Re[2]: left anarchy, right anarchy, and space homesteading

Guru George (
Sun, 12 Oct 1997 14:35:03 +0100

Apologies for the lateness of this reply, and the perhaps rather tedious
continuation of this thread after it must have seemed to you to be dead
and buried!

On Sat, 4 Oct 1997 14:05:17 -0700 (PDT) (The Low Golden Willow) wrote:

>On Oct 3, 10:40pm, Guru George wrote:
>} (The Low Golden Willow) wrote:
>} I hate to say this, but: to whom? It's acceptable to those who are
>} holding the property. So why should we accept the anarchist's
>} preferences rather than the property holders'? What makes the poor
>Why should we accept the property holders' preferences? If other
>people's starvation is acceptable to them why shouldn't seizing their
>property be acceptable to others?

Again, you give me the heartless curmudgeon; again, I give you the
Gaughinesque maiden on the beach. Private property is a universal rule,
and there are bound to be some cases where its protection will be unfair
according to other considerations. The heartless curmudgeon is a
marginal, difficult case: but the Gaughinesque maiden represents the
normal run of things, which presents no problem at all. I believe what
is required for the heartless curmudgeon is economic and moral sanction,
and shaming, perhaps even turning a blind eye to theft (tempering
justice with mercy, a notion as ancient as property itself): but not the
philosophical sanction of theft as a universal rule.

We aren't accepting the property holder's preferences, we are upholding
a universal rule.

>} Private property in the pure capitalist sense requires no justification
>} whatsoever. It is based on a fact: someone *already* controls x,
>} therefore they should be *left* in control of it. Finders keepers. By
>} this definition, neither first acquisition nor exchange are theft,
>Ah, but what's control? Control through use, or control through legal
>mechanism of the state? A bank doesn't directly control an empty office
>building, nor does someone control vacation houses they're not living
>in, except through the ability to drive out any squatters who might have
>occupied the unused property. Usually this is backed up by the state.

Private property is perhaps most precisely defined as control-of-use.
It equates to use most of the time, but control is the more accurate
concept. And control is an easily visible, objective fact, signalled by
such things as fences, name tags, etc. - all of which say "I am
presently controlling this thing as part of an ongoing project, please
don't interfere." Again, most of the time, this is objective enough for
the law to make an objective decision on (as opposed to evaluations of
'possibilities blocked', which is what the leftists ask us to go on, and
which would logically have to be decided by some sovereign authority -
which is why leftist anarchism is less consistent than plain socialism).

>Hmm. In a world of private law, perhaps some PPLs would recognize
>property by title, and others property by use. I discover someone's
>been living on the abandoned farmland I just inherited from my uncle and
>call my title-PPL to evict them. Their use-PPL steps in to protect
>them: after all, they've been using it for the past 5 years, the land
>hadn't been used for the previous decade, who do I think I am to throw
>them out of their home? Private war ensues, unless a buyout occurs, but
>that could go both ways: they pay me rather than defend themselves (fair
>enough for me), or I pay them to leave the land to save the cost of
>evicting them by force (fair enough for them).

Property goes neither by title nor by use but by control - the rule says
"look to see if anybody's controlling the item you desire to bring under
your own control: if somebody's already controlling it, you must allow
them to keep control of it: your only recourse is therefore gift or
exchange." You don't actually have to be using something in the sense
of being in present physical contact for it to be said rightly that you
are in control of it (example: controlling the flow of water with a dam
- here I am neither in physical contact with dam or water, nor am I
necessarily 'using' the water).
>I've just discovered, BTW, (and BTW what does IOW mean?) that the
>anarchists seem to have distinguished between 'private' and 'personal'
>property. I'm guess the former refers to factories and the latter to
>your toothbrush, but I'm not sure yet.

If they make this distinction, it shows how little they understand that
*exclusivity* is the heart of the matter. *All* property is private, in
the sense of being exclusive. Property that is not private (exclusive
to an individual or a univocal voluntary collective) is a meaningless
concept, it seems to me. (IOW means "in other words".)

>} What *does* require justification is the *rule* : why *should* we leave
>} people in control of what they already control? The answer to that has
>} two parts: a moral, and an economic.
>} Roughly, the moral justification is sort of Kantian: it is an insult to
>} human dignity to just snatch something that someone is in control of;
>Again, 'control' is not an absolute term.

It is absolute in the sense that it is an objectively verifiable,
natural fact, albeit socially-signalled. There may be all sorts of
difficulties in practice, but there is no vagueness about the principle.
This is quite opposite from the case with regard to socialist
conceptions that are meant to take the place of property: the
principles are obscure, the practice always idiotically the same.

>} The economic justification is that rewards and penalties for an action
>} should, as much as possible, be restricted to the actor concerned. This
>} makes for economic efficiency, learning curve possibilities (a la
>} Now nothing is perfect, and there are bound to be some cases where
>} sticking to the rule results in 'unfairness' and inefficiency; but as
>} Hayek showed, as a *general* rule, private property, and the economic
>} system that goes with it, is the best we have yet discovered for getting
>} the most out of our abilities and resources. Is the glass half empty or
>Ding ding[1]! That's the point of my devil's advocacy: what if there's a
>better system we haven't discovered? Or more usefully, that has been
>discovered but not understood or publicized? Yes, perfect competition
>is maximally efficient, but ignoring the question of whether that's all
>we care about (or the corollary that long term profits go to zero, which
>always reminds me of the starvation state most wild bacteria live in)
>the fact is perfect competition doesn't exist. Our approximation to it
>have done an excellent job of approaching the ideal result, but perhaps
>some other (and non-statist) system could provide a better approximation.

I appreciate your devils' advocacy - not just in principle, but because
I used to be a socialist too, and I haven't forgotten the seductiveness
of the arguments. As I'm sure you remember from our thread discussing
the Culture, I understand that exclusivity only makes sense in a world
of limited resources: problem is, we're not likely to get to that happy
state by ignoring exclusivity and its socially necessary function. I
don't understand the point of what you say about perfect competition.

>} half full? Leftist anarchists say half empty: they do not see what
>} libertarian anarchists see, which is that 90% of the time, the system
>Careful; they call themselves libertarians too. And have prior use of
>the term -- both terms -- to boot. Which by our definition of property
>-- prior acquisition -- means that we've been trespassing and should
>find terms other than "libertarian" or "anarchist" to describe
>ourselves. Anarcho-capitalist, for example.

Agreed. 'Liberal' is, of course, the most accurate term, which *they*
stole from *us*; perhaps that's partly why whoever chose 'libertarian'
chose it - perhaps it was meant as an ironic side-swipe?
>} works *extremely* well, and gives more human beings the possibility of
>} actually progressing in their lives than any other system yet conceived.
>Than any other system yet widely implemented, yes. They'd argue the
>conceived point, and for that matter implementation: the anarchist
>communes (and militias) of the Spanish Revolution. Between Communists
>on one side and Fascists on the other (and overhead) they didn't get to
>survive long.

As to conceived, it seems to me that all the systems they have conceived
either presuppose unlimited resources, or would be forced to introduce
state control at some point.

>} You can't order society by exceptions.
>This from the person who brought us the shipwreck and the pig?

No fair! I'm sure you must have read Dennett on 'intuition pumps'?

>} >Mark Grant's retort that the empty office buildings are guarded by
>} >zoning laws was a rather more effective defense of capitalism.
>} Ooooh, sorr-ree! Maybe I should just shut my gob? ;-)
>No, just make more effective defenses to the points at hand. :-)

Well, originally, Remi's comment was a *philosophical* one to the effect
that property is theft. All I was doing was asking her to look again at
the intuitions that make it seem easy to say that: I wasn't actually
meaning to offer a defense of capitalism in one paragraph!

It's good for you to play devil's advocate by the way: as David Friedman
has often pointed out, there are many difficult questions that still
haven't been answered. (No doubt you'll say I haven't answered them


Guru George