Eviction, Gentleness, and Time

Jeff Bell raises an important point about eviction/trespass. In the eviction theory, trespass results in ejection. The Rothbard idea is that one’s actions in pursuit of rights and against invasions, i.e., in self-defense, may not make new rights infringements. Walter Block has applied this concept to abortion vs. eviction, the latter being in the gentlest possible manner, so as to avoid killing the fetus. However, if the fetus is removed and the technology doesn’t permit its survival, his eviction theory looks upon that as necessitated or “so be it”.

Now, what’s the gentlest possible manner? There is no time dimension to it. In the sailboat example, there is no time dimension either. It’s a big question that I didn’t raise, but it’s certainly relevant. Why aren’t the sailors told under libertarian law that they must wait until they reach port or encounter a vessel willing to take their unwelcome visitor aboard? In the abortion case, why isn’t the pregnant woman instructed to delay removal until the fetus is able to survive removal? The theory has no time dimension for gentle removal (eviction), and as such, it can be interpreted as saying that no abortion of any kind is allowable (assuming a normal pregnancy) because gentleness takes time. This looks like a fatal objection to the eviction theory.

Once time becomes an issue, there are going to be interpersonal utility comparisons made. The longer the time waited, the worse off the property owners but the better off the “trespassers”, if they really are such. Who is to say what gentlest manner means in that circumstance? The Rothbardian reply might be to attempt to skirt these utility comparisons and allow immediate removal. That really doesn’t resolve the issue satisfactorily.

Absolute property ownership implicitly makes the utility of the owner dominate the utility of a trespasser. To maintain that dominance, there can be no injection of “gentlest possible manner” into a theory of property and trespass. This is a point raised by Jeremiah Dyke in an unpublished comment on eviction theory. In that view, eviction is emptied of its content.


8:17 am on June 3, 2019