In a Blog’s Stead
Archives: September 2003

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Freedom is Slavery

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty told Alice, “it means just what I choose it to mean.” Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich seems to have been taking lessons from Humpty Dumpty; for him “separation” means “entanglement,” and “nonviolence” means “violence.” In both cases, tyranny and coercion are being disguised in the linguistic garments of liberty and peace. See my recent items Separation Anxiety and Kucinich and the Politics of Nonviolence.

Ayn Rand and George Orwell both wrote novels – Anthem (1938) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), respectively – on the same theme: corruption of language as a tool of political control. In both books, power-hungry rulers succeed (mostly) in making dissent impossible by changing the meanings of the words that would be needed to express dissident ideas, or indeed to formulate such ideas in the first place. Kucinich’s assaults on language appear to have the same motive; if successful, they would certainly have the same result. Écrasez l’infâme!

Posted September 27th, 2003



Shameless Self-Promotion

My review of Leland Yeager’s book Ethics As Social Science is now online, as a PDF file; click here to read it. I defend the method of reflective equilibrium against Yeager’s criticisms, and I argue that Yeager’s utilitarianism is praxeologically self-defeating.

My review of Deborah Achtenberg’s book Cognition of Value in Aristotle’s Ethics is also now online, but less accessibly. If you’re not an academic going online through your university connection, clicking here will probably avail you little; but have a go. (And if you get an error screen, try clicking “Detect Network Settings.”) Achtenberg argues that emotions are tools of cognition. She’s right, of course. (On this topic, see my own brilliant book that should be on every coffee table north of Antarctica.)

Posted September 25th, 2003



Curiouser and Curiouser

I recently did a Google search to see if anyone had commented on my review of Edwin Black’s book War Against the Weak. Sure enough, several reader reviews mentioning my criticisms had been added to various websites. And when I went to the cached versions of the websites, there were the references. But when I went to the current versions of the websites, all the reviews mentioning my criticisms had been surgically removed, although in each case all the other reviews were still there. Why would reviews praising the book still be online, when references to my demonstration of the book’s poor scholarship are mysteriously deleted? This has the bad smell of a pressure campaign to me. I guess the war against the weak continues.

Posted September 18th, 2003



Total Eclipse

At the close of the 19th century, E. L. Godkin, editor of the Nation (which was a classical liberal magazine in those days) wrote a piece titled The Eclipse of Liberalism, a prophetic look at the decline of libertarian values and the rise of socialism and imperialism. This still all-too-timely article, a kind of companion piece to William Graham Sumner’s 1899 Conquest of the United States by Spain, has recently been added to the Molinari Institute’s online library. (If you’re wondering about the picture, that’s the DC Comics character Eclipso.)

For other Molinari Institute updates, check out the News & Announcements page.

Posted September 16th, 2003




I’ve argued against intellectual property elsewhere. But here’s a short and sweet version of the argument:

Suppose I compose a poem and recite it to you. As a result, you learn the poem by heart. In effect, there is now a copy of the poem stored in your brain.

Who owns that copy?

The only answer must be: you do. You own yourself; you own your brain and the contents of your brain. If I owned the copy in your brain, then I would be a part owner of your brain, which would make you a partial slave – which is morally untenable.

Now in addition to owning your brain and the poem stored within, you also own, let’s suppose, a pen and some paper. You use your pen to transcribe onto the paper the poem that’s stored in your head. Now there are two copies of my poem in your possession: one in your brain and one on the paper. Who owns the second copy?

Once again, you do. You produced that second copy using nothing but factors that you owned: your paper, your pen, and your brain (with your neuron-encoded first copy of my poem). That second copy is yours – to keep, to burn, or to transfer.

Yes, to transfer. If you give or sell your copy to someone else, or if you use your copy to make a new copy to give or sell to someone else, or if you allow others to use your copy to make new copies, you are making a peaceful use of your own property. You are violating no rights.

“But,” I protest, “that’s my poem you’re selling!”

No, it isn’t. You’re not selling any concrete copies of the poem that are in my possession – I still own those and can control access to them as I please. Nor are you selling the abstract object of which all these copies are instances. You can’t sell an abstract object. Abstract objects can’t be transferred. They are not scarce resources; one person does not lose access to the abstract object just because someone else has gained access. All you’re selling is your copies of the poem. Which is your perfect right. They’re yours to do with as you please.

“But,” I protest once more, “I created that abstract object. That makes it my property!”

Well, what does it mean to own an abstract object? One thing it might mean is that I own all the instances of that abstract object. In which case I’m engaged in fraud if I claim to be selling copies of my work; if I still claim copyright in them, then I’m claiming to own the copies and so I’ve never really sold them.

But if owning an abstract object means owning all the instances, then it means my owning the copy of my poem in your brain. In that case, intellectual property is a form of slavery. If slavery is illegitimate, then so is intellectual property.

On the other hand, if owning an abstract object doesn’t mean owning its instances, then what does it mean? In selling your concrete copies of my poem, you don’t interfere in any way with my access to the abstract object. So what “ownership” of mine are you infringing?

Either intellectual property means slavery, or it means nothing at all.

Écrasez l’infâme.

Posted September 14th, 2003



The Lesson of 9/11

Today is the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. What should that mean to us?

For me, the chief lesson of 9/11 is the simultaneous power and impotence of government.

9/11 vividly demonstrated how powerless government is to protect us and make us safe. The United States government is the most powerful organisation that has ever existed in human history. It possesses untold wealth, unmatched military might, and a globe-spanning spy network.

And in a few short hours, a handful of murderous fanatics armed with nothing more impressive than boxcutters were able to inflict a series of devastating attacks against which this almighty government was helpless.

Our rulers talk blithely about preventing future attacks, but the truth is they haven’t got a clue how to do it. If some nut wants to inflict a lot of damage and is willing to sacrifice his life to do it, there’s very little that the government can do about it. The 9/11 attacks exposed the protective nation-state as the fraud it is.

But if the government lacks much power to protect, 9/11 also showed how much power it does possess to do harm:

To pursue the arrogant foreign policy that invited the attacks in the first place.

To ensure that no one on board the hijacked planes was carrying weapons that could have been used against the hijackers.

To respond to the attacks by stepping up the assault on civil liberties at home.

To respond to the attacks by raining down death and destruction on innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, thus ensuring that even more American citizens will be targets for retaliation for the next fifty years.

A form of social organization whose power to do evil is enormous while its power to do good is minuscule is a form of social organization that needs to be mothballed.

Today is the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but it is also the first anniversary of this blog, and of the Molinari Institute.

A year ago today, in my very first blog entry, I argued that the 9/11 attacks had made the task of abolishing the State increasingly urgent, and I announced the formation of a policy institute dedicated specifically to that goal. Named after Gustave de Molinari (the first market anarchist) and dedicated to his intellectual legacy, the Molinari Institute makes market anarchism (rather than libertarianism more broadly) its central focus.

Over a century and a half ago ago, Molinari wrote: “one day societies will be established to agitate for the freedom of government [his term for market anarchism], as they have already been established on behalf of the freedom of commerce.”

For a report on the Institute’s recent activities, see our new News & Announcements page. And join us in building a stateless future.

Roderick T. Long, President
Molinari Institute

Posted September 11th, 2003



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