I've just finished watching C-span's coverage of the Libertarian Party convention. The three-way race for the top spot was the closest I've seen; most observers had been predicting a final showdown between Aaron Russo and Gary Nolan, but in a last-minute upset, Michael Badnarik squeaked through with the nomination. (A vice-presidential candidate had not yet been chosen when C-span's coverage ended.)
While none of the three contenders has the glibness or the gravitas of Harry Browne, I had grown increasingly disenchanted with Russo, and Badnarik seems fine (a bit weak on abortion -- perhaps he needs to read today’s post from Charles Johnson -- but acceptable), so I am reasonably content with the outcome.
Badnarik for President!
The VP choice has now been announced: existentialist guru and liberhawk Richard Campagna. Oh well.
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Roderick T. Long - 7/19/2004
In response to the http://www.radgeek.com/gt/2004/05/30/why_we.html">Charles Johnson post to which I linked, Mr. Larison asks: "why is the act of an abortion not an act of coercion against another person just like any other violent act?" Since Johnson gave what I consider a rather compelling explanation of exactly why it is not, I don't know what to say except "reread Johnson." Mr. Larison has obviously read Johnson rather carelessly, since he takes Johnson to say that we have a right to kill anyone who is "physically dependent" -- which of course bears no resemblance to anything Johnson said, and so Mr. Larison's questions about "invalids and small children" are sheer ignoratio. If Mr. Larison rejects Johnson's arguments, he surely owes us an account of which precise steps in Johnson's argument are flawed and why; instead he simply fulminates against the conclusion. (I'm also baffled as to how someone who regards natural rights as a "pleasant fairy-tale" can be indignant about any coercion against anyone anyway. On what grounds?)
E. Simon - 7/7/2004
Don't forget biologists as a source for your derision. As for the enlightenment, I'm quite comfortable with its ideals, far moreso than the ideals of those enamored with literal interpretations of biblical narratives. And as far as "dignity" as a legal imperative, such a mindset seems to have done wonders for the Arab world - but then again why take a stand against honor killings when autonomy, even an adulterous woman's autonomy, (or a *raped* woman's autonomy, for that matter) takes a back seat to dignity?
Margaret Atwood had a good yarn to spin about a time when rights take a back seat to reproduction. I think it was called "The Handmaid's Tale."
Daniel B. Larison - 6/2/2004
If philosophical materialists and people still caught up in the Enlightenment set the terms of the debate, it is inevitable that so-called autonomy will trump the dignity of the unborn child. The obligation of a mother to her child, which ought to be obvious to anyone, outweighs any "autonomy." Naturally, ethical theories that make the individual the priority over everything else will ignore such real obligations.
E. Simon - 6/1/2004
Since there are enough sensible people in this country to embrace reproductive rights far beyond the libertarian fold, I see no need to falsely narrow the political grounds within which to refute claims to the contrary. Simply put, the pro-"life" argument is incapable of finding a temporal definition for the inception of personhood. Therefore, and conveniently enough, conception is taken as the assumed reference point. An appeal to biology is thrown into the mix simply because a distinct genomic identity accompanies this event. However, if this is the point at which life begins, then when were the requisite gametes (sperm and egg) not living? I am not aware that dead haploid cells can give rise to a functional zygote. And if a woman's eggs are alive, we might as well outlaw menstruation.
This illustrates that life does not "begin" anywhere. It is a constantly renewing cycle. A zygote does not have a functioning nervous system with which to perceive pain, cruelty or even its own existence, let alone whether that existence is of any import to itself or others. Neither do the dead (and dying) cells that are shed every day from your skin, intestines and virtually every other tissue. Almost every one of these sources could provide zygotes for a fully cloned Mr. Larison, but we don't allow them that "choice."
Therefore, autonomy over one's life, including the decision over whether to allow another one to come into existence, is paramount. As I said, science has made the definition of "new" life obsolete, and therefore autonomy is all that remains. I say when it comes down to a pregnant woman, and a cluster of cells inside her that, as we discussed earlier, lack either a nervous system or one functional enough to make choices, the choice over whether or not to carry those cells belongs to the woman alone. "Coercion," you say? Coercion can only apply to an entity with the capacity to make decisions.
"Indifferent to human life," you say? The indifference to which your dead sperm and other cells have been treated (by if nothing else, your own body) has already been attested to. And will continue to be for the remainder of your natural life.
Daniel B. Larison - 6/1/2004
Mr. Johnson simply asserts that because a fetus is not a "political agent," it has no rights, and Mr. Johnson then goes on to make the overwrought argument that the fetus must own the woman's reproductive organs in order for the government to be justified in interfering with the woman's body. This is compelling? He denies rights to the fetus because it cannot play the part of a political agent, and neither can most small children or invalids. How do they then have rights in Mr. Johnson's unfortunate scheme? If this is where libertarianism leads, then I am only too glad to have written it off.
I don't believe that all libertarians can be this indifferent to human life in such circumstances, and I was trying to provide a libertarian argument in opposition to precisely the sort of arguments that will always consign libertarianism to the fringes of any sane society.
Coercion and violence have been considered wrong long before philosophers cooked up the idea of natural rights. The grounds on which I base my indignation at the slaughter of a human being are religious prescriptions against murder and the conviction that all people are creatures of God. There are probably arguments to be made based in classical virtues, but these are not my main motivations. All such people deserve to be treated with dignity and justice, and justice requires someone to have done something fairly heinous to deserve death. What they do not deserve is to have any opportunity at making their own choices snuffed out in the name of "choice." Bizarre arguments about the ownership of organs will not get around the basic cruelty and inhumanity of the deed.
David T. Beito - 5/31/2004
Tell me more. I don't like the sound of this.
Roderick T. Long - 5/31/2004
Okay, the HTML isn't cooperating -- I don't know why.
Roderick T. Long - 5/31/2004
In response to the http://www.radgeek.com/gt/2004/05/30/why_we.html">Charles Johnson post to which I linked, Mr. Larison asks: "why is the act of an abortion not an act of coercion against another person just like any other violent act?" Since Johnson gave what I consider a rather compelling explanation of exactly why it is not, I don't know what to say except "reread Johnson." Mr. Larison has obviously read Johnson rather carelessly, since he takes Johnson to say that we have a right to kill anyone who is "physically dependent" -- which of course bears no resemblance to anything Johnson said, and so Mr. Larison's questions about "invalids and small children" are sheer ignoratio. If Mr. Larison rejects Johnson's arguments, he surely owes us an account of which precise steps in Johnson's argument are flawed and why; instead he simply fulminates against the
conclusion. (I'm also baffled as to how someone who regards natural rights as a "pleasant fairy-tale" can be indignant about any coercion against anyone anyway. On what grounds?)
Daniel B. Larison - 5/31/2004
Let me begin by revealing my hand. I am not a libertarian of any kind. However, Mr. Johnson's reply ought to be unconvincing by libertarian standards. If I remember correctly from my younger quasi-libertarian days, you would all agree that no one has the right to harm or compel anyone else, except perhaps in defense of one's own right to life. Mr. Johnson places all of the burden concerning coercion on the state and its hypothetical pro-life governors. But why is the act of an abortion not an act of coercion against another person just like any other violent act? Does physical dependency nullify an unborn child's rights? Would the same apply to invalids and small children? Surely Mr. Badnarik's qualified answer, while obviously unsatisfying to a pro-life person as well, is a more credible and thoughtful libertarian position for having taken this problem into account.
If I understand the purpose of law in a libertarian framework, it is to prevent individuals from infringing on the rights of others. It seems strange to me that a libertarian could defend a "right" to abortion if he did not also defend a "right" to treating one's children as property until they came of some legal age. It is not a simple issue of governing one's own body. Indeed, on what grounds could children cease to be the property of their parents (or just their mother)? The complete refusal to credit any human dignity to the child is a serious flaw in Mr. Johnson's argument. If it is slavery to be "forced" to remain pregnant (whatever happened to responsible use of liberty? where does the woman receive the right to eliminate the 'result' of an earlier choice, when that 'result' is a person?), are parents who are prosecuted for child abuse or murdering their child also being enslaved by the state?
Suppose they decide after a few years that they'd rather not have the burden--would Mr. Johnson accept this? Would he regard government opposition to such an act slavery? At what point do laws restraining people from harming one another become involuntary servitude to the state on the part of the one restrained?
Mr. Johnson's constitutional argument is simply dreadful. If the issue were returned to the states, then it could be deliberated on according to the preferences of those in each state. Nothing compels anyone to remain in a state where their preferences are not represented. Preserving the anti-life position at the federal level compels everyone else to abide by the court's erroneous decision, and it allows the ongoing use of force against unborn children. Obviously, if you don't trouble yourself about the latter, then perhaps it is easier to bear. If Mr. Johnson believed that the outlaw of abortion was the equivalent of reimposing slavery on some Americans, he could, of course, support a constitutional amendment to that effect and defend it on its merits. But he knows, as we all do, that such an amendment, if put to the vote, would not pass, so he would sooner hide behind the arbitrary rulings of an oligarchy than allow processes of self-government to work in their proper way.
It was issues such as this that convinced that me that libertarianism cannot sufficiently take account of social issues in a way that affirms the liberty and dignity of all people involved. Libertarians are so keen to push the state and society out of an individual's life that sometimes it seems as if they are indifferent to the abuses of power an individual is capable of committing. I appreciate that these abuses of power appear miniscule compared to the costs of tyrannical government, but taken together in an entire society they are staggering in their consequences.
Mr. Johnson's lame slavery analogy somehow makes the person exploiting her power relationship over a child into the victim of tyranny, when it is she who is acting without respect for the rights of another person. I would have thought any libertarian would be especially concerned not to classify any human being as beyond the guarantees of their rights, but this is what Mr. Johnson's position does every day.
If libertarians have one thing going for them, it is usually their consistency and their constant affirmation of the rights of everyone in pretty much every sphere of activity. I don't accept the assumptions or the scope of libertarian theories, but I normally respect their basic goal of affirming human rights. When libertarians begin looking for complicated arguments to get around their own basic insights, something is awry.
The Roe ruling is itself an abomination of constitutional interpretation, being partly based on the falsehood that the 14th Amendment applies the Bill of the Rights to the states. If Mr. Johnson wants to stand by such a flawed ruling, then he should have to defend it on the merits of his interpretation of the Constitution and not vague appeals to natural rights. But, then, I suppose the reason I gave up on libertarianism is that I ceased to believe in the very pleasant fairy-tale of natural rights (in the sense that libertarians usually mean this). If such a theory must legitimise something as heinous as abortion and sanctify it as an expression of liberty in order to be consistent, then there must be something wrong with its basic premises.