Other People Are Not Your Property

Roderick Long had it right when he said that the most succinct formulation of libertarianism--which is to say, liberalism rightly understood--is the single sentence, "Other people are not your property."

No clearer can this lesson be seen than in the case of free migration of people. Will Wilkinson riffs on the Last Knight of Liberalism himself:

My long-term aim regarding migration is the best feasible approximation of a single global labor market–a world in which people are free to travel the world in search of the most valued use for their skills. That this idea should seem shocking to some (most?) of us reveals how deeply-seated are our essentially illiberal nationalistic impulses. But there is nothing new here. Mises had this all nailed down tight in his chapter on "Liberal Foreign Policy" in Liberalism, written eighty years ago. A politics aimed at world peace requires an integrated world of peaceful cooperation. Here is your bracing refresher statement of ideals:

The starting point of liberal thought is the recognition of the value and importance of human cooperation, and the whole policy and program of liberalism is designed to serve the purpose of maintaining the existing state of mutual cooperation among the members of the human race and of extending it still further. The ultimate ideal envisioned by liberalism is the perfect cooperation of all mankind, taking place peacefully and without friction. Liberal thinking always has the whole of humanity in view and not just parts. It does not stop at limited groups; it does not end at the border of the village, of the province, of the nation, or of the continent. Its thinking is cosmopolitan and ecumenical: it takes in all men and the whole world. Liberalism is, in this sense, humanism; and the liberal, a citizen of the world, a cosmopolite.

As I’ve argued before, I think this conception of cosmopolitan liberalism almost got lost in the Cold War, during which cosmopolitan, internationalist ideals were largely ceded to the communists while liberalism rode out the red tide by tying itself defensively to nationalist feelings in those nations with a more or less liberal identity. The Cold War has been over for almost twenty years now. It is time to get back to the project of securing world peace through extending the scope of mutual cooperation. It is time to get back to the cosmopolitan ideals of liberal humanism.

And if you're looking for an even more passionate, eloquent, emotionally charged, and entirely correct formulation, be sure to read, re-read, and re-re-read Rad Geek's Sin Fronteras:

This controversy, like the debate over slavery, like the debate over abortion, and like all other controversies over simple moral issues, is and should be a debate between extremists, not a case for middle-of-the-roader rhetoric or halfway-house solutions. It is immoral for the government to stop, harass, restrain, confine, and exile peaceful people from their current homes, solely on the basis of their nationality. It is criminal that even one refugee cannot immediately escape from danger, or must live even one day longer penned up in a refugee concentration camp, simply because governments in the U.S. and Western Europe continue to enforce the SS St. Louis immigration policy. It is inexcusable that even one undocumented worker should have to live in fear of emergency workers, neighbors, or her boss, simply because she failed to get a signed permission slip from the federal government before she set out to make a living.

And it is ridiculous that these facts continue to be obscured by nativist bullying, by national security mysticism, or by pseudo-reformist wonkery-wankery. Goodbye to all that. The demand for open borders and immediate amnesty is simplistic, naïve, starry-eyed, unrealistic, extremist, uncompromising, radical, and also obviously correct. It is your job, reader, to live up to the best part of yourself and make that demand loudly, courageously, without compromise and without apology. Mumbling dismissal and pseudo-reformist compromise mean not prudence, but complicity.

Smash international apartheid, now and forever.

So say we all. This as about as close as I can get to a secular prayer. 

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It's hard for me to take seriously an argument...

...that starts with the claim that abortion is a "simple moral issue." 

Haha, touche.

Haha, touche.

But it is a simple issue

Or more properly, it is a simply stated issue. At the moment before conception you have some organic chemicals, which everyone seems to agree should be treated just like you would any other tissue. And at the moment after birth, you have a living person, which everyone seems to agree should be treated just like any other (minor) person. And somewhere in that approximately nine month interval, possibly including either endpoint, that gestating entity acquires the moral standing to deserve protection from others' will. To my eye, the abortion issue revolves almost entirely around where you want to place that point.

This is almost certainly a simpler problem than, say, water usage rights, or the distinction between what medical care a person can expect to be provided for them regardless of their means (eg patching of gunshot wounds) and that which might be considered "extra" (eg Tommy John surgery).

To my eye, the abortion

To my eye, the abortion issue revolves almost entirely around where you want to place that point.

I follow the evictionist argument, and to my eye, this is completely irrelevant. The mother owns her womb, she can kick out anything or anyone out of it at any time. If may provoke the death of the intruder. So be it.

A friend of mine held that

A friend of mine held that position. I pointed out that, to be consistent, he would also have to support the right of mothers to leave their newborn children in dumpsters. Presumably, they own their houses as much as they own their wombs, and can evict in either circumstance. He balked. Would you?

Switch into lawyer mode,

Switch into lawyer mode, Scott. Don't you think these cases are distinguishable? Or at the very least, we could say that the pregnant woman has no better option than to kill the fetus inside her if she wishes to remove it from her body, whereas the mother who just gave birth could leave her newborn child on the front stoop of a firestation, and flee after ringing the bell, instead of hiding it in a dumpster where no one is likely to find it. As far as I know, mothers do have the legal right to evict their children from their homes; it's called adoption or orphanages.

Easily distinguishable, but

Easily distinguishable, but not on the propertarian principle Arthur was propounding. If you want to say that we can take other things into account beyond who has the property right, that's fine. But that helps the pro-lifers case, too: you seem perfectly willing to put a positive obligation on the mother--she has a duty to not simply eject the child from her property, but to put it somewhere safe. Fine. But that's cut from the same cloth of putting a positive obligation on the woman to carry the fetus to term.

You say, she can eject the newborn from your property, but you have to put it somewhere safe. They say, she can eject the fetus from her body, but she has to wait until it can live on its own.

I didn't say she had a duty

I didn't say she had a duty of putting it somewhere safe. Putting it in a dumpster is an action, not putting it in a dumpster is not a duty as it does not imply an action.

If the mother leaves in a remote place for example, and left the child to die outside, I don't consider she has any duty.

So if the dumpster is the closest place to the mother, and ,no, she doesn't want to walk the extra 100 meters to leave it in a safer place, then it's not a crime, but I hardly find these cases intersting or relevant to ethical theory.

My response was to Micha.

My response was to Micha.


I hardly find these cases intersting or relevant to ethical theory.

Well, if your interest is in reality, I have read about cases where women give birth and then toss their baby in the garbage. It happens with some frequency. A little Google search found this case (which is a completely new one to me) in less time than it took to type this sentence.

December 18, 2007 -- An hours-old baby girl was found alive in a Queens construction-site Dumpster last night by two teenage brothers who heard her crying as they passed by on skateboards.

The baby, whose umbilical cord was still attached, had spent about 30 minutes in the frigid trash bin and was lucky to be alive.

"It's a Christmas miracle," said medic Giovanni Caballero.

"Thank God for these kids walking by at the right time."


I guess that just goes to

I guess that just goes to show the limits of purely propertarian argumention on this issue, since the issue itself is all tied up with how property (namely self-ownership) comes to be.

The classical argument goes

The classical argument goes as follow:

You are can use all the force necessary to kick the intruder out, but the least amount of force possible.

If a mother doesn't want her baby at home anymore, leaving it in a dumpster is obviously deliberately putting him in a dangerous situation, when she could simply leave it in a place where he stands a chance to be found.

Another one is that ethics deal with actual problem. Abortion is a real issue, mothers leaving their babies specifically in dumpsters instead of doorstep, police stations etc, is not.

There's a third one by Block but I think it's bullshit 

I suscribe to the first two.

Real abortion

Another one is that ethics deal with actual problem. Abortion is a real
issue, mothers leaving their babies specifically in dumpsters instead
of doorstep, police stations etc, is not.

Reality matters, but this means that real abortions matter. You've defended idealized abortions. Real abortions are not designed to ensure that minimal harm is done to the baby. On the contrary, late-term abortions apparently involve the deliberate killing of the fetus. This suggests that the death of the baby in early-term abortions is no accident, but is one of the goals of the procedure.

You defend the morality of abortion insofar as it is an eviction. But what if an abortion is the deliberate killing of the baby by means of its removal from the body? In this case the death is not merely a side-effect of an eviction, but is the purpose of the procedure. Is this moral?

Suppose that you have a house guest. Suppose you decide that you want your house guest to die. You learn that if you were to evict your house guest, he would die. You therefore evict him, indending by this action to cause his death. Is this moral?


I did not defend the

I did not defend the morality of abortion, I defended the immorality of opposing abortion through force. I do believe that something can be immoral and opposing it by force immoral as well.



I did not defend the morality of abortion, I defended the immorality of opposing abortion through force.

But really, that's the issue. I don't care what you think of its "morality" in the loose sense of "shame shame, tsk tsk". By "morality" I mean stuff like:

rape is immoral

murder is immoral

robbery is immoral

I'm talking about immoral-in-the-sense-of-right-to-oppose-by-force. So, answer the question in that sense. Or ignore it, if you like.

I answered earlier on

I answered earlier on another part of the thread

Another one is that ethics

Another one is that ethics deal with actual problem. Abortion is a real
issue, mothers leaving their babies specifically in dumpsters instead
of doorstep, police stations etc, is not.

I don't understand what you mean by the terms "actual problem" and "real issue." Is it just a question of frequency? Because although abortion might be more frequent than risky or careless abandonment of newborns, abandonment is a real, actual issue, with real, actual case law. Then again, I watch way too much Law & Order, so my view of reality is greatly skewed.

pragmatic approach

Let's try some pragmatism since you mentionned it...

Assume careless abandonement is actually enforced. It would concern very few case. The effect would be to disregard the hypothetical right of women to dispose of their baby in a dumpster as opposed to  the neighbor's doorstep.

How much ethical enquiry should we dedicate to this problem?

For what it's worth, I believe abandonement in a dumpster should not be opposed by force. I recognize that I do not like the consequences of that, but I do not think that enforcement or non enforcement against this practice would be make a big ethical difference.

Partial birth

The evictionist argument does not seem to answer every question about the morality of abortion. Partial birth abortion appears to involve the deliberate killing of the unborn child. Is this okay or not? It is not merely eviction but the deliberate killing of a baby to ensure that it is not alive when it leaves the mother's body.

In case you don't believe me, here's Wikipedia:

First, the cervix is dilated. Second, the fetus is positioned for a footling breech. Third, the fetus is extracted except for the head. Fourth, the brain of the fetus is evacuated so that a dead but otherwise intact fetus is delivered via the vagina.

The evictionist argument has another potential weakness: if you are evicting a person from your home, there may be some obligation on your part to minimize the harm done by the process of eviction. If he is, say, sleeping, and if it is easy enough for you to wake him up and guide him out the door, then it would probably be illegal for you to evict him by (without warning) dismembering him and tossing his body parts out the door one at a time. From what I know about actual abortion procedures, they tend to resemble the latter procedure. 


The evictionist generally

The evictionist generally acknowlegde the practice of partial birth or ejection procedures and claim either

- that it should be forbidden, i.e. the abortion itself should be allowed but not the killing of the foetus, leading to more gruesome abortions

- that if the foetus life is doomed anyway by his expulsion, there is little point in taking issue here

I for myself believe that the evictionist thesis makes it morally inacceptable to oppose abortion by force, but does not make abortion itself morally acceptable. However, I do believe that what makes life worthy is individuality, the existence of an inner model of yourself and the world, and that foetus don't really have that, so although I frown upon abortion, I find it acceptable.

OK, so here you do answer the question about the dividing line

You've essentially set aside the evictionist argument and come out and declared yourself on the matter of the fetus's rights as a human. In the end, you had to, to fully answer all the questions surrounding abortion.

Gaaah, I knew doing this

Gaaah, I knew doing this would cause confusion. I didn't do it because I felt the need to justify anything, just to underline the subtelty or morality vs immorality of opposition by force.

The eviction argument stands by itself, and may require a modification in the abortion procedures, although the modification seems a bit pointless.

So you'd put the point at

So you'd put the point at which the embryo gains moral standing (at least in relation to the mother) at the moment of birth and not before. That still fits my framework.

I'm not trying to argue for or against abortion here, I'm just saying that you can, WOLOG, place pretty much everyone's opinion on a linear scale. This makes it a fairly simple issue in my mind.

Let me make this clear: I am not saying it is simple to come to any particular decision on the issue. I am not using "simple issue" as a stand in for "obviously you should agree with me." But the total range of opinions is simply understood.


That last was in reply to Arthur. I didn't notice all the obscuring comments posted in between while I was writing.

No, not even at birth. A

No, not even at birth. A woman can have an "abortion" after 18 years, the child is just more likely to survive it.

Arthur, I'm assuming you're

Arthur, I'm assuming you're using "abortion" here to mean that you don't think a mother has a duty to provide support for a child, though this usage only makes sense as an artifact of your reasoning in support of abortion as it is conventionally understood. I think even if you would answer the the questions the same way, the treatment of the pre- and post-born are fundamentally separate issues.

As such I'm not going to make an attempt to fit questions of child care obligations (or lack of obligations as it may be) into an abortion framework. I don't think the moral framework for understanding capital punishment needs to be able to deal with questions about just conduct in war even though they're both related to the State attempting to kill people it finds dangerous. These are unrelated questions even though some people underlying reasoning may be similar for each question.

Purely out of curiosity, do you think there is any obligation for a father to pay child support? Or for a taxpayer to fund child welfare programs or public education?

Cartman's mom...

...has got it going on.

stop reading my mind !

stop reading my mind !