Posts tagged Charles Johnson

Re: Censorship Express


I see.

Since you haven’t identified a specific comment of mine to justify your gloss of my views on land ownership, there’s only so much I can say by way of a specific response. However, as a general thing, it seems likely to me that you’ve made two serious mistakes. First, you are mistaken if you think that my views about land ownership are identical to Kevin Carson’s. They’re not; while I respect Kevin and have agreed with him about the right (just, rights-respecting) outcome in specific disputes over land ownership, I came to those conclusions for different reasons from Kevin’s. Kevin believes in a strict occupancy-and-use for persistent ownership of land, as endorsed by Benjamin Tucker; I do not. (My view is a version of what Kevin Carson would call a “sticky” view on property claims to land.)

But, second, you are also grossly misinterpreting Kevin’s views if you think that his views amount to an “argument against a property right in improved land.” Kevin explicitly argues that each of us has an individual right to improved land, in virtue either of homesteading or consensual transfer from a previous owner. In fact he has repeatedly argued that the denial of that right by the State is the root cause of many social and economic evils. His occupancy-and-use criteria have nothing at all to do with a denial of “a property right in improved land”; it has to do with a specific theory about what constitutes abandonment of land that one used to own. That is no more a denial of a property right in improved land than it is a denial of a property right in quarters if I argue that I have a right to keep a quarter I found dropped on the street. You may of course disagree with Kevin about whether the criteria he suggests for constructive abandonment of land are good criteria. (I, for one, do disagree with him.) But it is a complete distortion of his views to claim that he is somehow simply denying property rights to improved land.

As for my own views, everything that I have ever written about rights to land (see, for example, 1, 2, 3) is based on the principle that legitimate homesteaders earn an individual property right to the improved land they homestead, which cannot be nullified by the arbitrary dictates of feudal, mercantile, colonial, or other equally arbitrary state-imposed allocation of land titles. You may very well disagree with me that the homesteaders I defend are legitimate homesteaders; you may think the land that I would argue to be abandoned, unowned, or otherwise available for homesteading is not really so. Fine; but, again, to claim that I am simply denying a property right to improved land — when in fact my whole position is based upon a property right to improved land — is to grossly distort my views.

I’ll be glad to discuss in greater detail the particular points of any particular argument if you produce some particular argument to discuss.

As for the second claim, that I (repeatedly) “appeal to a supposed lack of any possibility of objective criteria for rights,” you cite p. 161 of my essay in Anarchism/Minarchism, and my endorsement of Roy Childs’s “Open Letter to Ayn Rand,” as support. For those who do not have the book, the passage in question is now available for your inspection at Fair Use Blog. In it I argue (echoing Childs) that Ayn Rand’s theory of limited government is inconsistent, because any monopoly government must either forcibly suppress competing defense agencies that have not initiated force (thus violating the “limits” to which Ayn Rand claimed legitimate governments must be subject), or else must be willing to coexist on equal terms with non-force-initiating defense agencies (thus ceasing to be a monopoly, and ceasing to be a “government” in any sense objectionable to individualist anarchists). I would like for you, Adam, if you can, to find and point out a single claim or argument in that passage which at any point “appeals to a supposed lack of any possibility of objective criteria for rights,” either as a conclusion or as part of the argument to some further conclusion. Where do I make this appeal you claim that I make?

I submit you won’t be able to find one, because I don’t believe any such thing. (Neither did Roy Childs.) In fact, the passage you cite implicitly depends on a claim that the content of individual rights (thus what counts as an “initiation of force”) must be objective and discoverable by means of human reason, independently of government dictates; in fact, as you’ll notice on pp. 165-166 of the same book, my argument takes that implicit claim and makes it explicit, in the service of an argument against government monopoly on legislative authority: “But what must be appreciated here is that the obligation to follow those laws [that command justice or forbid injustice], and the right to enforce them, derives entirely from the content of those laws and not from their source. The government is justified in enforcing those laws only because anybody would be justified in enforcing justice, whether or not self-styled legislators have signed off on a document stating ‘Murder is a crime most foul.’ The document itself is idle; it neither obliges nor authorises anyone to do anything they were not already obliged or free to do. The government is not so much making new laws that impose obligations, but (at best!) making declarations that recognise preexisting obligations–which could be objectively specified by anyone, with or without official approval from anyone. Any right to override another’s assessment would derive from objective and impersonal considerations of justice, demonstrated through argument or attested on the basis of expertise, not from political prerogatives invested in the so-called legislature.” And, in p. 165 n. 24, you will find a note indicating a portion of Childs’s essay in which Childs explicitly makes more or less the same move (cf. his replies to quotes 2, 3 and 4 from Rand’s “The Nature of Government”).

Of course, nothing I’ve said here has yet established that I am right, or that Roy Childs is right, about individualist anarchism. Or that, whoever may be right, it would be worth your time and energy to try to work on projects with anarchists who believe in what we believe in.

Speaking frankly, I’m not very interested in hashing out the former argument yet again in the space of a comments thread. And I’m just as dubious as you are about the fruitfulness of collaborative projects between anarchists and minimal-statists, although possibly for reasons that are different from yours.

But, be all that as it may, while I’m not much concerned whether or not you agree with me, I do care about being misrepresented. To take arguments like the one you mention, and then insist that the arguer is denying the possibility of objective criteria for rights — when the whole argument is based on the principle that there are objective criteria for rights — is the worst sort of up-is-down, black-is-white distortion of your interlocutor’s views.