libertarian philosophy, tactics and individual privacy

Professor Michael S. Rozeff posted a blog post at LRC a few days ago on privacy and in that post claimed that Murray Rothbard had failed to sufficiently defend the right to privacy of the individual. Well naturally Professor Walter Block, a student and close friend of Rothbard, took issue with the post and responded. David Gordon entered the conversation with a short post on his take on the issue. And then Dr. Rozeff added to his position here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I found the discussion very interesting because there are parts of the Rothbardian philosophy that I find lacking and in need of improvement. This should come as no surprise since human knowledge works by building on the shoulders of those who came before us. After all, we are not Randians locked into a cult where no dissent is tolerated. I found that I was more in agreement with Dr. Rozeff than I was with Dr. Block on the issue of privacy. In fact, Michael Rozeff is dead on target when he says that we have neglected social theory and common law in building our radical libertarian theories. He wrote me in e-mail and I have permission to quote from the e-mail as long as I mention that this is not for publication stuff and he may revise his position, or change the wording, or change the tone as he develops his thoughts on the matter. Anyway, I wanted to quote this:

Naturally, I respect the work of all these men greatly. We simply must surpass them, however. There are at least 4 reasons. First, not everyone is going to be convinced to be an anarchist. Few people are, and with good reason, if only the uncertainty of it, and the lack of experience with it. Second, it’s in the nature of research to move ahead, discover new knowledge and revise the old. Third, Mises and Rothbard, and especially Rothbard, attempted so much that they couldn’t possibly get it all right. Fourth, there are many, many clever people among the economists and media who are pro-state and devise new arguments all the time. We have to be incisive in showing why we shouldn’t listen to their arguments, and that takes more insight than the standard libertarian ideas may have. Why is that? The reason basically is that the libertarian ideas are lacking in what is called SOCIAL THEORY. It’s impoverished in that direction. It doesn’t deal all that well with many interpersonal issues. Rothbard restricted his analysis to PHYSICAL aggression because it follows logically from owning one’s body (which itself is an economics-type concept and not particularly attractive metaphorically). He therefore reached the conclusion that defamation of character, libel, slander and blackmail were allowable in a “libertarian” law society, which was really HIS version of what law should be.

My gracious, that was a powerful set of observations that he made. I am inclined to agree that we need to realize that physical aggression is not the only form of aggression that we see in the world around us. I am also very aware that a radical libertarians can’t tell you exactly how an anarchy would look since it would be up to the many people making individual decisions to form that world — and common law from our past comes the closest to being that sort of society based evolved common thinking that we have to look at. We should pay more attention to the results of common law in our writings and in our philosophical system building.

I have to admit however that Rothbard was tactically correct in his day to stick to the purely physical in developing his version of libertarian law and the ethics of liberty. There were only a tiny handful of libertarians in the country when Rothbard first began. It was like he was running a Kindergarten class in liberty! But now it is time that we added to our defence of liberty and I believe that there are certain invasions of my being that can not be observed in a purely physical manner.

A good first step may be to look long and hard at the concept of privacy. I have a property right in my being which can be assaulted by a fist to my face; but I can also be assaulted by an invasion of my privacy with the intent to discover information to be used against me. As we enter an age where the government will have the ability to collect all manner of information about me — possibly even my thoughts — it is time to fight for our individual privacy rights as well as our purely physical property rights.


I am a philosophical Taoist and believe that there is far more to this existence than mere accident. I don’t believe that there is only a thing called random chance which explains all we see around us. There is a concept called “consciousness” which is not explained by the brain and body. It is this consciousness that is free and must have liberty. This consciousness of mine believes that freedom and liberty is a myth unless I have privacy.

For now, I only have questions and certain ill supported conclusions. This will take time and I plan on revisiting this topic when time allows.


3 thoughts on “libertarian philosophy, tactics and individual privacy

  1. How can libertarianism as a philosophy officially advocate values outside of its objectively demonstrable standard without either contradicting or undermining that standard?

  2. It remains to be seen if we can do that. But I think that we can move past methodological materialism to include the human spirit as well. I am very concerned about the lost of privacy and what it might do to our lives — both under a government and in an anarchy. At least we need to investigate this aspect of our philosophy.

    • Just to be clear, I do believe other morals exist outside of the interpersonal realm of permissible violence. In fact it’s ludicrous to think otherwise. As long as we live we must act, which means we must adopt values. And if we must adopt values we cannot simply dismiss all talk of (non-objective) morals. For to dismiss all non-objective moral and aesthetics judgements as arbitrary emotive garbage is advocate death and non-existence. This being said, the ethic of agents and violence which libertarianism elaborates, and which thus far can only be demonstrated through objective behavior and material relationships, is the most basic and foundational. Other ethics must recognize this one. And ideas and attitudes irreconcilably conflicted with the ethic of agency must be disregarded.

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