Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What If Trayvon Martin Had Been a Libertarian?

Murray Rothbard, in For Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, wrote:
The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the "nonaggression axiom." "Aggression" is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.
Walter Block, when discussing the right to privacy recently wrote on privacy and libertarianism:
There is no right to privacy; none at all. It is not a negative right, all of which are supported by libertarian theory; e.g., the right not to be molested, murdered, raped, etc. Rather, the so called right to privacy is a so called “positive right,” as in the “right” to food, clothing, shelter, welfare, etc. That is, it is no right at all; rather the “right” to privacy is an aspect of wealth. As Murray N. Rothbard (The Ethics of Liberty, chapter 16) made clear, there is only a right to private property, not privacy[...]

But suppose a private individual were to invade our privacy without violating our private property rights. Would he have a right to do that? Yes, at least insofar as I understand the libertarian perspective. The paparazzi have a right to take pictures of movie stars, professional athletes, without permission, provided only they do not violate private property rights. If the streets and sidewalks were privately owned (I make a case for that in this book, The Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic Factors; Auburn, AL: The Mises Institute; available for free here), their owners would presumably supply an environment desired by customers. If they wanted to attract famous camera-shy people to their property, it is to be expected that they would protect them from the shutterbugs.  If not, not. The market would determine these sorts of things. In a forthcoming book in my Defending the Undefendable series, the first of which is available for free here, I shall be devoting a chapter to the Peeping Tom who looks at people who would prefer not to be seen. 
It may be irritating if someone, for whatever reason, watches us from afar, but, from a libertarian perspective, there is no way this activity can be stopped, as long as the person doing the watching is on land that allows such behavior. For the libertarian, the best thing to do is move to a spot where the watcher can no longer gain a sight line--or if already in a house, to close the curtains. Tayvon Martin did nothing close to this.

From the facts of the case, we know that Martin was irritated by George Zimmerman following him. From a libertarian perspective, Martin had two options, if this irritation truly bothered him: 1. Get home so that Zimmerman could no longer see him or 2. ask Zimmerman to stop following him.

From the the bruises on Zimmerman's body, it appears that Martin did neither. He physically confronted Zimmerman and his attack on Zimmerman resulted in his getting shot and killed. 

Martin failed to act in a libertarian fashion. By failing to take the libertarian options available to him, he is now dead. If he had followed libertarian principle, he would be alive today. As Block makes clear, from a libertarian perspective, "there is no right to privacy; none at all." Thus, Martin had no right, from a libertarian perspective, to physically assault Zimmerman. As I said, he could have asked Zimmerman to stop following him, but, again from a libertarian perspective, he could not go beyond a request. Once he smacked Zimmerman or even threatened Zimmerman with bodily harm, Zimmerman had the right, from a libertarian perspective, to defend himself.

In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard writes:
Violent defense then must be confined to violent invasion—either actually, implicitly, or by direct and overt threat. But given this principle, how far does the right of violent defense go? For one thing, it would clearly be grotesque and criminally invasive to shoot a man across the street because his angry look seemed to you to portend an invasion. The danger must be immediate and overt, we might say, “clear and present”—a criterion that properly applies not to restrictions on freedom of speech (never permissible, if we regard such freedom as a subset of the rights of person and property) but to the right to take coercive action against a supposedly imminent invader.
Libertarianism is about live and let live, and about being civil to one another. Often, especially with inner city kids, the message about civility never makes it out of first grade. Inner city public schools breed a gangsta culture. The schools don't educate the kids, the older ones end up dealing drugs and risk long prison sentences, so they shoot their way out of tight spots. It toughens the kids up for confrontation and violence, definitely not the libertarian way---or the smart way.

As Jim Croce put it in a song that certainly has application to Martin's lack of real street smarts:

Well a hush fell over the pool room
Jimmy come boppin' in off the street
And when the cuttin' were done
The only part that wasn't bloody
Was the soles of the big man's feet
Yeah he were cut in in bout a hundred places
And he were shot in a couple more
And you better believe
They sung a different kind of story
When big Jim hit the floor now they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Yeah, big Jim got his hat
Find out where it's at
And it's not hustlin' people strange to you

Martin hustled a person strange to him, not smart. He didn't know what he was up against. He paid with his life for the dumb move.

Those protesting the Zimmerman verdict see it as a race thing. It's not, and that's the sad part. As long as it is viewed as a race thing, the real core problem will not be addressed, which includes a failed government public school system, minimum wage laws, which make it difficult for unskilled black youth to find jobs, and dozens of other government interventions that make it difficult for inner city youth to get a break.

Tayvon Martin died because he didn't have a clue about civility or libertarianism. Marching on the streets, demanding government actions (which won't change a thing) and breaking windows and starting fires is teaching a new generation of kids lessons that will do nothing to help them understand about success and how it is achieved. For that we need to take some guidance from libertarianism. For starters, we need to close down the public schools, legalize drugs (so the drug battles will stop) and eliminate the minimum wage, so these kids can start learning what work is about and how to earn a living.


  1. To me this is some academic nonsense as much as I respect everyone cited in the article and the author. Everyone has a right to feel secure in their person. I don't want to live in a society where a government or private person can assume that I am a criminal and follow me without any recourse. I agree there are choices but to me it was to run or confront the aggressor as I feel Zimmerman was. Martin should have studied Sun Tzu's art of war as he would have chosen to run since he did not know his aggressor or his intentions but he didn't (we agree on the state of public school system). Zimmerman had no right to be stalking Martin as there was no crime being committed.

    1. The right to be secure in your person is a negative right that applies toward government, not other private persons. As the article stated, following and observing is not illegal, nor is it aggression. Martin had the opportunity to go home (he was in his father's back yard when he went back to confront Zimmerman), but he chose to escalate the situation and initiate violence.

    2. If it is wrong for the government then it is wrong for a private person, again this is an academic argument where in the real world if someone is following me in the middle of the night then I am not going to feel secure. I don't care if something is legal or illegal in this country since most laws are arbitrary. No one has a right without probable cause to be following me and harrassing me, to me that is aggression, feel free to disagree but for me personally that is how I see it. I am also not condoning the action of Martin but the initial act of Zimmerman following without cause was aggression to me.

    3. I am not so sure Martin actually ran away and then came back. My understanding was that Zimmerman's testimony is the only thing that puts Martin as running away and then coming back which to me being the sceptic that I am doesn't make sense. If there is anything to corraborate this then I will be convinced but on the shooter's testimony, I don't buy it. I am "flabergasted" that people will take a shooter's word for it. No one has the right to take someone's peace of mind just for walking somewhere whether it be a thief, cops, drone or neighborhood watch. If Martin did actually return then that is aggression also and you have two at fault.

    4. "Zimmerman had no right to be stalking Martin as there was no crime being committed"

      Though not being entirely familiar with the case as it's not that important to me, I'd still like to add that quite clearly Zimmerman actually had a right to follow, stalk, or even "harrass" Trayvon via the libertarian understanding of property rights and Martin being within an a private property association jurisdiction that Zimmerman represented in a security capacity.

      Anyone has the right to defend their private property, including the association obviously...and if that involves interviewing, following, etc., a person on said property then it's quite within the purview of libertarian understanding on the basis of protection of private property.

      Once Zimmerman determines Trayvon's dad lived there then the matter changes slightly...but only as far as his father taking issue with the association's use of Zimmerman under potential hassling. That still doesn't resolve the whole issue as there could be potential residents subject to robbery or other crimes by the other residents themselves...in which case Zimmerman is still protecting the associations property.

      I think we've all taken account of such circumstances at different times in our lives. When I'm on anyone's property I am always deferential and respectful beyond my normal mode.

      My first move if ever challenged on someone's property would be to first remove myself from their property entirely, without question and rapidly.

      Wenzel is correct, it boils down to the NAP. If Trayvon was respectful of private property and the NAP, having the proper deference as a result...regardless of whether Zimmerman instigated(doubtful IMO) the fight or Trayvon, both individuals would have parted company peacefully.

    5. Zimmerman was actually self appointed not an official rep of the association. Even if he was Zimmerman never once approached Martin to indentify himself so your argument is a little mute. No one has the right to follow and harrass someone and rob them of their peace of mind for just walking down the street, especially one who had the right to be there as his father lived in the neighborhood. I agree with the right to defend one's property but Zimmerman wasn't defending anything, he sat back and called the police and was their rep which we can agree they don't follow the NAP. I don't condone violence and I am in full agreement with the NAP but we don't know if Zimmerman is telling the truth and know that Martin had other options but my point was that no one has the right to follow and harrass someone with no cause. Zimmerman had no cause and Martin wasn't disrespecting property rights just by walking down the street.

    6. "but my point was that no one has the right to follow and harrass someone with no cause"

      ...and my point is that someone acting with authority(like security) on private property via consent of the owner does have the right to follow and even harass someone.

      "Zimmerman was actually self appointed not an official rep of the association. Even if he was Zimmerman never once approached Martin to indentify himself so your argument is a little mute."

      If you want to link/prove where it was determined Zimmerman was self appointed instead of being placed by the owners in that position, that would certainly at least help your argument. I eagerly await such a link...in the mean time I'll remain mute on the issue so as to fulfill your wishes.


    7. Sorry if you took my comments as condescending as I respect your point of view but here is a link per your request with a quote that is most applicable http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/06/25/zimmerman-trial-trayvon-neighborhood-watch/2455163/

      "The president of the homeowners association for the community where the shooting took place testified that he didn't think a neighborhood watch program was needed and that Zimmerman was in charge of the community's program from the very beginning.

      Donald O'Brien stressed that the homeowners association had nothing to do with the neighborhood watch program but that he did attend a meeting to start it. Residents were told to "stay away" from suspicious people and call police, O'Brien said."

  2. Maybe Zimmerman pointed his gun at Martin prompting the assault. Not that there is evidence of that of course. I was concerned to read that Zimmerman was kicked out of college for being a "threat to the campus".

    1. If Zimmerman initiated violence or threatened violence in any way, (violated the non-aggression axiom) then Martin was well within his right to fight back. There is no evidence that was the case, however.

  3. @Wags GZ was kicked out because of the negative publicity about the trial.

    TM was suspended from school for starting fights. His cell phone had text messages about buying a gun. He possessed pot, stolen jewellery and a screwdriver police say was a burglary tool. TM was 6'2'', GZ is 5'7".

    And the Prosecution illegally withheld evidence from the Defense:

  4. Being a busy-body is not the same as being an aggressor. One does not have a right not to be annoyed.

  5. How does the "no right to privacy" relate to NSA spying and data mining?

  6. I'm actually flabbergasted at the number of people who seem to think that Zimmerman's act of following Martin (which they call "pursing," "harassing," or "profiling"), provided justification for Martin to retaliate.

    The non-aggression axiom is clear in this case. It doesn't care (if it were capable of caring) whether the aggressor is white or black, male or female, gay or straight. It only cares who commits or threatens violence.

    1. Spot on, Edward. Smitty writes: I don't want to live in a society where a government or private person can assume that I am a criminal and follow me without any recourse.

      As Wenzel points out Martin did have recourse other than a violent confrontation. Non-libertarians see violence as the first, second, and third response to any problem instead of the last. It's this mindset that leads to tragedies like Martin's death or a even bigger tragedy like Iraq. Perhaps this is why Omar is sure that Zimmerman went looking for a confrontation, he can imagine no other mindset.

      It is said that Zimmerman was a wanna-be police officer, if true, which is doubtful given the press coverage of this case, does show a tendency for uncivil behavior.

    2. How do you know what I can and cannot imagine? How do you know how/what all non-libertarians think, or all libertarians for that matter? Not you, Wenzel, or I truly know whether or not Martin had a recourse other than a violent confrontation. I can't look into the minds and hearts of the actors involve so I can sit here and write that a certain "mindset" or philosophy is what lead to the tragic outcome. The idea that knowledge of libertarianism will then lead to the curbing of violence is shallow and narrow minded to say the very least. Libertarianism has been around for quite some time and even if it were as influential as liberalism and conservatism tragedies like the Trayvon Martin case unfortunately would still occur.


  7. This is nonsense. Zimmerman went looking for a confrontation and got one. He was losing in the fight and decided to be a coward and use his gun. This idea that "if he was a libertarian" he would still be alive is nonsense and I can't believe anyone would take it seriously. You can find yourself in messed up situations regardless of your political philosophy, understanding Mises or Rothbard wouldn't have changed the outcome that day. Post like this is why libertarians are often accused of being tone deaf on social issues.

    1. I'm with Omar with this one, If Zimmerman was the local security guard then he would have made it his business to know who was in residence at that community, martin may have been a punk starting a apprenticeship in low level crime but he had a right to be there since he was living at hos fathers house. Zimmerman, far from being community's local peace officer was simply Sanford police's man in situ. He could already see that award from the police chief on the wall until he engaged, in a usual LEO way, after being told not to, a big punk carrying centuries of injustice, both real and imagined who kicked his ass until he managed to extract his pistol.

  8. C'mon anonymous, it's obvious. You don't have an expectation of privacy in a public place but you do have it on your own property and papers (communications).

  9. How is observing from afar the same as chasing and pursuing on the aggression scale?

    How is it that Zimmerman had a right to feel threatened and defend himself, but Trayvon didn't?

    In order to believe the "conservative" version of the story and the "verdict", you have to believe this:
    The "non-aggressor" was warned by the authorities NOT to chase the "aggressor."
    That's a non-sense statement. Of course in real life, the aggressor was the one doing the persecuting or pursuing. If chasing someone who did nothing to you is not an act of aggression, I don't know what is.
    If you believe that Zimmerman - who was warned by authorities not to chase Trayvon but did it anyway - was not the aggressor, you are violating and hardening your own conscience. You are imagining and assuming that Zimmerman did not start the fight, and you are lying to yourself.
    He chased him but did not tackle or touch him? Zimmerman chased Trayvon, but Trayvon did not feel threatened and therefore did not have a right to defend himself... but Zimmerman did. Really?

    1. persecuting, pursuing, same same, only different (for our Thai readers). I think the lesson is don't bring a fist to a gun fight.

    2. Or maybe all these conservative hypocrites think that Zimmerman expended 500 meters of non-aggressive" pursuit energy and then stopped 5m short and started a solo choir rehearsal

    3. The "non-aggressor" was warned by the authorities NOT to chase the "aggressor."

      At the point in time in which you are referring, neither party was the aggressor. Martin hadn't laid his hands on Zimmerman, nor had Zimmerman laid his hands on Martin. There was also no threat at that point either. Zimmerman was merely following Martin. Aggression doesn't take place until either person 1) initiates violence against the other 2) threatens violence.

      Violent self-defense is only justifiable if 1 or 2 had taken place.

      You seem to be arguing that Martin was justified in initiating violence against Zimmerman because Zimmerman was following him.

      You need to provide evidence that Zimmerman was doing more than this. (As did the prosecution in the case.)
      This is the point of Wenzel's article. Following someone is not a violent act.