What If Trayvon Martin Had Been a Libertarian?

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Murray Rothbard, in For Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, wrote:

The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.

Walter Block, when discussing the right to privacy recently wrote on privacy and libertarianism:

There is no right to privacy; none at all. It is not a negative right, all of which are supported by libertarian theory; e.g., the right not to be molested, murdered, raped, etc. Rather, the so called right to privacy is a so called “positive right,” as in the “right” to food, clothing, shelter, welfare, etc. That is, it is no right at all; rather the “right” to privacy is an aspect of wealth. As Murray N. Rothbard (The Ethics of Liberty, chapter 16) made clear, there is only a right to private property, not privacy[…]But suppose a private individual were to invade our privacy without violating our private property rights. Would he have a right to do that? Yes, at least insofar as I understand the libertarian perspective. The paparazzi have a right to take pictures of movie stars, professional athletes, without permission, provided only they do not violate private property rights. If the streets and sidewalks were privately owned (I make a case for that in this book, The Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic Factors; Auburn, AL: The Mises Institute; available for free here), their owners would presumably supply an environment desired by customers. If they wanted to attract famous camera-shy people to their property, it is to be expected that they would protect them from the shutterbugs.  If not, not. The market would determine these sorts of things. In a forthcoming book in my Defending the Undefendable series, the first of which is available for free here, I shall be devoting a chapter to the Peeping Tom who looks at people who would prefer not to be seen.

It may be irritating if someone, for whatever reason, watches us from afar, but, from a libertarian perspective, there is no way this activity can be stopped, as long as the person doing the watching is on land that allows such behavior. For the libertarian, the best thing to do is move to a spot where the watcher can no longer gain a sight line–or if already in a house, to close the curtains. Tayvon Martin did nothing close to this.

From the facts of the case, we know that Martin was irritated by George Zimmerman following him. From a libertarian perspective, Martin had two options, if this irritation truly bothered him: 1. Get home so that Zimmerman could no longer see him or 2. ask Zimmerman to stop following him.

From the bruises on Zimmerman’s body, it appears that Martin did neither. He physically confronted Zimmerman and his attack on Zimmerman resulted in his getting shot and killed.

Martin failed to act in a libertarian fashion. By failing to take the libertarian options available to him, he is now dead. If he had followed libertarian principle, he would be alive today. As Block makes clear, from a libertarian perspective, “there is no right to privacy; none at all.” Thus, Martin had no right, from a libertarian perspective, to physically assault Zimmerman. As I said, he could have asked Zimmerman to stop following him, but, again from a libertarian perspective, he could not go beyond a request. Once he smacked Zimmerman or even threatened Zimmerman with bodily harm, Zimmerman had the right, from a libertarian perspective, to defend himself.

In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard writes:

Violent defense then must be confined to violent invasion—either actually, implicitly, or by direct and overt threat. But given this principle, how far does the right of violent defense go? For one thing, it would clearly be grotesque and criminally invasive to shoot a man across the street because his angry look seemed to you to portend an invasion. The danger must be immediate and overt, we might say, “clear and present”—a criterion that properly applies not to restrictions on freedom of speech (never permissible, if we regard such freedom as a subset of the rights of person and property) but to the right to take coercive action against a supposedly imminent invader.

Libertarianism is about live and let live, and about being civil to one another. Often, especially with inner city kids, the message about civility never makes it out of first grade. Inner city public schools breed a gangsta culture. The schools don’t educate the kids, the older ones end up dealing drugs and risk long prison sentences, so they shoot their way out of tight spots. It toughens the kids up for confrontation and violence, definitely not the libertarian way—or the smart way.

As Jim Croce put it in a song that certainly has application to Martin’s lack of real street smarts:

Well a hush fell over the pool room
Jimmy come boppin’ in off the street
And when the cuttin’ were done
The only part that wasn’t bloody
Was the soles of the big man’s feet
Yeah he were cut in in bout a hundred places
And he were shot in a couple more
And you better believe
They sung a different kind of story
When big Jim hit the floor now they say

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Slim

Yeah, big Jim got his hat
Find out where it’s at
And it’s not hustlin’ people strange to you

Martin hustled a person strange to him, not smart. He didn’t know what he was up against. He paid with his life for the dumb move.

Those protesting the Zimmerman verdict see it as a race thing. It’s not, and that’s the sad part. As long as it is viewed as a race thing, the real core problem will not be addressed, which includes a failed government public school system, minimum wage laws, which make it difficult for unskilled black youth to find jobs, and dozens of other government interventions that make it difficult for inner city youth to get a break.

Tayvon Martin died because he didn’t have a clue about civility or libertarianism. Marching on the streets, demanding government actions (which won’t change a thing) and breaking windows and starting fires is teaching a new generation of kids lessons that will do nothing to help them understand about success and how it is achieved. For that we need to take some guidance from libertarianism. For starters, we need to close down the public schools, legalize drugs (so the drug battles will stop) and eliminate the minimum wage, so these kids can start learning what work is about and how to earn a living.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

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