And When Restitution is Impossible…

Kaiser pens a great blog over at  He is also a senior editor over here at Zero Gov.

He worries over some of the implications of the non-aggression principle which is central to the thinking of ethical anarchists and abolitionists everywhere.  He raises a number of prickly observations that should concern philosophers of liberty.

While I abide by the non-aggression principle, a bothersome problem has always been how you respond to acts veiled in violence but championed on the grounds of the greater good like taxation.   Taxation is acknowledged by folks in my small circle to be an act of theft which by extension is an act of aggression but the response must be tempered proportionate to the offense.  Stack on all the other daily and eternal attacks by the state on the individual and a clear state of war against the individual is in play.  That is the distillate, when does our characterization of that aggression precipitate a violent response on the part of the individual?  Should that be entertained as a possible solution or is Gandhian-style non-violent non-compliance the answer?  Will the violent reaction by the state against the latter lead to the former response on the part of individuals?

One has to examine whether this aggression is rationalized by the victim to avoid the implication of having to respond to stop it.  Do individuals really want to resort to violence to right this obvious wrong?  One can even characterize this refusal to resist as an act of moral cowardice and I am guilty as charged.

I do think there is some insight from Butler Shaffer on the issue of violence. To wit:

“One can no more advance liberty through violence than he can regain sobriety by embracing an alternative brand of alcohol. The state is a system that enjoys a monopoly on the use of violence. It is no answer to this destructive menace to introduce a competitor who employs the same means and seeks the same ends, namely, to construct society on the principle of the power to compel obedience to authority.”

Shaffer also has some provocative thoughts on property where everything is property and that predetermines responses.  Should a man be shot for stealing a loaf of bread?  I think not.  Should he be caught and restitution demanded?  Absolutely.

What if a private enterprise came to you and said that you will surrender 60% of your income (the aggregate of American taxation) on pain of fines, caging, maiming and death for non-compliance?  That would be an act of war.  This is the discomfiting and ultimately biggest question.  The state considers this piracy on the high seas and naked theft in the private sector, yet it is the very model for the way their business is conducted.

This is certainly one of those thought experiments where far more questions than answers rise from the effort of trying to discover what course of action to take. -BB

Justice’ refers generally to the concept of moral rightness, and the administration of punishment when that morality is breached and wrong is done. I believe that restitution for the wronged is the purest and best form of justice that is available. While it may leave the wronged party dissatisfied, it does him more good than to harm, imprison or kill the offender.

Sometimes, restitution is impossible, or at least impractical. Not all things are directly replaceable by money, and some one-of-a-kind objects may be declared priceless. Human life, of course, fits this criterion. Injuries are amenable to compensation in some senses, but not in others – a man with a broken back may be compensated for lost wages, but it’s difficult to say what quantity of money is “fair” to repay his lost quality of life.

Not all wrongdoers have the capacity for restitution, either – a thief with poor work ethic, no job skills and no funds in reserve would be hard-pressed to make meaningful restitution to the victims of his thefts, for instance. A drunk driver may be unable to make restitution if his actions destroy another driver’s vehicle, regardless of the damage to life and limb. Setting fire to the Mona Lisa would not much damage the French government, but it would not be a crime for which the rest of humanity could be properly compensated, either – the cost of restitution would be difficult to determine, and most likely exceed the arsonist’s means many times over.

See the rest:

2 thoughts on “And When Restitution is Impossible…”

  1. The short answer to Kaiser’s quandry on the nature of justice–In a free society, the free market will determine the best aggregate of fair and equitable treatment of crime and restitution for victims of aggression. Will free market justice be perfect? Since humans are involved, that’s certainly not possible. But clearly our present system is riddled with flaws and corruption, which is why many refer to it as the “Just Us” system. Competition between providers of judicial services will generate the best product at the lowest price, as opposed to the government monopoly which can only provide poor service at the highest cost.

    Is such a system possible? In the Middle Ages, there were competing and overlapping jurisdictions, which depended on a reputation for fairness and integrity to continue to attract clients for their services. The focus was on victim restitution, not on punishment of the offender. This system of polycentric law worked well until the State began to increase in power and replaced it with its own monopoly court system. In the process, the State began to confiscate the greater part of the criminal’s property for itself and left little or nothing for the victim. Of course when the government makes itself a beneficiary of crime, it can no longer be considered an impartial party.

    I can’t peer into a crystal ball to forecast the answers to every legal dilemma posed in this essay. That’s like the straw man that statists habitually fling at anarchists, where they must somehow come up with solutions to every problem in advance before any consideration can be given to freedom and free markets. One must firmly grasp an axiomatic principle of economics, that when people are freely allowed to pursue their own best interest, the market will always provide superior results to coercive monopolies.

  2. In reply to Bill’s lead-in comments, the thorny issue of violent response to the state’s many initiations of force against us–VERSUS–the use of “Gandhian-style non-violent non-compliance” is perhaps the most difficult question we all face. The answer is complicated by the fact our opponent can bring vastly superior and overwhelming force to bear against us. While I certainly support Butler Shaffer’s contention that the general cause of liberty can only be advanced through non-violence, the argument is equally valid that there are many cases when violence used in self defense is the only way to achieve individual justice. Non-violent opponents of the state may win more minds, but lose their own life or liberty in the process. Are we morally obligated to acquiesce to aggression and become martyrs while taking the “high road” in upholding our principles?

    Most libertarians say they support the fundamental right to self defense. When someone attempts assault, rape, robbery or murder, the potential victim is presumed to be justified defending themselves with deadly force. The principle is not invalidated simply because the aggressor decides to wear a uniform and acts under his delusional belief that a fiction called government gives him a right and/or duty to commit acts of aggression against another. Yet even the staunchest libertarians equivocate when the discussion turns to using any means necessary to resist the depredations of the State.

    The reason is clear. At present, violent opposition to the state will be mercilessly crushed, quickly and effortlessly, utilizing overwhelming technology and heavily armed thug-swarms which we’ve all involuntarily paid for. And perhaps worse, the action will be propagandized via the mainstream media to convince the population that our “heroic” police and military destroyed a suspected domestic terrorist cell. In other words, the government can and will manipulate mass perceptions and distort the issues to destroy the credibility of anyone who dares to stand up to them. So while the moral argument from justifiable self defense can be made to support violent response, the only viable tactical response currently available to us is non-violent means: non-cooperation, privacy measures, educational outreach, monkey-wrenching the system, tax avoidance, or whatever other tactics can be used to impede the crimes of the state or otherwise discredit the false idea of government.

    All things considered, if our collective efforts to stop the current descent into a totalitarian police state come to naught, we always have Winston Churchill’s famous admonition to fall back on:
    “You may have to fight knowing that there is absolutely no chance for success and you will surely not survive, but to live on as a slave is a far worse fate.”

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