Way back in 2011, when TOL was just a single lady (me) pontificating to the Internet, I wrote a post called “The ‘Science’ of Abortion” which basically asserted that people who claim to be able to use “science” to prove that abortion is right/wrong/whatever probably don’t know what the word “science” means, or have a hard time distinguishing “science” and “philosophy.” Now that the Koch brothers earning scare-quote libertarian status because they have reportedly been funding “abortion”causes, it seems I need to make this point again so that everyone can hear it:

Where you believe life begins is a philosophical, definitional question, not inherently a political one.

Let’s start with the ground I covered in my post two years ago about this, modified for some clarification.

Abortion is ultimately a debate of fundamental definitions. Where does human life deserving of rights begin? That is not something that science can help us with, because that’s not something that we as a society have an agreed-upon definition for. Science gives us data and readouts, not definitions. Definitions are socially constructed by what we all agree to call things.

Take the color red. “Red” is a definition that we had long before science came along to tell us what all the things we call red have in common. Science can tell you if the wavelength of the light bouncing off a rose hitting your eyes is 650 nanometers or not, but it does not tell you what to call it. We could have called light at 650nm “red” or “orange” or “zebra.” We knew what color to call a rose long before science told us anything else about light.

So too, science can tell us all sorts of neat factoids about the heartbeat of a fetus, its brain activity, and perhaps give us some clues as to whether or not it can feel pain. But science cannot tell us whether a being with X amount of brain activity or Y capacity for pain is a human being deserving of rights. That is a question that we, as a society, have to figure out and define for ourselves.

Because of this, the question of abortion is one that transcends political affiliations and other ideologies. You can be a Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian and be pro-life. If you accept that a fetus at a certain state of development is a human being with rights and privileges, then certain actions of government logically follow from that. What the role of government is depends on your political affiliation, certainly, but minarchist, night-watchman state libertarians (of which I count myself among) certainly have a tenable position that the government has a duty to interfere with the forced termination of human life.

Which brings me to the Koch brothers. You can argue till you’re blue in the face that the brothers Koch do not fit your particular definition of libertarianism because of the myriad of things that they do or believe in. They are certainly great (but not the only) backers of libertarian organizations in the country, even if these organizations are, to some, “libertarian lite.” But I think that the fact that they believe that life begins at conception is not grounds for kicking them out of the movement or out of the party. It is a perfectly acceptable libertarian position that, if human life begins at conception, then the government has a duty to intervene in the ending of that life. It’s just logical.

So if Slate and its ilk could just go back to hating the Koch brothers due to its wacky conspiracy theory that they somehow “control” the liberty movement, we can all just go home. Thanks.

  • Could it be hypothetically be tenable then to define human being with rights we should protect to exclude any group you want to deny protection to?

    We see this all the time with war and de-humanization of the enemy.

    • I have absolutely no idea what you’re asking.

      • tincho81

        I think he meant: is it posible to define what a “human being with rights” is, to purposely exclude a group you want to deny protection to? i.e. make a definition that automatically excludes the undesired group

    • Edwin

      this is a good question that should be addressed.

      • martinbrady

        Perhaps a better question is, “How can you discuss abortion without one mention of the word “morality”? As if we mortal earthlings could actually define when life begins, or when a fetus is (my favorite red herring phrases of all time, in this context) “viable.” “Hypothetically tenable” is about as close as we get, yet we are talking about human life, so hypothetical doesn’t count. Or simply isn’t good enough. The abortion facts constitute the real American “inconvenient truth.” It’s fun to debate, though.

    • Upon a second looking, I think the question you’re trying to ask would be better phrased as:

      Could it hypothetically be tenable, then, to define “human being with rights we should protect” as something that excludes any group that you want to deny protection to?

      It is possible, and, as you note, you see that all the time with de-humanization of the enemy. Hell, you see people do it all the time with women. You saw it with racists back in the day. It is not an uncommon thing.

      But this actually furthers the point that what constitutes “life with rights” is socially defined. This is not to take away its meaning or power, because as we know, those definitions are VERY powerful. However, this means you need to center debate about such issues around that definition first.

      Does that make sense.

      • Matt Wavle

        “…is socially defined” is truth really THAT relative? Can we just declare something that IS alive to be dead or declare the Dead to be Alive? Or should my focus be on the “with rights” part? If so, then “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

        — I’d believe Ayn Rand was correct on the subject of Individual Rights. Replace public vote with “socially defined” and you’ll get what I’m saying.

        • I mean, I put in the caveat “with rights” because there are lots of instances where we as a society determine that a human being has forfeited his/her rights. Not sure I agree with that, but that’s what society thus far has dictated.

          I absolutely think that social construction plays a big part in how we see the world and how we define things.

          • Mike Motto

            So, if the “agreed-upon definition” of “life” were to state that life begins at 2-years post-birth, then libertarians would be ok with the killing of a 1-year-old because a 1-year-old has no natural rights as “not alive”? Another way: if the “agreed-upon definition” of “life” included sperm, then libertarians would be ok with banning birth control, condoms, etc. no different than prohibiting other forms of murder? Of course not. Both stances are contrary to basic libertarian principles, because the natural rights of the individual stem from the fact that the individual is alive. The 1-year-old has natural rights and the sperm does not, irrespective of any “agreed-upon definition” of “life.” If “life” is an arbitrary term, then the natural rights that flow from being alive are also arbitrary – dependent upon society’s definition of who is alive! This is absolutely contrary to libertarianism. I’m not saying you cannot be pro-life or pro-choice and still be a libertarian. I am saying that any view that leaves rights open to societal definition is inherently anti-libertarian.

          • Matt Wavle

            Think of the children. Has the little girl, conceived in rape done anything at all to forfeit her right to life? Any social construct used to justify her murder is at its very core IMMORAL. Killing the biological child of a rapist is only compounding one immoral act with the murder of the most innocent. Murdering the rape victim’s offspring will not “un-rape” them. And, by the way, as an adoptive father of such a child, I can tell you that this child has been a blessing to our whole family. Check out some abortion FACTS. http://www.abortionfacts.com/

        • Matt Wavle

          http://www.abortionfacts.com/facts/6 “When a woman exercises her right to control her own body in total disregard of the body of another human being, it is called abortion. When a man acts out the same philosophy, it is called rape.”

  • Not A Usual Suspect

    So Gina, when do you think life begins and ought to be protected?

    • To be honest, I don’t really have an opinion on it. I think it’s ultimately an arbitrary distinction. For my own ethical purposes, I think it is something I would have to address, should I ever be faced with that decision.

      • Rami

        But, if you believed that a fetus is a human at conception, then you believe that abortions are murders. so if you are pro-abortions, and pro-libertarian, then you have a contradiction in your reasoning. are you pro-murder or anti-murder?

        • Sure, so, if you believe that a fetus is a human being worthy of rights and you also believed that abortion was okay, unless you had some sort of other mechanic to make the two meet (which is certainly possible), you would be pro-murder. But I don’t know a lot of people who believe that, without, again, another mechanism to explain the discrepancy.

          I am obviously anti-murder. But I am ambivalent about whether or not a fetus is a human being deserving of rights.

          • Rami

            Correct me if I misunderstood your position…

            You are anti-murder.

            You don’t make a decision about whether a fetus is a human being (deserving of rights).

            So that means that you don’t make a decision as to whether abortion is murder or non-murder.

            So if abortions actually are murder, then you would be anti-abortions.

            And if abortions actually are not murders, then you would be pro-abortions.

            So doesn’t that mean that you don’t make a decision as to whether you are pro-abortion or anti-abortion since you also haven’t decided if a fetus is a human being (deserving of rights)?

  • Guest
    • Eh, a much weaker article to be honest. It clearly has an agenda, (comparing abortion to genocide, and assumed abortion is the “deliberate killing of another human being”) whereas this one clearly allows for pro-choice views within libertarianism, while also directly targeting the use of “when life begins” philosophical debate.

    • It’s certainly got a more decided slant to it! I think the piece ultimately does something that I in my article say that people shouldn’t do. It, on the outset, says “definitions aside,” when the whole discussion is about definitions in my opinion.

      I really admire Elizabeth BeShears’ writings on being pro-life and being a libertarian, and she’s written on it more than a few times on our site. http://thoughtsonliberty.com/author/elizabeth

      • Guest

        I think you are being uncharitable with the piece. It explains why the definitions are wrong and then goes on to say “definitions aside” as a way to start a new paragraph about the dehumanizing effects of abortion. It is not saying definitions do not matter.

        But I agree the article is biased since it is an opinion. The author is obviously pro-life and explaining why you need to protect life to protect liberty. It was giving the argument for pro-life libertarianism as the title suggests.

  • Joe Mertz

    I have never understood why the debate over abortion is a property rights issue and not life rights issue. My mother has a right to kick me out of her house, but she certainly can’t shoot me to accomplish the task. Side Note: The beauty of your article is that someone reading can’t actually determine your stance on the subject which reinforces the entire point.

    • Thanks! It’s probably because I don’t really have a stance on it. I recognize the philosophical, definitional problem of abortion while also being exposed to and very much familiar with all the other arguments about it.

    • pdxmom

      and also – one may think it is wrong, but still be for keeping it legal. there is that distinction as well, which the article did not in any way touch on.

  • Daniel J. D’Amico

    Gina, Your post seems reasonable as far as rights-based libertarians are concerned. But many derive their support for liberalism irrespective of deontological beliefs regarding rights. I’m unsure if it would be consistent from a consequentialist vantage to deny any compatibility between abortion prohibition and liberalism, but it does seem like a reasonable position for some libertarians to hold that an anti-abortion stance is in turn non-libertarian.

    • I think I’m following you, but could you give an example? I myself tend to mix consequentialist and deontological arguments to support libertarianism, but even from a consequentialist standpoint, ending a life is significant enough to warrant a special status. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a consequentialist who would say that the outcomes are justified to kill someone to make a single other person’s life more comfortable.

      There are certainly pro-choice consequentialist arguments that are harder to get around in the case of danger to the mother. That I can grant pretty easily.

      • Daniel D’Amico

        First, consequentialism is not synonymous with utilitarianism, though many people confuse the two. Utilitarianism is a sort of social consequentialism but egoism is also a variant as would be a more structurally nuanced view of empathy as described by Adam Smith. While you’re probably right about consequentialists not explicitly “justifying” the killing of others to make themselves or friends more comfortable, in reality most people regardless of their moral position do this all the time. In any case, you request an example. I’d imagine many consequentialists could simply infer that a robust principle against awarding the state prohibition powers in medical procedures is more valuable to either the individual making the argument, society writ large or some variant of both compared to the results associated with an unwanted birth.

        • “First, consequentialism is not synonymous with utilitarianism, though many people confuse the two.”

          Indeed. My degree is in philosophy so I’m aware of this, but I just assume most people mean utilitarianism when they say it. Apologies for assuming wrong! 🙂

          “I’d imagine many consequentialists could simply infer that a robust principle against awarding the state prohibition powers in medical procedures is more valuable to either the individual making the argument, society writ large or some variant of both compared to the results associated with an unwanted birth.”

          That, my friend is interesting. I’m not sure that I buy it so much, and I would debate said consequentialist on that, but it’s definitely interesting and meets your requirements.

          • martinbrady

            Get a room, you two!

          • Helen Dale

            Welcome to Britain, where facts matter more than rights: I’m not sure that Slate piece proved that the Koch brothers are anti-abortion. They fund a variety of US libertarian organisations that hold a variety of corporate and non-corporate views on abortion. Indeed, to the extent that they fund any British classical liberal organisations, you could argue the opposite – ie, that the Koch brothers have an ‘anti life’ agenda (or whatever hysterical language is being used this week regarding this issue).

            I’d add that it is harder to be anti-abortion and a classical liberal in Britain, in part because being anti-abortion is strongly associated with a certain sort of ‘Toxic Tory’, and also because Britons are less interested in the philosophical question of where life begins than they are in whether any given law is enforceable or not – and that is a cultural attribute that has a far wider remit over here than just over abortion.

          • Matt Wavle

            Separate the morality from the legality of the issue and look at whichever one you believe is the more important of the two issues. Tell all your friends which one of those two standards you believe is more important than the other. They need to know if you are trustworthy or just a legalist. — also, weekly “hysterical” language, words do matter, and I’m not above pointing out that on this side of the pond it’s we spell things like this –> “color”, “honor” and “organization” Spelling that doesn’t change meaning is easy to overlook, but words do matter, and we say Pro-Life because we are not the opposite of Pro-Choice, we are not Anti-Choice. If you honestly believed that a late term abortion causes pain, stops brain waves and stops a beating heart in an individual that most likely would have survived at that same date if they had proper medical attention, then the “choice” to take that life IS Anti-Life, Pro-Death, etc. As Liberty-Loving Rebel Americans (former British subjects) we reserve the right to label ourselves any way we want. So we permit on side to call themselves Pro-Life, while the other side is permitted to call themselves Pro-Choice. But some choices are wrong (morally even if not so legally) There are thousands of examples where I have the freedom to misbehave, but I’m not morally justified in doing so. Between those two labels, Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, I think you can easily see which of those two is the greatest misnomer.

          • Matt Wavle

            “Pro-Choice” or really just “Pro-Abortion”? When a woman exercises her right to control her own body in total disregard of the body of another human being, it is called abortion. When a man acts out the same philosophy, it is called rape. . . you wouldn’t call the man, acting out using the same philosophical justifications “Pro-Choice” just because he was making a choice to engage in forcible sex with an unwilling partner. Yet isn’t it a greater misnomer to call it merely a choice when someone takes the life of an unwilling victim? Most of the time we appropriately call it murder. Some choices are wrong. I’m all for freedom of choice, but choices have results, good choices have good results called rewards and bad choices carry bad results called consequences. Read this, and check every pro-infanticide justification against the facts. And I, along with your best of friends, hope sincerely that in your priority structure morality will trump legality. —> http://www.abortionfacts.com/

          • Antigone_SLA

            Elsewhere on this thread two people were arguing morals without an eye to the consequences of anti-choice legislation. The only way to ensure that women are not having abortions would be to create a Department of Menstrual Cycles and keep records on all women every 28 days. Women with non-standard cycles or no cycles at all would always be under suspicion and all miscarriages would have to be investigated. After all, women have been inducing abortions since ancient times with herbs, strenuous labor and other difficult if not impossible to determine methods.

            The only aspect that legal fiction and its writers can really determine is the licensing of physicians. Until the formation of the AMA in 1841, both births and abortions were tended to by midwives and ‘irregular’ physicians. The AMA was first and foremost a lobbying group to put these ‘irregular’ physicians out of business. We can all see what the ‘business of birth’ has become since then with American women dying in childbirth at a higher rate than any other industrialized country. Midwives are making a comeback as women want to have more control of their pregnancies, not only whether or not they become pregnant.

            But, we are not talking about the rights of women. If we are going to talk about the rights of the defenseless, in this instances fetuses, baby boys and baby *girls*, do they also have the right to have a natural birth? What about regulating the pregnant woman’s diet/habits? The right to breast milk? The right to a father? A lot of Hollywood moms schedule a c-section at 8 months as a way to avoid stretchmarks. Does the fetus has a right to stay in the uterus as long as it desires? This is a very personal and complex issue and none of the government’s business, both practically and morally.

  • Noah

    Is it a perfectly acceptable libertarian position for the government to intervene to prevent the ending of a life? What about private, individual autonomy in the case of suicidal adults, or even the property/bodily integrity rights of parents?

    I would agree that the government does have a compelling interest in the lives of every citizen and therefore has standing and authority to intervene to prevent death, but then again, I am not a libertarian.

    • A very fair question! However, this is largely due to some vague wording. I corrected the line to say “forced termination of human life.” I do not think that the gov’t should intervene in autonomous adult decisions, even when that includes terminating one’s own life.


      • Noah

        Thanks for addressing the first scenario. The second scenario gets at Rachel’s issue with pro-life libertarianism–mandating what individuals can and cannot do with their bodies.

        The normative status of abortion is troublesome because it depends on the observer’s attitude toward the personhood of the fetus. To sidestep this, let’s be generous to pro-life and presume personhood.

        The next issue, then, is whether the right of the individual mother to bodily autonomy outweighs the fetus’ right to bodily autonomy (this presumes that the fetus wants to live and not be terminated, although it lacks an ability to express this explicitly).

        I think this is the truly sticky issue, once we get beyond the personhood debate (if the fetus is not a person, this issue become moot and the whole abortion discussion becomes much more simple).

        I wouldn’t ask you to come down on either side of this because it all depends on your particular heuristic for valuing life, but it’s worth noting that this debate within libertarianism (and the broader society, as well) is so fierce because this deals with balancing and enforcing the rights of a defenseless, mute, immature dependent against those of a generally competent, vocal, and mature individual.

        It’s the ideal hard case to test a philosophy, particularly a political one. It exposes the participants to the greatest intellectual pressures.

        While interesting intellectually, this makes the issue unsuitable for building political coalitions and should be avoided, if your goal is to contribute to the common ground of a movement, especially when the issue–abortion–can be a relatively remote issue when compared to other movement issues, like economic and foreign policy. But maybe that’s just a male thing.

        Kudos for tackling it and keep going, for all I care about the movement.

  • Helen Dale

    I’m not sure that Slate piece proved that the Koch brothers are anti-abortion. They fund a variety of US libertarian organisations that hold a variety of corporate and non-corporate views on abortion. Indeed, to the extent that they fund any British classical liberal organisations, you could argue the opposite – ie, that the Koch brothers have an ‘anti life’ agenda (or whatever hysterical language is being used this week regarding this issue).

    I’d add that it is harder to be anti-abortion and a classical liberal in Britain, in part because being anti-abortion is strongly associated with a certain sort of ‘Toxic Tory’, and also because Britons are less interested in the philosophical question of where life begins than they are in whether any given law is enforceable or not – and that is a cultural attribute that has a far wider remit over here than just over abortion.

    • To the first graf: indeed, which makes it even more ridiculous.

  • disqus_nFXxLGAoEa

    I think most of law is creating definitions that might not actually reflect reality.
    Once I had to listen to an economist give a speech. He stated a situation in which two people had the exact same definition of the concept of “clean”. That was the moment I knew economists were full of crap.

  • Great article, Gina, even though I think being pro-choice is inherent to libertarianism.

    Libertarianism, at its core, is about maximizing freedom by reducing government. The reality is that if something is made illegal, (a) the government MUST grow to enforce the law, and (b) a black market will ALWAYS exist. Demand for abortions will not change whether or not its legal, but abortion safety will.

    If you’re a pro-life libertarian, you’re much better off trying to change hearts and minds than you are legislating your ideals. You can believe abortion is wrong but not legislate it. But in doing so, you must concede that doctors and pregnant women will sometimes choose to have an abortion anyway, regardless of the facts and figures thrown at them.

    I think pro-choice is the best market-approach to abortion that takes the philosophical question of human life entirely out of debate.

    • Not trying to “gotcha,” but am legitimately curious:

      “If you’re a pro-life libertarian, you’re much better off trying to change hearts and minds than you are legislating your ideals.”

      Do you hold the same to be true for murder as well? Like, are we better off trying to convince the hearts and minds of murderers (even keeping in mind crimes of passion) than outlawing murder?

      I know you are much closer to an anarchist than I am, but I think the question is interesting either way. Most anarchists argue for private security for defense, rather than gov’t intervention, but obviously that wouldn’t hold the same for fetuses, or even children. I really would like to hear your thoughts on it.

      • Well, “allowing” murder is a misnomer. In a stateless society, ultimately the best course of action would be to educate “violence is wrong, mmk?” Because the alternative would be to create a monopoly of force (government) that would magically prevent violence from happening.

        I could go into a whole lot of detail about why violence is so common in a society with a state, but I think you already know what I would say so I’ll move on.

        I think you bring up a really good point about fetuses being unable to defend themselves. I don’t have a good answer to that—what should free societies do with children, the elderly, and the mentally and physically compromised? I can’t pretend to have the answer, which is why I defer to looking at how the market takes care of things.

        • I didn’t say allowing…, so I’m not sure what to do with that…Like, I’m not sure what part of my comment you’re referring to.

          • “Society” is only the interactions of individuals analyzed through the rear-view mirror. Now, right here in the present moment, there is no society, only the individual.

            So the question isn’t, “what should free societies do with…”

            The question is what choice does each individual make.

            With regard to fetuses being unable to defend themselves, it is then their responsibility to find someone to defend them, namely their host.
            If a pregnant individual feels the fetus she’s hosting deserves rights, and voluntarily chooses to defend the fetus by carrying it to term, so be it.

          • Noah

            “…it is then [the fetus’] responsibility to find someone to defend them, namely their host.”

            The fetus’ doesn’t have to find anybody. The fetus’ defense is already someone else’s responsibility, namely, the host.

            Snark’s point is where libertarian notions of personal responsibility and rugged individualism kinda go off the rails. Shifting responsibility to the fetus is the logical, consistent libertarian answer to the issue of defenseless fetuses. It is also practically bankrupt, if not morally so.

            This type of rugged individualism has limits that exist precisely here because the fetus lacks the means to express preferences, such as for defense.

            The fetus cannot have a responsibility to do something when its biological status precludes such action (or if it does, I challenge the morality of such a system that creates an impossible responsibility).

            The fetus’ dependency on the host undermines the fetus’ responsibility to ask for defense, shifting responsibility to the host.

          • Why is the fetus’ defense already someone else’s responsibility?
            Who has the authority to dictate who is responsible for whom?

            My personal feeling is that no person is inherently responsible for any other person.

            Even if the fetus’ mere presence and apparent dependency could be understood as an implied request for defense, it does not create a moral imperative upon the host to respond in the affirmative.

            Compassion can only be voluntary.

          • Noah

            I wouldn’t expect anything less from you than this argument (although it leaves plenty of room to hope for more), but I think it’s a real loser of an argument, especially for expanding the movement. Like so many times in libertarian debate, your argument is intellectually consistent, but practically remote.

            Your argument is that a mother has no moral imperative to defend her children. That’s fine for you to believe, but I think you’ll find that idea problematic and other arguments superior in recruiting others, especially in changing pro-life minds.

            Your argument is particularly weak for recruiting pro-life because it rejects the protective frame on which pro-life is based, while emphasizing individualism. Both of these work against persuasion because they run directly counter to the dominant pro-life frames engaged by issues of child-bearing in pro-lifers.

          • You make some good points.
            I agree, if my aim were to “recruit” a mainstream voter, who self-identifies as pro-life, to vote for a Libertarian candidate, I probably would not want my own personal callousness to be the focal point of discussion.

            First I suppose it would be relatively futile to try convincing someone who has a genuine moral conviction that human life is sacred and should be protected, to embrace the Dark Side as I have.

            Thankfully, as the author points out, it is not necessary to give up that conviction in order to vote Libertarian.

            The question for my new friend would then be, how much authority should Government have to regulate individual choices, and how do you know you can trust Government to wield this authority responsibly?

            As the Libertarian “Miranda” warning says:
            Any Authority Government Has Can And Will Be Used Against You Eventually

          • Noah

            I replied to your comment to support Gina’s thesis that it is possible to be pro-life and libertarian at the same time without a need to have one’s views changed.

            You’re right to note the futility of changing firm attitudes, but I think we agree that attitudes on abortion should be irrelevant when choosing a candidate to vote for, particularly a libertarian one.

            Her point is that coexistence is possible and desirable. My addendum is to note how your personal callousness would be an obstacle to this and therefore would be detrimental to the movement.

            Hurting the movement to enforce your own views can be fine. But a libertarian must ask himself, “What standing do I have to influence what a movement or any other individual would like to think?”

            Hint: Answers asserting any form of superiority are inherently paternalistic and disrespect individual autonomy.

            The most libertarian thing to do in a debate or forum is to say nothing and leave individuals be. Since you’re here writing, let’s dismount the intellectual-consistency/humble-individual/paranoiac government-is-coercive-and-untrustworthy horse to expand out thoughts on finding ways to include others.

          • Snark Fetish

            The movement? Oh heaven’s me, a movement? Libertarian is a formal organized movement with…rules & stuff now, whose only purpose is to find ways to “include others” any which-a-way?”
            If so I would like to resign immediately, or at least resign from this position of recruiter into which you have thrust me.

            On the other hand, if Libertarian is a personal, individual process of stripping away the fat of government…
            If Libertarian is a journey of continually reexamining one’s personal life and ideals through the lens of an ever shrinking government, a government that ideally would become so small it couldn’t enforce anything if it wanted to…
            well then I’m all about it.

            Those not ready or willing to engage in that process are better off in their mainstream 2-party world. This is why in my previous reply I very intentionally put “recruit” in quotes.

            I think the most Libertarian thing to do in any situation where people are kicking around ideas, is to throw one’s own ideas out there to be kicked around, without fear of how it may all turn out.

            Government is coercive and untrustworthy. The individual is only inherently responsible for itself.
            I would prefer to stay firmly mounted there and see who else likes to ride.

          • Noah

            I appreciate the iterative approach you have suggested. I wonder whether it is the most efficient means toward establishing an effective coalition for political action.

            I am concerned that some ideas might so alienate potential coalition members that the benefit of their withholding in favor of more targeted expressions might outweigh the cost to an individual of silence. This silence and alternative frame selection might be a more efficient means by reducing the probability of alienation to building an effective group of individuals acting to achieve a set of goals.

            This is what I meant by “movement.” It refers more to political coalition-building than to forming conventional social movements. The difference is that ideological coherence matters less in the former than it does in the latter.

            Given the present state and political system, an effective political coalition would be required, at the very least, informally, to disestablish the state. If disestablishment (or any systemic change) is your goal and you would like to achieve it, then building a political coalition is necessary.

            Coalition-building is why I emphasize recruiting so much. Regardless of the content of our goals, coalition-building is the free, democratic means to achieving them.

            You are right to emphasize how effective persuasion by debate can be in building ideologically coherent coalitions, but I wonder if this lies in tension with building sufficiently broad coalitions for success.

            While necessary, persuasion alone may be insufficient to building sufficiently broad coalitions to affect even modest types of desired systemic, libertarian changes.

            One may need to sacrifice some ideological coherence for membership breadth. This requires some degree of compromise and self-sacrifice of principle–something many libertarians fear most deeply, but which is necessary to the implementation, trial, and perhaps success of their ideas.

            Sorry if this is too “mainstream” for you, but it is an empirically verified means to achieve your end. Achieving a collaborative goal is hard precisely because it often involves compromise, which is usually located within the self (otherwise, if it’s others’ compromising, it would be easy). I can also appreciate why someone wouldn’t want to achieve their goal–sometimes, ideas are better in theory, than in practice.

            End Note: You’ll notice that throughout my response, I have emphasized efficiency, efficacy, and rational self-interest in regards to achieving goals. These are not necessarily my personal best or favorite ideas; they are what I think will be most effective in reaching you. I am modelling the persuasive behavior I explain by seeking a common frame with you to persuade you to the strategy I prefer–coalition-building. Apologies for the meta.

          • Snark Fetish

            That’s cool, I get it. You’re interested primarily in building a political coalition to “achieve a set of goals,” and are willing to sacrifice some ideological coherency to achieve it.

            That’s certainly not unheard of. The Democratic Party, after all, is none other than a humongous coalition of every imaginable stripe of social activist, labor union, business person, etc. who all want to achieve a set of goals.
            Except, it seems the goal is merely to make the Party, and government, more powerful.

            What specifically is the set of goals a powerful Libertarian coalition would be out to achieve?
            Hopefully not just pumping up the Party rolls?
            (I can get that at an Amway convention.)

            I have always felt the set of goals for the Libertarians is to continually advocate for a
            – Smaller
            – Less powerful
            – Less expensive government.

            For the purpose of coalition-building, that may seem attractive to lots of people for lots of different reasons.
            Maybe someone just wants to smoke weed legally?
            Maybe someone just wants to pay lower taxes?
            I’d be curious to find out what % of people are actually single-issue voters?

            Regarding abortion, or any moral issue, you have two types of people:
            1. BigGov(morality) –
            – “If I feel something is good/good-for-you, government should mandate it and punish you for NOT doing it.”
            – “If I feel something is bad/bad-for-you, government should prohibit it and punish you FOR doing it.”
            (This is the basis of mainstream politics.)

            2. SmallGov(morality) – “Whether I feel a thing is good, bad, or somewhere in the middle, government should stay out of it.”
            (This is the basis of the Libertarian introspective process. Note: it does not require one to change their underlying moral conviction.)

            So in the interests of building this big powerful Libertarian coalition, is it really worthwhile to cozy up to people who are still entrenched in a BigGov(morality) mindset?
            I’m not so sure it is.

            Maybe it would be better to simply make ourselves available to those who may be on the fence, like Neo at the beginning of The Matrix, who know something is amiss but not sure exactly what it is?

            Maybe someone is out there asking themselves, “How can I be true to my moral convictions, while abandoning support for this huge corrupt government I no longer trust?”

          • Noah

            I wonder how broadly appealing libertarian governance principles might be because single issue voters are less common and often less engaged, so even when they exist, they can matter less (although sometimes, they can be even more active). For that larger group of individuals with broader preference sets, the principles you laid out may be a harder sell.

            Regarding abortion, I will refrain from analyzing your false dichotomy between big and small government preferences. to focus on how abortion rights in the US are example of the small government mindset with big government implications, as well.

            Roe limits state powers in prohibiting legal abortion. Roe utilizes negative language in constructing the right, mandating non-interference, not necessarily provision (as a big government construction might have done).

            However, even this negative construction entails the big government coercion you reject, because, if inference is alleged and proven (in the case of an individual suing a state in Federal court), then the Federal government will punish the state for violating the non-interference policy.

            A negative right is hardly less coercive than a positive one, so let’s simply acknowledge that the differences on abortion policy are more about which protections to codify, rather than a choice between codifying preferences and not. Your vision of tolerance is a preference, too, than can be just as repressive to some as others’ intolerance is to you.

            Following your “Matrix” metaphor, you may think of yourself as Morpheus. Feel free to do that, but be aware that the premise of the “Matrix” is egocentric self-justification of paranoia, which debase and invalidate real-world comparisons employing it as a referent (i.e. aliens at Roswell, alligators in sewers, etc.).

            It may feel like a validation of your beliefs about the issues you care about, but others will feel just as strongly about it as it relates to issues they care about. This is why it’s a good movie.

            This is also why I caution against believing it to be a practical metaphor for reality. Life is not so tightly and cleanly written as by two guys in a room trying to come up a marketable script idea requiring narrative plot efficiency.

            As a progressive, I am more than satisfied by your interest in purity and disinterest in coalition-building. It will keep libertarians on the margins. But I don’t think that’s what Morpheus did.

            Neo, whom Morpheus had actively targeted and pursued, frustrated Morpheus greatly at first. He could have and was tempted to kick Neo to the curb, but he didn’t. Morpheus’ self-interested responsibility in being patient and accepting of Neo’s ignorance, and then, difference, allowed Morpheus to recruit Neo to expand his coalition to eventually achieve his goal.

            I don’t want to disabuse you of your cynicism and paranoia because they weaken you, but I would like to persuade you that those energies could be much more productively redirected towards your same goals by reforming the state, rather than by futilely attempting to abolish it.

          • Snark Fetish

            Interesting Matrix analysis.

            I’m not terribly concerned about smaller, less powerful, less expensive government being a tough sell.

            The red pill is always ready and waiting.
            Remember Morpheus didn’t go after everybody.
            He didn’t want all the people, just the right people, as Neo had also been actively searching for him.

            As for reforming the State…
            I could characterize the State in terms of one of Mr. Fishburne’s other notable roles: Ike Turner.

            Ike Turner cannot be reformed, but he can be marginalized the instant Tina realizes she neither needs him nor owes him anything.

          • Noah

            I appreciate your point about the powerful confluence of an ever-present idea and few motivated individuals. If you prefer the idea, then it is something to hope for.

            But then what’s next?

            I think Gina’s post formulated a part of a response to this.

            I surmise that your comment has been that her approach is misguided because it could harm the ideological coherence of the current coalition, thereby driving away such oriented supporters and debasing the necessary “purity” of the idea (and the movement by extension, I infer).

            I think that Gina could have taken the next step beyond establishing the conceptual frame for inclusion to speculating, albeit briefly, on specific ways this could be put into action or on potential costs and benefits.

            There is a lot to say in a short space. I think Gina has really taken a solid stab at the issue at the issue of inclusion.

            I would like to see more articles on tolerance and inclusion in libertarian thought and, particularly, practice in the future.

  • DocRock

    I fail to understand how one can be subjective about when life begins. Anything organic that grows is alive. No woman has given birth to anything other than a human. Therefore, what is growing inside any pregnant woman is human life. If you stop its growth, you kill it. Thus, it is murder, and you are depriving a human of its right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is no need to make it a question of metaphysics, rocket science, or other form of abstract thought.

  • Ah but many libertarians are ones who are constantly looking for consistent and logical answers. Sometimes it’s hard not to pick a side and defend it to the death.

  • Mike Motto

    Wait a minute.

    “Abortion is ultimately a debate of fundamental definitions. Where does
    human life deserving of rights begin? That is not something that science
    can help us with, because that’s not something that we as a society
    have an agreed-upon definition for.”

    That cannot be true, because if “life” is not defined by science but only by common definition, and if rights of the individual ultimately flow from the definition of life, then rights have just become as arbitrary as the definition of life – i.e. dependent upon society’s current view. That is completely contrary to libertarianism, which holds that natural rights preexist everything else – government, society, relationships, etc., and are thus inalienable. Libertarians believe that all people have rights by virtue of the fact that they are people. Dead people do not have rights. A rock does not have rights. A being must be alive (inter alia) to have rights. If “life” is dependent upon a societal “agreed-upon definition,” then society could agree, for example, that “life” exists when the being can fend for itself. If 51% of the population held this view, “abortion” up until the being is 5-years post-birth becomes legal. Libertarians know that to be false. You cannot kill a 3-year-old child. That is murder, irrespective of society’s “definition” of life. Look at it another way: society agrees that “life” begins with the sperm – every sperm is holy. People do believe this. What if this became the “agreed-upon societal definition” of life? Then the law could ban all abortion, as well as all forms of birth control, including condoms. This is very anti-libertarian. Libertarianism’s main draw is that society can NOT simply define certain terms as it sees fit in order to craft rights around those terms (that’s how things like slavery get justified).

    Science tells us that a 3-year-old is alive, and our philosophical understanding of natural rights tells us that the “alive” being has natural rights which are, again, preexisting of any government, society, or relationship. Science tells us a 3-year-old is alive, a 2-year-old is alive, a 1-year-old is alive, etc. A being is “alive” 5 minutes after birth, whether society thinks so or not. Society’s “agreed-upon definition” is irrelevant. Science absolutely defines when life begins, it just so happens that science is not “there yet.” For example, we know that science explains everything in the universe – all of the phenomena in outer space can be explained by science. It just so happens that science has not developed enough to answer all of our questions. This does not mean that phenomena in the universe are dependent upon a “societal definition.”

    It is a fact that a human being is alive 5 minutes after live birth. If a being is alive 5 minutes after birth, it is equally alive 5 minutes before birth – that is, scientifically-speaking, the being is just as viable 5 minutes before birth as it is 5 minutes after birth, making birth a somewhat arbitrary line for “life.” It does not matter what the pro-choice crowd says. Science tells us, however, that the being is not alive 5 minutes before conception, irrespective of what the “holy rollers” say. Somewhere in the middle, the being goes from “not alive” to “alive.” It just so happens that science cannot give us a satisfactory answer at this time.

    To accept any other premise for the definition of life means that all rights that stem from “being alive” are dependent upon that same premise. That cannot be. Rights are not, and cannot be, arbitrarily defined. If you believe they are, you are not a libertarian.

  • justjoe

    I look at the abortion debate from two important questions; one, when does life begin?, and two, when does that life have unalienable rights protected by the constitution? The answer to the first one is easy. Life begins at conception. When the sperm fertilizes the egg, a new and separate life is created. There is no two ways around it. It is life, it is living because it is growing. The newly fertilized egg is doubling in size exponentially. It is growing at a faster rate than at any other time in its existence. Growth is a fundamental and defining characteristic of life for carbon based organisms. This life is not part of the mother, rather it is separate from the mother. At conception, a new set of chromosomes are formed with their own set of genetic codes which are different from the mother, therefore, making it a separate organism from the mother. And the chromosomes are human chromosomes. So, at conception a unique, human life is formed. The next question is does that new life form have unalienable rights protected by the constitution. This is where the debate becomes murky. People on both sides of the debate can agree on the fact that the relationship between the mother and the fetus is a unique one. There is no other human relationship that is anywhere like that. The “baby” is living inside the mother, and is totally dependent on the mother, and there is no other person who can step in and take the mother’s place, and carry the baby to term for her. Every other human relationship, even the most dependent relationships, from caring for a new born baby, or nursing an invalid parent, someone else can step in and fill that role, either permanently or temporarily. so the caregiver always has the choice to end that relationship, if they do not believe they can do that anymore. Only in a pregnancy, is the one living being 100% dependent on another person, and only that person. No one else can step in and fill that role. So if the State is to outlaw abortion, than it would be forcing a woman to carry a baby to term whether she wants to or not. And that is not a role the state should play. Even though the “baby”, is a living human being, the nature of its total dependency on the mother, and only the mother, forfeits the “baby’s” claim to the unalienable rights. So abortion should be legal because the state does not and should not have the power to force women to carry a baby to term, but the legality of abortion does not change the very nature of what an abortion actually is. It is the willful taking of human life. It cannot be called murder, because murder is a legal term, but abortion is the purposeful killing of another human being. It is not a benign act, and although legal should only be performed in the most extreme circumstances, such as protecting the life of the mother. If the people were told the truth about the very nature of the act of abortion, that it is indeed the willing taking of human life, then the inherent goodness, and compassion of human beings, especially women would render abortion, although legal, extremely rare. But if we continue to see abortion as a benign act, then abortions will continue even of they are outlawed. Pro life people should not see abortion as a legal battle, but a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people.

  • Frank Clarke

    Late to the party… sorry.

    Our system is founded on the notion that all power derives from the people. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that when two people voluntarily act in a way that can be presumed to result in a new life being created, then if conception occurs, aren’t we obligated to say they were successful in their actions? At that point, we should deny a request for an abortion.

    In a rape, ‘will’ is missing from one of the parties. If conception occurs, a new life has not been created, and abortion should be an option. How do we know will was absent? She files a criminal complaint against the rapist, even if unknown.

    No criminal complaint? There must not have been a rape, and there should not be an abortion. ‘Age of consent’ issues are a different discussion.

    What did I miss?

    • Matt Wavle

      “When a woman exercises her right to control her own body in total disregard of the body of another human being, it is called abortion. When a man acts out the same philosophy, it is called rape.” Read Fact #6 in http://www.abortionfacts.com/

  • Kimberly King Schimmel

    This is a great post. I, too, am a pro-life libertarian.

  • Michael DiSciullo

    The Kochs are pro-choice, though. Why are they even mentioned in this article?

    • Because over two years ago, when this article was written, it had come into the news. The article is linked at their mention.

      • Michael DiSciullo

        So it wasn’t until later you heard about their stances?