A dialog

A: The struggle for freedom is the struggle against aggression.

B: The struggle for freedom is the struggle to maximize our possibilities.

A: I'm all for maximizing possibilities, but just because you like two things (freedom and maximizing possibilities) doesn't mean that they're the same thing.

B: So what makes your characterization any better?

A: It fits the examples.

B: What examples do you have in mind?

A: A slave wants to be free.

B: A slave wants to increase his possibilities.

A: But he can increase his possibilities in other ways. He can ask his owner for more possibilities.

B: But he can increase his possibilities even more if he's free.

A: Not necessarily. A free man may struggle more than a slave.

B: If a certain slave truly enjoys more possibilities than a certain free man, then the free man will envy the slave.

A: How so? What if the free man values his freedom more than his possibilities?

B: But how are we to weigh different possibilities except by how they are valued? If a certain free man envies a certain slave, then however happy he may appear from the outside, by his own lights the possibilities he enjoys as a free man are outweighed the possibilities enjoyed by the slave. But if he does not envy the slave, then however miserable he may appear from the outside, by his own lights the possibilities that he enjoys as a free man outweigh the possibilities enjoyed by the pampered slave.

A: Okay, then I will grant that a free man may, in theory, envy a slave. What do you want to conclude from this?

B: If he envies the slave, then he considers the slave more free. I defined the struggle for freedom as the struggle to maximize our possibilities. If the free man thinks that a slave enjoys more possibilities than he does as a free man, then he considers the slave to be freer.

A: This is only if we adopt your notion of freedom as the struggle to maximize our possibilities.

B: Why not? If the free man envies the slave, then the free man prefers the life of the slave to his own life. Why not say that he considers the slave to be freer? Surely the man's preference trumps every other consideration, at least from his own perspective.

A: Slavery is freedom?

B: A particular slave might be freer than a particular free man.

A: But the distinction between a slave and a free man just is that the latter is free and the former is not. That's just what slavery means.

B: Well, then we might need to reexamine the concept of slavery, but if the free man envies the slave, isn't that more important than quibbles about concepts?

A: But we already have terminology for that. We have the word "preference." Why draft the word "freedom" to serve as a synonym for "preference"? It was already doing important work.

B: What can be more important than preference itself?

A: And therefore it's okay to draft the word? By that logic, every word in the language should be drafted to be a synonym for "preference". No more language.

B: You still haven't explained the important work being done by the word "freedom."

A: You agree that there is such a thing as aggression, correct?

B: I'll agree to that.

A: Then there's such a thing as freedom from aggression.

B: And this is what you mean by "freedom?"

A: Pretty much. "Freedom" is short for "freedom from aggression."

B: Aren't you drafting the word "freedom" to do special work for you?

A: I think all I've done is analyzed the received idea of freedom. I think if we look at examples of freedom, they all concern freedom from various acts of aggression.

B: But I've also analyzed the received idea of freedom. Maybe a different received idea.

A: I see you're not going to change your mind. Can we at least recognize that there are two concepts? Must we try to wipe each other's concept out?

B: Agreed. Freedom from aggression and freedom to act.

A: But these can come in conflict.

B: You are referring to the free man who envies the slave?

A: No, I mean that, in order to increase Paul's freedom to act, it is a common practice to aggress against Peter - to rob him and transfer the money to Paul.

B: But by the same token, freedom from aggression can come into conflict with itself.

A: That sounds like a contradiction.

B: Just replace money transfer with police protection. Here, I'll spell it out: in order to increase Paul's freedom from aggression, it is a common practice to aggress against Peter - to rob him and transfer the money to a police department which protects Paul's freedom.

A: I disagree with a tax-funded police force. Do you disagree with tax-funded welfare?

B: Maybe.

A: But on what basis? You advocate freedom to act, not freedom from aggression.

B: Robbing Peter to pay Paul reduces Peter's freedom to act.

A: But it increases Paul's freedom to act. On what basis do you make a choice? If you consistently make the same choice as I do, siding with the potential victim of aggression, then aren't you in fact an advocate of freedom from aggression?

B: Maybe I have a dilemma, maybe I have to choose between Peter and Paul. Are you saying you don't have a similar dilemma?

A: Well, in this case the principle of freedom from aggression dictates that I side with Peter. The principle of the maximization of possibilities does not decide between Peter and Paul.

B: How about this. What if Peter is so rich he can hardly feel the aggression but Paul's life is transformed by the transfer? Peter's possibilities are reduced less than Paul's are increased. In fact, in this case, don't you agree? Isn't the benefit worth the cost?

A: It's still aggression. You've reduced Peter's freedom from aggression in order to increase Paul's freedom to act.

B: But the world is on the whole better.

A: Debatable. What's not debatable is that it's still aggression.

B: Well - so what? So you get to label it 'aggression'. What is so important about that?

A: It's important to Peter.

B: The transfer is important to Paul.

A: You don't feel any guilt? You don't feel the robbery is wrong?

B: The total sum of human happiness goes up.

A: And that defines right and wrong for you?

B: What else defines right and wrong?

A: Apparently you are not a receptive audience. I will address myself to Peter.

Peter: Oh, hi. What's on your mind?

A: You are being robbed. Join me in the fight against the welfare state.

Peter: Yes, you are right, I am being robbed. But what can be done about it? It is more worthwhile for me to lobby the government to rob Paul and to transfer a bit of his wealth to me.

A: Madness.

Peter: No, rationality. I don't want to reshape the world. All I want to do is get along as well as I can. What I'm doing now is the best thing for my own future.

(Nothing really new here. Just an exercise, or a bit of fun for me, or something. And while I leave A defeated and frustrated, I am in fact A.)

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Peter: Yes, you are right, I

Peter: Yes, you are right, I am being robbed. But what can be done about it? It is more worthwhile for me to lobby the government to rob Paul and to transfer a bit of his wealth to me.

Your Peter is well above average. Generally it's more like:

Peter: No, I am not being robbed, the law says the government can tax me, and we live in a democracy so the law is just. Besides, I'm happy to pay a lot of taxes, it means I'm making money. I'm not selfish, I know I ought to give some of it to society, otherwise we'd live in anarchy. If you're not happy, you can vote for lower taxes or leave the country anyway.

Same old, same old.

Your Peter is well above

Your Peter is well above average.

Dude

Mind in the gutter

Jonathan - that is sick.

Arthur - call me.

Oups. Let's call him Richard

Oups. Let's call him Richard and end the confusion right there.

Enter, the Party Spoiler

This simple three person conversation meets with difficulties when applied to life, for example in the context of American political life. Samuel Huntington has discussed the book “American Politics, the Promise of Disharmony.” He thinks that each society has varying ways of dealing with conflicts in political ideals. The ideals that have spontaneously developed over time in America he calls the American Creed. It is a little more complex than the NAP.

“The unsystematic and unideological character of this American Creed is reflected in the fact that no theory exists for ordering these values in relation to one another and for resolving on a theoretical level the conflicts that inherently exist among them.

Conflicts easily materialize when any one value is taken to an extreme: majority rule versus minority rights; liberty versus equality; individualism versus democracy. In other societies, ideologies give priority to one value or the other, but in American society all these values coexist together in theory, even as they may conflict with each other when applied in practice. They coexist, indeed, not only within American society, but also within individual citizens. Though every American may have his own view of the proper balance among these conflicting values, few Americans would unhesitatingly give absolute priority to one value over another. However much one values majority rule, at some point its application is limited by the need to recognize minority rights. However much one believes in individual liberty, at some point individual aggrandizement cannot be permitted to make a mockery of political and moral equality. The checks and balances that exist among the institutions of American politics are paralleled by the checks and balances that exist among the ideas of the American Creed.”

Good luck. Let me know if you can resolve these things.

Dave

The NAP

It is a little more complex than the NAP.

I am happy to admit that the non-aggression principle is not the alpha and omega of politics. The dialog is really nothing more than an outgrowth of the first two lines. I didn't even have a goal in mind, I just let the dialog move forward. My constraints included making each participant astute and not a push-over for the other participants. I didn't want a dialog with a smart guy explaining everything to an idiot, but two more or less equally smart guys presenting each other with a challenge. That's why Peter isn't the average platitude-spouting voter. I also wanted to let the dialog proceed naturally as each person gave the answer I imagined him giving. These guys didn't debate majoritarianism and egalitarianism because they simply didn't happen to come up. One could write a dialog with a different starting point. You might like to do that.

True, many people think of

True, many people think of politics in terms of values, not principles. They take political disagreement to be a mere conflict of values and thus can agree to disagree, something libertarians can't do. There are however what I call "value-libertarians". They do not have principles, but by valuing certain things strongly, they advocate libertarian policies. They will, however, on occasions come out as un-libertarian. For example they could:

- Wish to oppose employer mandated drug check (value ease of using drugs in society)
- Demand that people do not collect information about them (value privacy)
- Support Good Samaritan laws (value life)
etc...

The left side of these value-libertarian are those whom Rothbard labeled as "modal-libertarians", but the conservative branch exist as well.

A common stumbling block between conservative value-libertarians and libertarians is the issue of whether rights can contradict each other. For the former, it's obvious they often do, for the later, it's simply logically (or even semantically) impossible. The former believe justice is about weighting and balancing different rights, the later believe it's about drawing a line, thus defining boundaries.

Micha is close to be a value-libertarian in my opinion (no offense).

Micha is close to be a

Micha is close to be a value-libertarian in my opinion (no offense).

As a consequentialist, yes. But this need not have anything to do with the left or right "thickness" debate. There are many left-libertarians and right-libertarians who are perfectly happy holding to the strict NAP, but also think that certain cultural values are most compatible with it.