense against an individual, but not undertaken with any undeserved harm to anybody in mind.

    So I’ve quit talking about “the lesser evil” and now I refer to “the lesser wrong.”

    If that matters.

    . . .

    Note yet again, all this has nothing to do with happiness — my wrong against Bob does not consist in his resulting unhappiness (although I surely sympathize with him) or pain or anger, and David’s savior’s wrong against the owner the rifle does not consist in the latter’s unhappiness, pain, or anger.

    The wrong done against them is, in principle, far more serious than that: it is the violation of their moral status as inviolable human individuals.

  • I don’t disagree (and I don’t think Paul would, either) that we are all very much being “ruled” (as opposed to merely “governed”), and that we have moved beyond the historic western conception of law as “organic” (arising slowly out of society itself) to statutory law (dictated by an authority on high).

    Excellent. I like how you differentiate “govern” from “rule”.

    If one examines the broad sweep of human history one will find that man is virtually always ruled and almost never governed. This is a fact and accepting it, believing it, understanding it are crucial first steps on the path towards realizing deeper truths. Without understanding that man is ruled by dictate in general these deeper truths about human society, individual liberty, and the art of statecraft appear preposterous to modern minds, especially libertarian/old whig/minarchist ones.

    Paul is arguing philosophically, that the latter is illegitimate, a bastardizaton of what “law” actually means. You are arguing practically, that the reality is that “law” is what is imposed on us by legislatures and Supreme Courts and regulatory bodies and (increasingly, in the US) by Presidential diktats of highly questionable constitutionality. I think that both positions are correct within their respective contexts.

    Well, this is true insofar as it goes. With that said:

    1. As mentioned above in this comment, realizing that man is ruled by dictate is a first step towards understanding deeper realities regarding human society and the implications for liberty.
    2. As mentioned in my an earlier comment in this thread, the State is always and everywhere the Master. When recognized as such, said master tends to tread a bit more softly on its subjects. This reality, which is counterintuitive, usually appears ridiculous and even offensive to a mind that believes man is capable of being “governed by laws not men”. This reality, however, is a sublime truth that can be verified as much through wondrous intuition as via a practical combination of applied game theory and knowledge of human relations.

    Where you and I differ is on the moral propriety of imposed law, whatever its derivation.

    We may differ on the moral propriety of various laws, but that’s not the real disagreement at issue. The divide here is far more fundamental.

    I’m with Paul that, properly speaking, “law” (or what I conceive of as “natural law”) is an organic property of human society, arising naturally and over long periods of time as a consequence of fundamental human nature.

    To some extent I’d concur with you both – at least in some ways. I don’t like the term natural law, though.

    I’m very fond of the term “constitution” – in the old sense – to explain my perspective. Constitutions are those collections of social institutions, religious dogmas, personal prejudices, corporate privileges, spiritual beliefs, and cultural traditions that limit, extend, direct, and impact in myriad unseen manners the exercise of power in society. These constitutions certainly evolve great spans of time. A particular constitution that suits one nation aptly may not properly suit another at all. Anyway, in this sense, the constitution of a nation is that which dynamically governs it or, to be more precise, regulates the actions of those who are part of said nation.

    In a certain sense, then, government regulates these regulations. Let me explain. Governments exist by divine provenance, but at their best (smallest) they ideally simply adjudicate disputes, broker deals among stakeholders, and imbue the outcomes of societal regulations with the finality afforded by a monopoly on the use of force over a given territory. Of course, insofar as a government is democratic it is ill-suited towards limiting itself to such simple functions and ends up taking on more duties in order to accrue more power to itself than is necessary.

    You, at least as I understand it, conceive of “natural law” as something imposed by a supernatural Creator, which can properly be reflected in decrees and statutes.

    I don’t really like the idea of “natural law” but law as dictated by the State is divine in its origin or at least its basis, given that the Creator has ordained that man lives in societies ruled by men.

    Such a position is an implicit (or possibly explicit; I’m not certain of that) endorsement of despotic/autocratic rule.

    As I explicated earlier in this comment, man must be ruled; he cannot (generally) be governed. This is not about what OUGHT to be; this is about what IS.

    To my mind that is not different in kind from “law” imposed by any superior agency (kings or parliaments or popes).

    Indeed! Oh, how this is true in so many ways. Let us count two of them, my friend.

    1. The Great Joseph de Maistre himself counted the Pope as being above reproach, beyond the reach of the Sword of State. Kings themselves, according to de Maistre, are bound to the will of the Pope, since Kings were only temporal masters, but the Pope is the spiritual master.
    2. To quote the Great Joseph de Maistre:

    Government is a true religion; it has its dogmas, its mysteries, its priests; to submit it to individual discussion is to destroy it; it has life only through the national mind, that is to say, political faith, which is a creed.

    Moving on.

    I have no need of such a supernatural “power source”, and reject as morally illegitimate any such dictated “law” (while obviously acknowledging its practical existence).

    So, correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be rejecting as morally illegitimate something that you seem to acknowledge exists in reality.

    So while I find some appeal in your rejection of democratic rule in favor of an hereditary monarchy (another discussion), we differ on the fundamental source of any such monarch’s legitimate power.

    Importantly, to quote the Great Joseph de Maistre:

    Likewise, if each man makes himself the judge of the principles of government you will see immediately the rise of civil anarchy or the annihilation of political sovereignty.

    In any case, on what basis does a mere man judge the legitimacy of power that derives from beyond his mere existence? Every government is legitimate by virtue of its very existence. Insofar as I “advocate” for divine-right hereditary monarchy, I realize that such support is A) futile and B) a vice. The people get the government they deserve and arguing in favor of monarchy for, as an example, the American people is rather like arguing in favor of a chipmunk receiving an A on an algebra exam.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Correction to the above:

    …[M]y “aggression” against Bob via expropriation of his teapot is a proper response to the ex’s aggression,….

    S/B

    …[M]y “aggression” against Bob via expropriation of his teapot is a part of my response to the ex’s aggression — a reponse which is perfectly proper and indeed morally required as against the ex; and….

  • Julie near Chicago

    If I were a “Utilitarian” measuring things in “utils,” the best thing would be to let the thug go right ahead and murder Mary. This would gain him positive utils, it would not cost Bob any utils (at least, not due to his losing the Teapot; the scenario doesn’t tell us how he feels about losing Mary, except perhaps by mild implication), and Mary, being dead, would neither gain nor lose utils.

    Of course you could also count my utils, but if I were that sort I wouldn’t be losing either sleep or utils over my inaction.

  • Laird,

    A quick additional thought. Joseph de Maistre’s quote for context:

    Government is a true religion; it has its dogmas, its mysteries, its priests; to submit it to individual discussion is to destroy it; it has life only through the national mind, that is to say, political faith, which is a creed.

    Believers in “natural law”, “social justice”, “constitutional limits”, “individual rights”, “social welfare”, “natural rights”, “limited government”, etc believe in political creeds that often serve to legitimize governance in modern Western societies. Correct me if I’m wrong but you would fall into a couple of those camps I think (probably natural law, limited government, individual rights).

    That your rejection of the divine provenance of governmental power is misguided (my obnoxious tone comes free of charge) does not render it any less of a political faith, which takes the form of a true, bona fide religion insofar as it, as some would argue, legitimizes actual, functioning democracies around today.

    As Andrew Sullivan said, even atheists have beliefs on that which is beyond comprehension – atheism is still a stance on the metaphysical not unlike Catholicism.

  • Laird

    Shlomo, there’s too much in your comments for me to respond fully (I won’t impose on our host’s hospitality or the patience of onlookers that much). So I’ll confine myself to a few points.

    1) I am not a devotee of de Maistre, so your appeal to authority by quoting him extensively (not generally a strong debating tactic anyway) doesn’t do much to convince me of the validity of your (or his) views. As far as I am concerned you’d do just as well by quoting Jimmy Carter.

    2) You have me pegged reasonably accurately with respect to the “camps” I occupy. And I agree that such amounts to a sort of “political faith”. However, in my opinion equating such faith with a religion serves no useful purpose, as it necessarily expands the definition of “religion” far beyond conventional conceptions of the term and thus is more obfuscatory than revelatory.

    3) At one point you assert that “[w]hen recognized as such, said master [the government] tends to tread a bit more softly on its subjects” and that this “sublime truth” can somehow be verified. However, you never do so, so I remain perplexed by this curious proposition which you admit to be “counterintuitive”.

    4) You state: “So, correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be rejecting as morally illegitimate something that you seem to acknowledge exists in reality.” That is correct, and I see no inconsistency there. I also consider murder to be morally illegitimate but acknowledge its existence in reality. Why does this trouble you?

    5) I agree with you that “at their best (smallest) they [governments] ideally simply adjudicate disputes, broker deals among stakeholders, and imbue the outcomes of societal regulations with the finality afforded by a monopoly on the use of force over a given territory.” I simply reject the clause which preceded it (so your soi disant “obnoxious tone” is utterly wasted on me!).

    6) You quote de Maistre that “if each man makes himself the judge of the principles of government you will see immediately the rise of civil anarchy or the annihilation of political sovereignty.” Works for me (although see my point #1 above).

    7) “Every government is legitimate by virtue of its very existence.” This is a garden-variety “might makes right” bootstrapping argument. Surely you can do better. Mere existence does not, and cannot, of itself confer moral legitimacy.

    8) I don’t care if de Maistre considered the Pope to be “above reproach”. The current specimen belies that assertion. He may be “above reproach” when it comes to matters spiritual (I have no opinion on that, not being a Christian let alone a Catholic), but when he descends into matters temporal I consider him grossly, even willfully, ignorant and arrogant to the point of hubris. I’ll “reproach” him every day of the week.

    9) “The people get the government they deserve.”
    On that we can agree.

    Time for bed.

  • Mr Ed

    Moving on.

    As if. 🙂

    Early in WW2 the RAF’s Bomber Command were sometimes 70 miles off target, by the War’s end, they could get a release point within 70 yards on some sorties. On this thread, we seem to be going in the opposite direction.

  • Alisa

    they are individualists in ethics (what matters to them is individual utility/happiness) and collectivists in meta-ethics (interpersonal utility comparisons).

    Snorri, isn’t there a contradiction in there somewhere?

  • Laird,

    1) I am not a devotee of de Maistre, so your appeal to authority by quoting him extensively (not generally a strong debating tactic anyway) doesn’t do much to convince me of the validity of your (or his) views. As far as I am concerned you’d do just as well by quoting Jimmy Carter.

    I did not appeal to authority; I used quotes from Joseph de Maistre to make certain points that he phrased better than I can.

    2) You have me pegged reasonably accurately with respect to the “camps” I occupy. And I agree that such amounts to a sort of “political faith”. However, in my opinion equating such faith with a religion serves no useful purpose, as it necessarily expands the definition of “religion” far beyond conventional conceptions of the term and thus is more obfuscatory than revelatory.

    I think it’s debatable that equating such faith with religion serves on useful purpose. I also think it’s debatable that doing so necessarily expands the definition of religion all that far beyond the conventional conception of the term.

    3) At one point you assert that “[w]hen recognized as such, said master [the government] tends to tread a bit more softly on its subjects” and that this “sublime truth” can somehow be verified. However, you never do so, so I remain perplexed by this curious proposition which you admit to be “counterintuitive”.

    You’re right I never did so. I’ll try now. There are a few ways I can explain it; here’s one.

    If one assumes that man is ruled by dictate of rulers, then said dictate will be relatively constraining according to the extent to which several factors are in evidence. One of these factors is the degree to which the ruler (lets assume there’s but one) must secure his own right to rule by action, which is inversely correlated to several factors, including the extent to which his subjects believe his right to rule to be legitimate. In other words, insofar as the right to rule is secured by subjects’ believing it to be legitimate, said right to rule need not be secured by liberty-trampling action on the part of the sovereign. This seems relatively straightforward to me.

    4) You state: “So, correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be rejecting as morally illegitimate something that you seem to acknowledge exists in reality.” That is correct, and I see no inconsistency there. I also consider murder to be morally illegitimate but acknowledge its existence in reality. Why does this trouble you?

    Fair enough. The problem is this.

    I believe murder is immoral but I don’t go around forming beliefs on the assumption that murder will not occur. I’m sure you act likewise.

    Similarly, even if I did believe that dictated law is immoral I would not form beliefs about government on the assumption that law will not be dictated. You may claim that you are not doing this, but I would beg to differ.

    6) You quote de Maistre that “if each man makes himself the judge of the principles of government you will see immediately the rise of civil anarchy or the annihilation of political sovereignty.” Works for me (although see my point #1 above).

    You seem to be missing the point.

    I employed that quote in response to you saying that “So while I find some appeal in your rejection of democratic rule in favor of an hereditary monarchy (another discussion), we differ on the fundamental source of any such monarch’s legitimate power.” My point is that the fundamental source of any ruler’s legitimate power is that he is in power. Sovereignty is inherently legitimate. Debating the legitimacy of a government’s right to rule is missing the point – the ruler, whether he is a Prime Minister, a King, or a SCOTUS Chief Justice, derives his legitimate from the reality that he rules. This is not about what ought to be; this is about what is. And in reality legitimacy is conferred by what is.

    7) “Every government is legitimate by virtue of its very existence.” This is a garden-variety “might makes right” bootstrapping argument. Surely you can do better. Mere existence does not, and cannot, of itself confer moral legitimacy.

    See above.

    There is actually a rich and neglected intellectual history behind this perspective; many know of Alexis de Tocqueville, but how many have read Robert Filmer? I don’t have the time to rehash it all here, so I’ll just say this.

    Governments exist by preserving themselves, which is an exercise of sovereignty. And sovereignty, which informs, channels, and guides all paths of human relations within the fabric of humanity, is divine, beyond the reach of human touch. Sovereignty must be conserved; it is by rebellion, not by obedience, that the incentives for tyranny are most readily derived.

    8) I don’t care if de Maistre considered the Pope to be “above reproach”. The current specimen belies that assertion. He may be “above reproach” when it comes to matters spiritual (I have no opinion on that, not being a Christian let alone a Catholic), but when he descends into matters temporal I consider him grossly, even willfully, ignorant and arrogant to the point of hubris. I’ll “reproach” him every day of the week.

    I’m Jewish.

    Main reason I brought up the Pope was that you correctly noted that “To my mind that is not different in kind from “law” imposed by any superior agency (kings or parliaments or popes).”

    The ultimate source by which the law is derived is the Creator.

    And don’t get me started on the current Pope; he’ an embarrassment.

  • I really need to proof read more.

    I think it’s debatable that equating such faith with religion serves on useful purpose.

    should say:

    I think it’s debatable that equating such faith with religion serves NO useful purpose.