In the same vein as my last dialogue on the subject of initial appropriation, I have conjured up a dialogue on the subject of libertarian regulation.
This dialogue is set at the beginning of human time. A group of people gather to talk about things. Two of those people — Real Libertarian and Fake Libertarian — have the following conversation about what should be done regarding the governance of the pieces of the world.
Real: For starters, we have all agreed that we believe the concepts of self-ownership and negative liberty are correct. Nobody has a right to the body of others. Nobody should interfere with or externally restrain others. Nobody should act on the body of another, unless of course another acts on their body first.
Fake: Yes, I think we can all say we are libertarians here.
Real: Excellent. But that does leave unanswered the question of what we should do with all of the pieces of the world around us here — land, trees, water, and so on. Some have said we should create rules for those?
Fake: I think we should create some rules, yes. Some regulations about who can use what piece of the world and who can be excluded from them and so on.
Real: I don’t think we should have these rules because they run afoul of our libertarian commitments. To say someone has a right to exclude someone else from a piece of the world is to say they have a right to act on the body of another without their consent, to restrain them and interfere with their bodily movements — in short, to abridge their negative liberty and self-ownership.
Fake: I understand where you are coming from, but perhaps if I told you my preferred regulations, you would be more willing?
Real: Perhaps, what are the economic regulations you want everyone here to be forced to follow?
Fake: There are many, of course. But the first one is this. Rule One: Whenever someone does some work on some piece of land, they can exclude everyone else from that piece of land for the rest of history, using violence where necessary.
Real: I don’t like this rule. It doesn’t make any sense to me and it doesn’t seem fair. I do not want to make an exception to our libertarian commitments for something like this rule. I’d rather everyone be allowed to access everything and, as we set out at the beginning, be allowed to do anything they want short of acting upon or initiating force against the body of another. This proposed regulation goes directly against those commitments and grants people the right to initiate force against people and restrict their movement without their consent. It’s anti-liberty.
Fake: But we need a rule like this in order to have peace.
Real: This is nonsensical. We already have rules against violence, i.e. acting on the bodies of others. What you are proposing is actually an exception to those rules. You want to create an economic regulation that actually permits people to initiate violence against other people. Only with the introduction of these kinds of restrictions you are proposing does violence ever become permitted.
[others chime in, also against imposing Rule One]
Real: There is another problem here as well, in particular regarding religious freedom and pluralism. A few of the people around here are Christians who believe that the earth belongs to God, that he gave it to mankind to use in common, and that nobody can therefore have a right to exclude land from other people. If we pass Rule One, they will not follow it and will walk about on any land as they please. At which point, we will either have to give up the rule or violently repress their religious beliefs. I can’t in good conscience support an economic regulation that creates the possibility for this kind of violence and anti-pluralist religious repression.
Fake: This is the fundamentally correct rule though. It is just obvious that when you do some work on some land, you get the right to act violence against others so as to exclude them from that land for the rest of history. I do not care if you want to follow this economic regulation I have come up with. I am going to impose it on you anyways.
Real: You are behaving like a statist right now. You think your economic regulation is fundamentally correct. But no more so than the Christians or others in our camp think that it is fundamentally incorrect. If you go imposing this rule on everyone unilaterally, then what’s to stop them from imposing their economic regulations on everyone? It’s best to just not create any economic regulations and follow our libertarian commitments. Let us grant no rights to exclude people from pieces of the world — I think you called that “property.” Let us just stick with our initial agreement that everyone’s negative liberty and self-ownership be respected, rather than creating economic regulations that are exceptions to negative liberty and self-ownership, as you have proposed here with Rule One.