Reply To: Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State


Dear Dr Fleischer,

That’s a lot of material! You’re lucky to have someone willing and able to converse with you so extensively.

Let me see if I can address some issues.

Your interlocutor writes:
“Consider the following scenario: if we were to eliminate gov’t, in fact, let’s eliminate all gov’ts everywhere at every level (the true anarchist wet dream), then we would be left with many businesses going about their business of making money. Business is a cut-throat world. Profits are all important. Without any external institutions to keep businesses in line (no coercive institutions with no gov’ts), then businesses will do what they want and need to in order to protect their business. In that environment, do you seriously believe that business will NOT revert to using coercive tactics to ensure their profitability? Corporate wars will be the most likely outcome…and we’ll do it to ourselves all over again, just under different “ideological” banners. Maybe we’ll be lucky and end up with the world of first “Rollerball” film…with Jonathan E (James Caan) for president! I’d vote for him.”

This objection seems to me to be independent of the overall issue of privacy. It amounts to the well-worn Hobbesian point that without an ‘external’ coercive government, predation will be the natural outcome of social interaction and so we need a coercive government. It’s possible to have an argument on this point (ini fact, that’s what libertarians spend a lot of their time doing!) but the argument on privacy can only be fruitfully discussed once we decide which paradigm [libertarian/non-libertarian] we’re operating with. Trying to do everything at once is likely to lead to confusing and to correspondents talking past each other.

So, to privacy.

From a libertarian perspective, does one have a right to privacy? Like many other issue, it depends on what one takes privacy to be. Does it amount to having a right to have others not know things about you? If this is so, it’s hard to see how this can be justified on libertarian principles. Where’s the aggression in someone’s knowing that I work in a particular place or what my name is or the colour of my hair?

If someone looks in through my window from the public road and sees me watching television when I should be at work, this is unpleasant but the answer is simple: draw your curtains or lower your blinds. If someone puts a listening device or a camera on my property without my consent, then they’ve violated my property rights and from a libertarian I should have redress against.

If I have a contactual relationship with a person or institution and a constitutive element of that relationship is that information obtained during that relationship is not to be revealed to anyone else, then, if it is, we have a breach of contract.

Much of what has been revealed in the Snowden disclosures (if true) would appear to be, from a libertarian perspective, property violations and so, from a libertarian perspective, illegal.

Come back to me if your discussion turns up any more interesting points.