Ep. 222 Kris Borer’s Fun Book Explains AnCap Ethics
Kris Borer is an entrepreneur with a background in robotics and artificial intelligence. His new book is narrative non-fiction that illustrates why libertarianism cannot be defined precisely with physical concepts like force or property boundaries. Instead, Borer argues that libertarians should use praxeology to define conflict, aggression, and the NAP.
Mentioned in the Episode and Other Links of Interest:
- The YouTube version of this interview.
- Kris Borer’s book, The Ethics of Anarcho-Capitalism. #Commissions Earned (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
- Kris Borer’s website.
- Kinsella and Tinsley’s paper on causation and aggression.
- BMS episode on Godel’s Theorem.
- Bob and Gene Callahan critique of Hoppe’s argumentation ethics, Stephan Kinsella defends Hoppe on BMS.
- Help support the Bob Murphy Show.
The audio production for this episode was provided by Podsworth Media.
Very nice episode. I will certainly have a look into this book to broaden my purview on ethics.
I bought this book almost right when it came out, specifically when he was a guest on Tom Woods’ show. The takeaway I got listening to Tom’s show was that the book was a basic introduction. I distinctly remember the phrase used in the interview was a “30,000-foot view”. So, while I bought the book immediately, the motivation to read it waned day by day and I almost forgot about it. I didn’t need an introductory book. Or so I thought.
But in this interview, there is a slightly different gloss on it – namely that it aims to address, or rectify, specific problems in the conceptual framework of libertarianism/anarcho-capitalism. This puts the book right back at the top of my reading list (next to Chaos Theory of course. Please understand I had to spend significant time with Mises first – and Menger too. BTW, we – or maybe it’s just me – need secondary literature/commentary on Menger’s “Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences” including the appendices. Maybe there is a graduate student who might be willing to take on the task or even find existing secondary literature in Europe that can be translated? I think Menger’s three-tiered classification of Theory, History, and Practical science, i.e., judgement, is being echoed in Kris Borer’s ideas. But I can’t say that for sure because (1) I haven’t read Kris’ book yet, and (2) Germans like Menger and Max Weber seem averse to using periods, and opt instead for long sentences with complicated clauses which are difficult to decipher. Sidenote, might Menger’s “practical science” be analogous to Popper’s “piecemealism”?)
All this to say, listening to this interview really put a pep in my step. Thank you – to the both of you.
I was very pleased how clearly and concisely Kris was able to put his finger right on the nub of the issue with the NAP. I am curious to read how Kris reformulated the NAP to fit a praxeological framework. I feel I have done something similar but I would enjoy learning other perspectives from people who take theory seriously and don’t treat it as something which you leave behind once you have become more “advanced”. One person in particular treats praxis as “advanced libertarianism”. LOL. I thought that was cute. It made me smile and roll my eyes at the same time.
Anyway, thanks again to the both of you.
Also, the distinction between freedom and liberty dates back at least to the original liberals if not earlier. I want to say it’s from Locke but I can’t be 100% positive. But I use the distinction regularly and have been doing so practically since high school or early college days. Again, not sure exactly. It’s kind of hazy. But I must have gotten it from somewhere. This would be a great question for David Gordon.
Thinking of aggression in terms of conflict rather than just physical property is useful for addressing the issues raised by the post-libertarians.
If liberty is the absence of conflict, then it might not matter so much who wins in conflicts, so long as they are resolved somehow. The most realistic way to minimize conflict might be for one group, which is the state, to win every time until it cannot be challenged. If I understand correctly, this is Curtis Yarvin’s argument in favor of a strong, secure, undemocratic, monarchical state. My objection to this would be to point out that the fact that this is controversial is why it would not work. There must be a reason why democracy has become so dominant. I think the best explanation might come from David Gornoski when he explains Rene Girard’s theory of how Christianity has undermined the scapegoat mechanism. The reason why a stable large-scale monarchical regime cannot exist in the West is that people cannot unite against the same scapegoat. Only a democratic state which allows competing factions can survive. This is why I think ending democracy in the west will require transitioning to something closer to anarcho-capitalism.
Thinking about conflict irrespective of physical property show that is possible to have conflict over immaterial things and there can be aggression without violence. This way, it make sense when some of the post-libertarians say that leftist cultural or spiritual subversion could be considered a kind of aggression and ought to be stopped. I would say that the proportionality principle would say that cultural or spiritual aggression should not be punished with physical means. It is enough that they simply be stopped and one should not assume physical violence is the best way to do this. Considering this, maybe there is a way to justify a kind of intellectual property, but defending it should not be done with physical force.
Another hypothesis why democracy has been so successful vs. other models: it allows for more exploitation of resources from a more productive (because freer) populace. This theory comes from The Sovereign individual, great book.
Very good episode. I’m getting the book.
I’ve always thought those “let’s derive every single case and conflict from first principles” strategy was absurd. And yes, typically people like Block and Rothbard and Hoppe like to use circular (or garbage) reasoning to derive rights.
My view is, there is no “objective proof for rights.” They are an aspirational thing that we should attain because it works better than not having the aspiration.
It would be nice if we could objectively derive them, but all attempts (natural law, god given rights, argumentation ethic, Objectivism, ..) are crap and easily disproven.
But that doesn’t mean we should pretend they’re true, just because we like rights.
I don’t agree with a number of the author’s premises.
He is very focused on the intention of the acting party to determine if there is “aggression.” But the NAP only requires that the actor invade the boundaries of the body or property of the other party without that party’s consent. The intention of the actor is irrelevant, except perhaps when thinking about punishment.
Fraud is not an issue for the NAP either, if one has also understood Rothbard’s title-transfer theory of contract. If I take one ounce of your gold in return for what I represent is an apple, then the proper characterization of that exchange is that I am transferring title to my fruit conditional on getting title to your gold, and you are exchanging title to your gold conditional on getting title to an apple. If in fact I give you an orange (wrapped in paper, to hide its true character), then the condition on which I acquire title to your gold has failed, and thus if I keep your gold, then I am guilty of theft/trespass, which is a physical action and a violation of the NAP.
In my view, the NAP as properly understood is a perfectly fine and complete basis for libertarianism.
I also think that the author is criticizing sound principles because of evidentiary issues, but the two are very different. There will be many situations where it is tough to find cogent evidence to support a verdict based on sound principles, but that doesn’t invalidate the principles, it only shows that real life is messy.
Consider the situation of a man raping a woman, where no one else is present. There is a real evidentiary issue, since it often comes down to her word against his, and she has the burden of proof. Yet we wouldn’t say that we need to re-define “rape”; we would just acknowledge an evidentiary issue.
It’s dangerous and unhelpful to muddle law with morality and ethics.
Although the concepts are related (law should facilitate an ethical outcome) the constraints are different … individuals make decisions which have moral and ethical implications, societies have law which is a process enabling disputes to be settled within that society. Law must be simple, universal, and well understood … writing laws for every possible situation is guaranteed to fail, and ends up being a massive drain of resources even to get that failure. The law is constrained by a practical process which needs to be predictable, reliable and affordable.
For example, if the law says “You can’t take other people’s coconuts” then that’s it, and it applies just as much to “taking back” something you think might have once belonged to you. If you want to get that coconut back you must go through the legal process, even though ultimately it might not give a perfectly moral outcome.
Once everyone understands this law they judge the appropriate effort to put into whatever physical protection might be worth the value of the coconuts. That’s why banks have walls and bank vaults and there never has been a bank consisting of merely a bench at the front with gold coins piled up on the dirt out the back. Sure, that does lead to resources being devoted to things that would not be necessary in a perfectly ethical society … but who cares?
Individuals decide whether they trust each other, based on their own moral and ethical appraisal of the other person … and that cannot be codified, because too many factors are involved. If I’m going to the fruit shop to buy apples (presumably paying with coconuts) then I honestly don’t care whether the shop keeper is sleeping around behind his wife’s back, but I do care whether he is the kind of guy who would rip me off selling me “a few bad apples” as it were. Exactly how I judge whether to visit that shop is my own business and no one else’s … that decision is not universal, it might not even be consistent, it’s whatever I like.