Reforming Libertarian Ethics


(I dont engage in justification. I try to determine the truth. And so if you manage to get through this little essay, you might not emerge with your high investment in rothbardian libertarianism intact.)


Regarding: “…the self-ownership axiom is the only one of those under consideration that is sound…”

Ethical statements cannot be ‘sound’ since that’s an allegorical and untestable statement. The testable term is ‘internally consistent’. However internal consistency (error free construction) doesn’t tell us anything about external correspondence (truth).

Instead, ethical statements must adhere to a higher standard of argument than the internally consistent: Ethical arguments must be:
a) preferable (to their absence)
b) necessary
c) sufficient
d) possible
e) durable (survivable over time)

How does the self ownership Axiom survive this test?
a) The S.O. axiom Is probably preferable (I can’t imagine a rational creature for whom it wouldn’t be preferable. I think it’s a precondition of autonomous sentience. So I have to stipulate that while I can’t determine the preferences of others, that it is hard for me to understand how it isn’t preferable for any being for whom action in real time is necessary for survival.)
b) it may or may not be sufficient;
c) it is certainly possible since it’s demonstrably extant;
d) it is rationally, praxeologically, and demonstrably durable.

Self Ownership and the NAP are very hard to argue with, except with regard to sufficiency. Are Self Ownership, Private Property, and NAP sufficient? They are sufficient for the purposes that Hoppe has put them to: which is the ability solve (almost) all problems of human cooperation while relying on self ownership, private property, and NAP.

The questions are:
a) whether the these rules are sufficient to obtain sufficient voluntary adoption and adherence such that this libertarian state of affairs are possible?
b) is there an alternative axiom or set of axioms that permits the deduction of the various solutions to voluntary cooperation?
c) is there a superior alternative axiom or set of axioms that permit the deduction of the various solutions to the problem of liberty (voluntary cooperation).

It would be unscientific to suggest that no other argument exists other than {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP}. (Self ownership, Private Property, Homesteading, Voluntary Exchange and Non Aggression). It is also pretty hard to imagine something more compact with the same explanatory power.

Why? Because these three statements:
1) Metaphysics: Self Ownership:(Existence);
2) Epistemology: Private Property with Homesteading and Voluntary Exchange :(Scope);
3) Ethics: NonAggressionPrinciple:(Test);
…are pretty narrow requirements for an axiomatic system. In fact, one statement per major domain of philosophy is so compact that it’s pretty hard to argue that it can be improved upon. Instead, it’s actually kind of awe-inspiring that all of the philosophy of human cooperation can be reduced to just these three statements.

Even better, technically all five philosophical domains are answered by SO,PP+H+VE,NAP:
4) Politics: Politics is solved by market, anarchy and voluntary insurance organizations.
5) Aesthetics: Aesthetics is satisfied by the fact that we stipulate that liberty is desirable.

So, if you’re asking the question, ‘how can we cooperate peacefully and voluntarily?’ and Hoppe has demonstrated that from these simple axioms we can cooperate peacefully and voluntarily, then it isn’t NECESSARY to devise an alternative axiomatic system. (I”m not even sure it’s helpful)

It may be accurate to state that we not claim (actually, that **HE** not claim) no other set of statements would be superior (even if it is improbable) . But that is not to say that it is necessary, since he has demonstrated them to be sufficient for the deduction of all the institutions formal and informal for a voluntary system of cooperation.

(Now, lest you assume I am an apologist, I’ll take this a little farther.)

“BUT” (and it’s a big but) is the set {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP} sufficient for voluntary and therefore preferential adoption of such set, either empirically (historically) or rationally (praxeologically)?

And I think that is probably where it fails to sustain scrutiny, because we can demonstrate that the demand for external intervention (the state) does not decrease sufficiently in any population, to permit the rational and praxeologically testable, preferential and demonstrably voluntary, adoption of anarchy, in any population by other than by a tiny minority – at least as it stands.

So while {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP} may be sufficient for the DEDUCTION of all means of voluntary cooperation, it does not provide sufficient INCENTIVE to reduce demand for external (state) intervention by a sufficient body of the population such that the a self-interested monopoly bureaucracy is not necessary for either:
(a) the systematic enforcement, of private property for the prevention of free riding, theft and violence, or;
(b) necessary for the systematic violation of private property to compensate for predation, as well as preventing theft and violence.

Again, it appears that {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP} is sufficient for deduction of the informal and formal institutions of voluntary cooperation, but provides an insufficient incentive for the voluntary adoption of informal and informal institutions of voluntary cooperation.

In that case, if the incentives are insufficient, then we have two possible means of constructing anarchy under {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP}:
(i) involuntary coercion under threat of boycott, ostracization, and/or threat of violence.
(ii) improvement of incentives such that anarchy is voluntarily adoptable (praxeologically possible).
(iii) A combination of both.

So, let us see if either or both solutions are possible or necessary.

History tells us that liberty only exists where nearly all involuntary transfers of property are prohibited – including those which are not visible or known of.

And the few circumstances where all involuntary transfers of property were prohibited was limited to european warriors who granted each other prohibition on involuntary transfer (property rights) in exchange for military service. Property rights were a ‘right’ that was obtained in a contract for voluntary exchange. The incentive to gain access to the privilege of private property was one that was both materially, and reproductively advantageous.

These property rights were an artifact of the accumulation of wealth first in simple goods, cattle and horses, later in land and built capital. Fighters who took risks, kept their winnings. Later, all free men kept their property.

Later under manorialism and agrarian farming, a married couple was needed for the rental of land. This delayed marriage, and forced the absolute nuclear family that we understand today.

When the church sought to break up the large landholders they interfered with inheritance rights, which are the source of the family structure, and consequently, the source of moral code variation, throughout the world. To break up the families they prohibited inbreeding out to as many as eight or even twelve generations, and granted women property rights.

The combination of property rights for all, the near elimination of free riding, even by family members (offspring), and the persistence of the militia as a fighting force, created the high trust universal social order we call the protestant ethic.

The enlightenment’s intellectual effort was an experiment in both justifying the middle class seizure of political power, and transferring the rights of the upper and ‘middle’ classes (small business owners : ie: farmers) to all land holders.

The culmination of this experiment was the near prohibition on involuntary transfers that was embodied in the American Constitution. The aristocracy of everyone who had a stake in the preservation of property rights.

(Unfortunately, that experiment has shown that universal enfranchisement, especially the enfranchisement of women, was incompatible with liberty, because participatory government by those whose interest is to seek rents and free riding, is an organized means of disempowering armed property owners, and systematically removing their property rights. Thereby returning us to the consanguineous or serial-marriage family structure in corporate (state) form.


It’s kind of hard to disagree with libertarian ethics as stated in {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP}. If only because they’re necessary, and the alternative to disagreeing with libertarian ethics, is demonstrably, a nearly universally undesirable state of affairs involving constant property violations (theft and violence) that make cooperation in a division of labor all but impossible – even among members of a consanguineous community of primitive hunter gatherers it may be beneficial.

Lets look at classes of involuntary transfers of property as people demonstrate them:
(1) Criminal statements are those that involve violence and theft.
(2) Ethical statements are those which prohibit involuntary transfer of property by asymmetry of information between those internal to the action.
(3) Moral statements are those which by definition apply to unknown persons external to the action: anonymous involuntary transfers of property.
(4) Conspiratorial Statements: Statements of Political Morality (conspiracy) are those which prevent the organized and systemic involuntary transfer of property, whether criminal, ethical, or moral.

The NAP only has a mechanism for fairly simple, obvious property violations: criminal violence and theft of class (1)

The NAP has no mechanism for any of class (2) or class (3), and arguably sanctions and encourages these involuntary transfers by NOT preventing them.

The NAP prevents class (1) PORTIONS of class (4), but it does not prohibit class (2) and (3) portions of class (4).

Now, if you are a member of the majority tribe, you will suppress (1) to increase trust and therefore productivity. But if you are an extractive minority tribe without political power, you may in fact prefer to preserve (1) as a means of competing with and draining the majority of resources.

We libertarians tend to laud intersubjectively verifiable actions. But again, those actions that are intersubjectively verifiable may be visible, they may be verifiable. But they are trivially primitive in scope because they are limited to merely theft and violence – and only to fraud where it is specifically defended against by written warranty in advance.

As such intersubjective verifiability is, like the NAP too simple a test for the suppression of ethical and moral violations that are required for the development of sufficient trust that liberty can exist by voluntary adoption, because the demand for a third party to prevent these transgressions by way of law-making, and institutional formation, is all but eliminated.

The NAP is insufficient criteria for the suppression of sufficient involuntary transfers of property to counter the demonstrated universal human disdain for ‘cheating’.

This is because private property open to intersubjective verifiability is insufficient a description for the types of property people demonstrate that they TREAT as their property.

So it is one thing to state that we can deduce all necessary formal and informal institutions for the support of private property from the {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP}. It is another to state that we can either deduce sufficient institutions formal and informal, or create sufficient incentives for the voluntary adoption of those institutions, from {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP}.

Just as it is demonstrable both rationally and empirically that socialism is impossible because of the impossibility of twin problems of economic calculation, and the absence of incentives, we also must observe that the set {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP} is demonstrably impossible because of the impossibility of suppressing sufficient cheating that people will possess the rational incentives, because planning and organizing are higher risk and more expensive under a low trust ethic, to adopt {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP}.

This is a very damning criticism of the sufficiency of {SO,PP+H+VE,NAP}. Or correctly stated, it is a just as damning and inescapable criticism of the NAP, as economic calculation and incentives were for the socialist means of production.

Once you understand this you will realize that {SO,PP+H+VE} survive, but that {NAP} is as great a logical failure as was the socialist means of production. It is non rational to ask humans to adopt the NAP since it suppresses crime, but not ethical, moral, and arguably, not even conspiratorial, violations of one’s property rights, as people demonstrate their understanding of property rights by their behavior.





(a) the market cannot suppress sufficient ‘cheating’ that property rights will be willingly given in exchange (respected) by masses of individuals; nor that the demand for third party intervention (government) will be suppressed as a substitute for failure to suppress ‘cheating’. Nor that those who specialize in organizing against the market will forgo their opportunity to exploit this demand for intervention.

(b) the source of property rights (and liberty as we know it) was not natural, was the product of a combination of the organized application of violence to both concentrate capital, and to suppress all forms of theft, cheating and free riding; as well as certain rare genetic biases in the west, the fertility and water availability of land, the hostile winters, and forcible destruction of familialism and tribalism by the church, so that it could interfere with inheritance practices and purchase land from the large land holders.

(c) Given the diversity of reproductive strategies, and the different capabilities of the classes, private property is undesirable and poses a threat to many of their reproductive abilities.

We are no longer equal enough, as we were under agrarianism and animal husbandry, that the marginal difference in our abilities is neutralized by mental and emotional discipline. While most humans can be disciplined and tamed for farm labor, not all humans can be taught to calculate using abstract concepts. As such the division of knowledge and labor provides sufficiently asymmetric rewards that the incentive to conform to property rights is non-rational for most actors.

(d) Hoppe correctly deduced that from the institution of private property we can in fact solve all institutional problems necessary for cooperation at scale in a complex division of knowledge and labor. Unfortunately, this state of affairs is undesirable by a majority of the population whose reproductive strategies rely on tactics outside of voluntary cooperation in the market, for success.

(e) Private property is contrary the the female reproductive strategy. Nuclear marriage is the optimum compromise between male and female reproductive differences.

(f) Therefore it is praxeologically non-rational, and anti-scientific, to suggest that liberty will be willingly adopted without the forcible suppression of the reproductive ability of the lower classes, and the ability of women to return to their natural reproductive bias, by restoring communal property via the state.

(g) As such, there are three options available to those of us who desire liberty, that we may employ one or all of:
i) forcible application of organize violence to re-obtain our liberty.
ii) modification of the ethics of liberty to suppress sufficient means of ‘cheating’ that demand for third party intervention (the state) will be diminished.
iii) extension of the hoppeian model of competing private institutions to preserve his solution to the problem of monopoly bureaucracy, yet permit the resolution of reproductive differences between classes which cannot be solved by individual action in the market, and only collective action via organizational proxies.

At my present level of skill I believe this is about as simply as I can articulate the idea.

Rothbard used the low trust of the ghetto, and it was a failure because, regardless of rothbard’s arguments, any person from a high trust society will reject rothbardian ethics as immoral. Hoppe used the high trust of the homogenous polity to restore the city state, but did not answer the problem of incentives in the absence of the absolute nuclear family. My solution is to acknowledge the heterogeneity of the polity and to attempt to offer ethical and institutional solutions to the problem of cooperation in heterogeneous polities.

Because what we are doing demonstrably hasn’t succeeded, and with what we have learnd over the past twenty years about human cognitive and gentic biases, it is non-rational to think that we have provided sufficient incentives for the voluntary adoption of property rights (and in particular, high trust property rights, not the low trust property rights of rothbard).

Pretty damning criticism I think.

But we need to keep advancing our philosophy until we find an answer. My answer might not be right, but it is likely to be less wrong.



One last simple fact: people demonstrate that they are willing to pay something like twice as much to punish a cheater as they are desirous of personal gain. (at least in-group). This means that decisions of rational actors are morally non-netural, and this further erodes the misesian and rothbardian ordinality of preferences, as well as the value of prices, as well as the argument to indifference in all transactions. Prices are less important than signals and far less important than the suppression of cheating. If you combine this with both differences in reproductive strategies and the different abilities of the classes, then the argument that prices (and economics) are more material than morals falls. People will act morally if you suppress immorality well enough. but since their dislike of immorality is higher than their desire for other satisfactions, you must suppress far more than rothbard’s ghetto ethics if you want the obtain even basic private property rights. And you must suppress nearly all cheating if you want to eliminate the demand for government. As far as we know, this level of suppression of cheating can only be accomplished in a small homogenous outbred polity. (scandinavia). And it is possible that it is a genetic bias (I am not sold on that).

(I think I went to far again too fast with that bit… sorry.)
One more try at the elevator speech.
To reduce the demand for intervention, and obtain property right voluntarily, the standard of etics must be far and above those of the NAP. They must extend to all involuntary transfers, of all kinds, under all circumstances. and as far as I can tell, that requires the right of ostracization (exclusion).

Hoppe was right so far as he took it. On everything. His generation did not have the science, so they had to rely on deduction alone. We have science. So I use it.