Can Libertarians Justify Physical Removal?

Physical removal, so to speak, is an idea popular in a particular segment of the libertarian population.  Specifically, libertarians who consider themselves right libertarians.  Those who may sympathize with the altright and those that may be motivated by their hatred of anyone who considers themselves politically left wing.  If you’re motivated by your hatred of leftists more than you’re motivated by your love of individual human liberty, you’re probably sympathetic to the idea of physical removal.

The general idea is that if there is ever to be a libertarian world, one where personal liberties and property rights are protected, it is morally justifiable to use force, up to and including deadly force, against “people” who are deemed unfit to live in a free society.  “People” who call themselves communists seem to be the number one target.

The word “people” is in quotation marks because according to the physical removal advocates, the people who they are using force against aren’t actually people.  That means they’re not violating anyone’s rights.  How convenient!

From the Father of Physical Removal, Hans Herman Hoppe, in his book Democracy: The God That Failed, page 173

A member of the human race who is completely incapable of understanding the higher productivity of labor performed under a division of labor based on private property is not properly speaking a person (a persona), but falls instead into the same moral category as an animal – of either the harmless sort (to be domesticated and employed as a producer or consumer good, or to be enjoyed as a “free good”) or the wild and dangerous one (to be fought as a pest).

According to Hoppe, if you come across a “harmless” person who doesn’t understand economics, you have a right to domesticate them.  They may also be “enjoyed” as a “free good”.  Basically, you may treat them as a farm animal (slave).  Or, if you deem them to be “wild and dangerous” (presumably without due process), you may justifiably use violence against them.

I have no objection to fighting off someone who is actively harming you or your property, but Hoppe’s proposed treatment of non-violent people is impossible to reconcile with libertarianism.  To be fair, in any conversions I’ve had with the pro-physical removal crowd, I’ve never heard them bring up their perceived right to enslave a “harmless” person whose only crime is not understanding economics.  However, I’ve heard them say over and over again that communists aren’t people.  I’ve always took this as a joke.  How wrong I was.  I really shouldn’t even be surprised by this.  After all, if they claim to have a right to remove someone from their own legitimate property and/or murder someone who they deem to be unfit to live near them, why wouldn’t they also have the right to enslave them?

So as far as Hoppe is concerned, enslaving these unfit, yet “harmless”, people would be just as justifiable as violently removing them.

In this particular case, I’m having a hard time believing any libertarian could possibly go along with Hoppe on this.  Imagine if you will, a 30-something year old man living in his Mom’s basement.  He likes to go online and post pro-communist stuff on Twitter, so now a gang of people have a right to burst into his house and drag him off?  Or to enslave him, just because he’s guilty of the “crime” of not understanding economics?

The very basis of libertarinism is that no one has a right to initiate aggression against a non-aggressor.  Simply believing in an idiotic philosophy doesn’t make one an aggressor.  Only if that 30-something year old basement dweller actually takes up arms to violate someone’s person or property, or poses an immediate and credible threat to do so, can he be legitimately met with force.

If we turn back the clock on the definition of a person, one can justify all forms of aggression and still claim to be advocates for liberty and justice.  After all, there was a time in America where one could enslave someone, viciously beat his children, rape a woman (as long as she wasn’t someone else’s wife, i.e. property), and kill an Indian and still not be thought of as a criminal in any way.  The reason for this is that the people he committed these horrendous crimes against weren’t considered people.

We don’t get to be liberty loving, non-aggression advocating libertarians simply by magically changing the definition of who counts as a person.

Physical Removal in a Private Community

Hoppe is way off base in his assessment of who he chooses to consider a person.  However, he later articulates a vision of a completely private community, governed by an owner who leases all land to everyone in the community.  Instead of you buying and owning your land, you’d join a community and pay a monthly fee to use a parcel of land and enjoy any and all benefits of living in said community.

In this specific example, physical removal is simply a matter of contract.  Just like today, if you sign a lease with an apartment complex, but you break the lease by violating any of its terms (not paying rent, being too noisy, threatening neighbors, subletting, etc), the apartment complex has every right to kick you out of the community.

In this example, physical removal is well within the bounds of libertarian ideals.  If you voluntarily join a community that has rules against certain types of political speech, even if you are doing no harm to anyone or their property, the owner can kick you out if you violate said rules.

How does Hoppe imagine this happening?  Here’s another passage from Democracy: The God That Failed page 218:

As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society. In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.

In his example here, there’s one huge detail missing.  Due process.  From what Hoppe seems to be envisioning here, your right to stay on your land is completely at the whim of the “natural social elites” of the community.

Traditionally, before the owner of the apartment complex can kick you out, they must take you to court and prove their allegations.  If it turns out that they can’t prove that you’ve violated the terms of the lease, they have no right to kick you out.  If they kick you out anyway, they will be liable for damages from breaking their end of the contract.

Now there could be a voluntary community that has a stipulation that the owner, or the “natural social elites”, can remove anyone at anytime without due process, but I’m having a hard time imagining anyone, let alone a libertarian, agreeing to such an arrangement.

Oppressive Liberty

Finishing up the above quote from Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed page 218:

Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They-the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism-will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.

Hoppe’s vision of a libertarian future is a bleak one.  It appears no less totalitarian than the world we live in today.  We’re simply trading one set of rulers for another.  Instead of a government telling us what to do with our property and how to act in our personal lives, we’ll have the covenant owner dictating this with little or no recourse.

I have no problem with someone voluntarily wanting to live in such a community.  Amish communities today are very similar.  There’s very little room for individual expression or alternative lifestyles, and if one does not conform they are shunned and kicked out of their private, Amish communities.  However, if the only way to achieve a libertarian society is to violently remove single parents, homosexuals, nature lovers, and pretty much anyone who Hoppe deems is living an “alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyle” from their legitimately owned property, then we’ve accomplished nothing.

The essence of libertarianism is individual rights, not collective rights.  The individual is to be judged solely on their own actions.  If that individual does not initiate force against anyone’s person or property, then it is never right to use force against them, even if you think their lifestyle choices or personal views are bad for your “social order”.  “The ends justify the means” is the mantra of collectivists and should never be uttered by anyone who considers themselves libertarian.

Originally published on Mike’s website here.  Check out his blog levelheadedlibertarian.com for more!

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