About Nicholas Hooton
- Website: http://nicholashooton.com
- Profile: Nicholas Hooton is an editor and strategist for Utah Liberty Alliance.
I follow libertarian commentator Connor Boyack’s work because he occasionally brings a fresh perspective to issues for Utahns who would otherwise rarely have any exposure to ideas outside the standard left-right dichotomy. Oftentimes, however, he let’s his true conservative colors show through.
Such was the case with his recent article, “Abortion: A Property Rights Issue?,” in which he rejects prominent libertarian arguments for a woman’s right to choose and instead champions the customary “pro-life” stance of the American right. I couldn’t resist a rebuttal to such low-hanging fruit from a writer who normally crafts fairly decent analysis.
Boyack does a fine job of explaining “evictionism,” a justification for abortion rights put forth by “Mr. Libertarian” Murray Rothbard and further developed by ultra Rothbard fanboy Walter Block. This justification is based on the notion of self-ownership, or property in one’s own person. If a person owns her body, then she can rightfully evict trespassers or problematic tenants therefrom.
This is where things get weird. Boyack attempts to refute such shoddy theory, not by attacking its flawed fundamental premises, but with a veritable mind vomit of naturalistic fallacy and ignorance of contract theory that I can only describe as an abortion of reason. Observe, for example, this slew of appeals to nature from Boyack’s article:
“Abortion is an attempt to evade the natural consequences of sex … To engage in such activities is to willingly subject one’s self [sic] to the natural consequences that follow. Personal responsibility demands this … If this woman did not want to be ‘enslaved’ by another human being, then she should not have engaged in the activity that naturally brought about the result she did not want … Appealing to the mother’s self-ownership is inadequate when that mother is subject to the natural consequences of her previous, voluntary actions. These consequences are observable, natural, and thus may be construed as implicit terms and conditions of a contract potentially and inherently created by the voluntary, sexual union.”
It reads like a parody of every natural rights libertarian you’ve ever heard. It would be comical if he weren’t dead serious. It seems that Boyack is truly asserting that whatever is observably “natural” is inherently “good” in a moral sense, despite the fact that philosophical powerhouse David Hume mercilessly destroyed this fallacy in the 18th century. The fallacy sounds something like this: “I have observed X occurring in nature; therefore, X is morally right.”
If his assertions are correct, then it would be morally wrong for me to eat: I engage in various physical activities throughout the day that naturally deplete the energy stores and nutrients in my body, and this can observably and naturally result in death; therefore, to eat food in order to curtail the natural consequences of my actions would be avoiding my responsibilities and therefore evil.
But then we come to Boyack’s most baffling statement: “Contracts trump rights.” What a succinct example of classic conservative contract fetishism! Where does one begin with such a nonsensical statement? I suppose we can start with the fact that it is self-contradictory. He explains that “rights can be restrained through contracts into which I have voluntarily entered”; yet an individual can only enter into a contract by virtue of her rights. As Walter Block and Thomas DiLorenzo put it: “But how can people give their consent to contract before it is clear that they have any rights to do so? Where do the rights come from?” Boyack is essentially claiming that the very right that enables a person to enter into a contract can be nullified by that contract.
If this is true, then rape, slavery and murder can all be perfectly legitimate interactions in Boyack’s eyes. Let’s say a prostitute enters into a contract to perform sexual services for a man on a specified date, but has a change of heart in the meantime and decides to turn her life around. On the date specified in the contract, the man would be perfectly justified in the use of violence to force the woman into compliance against her will.
Let’s say a worker enters into a contract with an employer to perform a certain labor for a specified period of time. Before the start date of his employment, he decides he no longer wishes to work for that employer. Too bad! The employer can now use violence to force the man to work against his will for the time period specified in the contract.
Let’s say a woman is dying of cancer and hires a doctor to assist her in terminating her life. Before her appointment, she finds that the cancer has gone into remission. Great news! Oh, accept for that pesky contract. Now the doctor is justified in terminating her life against her will.
Where Boyack errs is in understanding what gives contracts their legitimate force. As Rothbard explained:
“Unfortunately, many libertarians, devoted to the right to make contracts, hold the contract itself to be an absolute, and therefore maintain that any voluntary contract whatever must be legally enforceable in the free society. Their error is a failure to realize that the right to contract is strictly derivable from the right of private property, and therefore that the only enforceable contracts (i.e., those backed by the sanction of legal coercion) should be those where the failure of one party to abide by the contract implies the theft of property from the other party. In short, a contract should only be enforceable when the failure to fulfill it is an implicit theft of property. But this can only be true if we hold that validly enforceable contracts only exist where title to property has already been transferred, and therefore where the failure to abide by the contract means that the other party’s property is retained by the delinquent party, without the consent of the former (implicit theft).”
Without this property-based legitimacy of contracts, the mere act of lying would be a gravely punishable offense.
Another problem with Boyack’s religious devotion to the type of contract he describes in this article is that he himself rejects it under other circumstances. In “Barack Obama, Business Owners, and the Social Contract,” he utterly dismisses the “social contract” so predictably called upon by statist apologists to justify the existence of coercive government. He calls it “a mystical document nowhere transcribed nor translated for the masses … [w]ith its terms and conditions nowhere defined” that only the state’s agents are “able to interpret and thus enforce, … one which was apparently implicitly agreed upon.” This sounds awfully familiar to Boyack’s non-existent, undefined and implicit “contract” into which a woman ostensibly enters with an unborn child, one that can only be interpreted and enforced by the state.
A third problem is another one of Boyack’s own self-contradictions as he actually advocates the use of state force to prohibit perfectly voluntary and valid contracts.
There are so many unanswered questions with this article. If the unborn child indeed has full legal status and an abortion therefore constitutes premeditated murder, does Boyack support the death penalty for the woman or the doctor who performed it? Does he support the use of violence against the woman in defense of the unborn child if he catches her attempting to abort? Does he make exceptions in cases of rape or incest or for the safety of the mother?
He also addresses only one libertarian argument – a fairly fringe one – and fails to address many other valid concerns, such as those put forth by Wendy McElroy in “Abortion Rights are Logically Required by Libertarianism.” If Boyack’s views on abortion contradict the basic principles of libertarianism, can he still call himself a libertarian? Perhaps when he wrote his own Wikipedia article, he should have described himself as “conservative” and used this article as a citation.
Children (and especially unborn children) present a formidable obstacle for any moral philosophy to overcome. This is no different for myself as an anarchist. One question is quite easily addressed, however: What should the state do about abortion? Well, it shouldn’t. A coercive, hierarchical and outright criminal institution should not be involved in anything, let alone a woman’s very personal decisions.
But what should I do? I personally find the practice of abortion to be grossly abhorrent and evil. In the absence of a state to pawn my conscience off on, how do I react to a woman I know plans to have or has had an abortion? Can I beat her? Can I kill her? Can I lock her in a cage? Can I do any of this to anyone who assists her? I wouldn’t feel justified in taking any of these actions, so I certainly cannot delegate their performance to another. But I can pursue every voluntary and peaceful means to work to reduce the number of abortions in my community, and ensure that they are as safe and humane as is possible with such a thing.
Views such as Boyack’s and other reactionaries have disastrous effects on society. Pro-life dogma leads to such atrocities as the recent case of a teenage Dominican girl who died from leukemia after being denied chemotherapy on the grounds that it may harm the fetus. Remember that “natural consequences” thing? Yeah, the fetus died, too. Or consider the case of an 11-year-old girl who was forced to give birth by authorities after being raped by her stepfather. Anti-abortion legislation does not reduce the number of abortions; it simply hurts women.
Boyack thinks abortion is wrong. Fine. What he doesn’t even try to touch upon is what he feels he is justified in doing to women who choose to do it. He has exposed what Rothbard called the least developed aspect of libertarian theory: punishment. Perhaps he should address this the next time he ventures to pass such fallaciously based judgment on such a large number of his fellow beings.
Nicholas Hooton is an editor and strategist for Utah Liberty Alliance.
I have added the following works to the Liberty Library:
Violence, particularly structural violence, where all the power is on one side, creates ignorance. If you have the power to hit people over the head whenever you want, you don’t have to trouble yourself too much figuring out what they think is going on, and therefore, generally speaking, you don’t. Hence the sure-fire way to simplify social arrangements, to ignore the incredibly complex play of perspectives, passions, insights, desires, and mutual understandings that human life is really made of, is to make a rule and threaten to attack anyone who breaks it. This is why violence has always been the favored recourse of the stupid: it is the one form of stupidity to which it is almost impossible to come up with an intelligent response. It is also of course the basis of the state.
- David Graeber, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology, (2004)
If you have ever expressed disappointment or frustration with the electoral process, you have probably had this condemnation thrown at you at some point: “Well, if you don’t vote, then you have no right to complain!”
Those who have said this to me have probably taken my dumbfounded silence as a sign of my awed respect for the light they brought into my life. The truth is that I am dumbfounded by what an absurdly and patently idiotic statement it is, and there isn’t much I would be able to tell a person who believes it.
“He doesn’t vote?” they think, floored by such blasphemy. “I know! I’ll use this tired old thought-terminating cliché I heard from some authority figure or public relations campaign. Oh, look at that. He’s so impressed with my wisdom, he doesn’t know what to say.”
It is easy to see how daft this notion is if you rephrase it in order to more accurately reflect reality: “If you don’t participate in the corrupt, illegitimate and criminal system of state corporatism, then you don’t have a right to complain about it.” Or, to make it even clearer: “If you refuse to answer your assailant when he asks if you’d rather be beaten with a club or a whip, then you have no right to complain about being assaulted.”
My new response to this drivel is to turn the condemnation right back around on my accuser: If you do vote, you consent to this laughably abhorrent system and have no right to complain! I refuse to go along with the state mysticism of “consent of the governed” and “government of the people, by the people and for the people” as the charming but irrational sentiments of a juvenile mind, much like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny; but you, you who go along with it and permit yourself to be herded into the voting booth to cast your vote for the lesser of two atrocious evils – you made your bed, now sleep in it. To those who understand and see the corruption of the U.S. political machine but nevertheless vote for the lesser of two evils, I now respond: How has voting for evil been working out for you?
We’ve all heard that if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal. We know the wealthy will never permit us to vote their wealth away. And deep down inside, I think we all know our vote doesn’t actually matter. So what is the purpose of voting? Why does the state push it on us so? To create the illusion of self-government, of course!
Teller of the famous illusionist duo Penn & Teller once broke character to reveal some secrets about the art of illusion, one of which was this: “If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely.” Or, as noted anarchist Noam Chomsky put it:
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
The last couple hundred years of electoral history in the U.S. has taught us one thing: Voting has yielded nothing but more of the same, defended nothing but the status quo, and championed no one but the already privileged.
But consider the alternative! A disturbing, almost bone-chilling realization ought to grip the rational mind that contemplates this fantasy: What if your vote did matter? What if you could employ the full brutal force of the state to impose your will on your fellow beings? What if, through this electoral process, you could be king for a day?
It is far better that our votes mean nothing and accomplish nothing. We can leave tyranny to the tyrants and pursue other venues. But once we see that we cannot beat the behemoth of the corrupt state at its own game, what then? Well, we simply follow David’s example in his fight against Goliath. We follow the example of every underdog who has every bested a bully: We refuse to play by their rules, to live on their terms. We take the battle to our turf and employ strategies we concoct.
If they don’t like that, let them try to vote us out.
Nicholas Hooton is an editor and strategist for Utah Liberty Alliance.
The question “Why I am an Anarchist” I could very summarily answer with “because I cannot help it,” I cannot be dishonest with myself; the conditions of life press upon me; I must do something with my brain.
– Voltairine de Cleyre (1897)
“The argument for taxes is a very straightforward one: if government is on balance a very positive force in society, then taxes are good. If what we have seen in other articles on this website is true – that government programs help us all in myriad ways every day, that most government programs are working effectively to solve our social problems, and that government is the only way to promote important values like justice and economic security – then the taxes needed to support these government activities should be seen as a positive good.”
– Douglas J. Amy, Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke College
“It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
I must admit I was initially confused by the introduction of HB245 to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places, as well as its easy sailing through the legislature. After all, tobacco is the most dangerous drug known to man, and this non-tobacco smokeless alternative has proven to be a relatively safe and effective tool to help people quit smoking. Why the urgent need to ban it?
A fellow Redditor recently illuminated this phenomenon for me, and it all makes sense now:
Smoking bans are not about facts or “the common good”. They are about political power, busybodying and social control.
Take for example the newly minted bans of e-cigs in many countries and many U.S. states. E-cigs are completely harmless (they use the same ingredients in asthma inhalers and faux club / movie “smoke”), do not leave any lingering odors, do not produce smoke, and effectively assist people in quitting smoking altogether (I haven’t smoked a cigarette in four months, and I was a pack-a-day smoker!).
Why would e-cigs be banned then? Whenever they gave a reason for banning them, every single stated reason is a fear-mongering FUD lie. But wait, sometimes they wouldn’t even give a reason — they just modified the definition of “smoking” to include vaping, as if altering some words somehow changed reality.
Which tells you the real reason they ban smoking or vaping. The real reason is quite simple: “I dislike what that man over there is doing, I want my preferences imposed on him by threats, and if he resists, I want him punished for that.”
People with the power to punish you for your personal decisions — and their authoritarian sycophants — can and will make bullshit excuses to punish you, because in the end, they control the guns. Any excuse will serve a tyrant.
The “war on smoking” (just like the war on drugs, and the war on alcohol, and all other “wars” that politicians and busybodies invent) is not a war on tobacco. It is a war on people.
The observable reality of this war, as with every single other war, is straightforward: “Do as I say, or give me money. You don’t want to give me money? No problem, we’ll drag you into a cage. You resist that? Fine, we’ll assault you. You resist that assault? We’ll execute you.” Every person who snitches / rats on you for doing something they dislike is your enemy, because he wants that evil to happen to you (and a coward too, because he wants others to perpetrate this evil on behalf of him).
I have noticed the same phenomenon among siblings of disciplinarian parents myself. Once a child sees the seemingly unstoppable force of a parent imposing his or her will upon them or their siblings, it becomes very easy and natural to call upon this power anytime a sibling does something the child finds disagreeable, offensive, or just annoying:
“Dad, make Billy stop whistling! Mom, make Suzie listen to me!”
When an element of pure force is an available tool, people tend to seek it by default to such a degree that they even forget peaceful methods exist. Those five dreaded words (“There should be a law!”) permeate our culture so pervasively that we cannot imagine life without them. We have lost the ability to deal peacefully and cooperatively.
The good news is that this ability can be relearned — or rather, retrained; hence the importance of educating people about voluntaryism. The more people able and willing to resolve non-violent conflicts with non-violent solutions, the more peaceful and prosperous society will be.
Utah Liberty Alliance seeks to bring about a free society through journalism and activism, starting right here at home.
Recent Forum Posts
In development: Utah Copwatch (utahcopwatch.org)
posted in forum Incubator by Dallin Crump on August 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm
In development: Utahns for Privatized Education (u4pe.org)
posted in forum Incubator by Dallin Crump on April 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm
Utah juror information
posted in forum Incubator by Nicholas Hooton on April 30, 2012 at 8:56 am