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.
[The following is the text of a leaflet entitled “The Folly of Voting” published by Freedom Press in 1904.]
I shall not vote in the coming general election.
I am fully aware that this will be of little consequence so far as the result of the contest is concerned, and that is one of the reasons for not voting.
But I have other reasons, chief among them being that I do not believe in government by the majority, nor the minority either.
I do not believe in government at all.
The ballot system of government is a dismal failure, even supposing it, for a moment, to be right in theory.
Thus, some of those who seek election do so either for direct emoluments they hope to gain, or indirectly to advance their own interests and satisfy their vanity. Such men will not sacrifice their own ends for the public weal.
Many candidates are, however, in the beginning, fairly honest in their motives and intentions. But a man who enters the political world soon finds out that, fraud, cunning, hypocrisy, and trickery, are freely used by his opponents, and to successfully cope with them he must adopt their tactics.
He thinks he is justified by expediency in doing this, and perhaps honestly believes that he can use these weapons to gain victory for an honest cause. But he is mistaken. Fraud and falsehood can never serve a righteous end. The man who uses trickery, even to vanquish wrong, is already a trickster and is no better morally, than he who uses trickery for avowedly dishonourable purposes.
But, unfortunately for the honest candidate, zealous for the public good, who refuses to sully himself with deception and fraud – all the political forces are against him. By refusing to be all things to all men, and failing to pander to popular prejudice and ignorance, he fails to secure the favour of the mass and the unscrupulous demagogue, who makes many vain promises, wins.
The really honest man who falls into the snare of politics ever figures as the unsuccessful candidate.
Political corruption and dishonesty is so notoriously apparent that even believers in government, advocates of the political action, are fully conscious of it. Yet they go on voting, with the faint hope that, in some mysterious way, conditions will be changed, and that, after a while, enough pure men will be elected to ensure an honest administration of public affairs.
Their hopes are never realised. New men are put in and new parties assume control, but the same results ensue. The real trouble is with the system, not with those who administer it. The very nature and principle of government, of human authority, is demoralising, corrupting, and wrong.
As long as human nature is what it is, we cannot expect men in power to disregard their individual interests, nor to escape the damning influences of power of their better self.
The man who votes, even though he votes for the defeated candidate, gives his sanction to the whole scheme, and process of election, authority, and coercion.
I do not wish to be governed, I do not acknowledge, and will not admit the right of any man, or body of men to rule over me; I do not wish to govern others. I know of no moral or social right that I have to do so, and consequently I decline to impose my views on others through the agency of the ballot, and thus set in motion; the whole paraphernalia of force and violence –policemen, judges, executioners, soldiers, tax gatherers, etc., used to coerce others into doing as I think they ought to do.
I want for every man, woman, and child, the right to govern themselves, to direct their own affairs, to live their own lives. This can never be whilst private property, the be-all and end-all of government exists.
Think, workers, and you will acknowledge that it is for the defence of property that all this electioneering, this legislating, this making and unmaking of laws whose name is legion, takes place. To defend the property you have created, the houses you have built, the food you have grown, the clothes you have made – from you, the rightful owners.
And you maffick and lose time and quarrel with one another and act like lunatics generally because your masters generously allow you to make a cross on a piece of paper; and if you have been good and voted as they wish you to, they throw you a crumb from the loaf you have toiled to make and which they have stolen from you and you smugly return them thanks.
Learn to be men, free men, who depend on no master, who feed no idle, gilded loafers, who cower not beneath oppression, but who assert their right to life, liberty, and all the pursuits of happiness.
I believe that you can become this; I believe you can if you will, attain a free life, socially, economically, industrially, that is why I beg you to leave off following the red herring of politics, and instead, to refuse to obey the dictates of the gabblers of St Stephen’s and to support the lazy thieves of the thrice damned trinity – landowners, capitalists, parsons.
He who must be free, himself, must strike the blow!
[This article was first published at C4SS.org by mutualist and individualist anarchist Kevin Carson.]
In “Empire of the Rising Scum,” Robert Shea observed that, regardless of their ostensible mission, hierarchical institutions tend to be headed by people whose primary skills are careerist climbing and bureaucratic in-fighting. As I’ve said before, you simply cannot become a President of the United States, or a Fortune 500 CEO, unless there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. The same is true of the intellectual capacity of those who manage to advance upward within hierarchies. Being a team player, engaging in groupthink, demonstrating an ability to shut off critical thinking when evaluating the communications of a superior — these are qualities that authoritarian institutions select for.
But in addition to selecting for stupidity and meanness, such institutions impress those traits even on those who didn’t previously possess them. Hierarchies are systematically stupid. No matter how intelligent the people running them are as individuals, the internal dymanics of the hierarchy make them functionally stupid. That’s because power distorts communications, rendering them incapable of conveying accurate information. The reason, as R.A. Wilson pointed out, is that nobody tells the truth to someone with a gun — or with the power to fire them, or any other kind of unaccountable and unilateral power over them. The result is one-way communication flows, the utter isolation of institutional leadership from accurate feedback about the effects of their decisions. When an individual’s perceptions are so distorted that she receives no accurate feedback on the effect of her actions on her environment, she’s mentally ill. And hierarchical institutions, likewise, are functionally psychotic.
Authoritarian institutions tend to be governed by “best practices” and management fads based entirely on what their leadership hears from the leadership of other authoritarian institutions — people who are as clueless regarding the actual effects of these practices as they are. The reason is that the people at the tops of the pyramids — in the C-suites — communicate much more effectively with people at the tops of other pyramids than they do with those at the base of their own pyramid.
As organization theorist Kenneth Boulding said, those at the tops of hierarchies tend to live in almost completely imaginary worlds. Hierarchies are mechanisms purpose-evolved to tell naked emperors how great their clothes look.
A similar process, based on the distorted incentive structure when one possesses unaccountable authority over others and can externalize unpleasantness on subordinates while appropriating rewards for oneself, takes place in the ethical realm as well. Many simulations of authority relationships — perhaps most notably the Stanford Prison Experiment — have shown the nasty things that happen when subjects are randomly divided into those with and without authority. People who are randomly assigned the role of guard or master, and put into a position of exercising unaccountable authority over fellow subjects assigned the roles of prisoners and slaves, quickly grow into their role. The “guards” in the Stanford Prison Experiment, given authority to impose unpleasantness and otherwise make decisions affecting others without the latter having any feedback, soon so dehumanized the “prisoners” and so enjoyed brutalizing them that the two-week experiment had to be terminated after only six days.
So if you wonder why your CEO has no qualms about collecting a $20 million bonus while downsizing half the workforce and increasing the workloads of everyone else, the answer is simple. On an emotional level, she’s long ago convinced herself that you aren’t even human. People in authority, in their organizational roles, tend to experience the functional equivalent of a psychotic break with reality, and to act like sociopaths toward their subordinates.
Power over others, by its very nature, degrades those who wield it, turns them into monsters, and poisons their every relationship with their fellow human beings. There’s no “reform” that can change that, short of abolishing authority itself. And that’s what we anarchists want to do.
“It sounds simple,” the principal said about the new approach. “Just by asking kids what’s going on with them, they just started talking. It made a believer out of me right away.”
Who would have thought that talking with people more effectively solves problems than castigating them, that teenagers are people too, that intolerance is not the answer?
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.
A little over a year ago, when the State was in an uproar over this new “spice” drug and calls were being made for prohibition, I predicted that production, usage and availability of the drug would actually increase under prohibition. This is a basic economic fact confirmed by historical evidence for those who care to learn it. I also predicted that the State would use this failure, not as a reason to end prohibition, but to ban even more stuff.
“Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said that since the drug was outlawed, smoke shops not only have begun to sell the product illegally, but the number of smoke shops in some communities has increased significantly.”
“The House passed legislation Wednesday cracking down on black market sales of spice … The measure prohibits anyone under the age of 19 from entering a smoke shop … [a]nd it makes it illegal to sell tobacco paraphernalia to anyone under the age of 19.”
Sometimes I hate being right.
We have yet to see reports of increases in violent crime and theft as results of spice prohibition. Who knows what negative effects these new bans will have.
Any talk of ending the ban will undoubtedly be met with rabid opposition from the State’s law enforcement cartel, who are likely basking in the revenue received from seizing the assets of the guilty smoke shops.
When will people learn that prohibition doesn’t work, and that State bans invariably suffer from perverse incentive?
Anarchist activist Thomas L. Knapp recently published an article entitled “If You Have to Ask Why, the Answer is Usually ‘Money’” in response to the public’s general lack of support for military action against Iran and confusion as to the reasons for it. As Knapp points out, given the facts at hand, proposing war with Iran is, well, insane.
I have found that “money” is pretty much the answer to why government ever does anything. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know that “greed” has become a bad word over the past decade as it is blamed for every problem our society has faced; but greed is merely the pursuit of self-interest, and a universal human trait. Blaming our problems on greed is like blaming the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on gravity. Anyone who claims never to pursue self-interest is a liar, because such a person would have died from starvation long ago. Greed in and of itself has no power to do harm without force, and there is no larger, better organized institution of force than government.
It is for this reason that when an honest soul asks, Why are we waging a “War on Drugs” and destroying so many lives? What business is it of mine what another person puts in their own bodies? – the answer, of course, is money. As I have previously observed, the drug war puts the United States in the unique position of incarcerating a greater percentage of its citizenry than any other nation, and this prison population is put to work at an extremely low cost building weapons for the U.S. military.
This large prison population is very beneficial to other parties, as well, it turns out. Corrections Corporation of America is a $2 billion company whose business is to build or buy prisons and house prisoners at the State’s expense. They have an incentive, therefore, to imprison as many people as they possibly can. They have been active members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country, and they have spent millions over the years lobbying legislatures for stricter laws.
In an environment of shrinking state budgets across the nation, Corrections Corp. recently sent letters to 48 states offering to buy and manage their prisons, with the condition that they always be kept at least 90% full. At least one state has taken them up on this offer, and there is no reason for others not to follow suit. And there is only one way for them to guarantee that 90% figure: pass more and stricter laws, outlawing more victimless behavior, and enforcing those laws more strictly. This does not bode well for anyone outside the corporate and political elite.
There have been many movements recently to “get the corrupting money out of politics”. These efforts are admirable but misguided reactions to an increasingly authoritarian State. The proper course is to get the corrupting politics out of money. Money is not evil in and of itself – indeed, it represents the ingenuity and labor of voluntary exchange that has continuously increased humanity’s standard of living for centuries – but in the hands of the political means, the invasive and confiscatory and violent means of the State, it can be a powerful weapon for evil.
We need money; we don’t need politics.
Utah Liberty Alliance seeks to bring about a free society through journalism and activism, starting right here at home.
Recent Forum Posts
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Utah juror information
posted in forum Incubator by Nicholas Hooton on April 30, 2012 at 8:56 am