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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why Libertarianism is Stupid

Libertarians don't want "big government" interfering in private contracts. This creates certain problems for the libertarian.

Assume we have two people who wish to enter into a private contract. One of the two wants to sell himself into slavery to the other. According to libertarian principles, no one has a right to interfere in that contract.

Think I'm exaggerating? This is what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has to say about libertarianism
It wrongs an individual to subject her to non-consensual and unprovoked killing, maiming, enslavement, or forcible manipulation. (emphasis added)
Full-self ownership is sometimes thought to guarantee that the agent has a certain basic liberty of action, but this is not so. (emphasis in the original) For if the rest of the world (natural resources and artifacts) is fully (“maximally”) owned by others, one is not permitted to do anything without their consent—since that would involve the use of their property. For example, as a result of one's trespass on their land, one may become their slave. The protection that self-ownership affords is a basic protection against others doing certain things to one, but not a guarantee of liberty. (emphasis added) Even this protection, however, may be merely formal. A plausible thesis of self-ownership must allow that some rights (e.g., against imprisonment) may be lost if one violates the rights of others. Hence, if the rest of world is owned by others, then anything one does without their consent violates their property rights, and, as a result of such violations, one may lose some or all of one's rights of self-ownership. (emphasis added) This point shows that, because agents must use natural resources (occupy space, breathe air, etc.), self-ownership on its own has no substantive implications. It is only when combined with assumptions about how the rest of the world is owned (and the consequences of violating those property rights) that substantive implications follow.

Libertarianism is the philosophy of libertines and teenagers (but I repeat myself). It is incompatible with Catholic philosophy. Catholic philosophy views "ownership", in the strict sense, as an attribute of God - God owns all things because He created all things.

Libertiarianism directly contradicts the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The right to freedom is "unalienable" - I am not capable of entering into a contract of slavery, on either side. But libertarianism must allow such a contract, or it isn't libertarianism.

Every human individual is, at most, a steward of one or more created goods. Strictly speaking, in Catholic philosophy, we don't own anything.  Our lives revolve around the rights that flow from being appointed a steward and exercising stewardship, they do not flow from ownership. Thus, the core concept of libertarianism is fundamentally incompatible both with being an American and with being a Catholic.

Most libertarians can't even define the word.


Daniel Widdis said...


Your argument is self-contradictory.

In your fifth paragraph, you state, "The right to freedom is 'unalienable' - I am not capable of entering into a contract of slavery, on either side."

Proceeding from that assumption, a contract of slavery simply can not exist. Let's proceed under this assumption:

In your second paragraph, you write, "Assume we have two people who wish to enter into a private contract. One of the two wants to sell himself into slavery to the other." So far so good. However, as your fifth column points out, neither of these two people is capable of entering into such a contract. Therefore, such a contract will never exist.

Therefore, you cannot presume that the hypothetical existence of this contract you say is impossible places any burdens on anyone.

Furthermore, you state, "Every human individual is, at most, a steward of one or more created goods. Strictly speaking, in Catholic philosophy, we don't own anything." Proceeding from that assumption, ownership of another human being is impossible. However, ownership of other human beings is the very definition of slavery. So if your premise is true, then slavery simply cannot exist.

However, the premise of your entire alleged incompatibility of libertarianism is that slavery exists. If slavery does not exist, libertarianism cannot support it, or support contracts that allow entering into it.

You quote the Declaration of Independence as stating "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Libertarianism supports the right to Liberty expressed in that very statement. How you can possibly twist that to read any other way defies logic.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


I am pointing out what libertarians believe and contrasting it with the reality that is Catholicism.

No one can be both libertarian AND Catholic.
Thus, the inconsistencies you believe you perceive come from your failure to recognize that I am contrasting Catholic positions with libertarian positions.

Libertarians think you can actually own stuff, they believe (or to be logically consistent, they would believe) that any private contract freely entered into is strictly between the contracting parties, and no one can interfere with such a contract.

Catholics, on the other hand, do NOT believe that anyone actually owns stuff (we are just stewards), and that contracts are always subject to public review and approval, regardless of who enters into them.

The Declaration of Independence supports the Catholic viewpoint, not the libertarian viewpoint.

Daniel Widdis said...

Regarding being libertarian and catholic: I'll defer to your expertise on catholicism as I am not catholic.

It may very well be the case.

However, that statement has nothing to do with the subject line of your article (about the "stupidity" of libertarianism) or about the main line of your reasoning, dealing with private contracts, and the libertarian philosophy associated with such contracts.

However, your claim that the desire to keep the government from interfering with private contracts "represents certain problems for the libertarian" would then apply only to those who are catholics. For a non-catholic libertarian, there is no issue.

But back to your hypothetical concept of a contract of slavery:

Slavery requires ownership.

The very definition of slavery treats humans as property. (Even the libertarian principle of "self-ownership" which you rail against and say does not exist, is the antithesis of slavery; however, if your premise is true one can not own oneself, no one else can own them either.)

If, as you believe, nobody actually owns stuff, then slavery can not, and does not exist.

I fail to understand how you can possibly accuse any group of supporting an institution that you do not believe exists.

Does slavery (the ownership of human beings) exist? Yes or no? Please answer this simple question.

You can not have it both ways. Either slavery exists (and thus ownership exists) or slavery does not exist (and it is impossible for anyone, including libertarians, to support it.)

It's truly that simple.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Whether or not something exists is independent of whether or not people think it exists.

For example, the planets do not have astrological powers, yet millions of people live as if they do, guiding their lives according to nonsensical principles. In principle, libertarians cannot object to people who want to live by astrology.

It is impossible to own someone else, but millions of people live as if it IS possible. In principle, libertarians cannot object to people who want to freely enter into a private contract for one person to enslave the other.

As a Catholic, I am bound to get people to stop living according to their illusions and start living according to reality. That's all being Catholic means - living according to reality. Thus, I am bound to keep people from practicing astrology, slavery or libertarianism.

Daniel Widdis said...


Thanks for the clarification.

You have effectively argued your case that, based on the Catholic assumption that only God owns anything, the principle of "self-ownership" can not exist.

However, you have failed to show from a larger point that "Libertarianism" in general is stupid.

You chose to quote an article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which does not attempt to define Libertarianism in general. In the second sentence of the article, it explicitly states, "This entry is on libertarianism in the narrower sense of the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves ..."

It is no surprise that you cherry-pick an article focusing narrowly on self-ownership, and not the larger ideas of libertarianism, and conclude that since you assume (based on your beliefs) that ownership is impossible, that self-ownership is "stupid".

You completely ignore the opening sentence to that article which lists property rights as only one of three major tenets: "In the most general sense, libertarianism is a political philosophy that affirms the rights of individuals to liberty, to acquire, keep, and exchange their holdings, and considers the protection of individual rights the primary role for the state." Libertarianism does three things:
1. affirms the rights of individuals to liberty (the same right you claim the Creator endowed men with)
2. affirms property rights (a right you say does not exist, but people live as if it does)
3. considers protection of individual rights the primary role of the state.

Are you consistent in calling any other philosophy "stupid" which equally affirms property rights? Clearly many of the same authors of the Declaration of Independence (who mentioned both Trade and Commerce, the exchange of property in that document) wrote property rights clearly into the Bill of Rights. Do you old the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution as equally "stupid" as libertarianism, which primarily affirms individual liberty?

As for being catholic meaning "living according to reality" I have searched many reference sources and have not found a single one which makes that distinction. Can you cite your source for that, please?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Libertarianism is stupid because it has to affirm voluntary slavery to remain self-consistent. It is grounded in a fantasy about ownership.

"As for being catholic meaning "living according to reality" I have searched many reference sources and have not found a single one which makes that distinction. Can you cite your source for that, please?"

Sure. Every accurate statement made about Catholicism revolves around the fact that Catholics know Jesus is God. God is the source of reality. We live according to Christ, i.e., reality. QED.

Daniel Widdis said...

Libertarianism considers the role of the state to protect individual rights and choices so long as they do not harm others.

So yes, Libertarianism would permit an individual to wholly place themselves permanently in the control of another person, no matter what name you give it. It appears to me that you particularly choose to include the word "slavery" in order to conjure up emotional opposition to the most common use of the term, involuntary servitude. But when the choice is made voluntarily, who are you to step in and tell someone else you know better what to do with their life than they do?

I was under the presumption that the word "Catholic" meant living in accordance with the doctrines of the Catholic church. Many religions, and most atheists, claim to "live according to reality". Stating that living according to realit is "all being Catholic means" omits a lot of other important qualities of being Catholic.

But assuming for a moment that the "reality" of your beliefs is true and that you live according to Christ, consider what Jesus himself did, and said.

According to Paul, Jesus "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant" (Phil 2:7). The Greek word Paul used here was δούλου (doulou, from doulos), translated variously as "slave" or "bondservant". This word literally means "someone who belongs to another; a bond-slave, without any ownership rights of their own". (See

Paul uses same the word to refer to himself (as a slave of Christ) in the opening greeting of his letter to the Romans.

Now of course, Jesus was divine; you may argue that as God, he had ownership rights of himself that he ceded. Or that Paul could be a slave of the divine Jesus without violating the principle that God owns everything.

But Jesus instructed his followers to do similarly after washing their feet: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." (John 13:14). In case the foot-washing wasn't clear, in verse 16 the same word δούλου (doulou) is used, meaning we are to be bondservants -- voluntary slaves, using your provocative terminology -- to each other.

Jesus further teaches that we should be voluntary bondservants to each other: "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant [diakonos] and whoever would be first among you must be your slave [doulos, bondservant, voluntary slave]" (Matt. 20:26-27)

It seems to me that your opposition to "voluntary slavery" is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christ.

Would your Catholic opposition to the principles of libertarianism cause you to advocate for a government that would prevent an individual from voluntarily becoming a bondservant (doulos) of another person, in their attempt to follow Catholic teachings?

Daniel Widdis said...

RE: "Libertarianism is stupid because it has to affirm voluntary slavery to remain self-consistent. It is grounded in a fantasy about ownership."

It is my understanding that Peter is recognized by the Catholic church as its first pope (as the first Bishop of Rome). Jesus himself said he would "build my church" on Peter.

So does Peter affirm voluntary slavery (being a bondservant)?

"Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust." - 1 Peter 2:18

But wait, slavery was a Roman institution, you may object. Let's look at the context of the above quote:

"Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good." - 1 Peter 2:13-14

Clearly, Peter wanted slaves to live as slaves "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." (1 Peter 2:15). Peter affirmed voluntary slavery.

It follows from your earlier statement that Peter's teaching "is stupid because it has to affirm voluntary slavery to remain self-consistent. It is grounded in a fantasy about ownership."

Sounds very Catholic.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


Daniel Widdis, first you say that libertarianism doesn't support slavery, then you realize you've lost so you embrace the fact that libertarianism DOES support slavery. And you follow by trying to tell me that Catholicism supports slavery.

I've already demonstrated - and you have essentially agreed - that you don't understand your own political philosophy. Your foray into Catholic philosophy is equally skilled. I suggest you spend some time studying the various meanings and context of the word "law" in Catholic philosophy and theology. Aquinas' Summa Theologica would be a good place to start.

Daniel Widdis said...

I'm glad I'm keeping you amused. :)

Feel free to apply the label "slavery" to a voluntary submission of one person to another and then pretend that a philosophy that permits voluntary submission is suddenly fully in support of one of the worst evils of modern times. You're playing semantic games. I'm not biting.

The very site you quoted states that libertarianism believes "It wrongs an individual to subject her to non-consensual ... enslavement..." This is the meaning of "slavery" understood by 99.999999% of people. The only "loophole" you can seem to find in the belief is in the concept of voluntary submission of oneself to another -- a philosophy encouraged by Jesus himself -- and then you call that stupid.

I never tried to tell you that Catholicism supports slavery. I merely said that authors of the Bible "affirmed" its existence.

You have claimed that under Catholic beliefs, ownership does not exist, and therefore slavery does not exist. Jesus, Peter, and Paul would disagree with you.

Libertarian no more "supports" slavery than Catholicism. It merely permits an individual's choice to make contracts with his or her property, including him or herself. More importantly, it argues against a government interfering with such contracts.

Permitting something is not the same as supporting it. I, for example, permit the millions of people around me to smoke, drink to excess, overeat, waste time debating idiots online, use profanity, and do various other things that I find immoral and/or harmful to themselves. I do not support these many vices. But I support the choices of individuals to do these things and possibly inflict self-harm if they so choose.

Libertarianism does not support slavery in the sense that 99.999999% of modern people understand it. You and other philosophers love to apply this whole straw man "voluntary slavery" argument to attempt to make a claim that libertarianism (which assumes self ownership) somehow supports or encourages ownership by others, which is certainly not the case. The only tie you can possibly make between those two is the existence of a concept of ownership, which you cleverly dodge by denying it exists.

As for your accusation that I "don't understand my own political philosophy," you don't even know what my philosophy is. How arrogant of you to assume you know what I believe, and that I don't.

You started this post by assuming a particular definition of "libertarianism" (narrowly focused only on self-ownership) on a website and have chosen to attack that. What if that doesn't match my beliefs? I've been trying to have this discussion on your terms, using the definitions you have established. This has nothing to do with my beliefs. This has to do with your claim that any philosophy espousing ownership of anything is incompatible with Catholicism, and is thus stupid.

... continued in next reply, 4096 character limit...

Daniel Widdis said...

... continued from previous reply ....

As far as learning to understand Catholic beliefs and laws, I'm not interested. If you wish to share relevant portions of those beliefs to your argument here, I'm all ears, but so far you've only asserted that slavery is impossible for Catholics (which makes Peter's and Paul's writings and Jesus' words look somewhat crazy).

As for Aquinas, why should I listen to a mere man's writings on the existence of slavery, and the ability of some men to "own" other men, at least in Biblical times, when I have the words of the Son of God himself? Does the first Pope's word carry no weight? You seem to call the Apostle Paul's teaching "stupid because it has to affirm voluntary slavery to remain self-consistent. It is grounded in a fantasy about ownership."

The Ten Commandments have two specific commandments associated with ownership. "Thou shalt not steal"... how can one steal property from someone else if they don't own it? Or "Thou shalt not covet .... anything that is thy neighbor's." How can you covet something if your neighbor doesn't own it? But according to you, the Ten Commandments are stupid because they are "grounded in a fantasy about ownership."

Elijah, in the name of the Lord, cursed Ahab and Jezebel for, in part, stealing another man's property because he refused to sell it to them. You must think Elijah (speaking for the Lord himself) was "stupid" because he and Naboth the Jezreelite were "grounded in a fantasy about ownership." You're lucky Elijah isn't around to sic some bears on you.

Lest my multiple refutations of your silly claims have confused you, let me make some points clear:
- My political philosophy has not even entered this discussion. I am attempting to limit myself to the definitions you choose and the references you cite. My comments about libertarianism have come exclusively from the link in your original post.
- Libertarianism (as defined on the website you chose to represent it) is about more than self-ownership, but that is the one aspect of it that you have chosen to focus on
- Simultaneously recognizing self-ownership and personal liberty permits (but does not require, endorse, or otherwise support) voluntarily giving over one's ownership to someone else. You call that slavery, likely in an attempt to evoke an emotional reaction or triumphantly claim, like a schoolchild, "libertarianism supports slavery!" If you want to win at the semantic games, congratulations.
- Catholics, as I understand it, believe the words of the bible. This would include Jesus, who suggested that his followers voluntarily become bondservants (the equivalent of the contractual slavery you're suggesting in your original post) to each other. It would also include Peter (the first Pope) and Paul, who both wrote instructions to people who were slaves, acknowledging (although not supporting) the existence of human ownership. Acknowledging human ownership and even permitting its existence (both of which Peter, Paul, et. al. have done) does not translate to support, but at the same time it does not make the other writings/philosophy/theology of those people "stupid" as you claim.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

"You have claimed that under Catholic beliefs, ownership does not exist, and therefore slavery does not exist. Jesus, Peter, and Paul would disagree with you.'

As I said before, you know Catholic philosophy/theology even less well then you know libertarian philosophy. "You cannot serve two masters...." God owns everything. Jesus, Peter and Paul all insist that the Christian belongs to God. Their use of the word "bondservant" in relation to human beings is analogous. I cannot belong to both a human being and to God. Insofar as I am God's, my "bondservice" to someone on earth is not slavery at all, nor even the living out of MY will, because even my will belongs to God.

Libertarianism doesn't necessarily recognize the existence of ANY God, much less Christ. It views ownership in purely human terms. As you have already admitted, it can have no serious objection to enslavement as part of a contract. And note that I'm putting the case much more lightly than Stanford does - Stanford points out that libertarian enslavement can absolutely be against the will of the person being enslaved.

You don't have a leg to stand on.

Daniel Widdis said...

Ah, Steve, once again you narrowly cherry pick bits and pieces of a philosophy and selectively quote only that which supports your effort to make a philosophy that objects to non-consensual enslavement and then force that philosophy to support consensual enslavement. You make this leap only by ceasing to read on past the point you selectively quoted.

It is obvious to me that you have no intention of actually engaging in constructive discourse here: you've stated your position and will ignore any argument to the contrary, even arguments made in the very reference that you cite and selectively quote to support your view. Accordingly, this will be my last reply (well, 2 replies since I'm limited to 4096 characters each) as any further rebuttals to your incomplete logic will probably be met with simple "you are wrong" replies.

PART 1 of 3

First, let me address the issue of Catholic philosophy and God's ownership vs. man's.

I am fully aware that under Catholic philosophy, "God owns everything." The bible says so in multiple places. That does not change the fact that God has ordained that our stewardship of private property, and even ourselves, proceed in a manner as if we did own what we are given stewardship of. Jesus, in a parable recounted in Luke 19:11-27, even demonstrates this concept of stewardship, where an owner (representing God) gives his bondservants (representing us) money to invest. Two invest wisely and are rewarded; one fails to invest and what he has is taken away and given to one of the others. The words used in this passage for "has" and "given" represent property ownership in the language of the day. Is that property a gift of God who ultimately owns it? Yes. Do people still own/possess these gifts from God? Yes.

How is this relevant? You made the following statement:
What's my point about this? I am answering this statement of yours:
"Libertarianism is stupid because it has to affirm voluntary slavery..."

The eighth and tenth commandments, inheritance laws, laws on slavery (and compensation for harming a slave), and multiple other points support the idea that humans own things, including people -- not ultimately or absolutely, but at least temporarily. Therefore, the bible, and by extension any belief system (including Catholicism) which relies on the bible as an authoritative source, must affirm the existence of property ownership (even if temporarily as a steward) and, by extension, Catholocism has to affirm voluntary slavery. Therefore, it meets your definition of stupid.

Or, it is possible that your definition of stupid is wrong.

Daniel Widdis said...

PART 2 of 3

Now, back to your original post.

Briefly, in your original post, you argue the following points:
A. One of the principles of Libertarianism is self-ownership
B. Self-ownership is not a guarantee of liberty because it is dependent on the ownership of natural resources by the "rest of the world".
C. If the rest of the world so chooses by their ownership , one may lose one's rights of self-ownership.

You then proceed to jump to the conclusion that A and C are contradictory to each other, and in your most recent post even go to the extreme of stating that "libertarian enslavement can absolutely be against the will of the person being enslaved."

Let's go back to your chosen reference source for Libertarianism. Section 1 of that article discusses Self-Ownership and introduces itself as follows (bold emphasis added, italic emphasis in original):
Libertarianism, in the narrow sense of this entry, holds that agents are, at least initially, full self-owners. Agents are (moral) full self-owners just in case they morally own themselves in just the same way that they can morally fully own inanimate objects. Below we shall distinguish between full (interpersonal) self-ownership and full political self-ownership. Many versions of libertarianism endorse only the latter.

The article itself clearly states that there are two types of self-ownership: interpersonal and political. It also states (again) that it is narrow interpretation, and not part of the broader philosophy. It also clearly points out, and beyond highlighting it above I will repeat for emphasis: Many versions of libertarianism endorse only political self-ownership.

The paragraphs you cherry pick discuss full self-ownership and highlight the very weakness you do. You stop there, triumphantly shouting that all libertarianism is stupid accordingly, ignoring the article's continuation, discussing political self-ownership, that many versions of libertarianism endorse, which overcomes this objection, stating:
Those who advocate libertarianism as a theory of the duties owed to others typically endorse full (interpersonal) self-ownership and are subject to this objection. They reject any such obligation on the ground that it induces a form of partial slavery.

Those who advocate libertarianism as theory of enforceable duties, however, need not be subject to this objection. They can endorse full political self-ownership, without endorsing full (interpersonal) self-ownership.

In summary:
1. some versions of libertarianism are subject to the flaw you point out
2. not all versions of libertarianism are subject to the flaw you point out.
3. it is incorrect to take one, narrow view and insist that it applies to all libertarianism.

Daniel Widdis said...

PART 3 of 3

Continuing, the article does discuss that voluntary enslavement does constitute an objection of both full and political self-ownership. However, as we have seen in the case of Catholicism, affirming the possibility of voluntary enslavement does not in itself affirm, or support, the "against the will" enslavement you have asserted in your most recent comment.

Finally, the article concludes (after discussing multiple objections): These objections indicate different ways in which full self-ownership has proven controversial. It is possible to weaken the principle along any of these dimensions to avoid the objections, while holding on to the general spirit of the self-ownership view. The result will not be a theory of full self-ownership, but one that approximates that idea.

And here we arrive at what many libertarians believe, a theory that approximates the idea of full self-ownership.

You have triumphantly shown only that there are objections to a particular narrow interpretation of full self-ownership in libertarianism, particularly with respect to the ownership of natural resources.

The article you cited continues to address these concerns in detail, including how both left-leaning and right-leaning libertarianism attempts to address the ownership of natural resources in order to prevent involuntary enslavement.

I'll leave you to read past the point you quit selectively quoting, since it will utterly destroy your argument and it's clear you have no intention of reading anything more to change the conclusion that you've already arrived at.