-4 votes

Rothbard and Hoppe vs. The Zombie Apocalypse

Suppose a tremendous cataclysm rocked the Earth, and conditions were such that the amount of food and fuel resources remaining were only enough to feed a small fraction of the people on the globe.

Imagine yourself in such a world. Moments after this realization hits you and begins to sink in. You consider your family, loved ones, your wife and children, and yourself. You realize everyone else is in the same boat.

The things you love in this world, those are you ultimate ends. Yourself, your children, continuing to live, avoiding death and misery.

Let's be honest. We would all do one of two things.

Some of us would choose to renounce life, to accept our death philosophically and try to have a quick end. We would bow out of the commencing bloodbath gracefully, retaining our civilized poise and balance. A luxury, of course, not open to those with children to look after.

The rest of us? We would tear each other to pieces to get that food and fuel to feed ourselves and our immediate loved ones, and we would do unspeakable things to avoid death, misery, and annihilation.

No concept or idea of right, wrong, Rights, ethics, or any other obstacle would be sufficient to keep us from filling our hungry bellies.

Perhaps there are taboos so strong that many or most of us would still not break. We might forbear doing some things that have long been horrific to the human mind, such as cannibalism. Or maybe not.

Beyond that, we would do anything to continue to exist. And in doing so, to continue the species. There is a certain logic to it, no?

Not all the natural rights or argumentation ethics in the world would stop us from using every means available to secure to ourselves and our closest loved ones a place in that ten percent of survivors.


This simple thought experiment should make it clear in what world rights, ethics and law have meaning. The conditions on which all of our social cooperation and lawful behavior rest - their utility to us as individuals and small units - are not guaranteed conditions. They are just conditions, not laws. Why try to deny it?

Social cooperation and submission to a law for the resolution of conflict are based on their utility. Cultures which engage in cooperation, division of labor, public law and economic activity were selected in an evolutionary process, just as the human species itself was selected for its ability to engage in extended social cooperation and ultimately economic activity - division of labor. Law and custom of some kind proceeded every step of the way to make that possible.

We live in society and respect others not because of natural rights or argumentation ethics, but because there is greater utility or greater advantage to our own interests in doing so. Society, social cooperation, division of labor, and peaceful conflict resolution are better for most of us than engaging in the tactics described in the above scenario.

Our ultimate ends and loves in this world remain the same: our lives, our loved ones, our children, and the absence of an empty belly.

Without the conditions that make social cooperation and lawful conflict resolution more advantageous to us, we would abandon them to continue the struggle for our personal existence and our subjective goals by other means.


Mises: 1
Hayek: 1
Rothbard: 0
Hoppe: 0

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Upon re-examination

the artificial conditions imposed by your scenario are ridiculous to the point of absurdity.

Let's take an absolute worst-case scenario, an Extinction Level Event. We'll say a supervolcano (Yellowstone) erupts, and that throws up an immense dust cloud that sends Earth into a new Ice Age. That's about as close to your scenario as the real world could reasonably come.

Oh, and it also proves you wrong. Humanity went through that, and did so by means of cooperation. You see, when a person like you looks at a human, you see the capacity to consume. You fail to note that humans do things like group together to hunt big game, or spread hardy varieties of plants that could grow even in the new Ice Age.

Of course, you still ignore the fact that just because humans do something does not make it right. Your premise seems to be that if enough people violate them, then rights don't exist. Of course, nowadays, there's LOTS of people violating others' rights. I really can't figure out what you're trying to prove, here.

first you say the scenario is

first you say the scenario is far fetched.

then you say it has happened before.

of course, it has happened probably millions of times that groups have had to fight over resources sufficient to sustain only a portion of them. famines, climate changes, etc.

yes, they cooperated, in order to successfully engage in conflict with other cooperating groups. population has always been kept in line with available resources by war and famine.

why do you think we have aggressive and violent instincts in the first place? because we are born with an understanding of natural rights?

the world has limited resources and occasionally resources take a dive or population overshoots the mark. in such cases, the idea of natural rights or a moral imperative to refrain from using force is obviously absurd.

conception of rights can only apply logically in conditions where social cooperation is mutually advantageous to all. this may be the case the overwhelming majority of the time, but it is not inherently, always the case.

therefore, there is no natural law or natural right. just man made law and man made rights that make sense when social cooperation is advantageous.

It's a distinction without a difference

The Misean argument, not all that different from the Randian argument, is that humans have evolved (or were created) to live and thrive a certain way. Turn the argument around and you can say that what works is what's right. Same thing, different perspective.

Rothbard starts his argument with property. Mises (and Rand) start with Man's Nature and quickly recognizes the importance of property to the well-being of the human being. From that point forward, Rothbard (and Rand) extrapolates a system of rights that comes to nearly the same conclusions as Mill's and Mises' arguments for utility, while at the same time avoiding the trap of defining 'the greatest good for the greatest number,' a qualitative/quantitative guideline that can be applied at the individual level, but is hopeless as a guide at the social level. (The great contribution of the Austrians being the recognition of subjective values.)

That Rothbard's (and Rand's) system of rights and Mill's and Mises' system of Utility arrive at virtually the same policy conclusions should give pause to critics of one or the other.

Your argument that ethics are situational has merit. Even Rothbard, I think, would agree that in less-than-purely-free systems (which your artificial construction implies) rights have a limited utility as a guide to one's actions. In the real world, 'rights' cannot be applied purely unless one lives as an ascetic (sp?).

I wrote a short story many years ago in college in which I attempted to deal with the idea of a person devoted to pure "right" and "wrong" in a utilitarian world. My conclusion (at 21 years old) was unsatisfying: Life will be continuous self-immolation.

That, however, was not an argument against 'rights' so much as a recognition of the corrupt condition of the human situation today.

there's a great deal of

there's a great deal of difference. even under identical conditions, the two came to a fundamentally different conclusion: one accepted the necessity of government and one did not.

that says nothing about how far the two basic approaches would produce difference conclusions in vastly different conditions of life that are entirely plausible.

rothbard did not start from property, he started from an arbitrary claim of self ownership in nature. no such postulate can have meaning, as ownership is a legal concept not a natural one. possession and control are natural concepts, and always fall to the stronger individual or group if there is a conflict in nature. nature grants no legal title to any ownership by right, only by force. right is an invention and makeshift to bring about peace where conflict exists. when the conflict is resolved, the resulting agreement of terms becomes the "rights" for a time of the parties.

i hope i never gave the impression that i adhere to any utilitarian system of ethics. i am a complete moral subjectivist and see that different individuals and groups can be in conflict while considering themselves to be acting entirely morally. i don't believe in any universally applicable measure of morality for all individuals, places and times. if there is one meal and two people, neither acts immorally to stake their claim and fight for it. social cooperation is premised on the utility to both parties in cooperating. absent that condition, there is no natural moral or rightful compulsion to act cooperatively.

nature is a world of conflict, and that conflict is merely sublimated in civilization and the legal and market order, and moved to an economic plane in which larger and larger groups of cooperating individuals compete for their own ends. the principle of competition is thus maintained, and individuals can seek their own ends on the basis of their own moral choices. whenever a group of sufficient size and power feel that their interests are not served by the system of cooperation, they resort to organized violence without moral qualm. the overall or universal social utility of some kind of action does not compel them.

culture, the context of one's birth and the conditions one is born into, have a great influence on what attitudes one adopts. how people cope with the challenges they're faced with to survive, prosper and pass their heritage on to the next generation are dealt with according to different cultural strategies in different times and places.

the only constant is that everyone is their own center of gravity with their own concentric circles of cares and priorities, loved ones and things, and the restraints they adhere to go only so far as serve those most basic interests.

if your children are starving and you steal to feed them, you may be acting illegally, but no one can convince you that you acted immorally, no matter who's rights you violated. of course, stealing, if tolerated, would destroy the fabric of the market order. no one can advocate theft as having social utility. but on the simplest level of right and wrong, it is impossible to condemn morally the person struggling to survive. morality and utility are entirely different.

if we adhere to a legal order and forgo violence to engage in peaceful trade, it isn't based on an abstract right, it is based on the utility of that course of action to the attainment of the ends we seek as individuals and as family units bound by an unconditional altruism.

feelings of love for the community or nation are weaker, and extend outward in concentric circles, and fade completely at some point. this love is based on a sense of relation and shared interests, of the need to cooperate to achieve the best outcome for all in the group.

few humans ever acts with the idea that there is a universal right or morality we must all adhere to, to all people, or all creatures. that is the realm of fantasy. it may exist and persist for some time among some radical religious or ideological sects. but it is in such conflict with the more permanent human nature that it does not become widespread or persist indefinitely, and requires a great religious commitment.

Sorry for the late reply, I'm in the process of moving

But before I lose my internet connection for a few days, I thought I'd rush a response.

Self ownership is not strictly a legal concept. Slaves, considered by the law to be another's property, understand their enslavement as a theft of their lives and their freedom. Self ownership presupposes a sense of self, not government or law.

"Possession and control are natural concepts." Yes and no. Having taken a item that previously was in another's possession does not make the former 'owner' give up his claim, nor does the new 'owner' feel legitimacy. (I qualify this...there are many different kinds of people, some of whom truly believe they are entitled to keep anything they have stolen fair and square. This was an assertion made by a young man who took a pair of shoes from our store, then was incensed when he re-entered the store with the shoes on and was arrested. In his mind, the shoes were naturally his.)

No prob. Best of luck in your

No prob. Best of luck in your new location.

Yeah, I wouldn't deny that their is an innate desire for freedom from external control. Children display this even when the control is for their ultimate good. Criminals display this when being restrained from committing crime and mayhem or resisting being apprehended. It applies regardless of the right or wrong of it.

Likewise, there have been millions of people happy in their dependence, happy in having their lives ordered by others, happy not to have to plan one's long term future out, happy even as the property of others. Their have been slaves who have died for their masters, killed themselves at the death of their masters, sincerely mourned their masters. There are people who, given complete freedom, would end up in such straits that they'd contract themselves into slavery, make themselves wards and dependents, etc.

Both impulses exist, and the freedom impulse applies regardless of the justice of the coercion (arrest for actual crime, being forcefully prevented from stealing or fighting or pursuing the opposite sex too eagerly, etc.). Again, children rebel at the imposition of curfews, proper diet, chores, studying books, etc.

Our impulses by themselves aren't any proof of a morality or evidence that the impulse must inherently be respected by all others as a natural right.

Hunger is a natural impulse, and it does not grant anyone a natural right to a full belly. Sexual desire is an innate impulse, it does not provide a natural right to sex or reproduction. Arguing natural rights from natural impulses is a dead end road.

I have a 21' Marada by Armada

I have a 21' Marada by Armada MX3 power boat in need of repair. I live 3 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. I have a heart condition and can't repair it myself. My neighbors and family will come around to get the boat sea worthy for fishing. Win, Win.

I think the utility argument

I think the utility argument ignores free rider issue. Not everyone has to abide by rights and morals, only enough people to allow the parasitic ruling class a lively host. Marx talked about how morality was a tool of the upper class to trick the proletariat to naively slave away for the elite interests while the elite totally ignore morals and exploit. Plato talked about this as well. So if we can demonstrate that it is actually not in an individuals best interest to respect rights, it follows that the rights came from somewhere other than individuals acting together for their own interests. Either the morals and rights are applied from the top down or the bottom up. I think it is more plausible that morality and human rights are the norm and evil the aberration than that rights are just a tool to circumvent an unsuspecting public.

Ventura 2012

I think I'd fall somewhere in

I think I'd fall somewhere in between Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals. Not to mention all the new studies and research on evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. Who knows? All I know is rights don't exist except as subjective moral claims that bind no one else. Real rights are an outgrowth of broad common interests and social customs that form in a process of cultural selection. Even untrue beliefs can be selected for if they're advantageous to a community. There's a difference between what's strictly true logically and what fictions we can agree upon to justify what we feel is a necessary set of conditions for our own well being (the existence of rights provided by the Creator). That people have changed from the Creator to 'nature' is just a rhetorical device. The vast majority of people who still take the rights concept seriously also accept a creator. Those who have tried to separate rights from the justice of the creator have failed miserably (Rothbard, Hoppe, etc.)

I largely agree with that. I

I largely agree with that. I would just say that rights and morals are organically derived social norms common to a majority rather than ad-hoc inventions by the people to control behavior. Ex, rights and conception of rights change over time due to the beliefs of the masses. I would not equate common law rights that come from an innate sense of justice and morality to a legal code passed by a legislature to control behavior. I dont think a purely utilitarian explanation can explain it, because as Ron Paul said in his Mises critique, "Utility to who?".

Ventura 2012

Ya. can't always go into

Ya. can't always go into sufficient detail in comments.

Agree 100%. Did you word

Agree 100%. Did you word things more harshly in your OP deliberately to incite the true believers? Haha.

Ventura 2012

guess the tone depends on the

guess the tone depends on the mood lol

true that haha

true that haha

Ventura 2012

"Our ultimate ends and loves

"Our ultimate ends and loves in this world remain the same: our lives, our loved ones, our children, and the absence of an empty belly." -BILL3

Oh my! A spark of something natural, immutable, and self-evident!
You sound like Rothbard right there. ;)
Am I right? :D

Weather. Finally, the same.

People's true nature and exploiting the opposition to this truth. Divide the law or the city sprawl arm of civil society, we suffer from a Smart phone.

Seems like everyone who

Seems like everyone who replied just completely ignored the conditions of my scenario.

The scenario said there is only enough available for 10% of the people, at most, to survive. That's assuming maximum cooperation and efficiency.

The only thing I claimed was that some people would voluntarily bow out of the resulting struggle for existence, and the rest would use whatever means necessary to be part of that 10%.

To respect others rights would be to voluntarily die. I said that some people would indeed do that. But to survive, one would have to succeed at using whatever means necessary to secure a spot for yourself which the other 9 of 10 people could not have by mathematical necessity.

No one challenged my actual claims. My points remain unrefuted.

Rights only apply when the conditions exist in which our interests as individuals are served by social cooperation.

In the scenario I outlined, survival is the only measure of morality, and nothing is off limits to provide for your own survival and that of your children.

Someone mentioned Jericho. You watch too much TV. The good guys always have enough to go around, and the bad guys have to be depicted as morally depraved in order to set up a contrast. It is fantasy. In the real world, it would just be two groups of starving people doing whatever they had to in order to survive. Both would be acting morally, and both would go to great lengths to survive, including engaging in acts considered immoral in a society of abundance. Unless you accept a God to write a law of eternal justice, survival is its own justification.

The fact that law and social cooperation are valid is only a consequence of the conditions existing in which cooperation and respect for others rights is mutually advantageous.

1 for utilitarianism
1 for cultural evolution
0 for natural rights
0 for argumentation ethics

very selfish perspective on the subject matter.

"Rights only apply when the conditions exist in which our interests as individuals are served by social cooperation."

natural law is a framework for law. the idea is to NOT violate natural laws. nature has laws that work, don't violate them. when you can and as best you can. get it?
there are not very many natural rights. friend. only a handful really.
this is you.

couldn't hear ya through your

couldn't hear ya through your helmet.

Coy response, are you jay Carney?

in America today, our law is NOT based on the Constitution. it is based on admiralty and English common law.

our constitution was based on the political concept of "natural Law"
you cannot invent your own definitions. why do you try?

gonna upvote you for the

gonna upvote you for the claim that we're under english maritime law. i love dry humor like that.

that was not a "claim" it is a fact.

just ask any Lawyer.

just asked a lawyer, he said

just asked a lawyer, he said no.

you are jay carney......

the statement was admiralty and English common law.

not English maritime law.
but nice effort, you probably confused many.


lol. i asked a dif lawyer he

lol. i asked a dif lawyer he told me we are living under a form of german airship navigation law.

it's all good bro.

I think the MOST important thing that I have learned over the last 7 years is this.
"it is not those who oppose you who are your enemy, it is those sitting on the fence"
you are not my enemy, but I do like yanking your chain!


The monopoly thought is the crime thought is the rat thought as if rats give off a smell that even Patrick Henry can smell at a distance.

"The rest of us? We would tear each other to pieces to get that food and fuel to feed ourselves and our immediate loved ones, and we would do unspeakable things to avoid death, misery, and annihilation."

The situation offered is such that human beings find themselves with fewer options.

There are those who solve problems by eating each other, as if The Donner Party was a dinner bell.


There are those who knuckle down and manage the old fashioned way.


Typically those who eat each other are inclined to eat the best and brightest first; a function of the necessity for monopoly is the elimination of competition, so false leadership is naturally opposing true leadership.

The Monopolists/Criminals/Legal Criminals/Rats create the situation whereby there is only one non-option: by design.


Any questions?


ye olde JosF... - john jay

ye olde JosF... - john jay

John Jay?

If I were alive in those early days of the attempt at Independence from the criminals running the English based Money Monopoly Power, then I think I would be on the side of the true Free Market Government or Declaration of Independence faction which included those groups who were called (falsely) Anti-Federalists.

The Federalists were not Federalists, they were Nationalists/Monarchists/Mercantilists/Central Banker Legal Money Monopoly/Criminals who invented adaptive forms of fraud and extortion that they called LAW.

I think John Jay was in the Legal Crime Cabal as one of the so called "Federalists," if I have that story understood.

Those like Hamilton who sided with England over France, in my opinion, confessed their true motives. I think that John Jay was instrumental in the Jay Treaty Fraud which was aimed against France, and aimed in favor of England, as it was by then a United States Corporation, of sorts, under the direct control of the English Monopoly or Monarchy, which was The New World Order at that time = Monopoly Money Hegemony = Military Monopoly.

The initial American fight for Independence worked, with the help of the French up until the so called "Federalist" managed the fraud known as the Con Con, and subsequent return to Involuntary Association with that so called Constitution.

France was similarly broken up and rebuilt under conditions that exemplified the battle between honest, productive, voluntary, defenders, working in Liberty, against the criminals who invent, produce, and maintain The New World Order, or whatever word you want to use to aim the focus of accurate accountability on the group of people who earn their livelihood with a Legal Money Monopoly Power, such as the current form, which can be called The Dollar Hegemony, which is, by the way, being gutted so as to user in an adaptive, "improved" version of the same general routine of enforcing by lies,threats, and violence the "Legal" Money Monopoly Power that dominates and destroys or incorporates all competition in Money Markets.

So...John Jay, the Federalist, so called, was working for the opposition. No thanks. Liberty or one of us is going to die, because I will either defend myself effectively or the aggressive despots will kill me.

I don't see it as "all or nothing," rather there is a scale from which to exist in fact somewhere between absolute despotism, having no expressions of free will whatsoever, and the ideal somewhere off in the distance, as far from absolute despotism as a human being can get, among other human beings, whereby crime pays nothing and therefore will power is not employed in ventures that no one anywhere wants.

Defense against no possible attack by anyone is costless.

There will always be some criminal finding some inspiration to injure some innocent target, and so defense will cost someone something, or the criminal finds a way to get paid.

The idea whereby the criminals usurp organized defensive power, for example, is an obvious, effective, fraud, and here in America it was officially started in 1788.


Mr. Chairman—Whether the Constitution be good or bad, the present clause clearly discovers, that it is a National Government, and no longer a confederation. I mean that clause which gives the first hint of the General Government laying direct taxes. The assumption of this power of laying direct taxes, does of itself, entirely change the confederation of the States into one consolidated Government. This power being at discretion, unconfined, and without any kind of controul, must carry every thing before it. The very idea of converting what was formerly confederation, to a consolidated Government, is totally subversive of every principle which has hitherto governed us. This power is calculated to annihilate totally the State Governments. Will the people of this great community submit to be individually taxed by two different and distinct powers? Will they suffer themselves to be doubly harrassed? These two concurrent powers cannot exist long together; the one will destroy the other: The General Government being paramount to, and in every respect more powerful than, the State governments, the latter must give way to the former.

That is a defender of Liberty.

Those who usurp, such as Hamilton, are apt to counterfeit such sentiments, as campaign promises to be broken, such as "read my lips, bla, bla, bla," etc.

Those who act, not just talk, are exemplified by Daniel Shays, or even now there is the Adam Kokesh example.

I suspect that there are many more examples, genuine defenders of Liberty, whereby the POWER to censure the true story of their actions is effective enough to cause such NEWS to be anything but current in the main stream.


...who is John Jay?

...who is John Jay?