Specific performance contracts; voluntary slavery

Walter, I enjoyed your response to the question on the movie “Snow Piercer” involving the NAP v Utilitarianism. It reminds me of a question I once wanted to pose you on the movie “Stargate” involving voluntary slavery. In “Stargate” there is smart guy played by James Spader whose expertise is needed to make the Stargate function (the Stargate is an Egyptian artifact that, once actuated, acts as a doorway to another dimension). Kurt Russell is the leader of a platoon of military gents whose skills may be needed on the other side, depending on what is found there. The powers-that-be suppose that there will be, in the other dimension, a separate Stargate that, once actuated, will act as a doorway back to earth. Now, say that James Spader signs a contract with whomever is in charge stating that he agrees to travel to the other the dimension with the military gents to secure their return home (only he can actuate the Stargate). Now, further, say that James Spader–kind of a wimpy, nerdy sort– watches each and every military gent bravely walk through the actuated Stargate toward dimensions unknown before having a change of heart (perhaps better, more recent, evidence overrides his previous willingness to engage in inter-dimensional travel). Is it licit for James Spader to, for whatever reason, welsh on his contract, leaving the military gents stranded? Or are the powers-that-be legally justified in forcing the little punk to make good on his contract–coercively sending him abroad thus giving the military gents a chance at a return home? Thanks, S

Dear S:

I think you are asking about specific performance contracts, or voluntary slavery. The example I often use for the former is the case of A, the tight-rope walker, who’s wire is 100 feet above the air. He hires B, to walk under him, with a safety net, in case he falls. B agrees. A pays him in advance. But, in the middle of A’s performance, B decides to quit his job. May C compel B (say at the point of a gun) to perform what he had agreed to do; e.g., remain on the job and continue to follow under A with his safety net. I say yes. There are some who maintain that all C or A may do to B is take back the salary given B, or, if there was a performance bond posted by B, then B loses it. I claim libertarian theory allows C to threaten B with death if he does not fulfill has task.
Here are some publications that make this case:

Andersson, 2007; Block, 1969, 1979, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007A, 2007B, 2009A, 2009B; Frederick, 2014; Kershnar, 2003; Lester, 2000; Mosquito, 2014; Nozick, 1974, pp. 58, 283, 331; Steiner, 1994, pp. 232; Thomson, 1990

Andersson, Anna-Karin. 2007. “An alleged contradiction in Nozick’s entitlement theory”
Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Fall: 43–63;

Block, Walter. 1969. “Voluntary Slavery.” The Libertarian Connection, Vol. I, No. 3, April 13, pp. 9-11.

Block, Walter E. 1979. Book review of Nancy C. Baker, Baby Selling: the Scandal of Black Market Adoptions, New York: The Vanguard Press, 1978; in Libertarian Review, January, Vol. 7, No. 12, pp. 44-45.

Block, Walter E. 1999. “Market Inalienability Once Again: Reply to Radin,” Thomas Jefferson Law Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall, pp. 37-88;

Block, Walter E. 2001. “Alienability, Inalienability, Paternalism and the Law: Reply to Kronman,” American Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 28, No. 3, Summer, pp. 351-371;

Block, Walter E. 2002. “A Libertarian Theory of Secession and Slavery,” June 10;

Block, Walter E. 2003. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Inalienability: A Critique of Rothbard, Barnett, Gordon, Smith, Kinsella and Epstein,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol.17, No. 2, Spring, pp. 39-85

Block, Walter E. 2004. “Are Alienability and the Apriori of Argument Logically Incompatible?” Dialogue, Vol. 1, No. 1.

Block, Walter E. 2005. “Ayn Rand and Austrian Economics: Two Peas in a Pod.” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Vol. 6, No. 2, Spring, pp. 259-269

Block, Walter E. 2006. “Epstein on alienation: a rejoinder” International Journal of Social Economics; Vol. 33, Nos. 3-4, pp. 241-260

Block, Walter E. 2007A. “Secession,” Dialogue. No. 4; pp. 1-14

Block, Walter E. 2007B. “Alienability: Reply to Kuflik.” Humanomics Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 117-136

Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Yes, Sell Rivers! And Make Legal Some Slave Contracts” The Tyee. July 25;

Block, Walter E. 2009B. “Privatizing Rivers and Voluntary Slave Contracts” July 27;
Frederick, Danny. 2014. “Voluntary Slavery,” Las Torres de Lucca 4: 115-37,

Kershnar, Stephen. 2003. “A Liberal Argument for Slavery,” Journal of Social Philosophy, 34
(4): 510-36.

Lester, Jan Clifford. 2000. Escape from Leviathan. St. Martin’s Press.

Mosquito, Bionic. 2014. “The Sanctity of Contract.” April 19;

Nozick, Robert. 1974. Anarchy, State and Utopia, New York: Basic Books,

Steiner, Hillel. 1994. An Essay on Rights, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

Thomson, Judith Jarvis. 1990. The Realm of Rights, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University
Press, pp. 283-84.


8:36 pm on July 12, 2015