Libertarianism Has A Narrow Focus

Dear Dude:

Thanks for calling me Mr. Libertarian. But, I think, there’s only one person who deserves that honorific. I won’t tell you who that is, but his initials are MNR.

As a libertarian, I’m concerned, only, with what the law should be, a small branch of morality, not with morality itself in its entirety, your focus. So, I don’t have too much to say about your interesting thoughts on this subject. However, I think, but I’m not sure, that to ignore a drowning person is immoral, not amoral. Sitting on a chair is amoral. Murder is immoral. But, as I say, my area of interest is not all of morality, as is yours.

Best regards,


From: <>

Sent: Saturday, August 29, 2020 12:37 AM


Subject: Quarantining Typhoid Mary and Vices are Not Crimes

Dear Walter Block,

Good to see you answering questions.


I am unsure what Mr. Napolitano said about quarantine, but I found this 2014 article from Reason persuasive:

Forcibly injecting substances-attenuated microbes or otherwise-into someone else’s body cannot be justified as an act of self-defense, because there is no way to determine with certainty that the person will ever be responsible for disease transmission. . . . A strong argument can be made that it is self-defense to quarantine people who are infected with a disease-producing organism and are objectively threatening the contamination of others. But in such a case, the use of force against the disease carrier is based upon evidence that the carrier is contagious and may infect others.


I partly object to your response: “morality also opposes drunkenness, laziness, disrespect for parents, which, at least according to libertarianism, are not to be punished by the use of violence.” [Emphasis added.] My objection is limited to the underline portion.

I thank you again for your past feedback on the long essay I sent you. I revised it. This excerpt (with footnotes omitted) addresses the relationship between morality and libertarianism:

Libertarian morality has three categories (moral, amoral, and immoral), each involving the absence or presence of consent. The absence or presence of consent shows the consistency of libertarianism. An impolite word for consistency is stubbornness: “[r]efusing to change . . . despite pressure to do so[.]” This definition is “despite pressure to do so” rather than a reason to do so. A nicer word for consistency is loyalty, as in loyalty to a principle: consent.

Consistency to a moral code is integrity:  “Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code[.]”

To not be consistent is to be inconsistent. A harsher word for inconsistent is disloyal. A harsher word for disloyal is traitor: “One who betrays[.]”

If an outsider criticizes a libertarian, the criticism might be ignored as coming from a different moral code. But when an insider criticizes a libertarian, the criticism might be (a) polite feedback or (b) an accusation of treachery.

I have yet to see anyone who, when accused of treachery, admits it. Instead, the treachery accusation leads to a denial, maybe an angry denial, sometimes follow by a counter-accusation. More likely, the anger among accuser and accused will prevent any calm discussion.

Libertarianism does not promise a powerful position in a government, a job opening for savior of humanity, or even a free chocolate chip cookie. So, I tend to suspect another libertarian of being mistaken rather than ill-intentioned.

The three consent categories (moral, amoral, and immoral) cover what is required, allowed, or banned.

Libertarian Morality

Category     Definition   Example

Moral:         Must If you consent to create a needy person, you must care for the person unless (a) another assumes the duty to care, or (b) the person reaches adulthood      Parents caring for their baby

Contractual duty   A lifeguard, under contract, helping a drowning man

Should        Consensual help    Helping a drowning man

Amoral:      May  Not moral or immoral, so neutral        Ignoring a drowning man

Immoral:     Should not: Anything you dislike outside of the other definitions in this chart, so for me: sadism toward innocents        Laughing at the drowning man, betting how fast the drowning man will die, or recording the drowning to give a copy to the man’s family to traumatize them

May not      Nonconsensual initiatory aggression   Drowning a man by holding him underwater

Consent (to agree to let something occur) differs from informed consent (to agree to let something occur, knowing the risks and alternatives): You agreeing to buy a bicycle from me is consent while you agreeing to buy it after I explain the risks (it has chipped paint and bad steering) and alternatives (you could buy a scooter) is informed consent. Under libertarian morality, consent is defined as an agreement made to let something occur, knowing the risks. So, I must tell you of risks with your bicycle purchase, not alternatives. I must be an honest seller, not an advocate for my economic competitors.

In the drowning examples, one never need help a drowning man unless under contract. There is no duty to help/sacrifice. Moralities differ in degree and kind. If I usually donate $1 to charity, but then donate $10, the change is a matter of degree because I do more of what I have done: donate money. If I never donate money to charity, but then donate $1, the change is a matter of kind for I have done something that I have never done. Libertarian morality differs in kind, not degree, from other moralities. It does not require you to sacrifice your blood, time, and money, while other moralities differ to the degree of how much you must sacrifice. “‘Need’ now means wanting someone else’s money. ‘Greed’ means wanting to keep your own. ‘Compassion’ is when a politician arranges the transfer.”

An effect of a duty to sacrifice for everyone everywhere eternally is to popularize cost-control rules: rules meant to save money.

Consider a law requiring a cyclist to wear a helmet. “[A] primary aim of the helmet law is prevention of unnecessary injury to the cyclist himself. But the costs of this injury may be borne by the public. A motorcyclist without a helmet is more likely to suffer serious head injury than one wearing the prescribed headgear. . . . the injured cyclist may be hospitalized at public expense. If permanently disabled, the cyclist could require public assistance for many years.”

Yet the logic of requiring an act (wear a helmet) to save money allows for more requirements: ban motorcycles to prevent motorcycle-related injuries. Why not go further? The motorcyclist might smoke cigarettes (risking cancer), drink alcohol (risking liver damage), and have unprotected sex (risking STDs). Why not go as far as possible? Doctors become dictators, their patients become subjects, and their recommendations for diet and exercise become orders carrying penalties for defiance. Under this system, physical health could be maximized and costs minimized. The price is liberty. No one should pay that price.

The top and bottom of the chart have commands: always do something (must) and never do something (may not). The flexibility of whether to do something is in the middle of the chart with the subcategories of encouraged (should) and discouraged (should not). To allow (may) includes should and should not, so maybe should and should not are better categorized as amoral. But I see a difference between neutrality toward an event (like drowning) and seeking to stop it or enjoy it.

Should can mean:

1. Instruction: Use the lever to raise the sails. This is factual.

2. Prediction: Tomorrow should be rainy. This is speculation on potential fact.

3. Want: Ships should be free. This is desire.

4. Moral suggestion: Invite a friend onto the ship. This is moralized want. This is the meaning I use in the chart.

The may not definition (nonconsensual initiatory aggression) is complex. Other libertarians call this the non-aggression principle/axiom. Consensual combat (like boxing) is consensual initiatory aggression. Punching a mugger is nonconsensual retaliatory aggression. Insulting a person is nonconsensual initiatory rudeness, not aggression.

Aggression is physical harm against a person (beating him) or his possessions (destroying his flowers). So, you may non-physically harm others. For example, I sell bicycles next to a storeowner, reducing his income, harming him. Liberty is the absence of nonconsensual initiatory aggression.

“The nonaggression axiom does not rule out such an action’s possible moral wrongness on other grounds or the possible appropriateness of attempting to combat it by peaceful means. The nonaggression axiom is intended as a rule specifically for actions involving force, not as a guide to the whole of moral conduct.”

To a libertarian, violating the nonaggression axiom is necessarily immoral. A libertarian is willing to approve up to deadly force to uphold the nonaggression axiom. To justify killing yet refuse to label that justification with the terms moral or immoral is, I suspect, caution by other libertarians. Defending the nonaggression axiom alone is easier than endlessly debate what is moral. Laughing at, betting about, and recording a drowning man might not be immoral to others. I specify every possible choice of morality (must, should, may, should not, and may not), and then define all those choices. These choices can reflect conformity or contrarianism, courage or cowardice, compassion or cruelty, and selfishness or selflessness. For the libertarian, the important matter is one choose, not be forced.

This chart reaches perfection:

1. Lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature or kind.

2. Being without defect or blemish

I could have made an arbitrary and complete morality by random. Murder Mondays and torture Tuesdays are approved, but not for any other day except maybe Wacky Wednesdays where random behaviors are approved, permitted, or rejected depending on the outcome of the spin of a roulette wheel.

I would not call the morality of murder Mondays, torture Tuesdays, and whacky Wednesdays perfect because it is defective with arbitrariness.

Libertarian morality completely and consistently applies consent across all categories of behavior. Completeness and consistency yield perfection. When anyone wants to alter the chart yet still call it libertarian, perfection is blemished. Worst, clear categories become at risk for chaos.

I could be wrong. If so, I again welcome your input, Mr. Libertarian.


7:42 am on October 24, 2020