Can You Name the One Tool that Isn't Morally Neutral?

Sunni's picture

Got woken up in the wee hours [again!] by a powerful thunderstorm, preceded by very strong wind gusts that filled my room with variously-pitched moans and whistles as its force varied. I lay awake for a while, enjoying the light show, and thinking ... and my mind started churning on the "Lost Liberty Hotel" idea. An amusing idea, but something about it bothered me, and I hadn't made time to work that out. This morning, I see that John Lopez at No Treason nails it in Are You Happy Now?. Closing paragraph:

Do you understand the point being made, here? You can’t use the government as a club against a particular Supreme Court Justice: the government is a package deal. [emphasis and link in original]

I've written a fair amount on firearms, and I'm usually careful to point out that a gun is morally neutral, as are knives, swords, sticks, stones, etc. How a person uses an object gives it a moral value for that act, and that act alone. An object just is. Humans -- rightly and wrongly -- imbue objects and ideas with moral overtones.

But that isn't true of the power of the state. Its entire reason for existence is to use the threat of force -- or actual force if need be -- to get individuals to do something they don't want to do. Often, that's couched in disguising language, such as being for "the public good", or "national security", or "the children", but what's underneath doesn't change one bit: You'll do what we want or we'll hurt you.

So why are freedom-loving individuals cheering this on with the "Lost Liberty Hotel" idea? It strikes me as being born of a childish desire for revenge ... which is natural; liberty lovers aren't necessarily above such human desires. But it's using the tool of the state, which to me goes against everything freedom is about. I've written on this before, and so won't get into it deeply again today.

The state's power is the only tool I've been able to think of since my mind started down this path this morning that isn't morally neutral. We won't -- we can't -- succeed in expanding liberty if we're willing to wield it when it suits us.

What to do instead? I've already answered that question, though I may revisit it with more details at some future point. Otherwise, laughing at the state's minions is also an effective means of deflating them. Fortunately, we've a few people who grok that, and provide much-needed comic relief. Two friends have done so within the past couple of days. First, Russmo on the robed nazgul:


The second is Garry Reed, The Loose Cannon Libertarian. Here's a snippet from his latest essay, Bushwacked by the Patriot Act:

Our President, who thus far has never met a law he didn't like, threatens his first veto if the entire Patriot package isn't made permanent. "The Patriot Act," proclaimed Our President, "closed dangerous gaps in America's law enforcement and intelligence capabilities."

Someone ought to inform Our President that those "dangerous gaps" also go by the name "Bill of Rights."

Far from scaling back the act, Our President proposes super-sizing FBI sinew so they can subpoena records in terrorism investigations without the approval of a judge or grand jury. This will be very helpful, as it will put the G-Men on equal jack-booted footing with the Gestapo, KGB, Stasi, SAVAK, CIA, et al.

Bill of What?

Okay, now I'm off to see about getting the Real ID Rebellion moved over to its own domain (that's why posting there has been so light of late), and having some fun. Hope you're able to do so today, too.

Tom Hanlin says:

The Libertarian code prohibits the initiation of force-- not defense. Using the attacker's own force against him is entirely moral, and exceedingly elegant.

Sunni says:

Tom, I fail to see how initiating property theft against Souter is a defensive move by the individuals behind the hotel plan.

To be clear, I understand your point, and agree that using an attacker's force is moral and elegant. I simply don't see that in action in this case.

Wally Conger says:

Gee, I didn't expect anyone to take this "Hotel Lost Liberty" stuff THAT seriously. Clements may SAY he's serious, and I love the fact that he's turning the tables this way, but does anyone REALLY think that Souter will lose here? I see this as mere -- and pretty effective, PR-wise -- guerilla theater. At least it's brought the point home to a few "liberal" friends of mine.

damaged justice says:

Rights? What a silly, outdated concept! If "everybody" believes theft is okay, who are we to argue?

The "zero percenters" are the only ones who actually give a shit. How many divisions do they have?

Property is theft? Bring it on. Show the world exactly what a world of all theft and no property will be like.

"Brother, you asked for it!"

Sunni says:

Hi, Wally. I agree with you that it is effective guerrilla theater, but taking a longer view, it enables the inference that (at least some) pro-freedom individuals think that using the state's tools is perfectly acceptable under certain conditions. To the degree that might be true, there's no difference between those individuals and the statists they claim to oppose.

d.j., everybody does not agree that theft is okay, and even if everyone did except me, I would raise my voice in argument. Integrity means something to me; and I wish to be able to look at myself in the mirror each morning -- and at my children -- with as clear a conscience as I'm able.

John DeWitt says:

As propaganda, it's a beautiful judo move. I see nothing immoral about turning the force of eminent domain against one of those who "legitimized" its use for "public benefit."

As a practical matter, of COURSE it will never happen. I read yesterday where the local cops had dispatched cars to Souter's house as a "precaution" - to protect the house from protestors, of course. Normally in such cases, the cops are there for a different purpose indeed.

Philosophically, if I say I'm willing to shoot the bastards, with a rifle designed to be a tool of the state, why should I balk at using one of their laws against them?

Too much purity isn't necessarily a positive thing. Most of the worst things that ever happened in history were brought about in the name of philosophical purity.

billy-jay says:

"Too much purity isn't necessarily a positive thing. Most of the worst things that ever happened in history were brought about in the name of philosophical purity."

The problem there isn't the purity -- it's the philosophy.

Daniel says:

Sunni, I'm with you. I've been assuming this was all theatre, and I do find it mildly funny; "hoist by his own petard" has been funny since the first petard blew up. But you have got to be right. I'm an anarchist because evil means cannot be justified, no matter how desireable (or funny) the ends in question.

I'm not a purist, nor a man bound particularly tight to my own morality; poke me hard enough with a stick and I could come to be at war with the state by any means to hand, including deadly force that's only defensive in the sense that killing a snake defends children in the neighborhood who might encounter it. But like you, I have a problem with embracing immoral means and giving them the public endorsement of freedom lovers.

I'm willing to agree with John DeWitt that too much purity may be a bad thing, when it comes down to the knife. But if it's not too late for propoganda, then in our propoganda at least we ought to be distinguishable from the thugs. With this prank, we really aren't.

Sunni says:

The way I see it there are differing contexts for thinking of purity. For sake of convenience (and alliteration) I'll refer to them as practical and principled purity.

As long as there's a nation-state or some similar band of thieves conspiring to rob peaceable individuals of their lives and property, practical purity -- being able to act in total, consistent purity with one's principles -- is impossible. As just one example, an individual in the USSA, no matter how self-reliant, simply cannot avoid all taxes.

Principled purity, to me, means presenting a consistent view of how full liberty might be accomplished. It necessitates thinking about what one's principles really are, what one values down at the root of his being, and communicating that (if desired). Not only is this excellent mental exercise for those who engage in it, but it also helps ensure that those who do communicate with others about the value of liberty present a consistent message to them. (It may not matter much at the beginning, but it will likely matter at some point in the conversation.)

After all, many Americans already tend to think of libertarians (mostly because of what they've heard from the LP and assorted loud, er, eccentrics) as libertines, or in some other negative way. It doesn't help our efforts to educate, or to distinguish ourselves as more principled, if we're advocating/supporting actions that betray those principles.

freeman says:

I got a chuckle out of this when I first heard about it, but agree that such a course of action is unjustifiable. Libertarians know better than to rally around the use of force in such a manner.

As long as it's not actually carried out, I'd agree with John DeWitt that it's a good judo move in terms of showing how something offensive could be used against those who initiated it.

Fran says:

I think that the purists are losing the war - and make NO mistake, this new ruling was a declaration of war and a blatent slap in the face to all those who make a lot of noise about the constitution and their rights, but at the end of the day, aren't willing or able to go to the court house and remove the judge from the bench at the end of a gun or rope. Here is an analogy - if you own a well and the city passed a law that you must use city water, you might continue to use your well. But if they set your farm and home on fire, and your well went dry, would you use the city water to put out the fire? Those in power don't give a damn about your rights. Maybe using their rules to inflict real pain will get their attention. Some anarchists might find it useful to keep the courts busy with land grabs of those who made such laws possible. After all, if they are defending their own land, they can't very well go after yours. At the same time, it keeps the jackboots occupied so that they aren't out causing more problems. For instance, Orin Hatch has been abusing the rights of citizens for years. He authored the USAPA. He supports the AG confiscating property in drug cases. Wouldn't be nice to use his own laws to cause him pain. In Boston's book, his vigilantes make the death of thier victims a reflection of their crimes. What ever happened to live by the sword, die by the sword? I see your point, but I believe that in war, any weapon will do. In this case, I believe the only way to reverse this is to first use it as a weopon against those who are in a position to reverse it. When they see first hand how easily it can be abused, maybe justice will be done.

Sunni says:

Fran, I'm speaking from an anarchist perspective, which isn't shared by all pro-freedom individuals. If a person's an LP member, for example, then I suppose there'd be a lot less moral conflict about using a tool of the state against itself.

But I don't see how a person can be seriously committed to the death of the state, and be able, with a clear conscience, to use the weapon of the state when it suits his fancy. It strikes me, personally, as a morally weak action. That's the extent of my point on the Lost Liberty Hotel plan.

Lynette Warren says:

At least it's brought the point home to a few "liberal" friends of mine.

DJ, what point did it bring home with your liberal friends? And what's the best thing that the Lost Liberty guerilla theater project could have hoped to accomplish?

Cat says:

The "Lost Liberty Hotel" strikes me as a stunt, and a darned effective one. Unless the board of selectmen acts to approve the taking of Souter's property, which seems unlikely, there is in effect no force being used against Souter - it's more like a warning shot across the bow. It seems Souter has already approved this sort of theft, so how do I know he wouldn't agree to it, and consider it just? I'm sure he doesn't agree with the specific instance but he's apparently agreed on principle (or lack of it) to the practice.

I think it might be particularly interesting to hear from New Hampshire residents on this one. At the Freedom Summit last week, I was frankly surprised by much of what I heard about state level politics from local people and speakers. As a friend who resides in NH remarked, people consider politics the local sport, and consider their representatives accessible (or else). It almost felt like a throwback to the workings of an old republic from the history books... rather than the tyranny by democratic and very confused majority that seems typical of US politics.

At least Mr. Souter won't be faced by robed nazgul, should he contend with the necessity of reclaiming his home, or contesting the eminent domain taking procedure. Instead, I imagine he'll have to contend with some angry neighbors at town hall or the town court. It wouldn't surprise me if a "for sale" sign goes up soon, and Mr. Souter moves to Washington D.C. where it sounds like he might feel more at home.

It would seem consistent to consider the use of the court as a use of the state against itself... I thought that's why the court was originally established to act as a check on the powers of the executive office and the legislative branch. The SCOTUS apparently sold out individual property rights to "collective" interests. It may not be the purest moral position I can take, but I'm still giggling at the thought that those who sell out to vultures might be the first to watch them circling overhead.

What sets wrong with me about this, in line with Sunni's original objection as I understand it, is that happenings regarding an individual's private property in another state which I have no direct interest in, should seem my business at all. The SCOTUS' ruling effectively makes it a concern to all private property owners who are paying attention. That's what governments do - turn private matters into public spectacles, and package individual interests in bulk for selling down the river to the highest paying collective bidder. For this "we the people" pay taxes - or not... ;)

Militant Libertarian says:

I love over-cerebral libertarians and all their hoity-toity talk and complete lack of ACTION.

Look, the Libertarian Party has been attempting to "educate" people about liberty for over fifty years. Guess how much good it's done?


It's time to DO something about things instead of sitting on our hands and debating about whether a course of action is "libertarian" and if it breaks some mythical "code of libertarian conduct."

If I had known libertarians were such wusses, I'd have never bothered associating with them. Sheesh.


Get some balls! Start fighting back and TAKE your liberty! They sure as hell aren't going to give it to you for free.

John T. Kennedy says:

"Start fighting back and TAKE your liberty!"

Personally, I'm taking liberties like nobody's business.

Sunni says:

Militant Libertarian, if you're berating me for "complete lack of action", you're slithering up the wrong snake and I'll thank you to desist. Doing freedom has been so much of my approach that Lobo and I have a 'zine called exactly that, remember? It's still online, in case your memory needs a jog -- Doing Freedom!.

You are right, in part: it's way past time to do something. But I've been doing things for years. I'm not going to start doing things that go against my basic principles now.

Jorge says:

Well said!

There is taking action and there is taking action. By using the state, even for noble ends, we end up corrupted the state.

What is someone saying when they try to use eminent domain? For starters, they are saying that the eminent domain is a legitimate use of state power. An anarchist must disagree with this, as I believe, must any minarchist Libertarian.

Secondly, they fill out a bunch of forms. This says that to take a legitimate action (they implicitly agreed that eminent domain is legitimate), one must ask permission of the state. Is this a message that we want associated with Libertarians?

Third, they wait for the town council to vote on the request. This says that they agree with the state deciding if a legitimate action is permitted or not.

I'm sure others can expand on this.

The point being that once we have granted the above, we have also granted the legitimacy of the state saying that you can't smoke marijuana, or have sex in a strange position.


David Codrea says:

"Can You Name the One Tool that Isn't Morally Neutral?"



Iron Maidens?


Suicide bomber explosive vests?

You could argue they could be used as museum pieces, but that would not be using them for the purposes they were designed for...and while the thing itself isn't evil, the purpose for which it was designed sure seems to be...

Can something specifically designed for evil purpose truly be considered morally neutral?

Sunni says:

Excellent point, David. Thank you.

Mr. Completely says:

Either you are AGAINST the taking of private private property for use by other non-governmental entities, or you aren't. You can't have it both ways.

Encouraging the taking of Souter's property only supports the court's decision, rather than opposing it, regardless of what you think of Justice Souter.

Lee Killough says:

Interview with Kelo

I'm not going to debate the ethics of LLH -- I'll just say I think it's a waste of libertarian resources.

Militant Libertarian says:

I think using the state against itself is perfectly moral. It is, in a way, a form of guerilla warfare.

Think of it this way: one of the chief aspects of guerilla warfare is the use of the enemy's weaknesses (overbearing size, too-large weapons, etc.) against itself.

The Lost Liberties Hotel idea is just a battle in the war we freedom-lovers will never win by attrition, only by using guerilla tactics.

Tie up their legal system, their legislatures, etc. with meaningless lawsuits and law-changes. Make life so miserable for the fence-sitting common apathist that he has to finally choose a side and do something.

I've been in the LP for a long time and have grown extremely disgruntled with the way most libertarians seem to do things (or do nothing while appearing to do something).

I call myself the Militant Libertarian, which is kind of an oxymoron, for a reason: I'm not above arguing once in a while, but I prefer to DO something. Throw pot seeds over the fence into the judge's yard, sell books that they don't want you to sell, talk about the fact that you own a gun and know how to use it, ignore the laws they've made that you don't agree with... in short, I'm militant about my freedom and am not afraid to go Medieval if that's what it takes. :crazy:

ZooT_aLLures says:

I'm against this new ruling of SCOTUS, yet I feel that the LLH folks are actually helping to support this new ruling via their actions.
The way bad laws are legitimized is through example, and what better example can SCOTUS shake in front of "the people" than one of their own being the FIRST to "willingly, publicly, and with much publicity" give up their own private property for the sake of enriching the coffers of that local government.
If perchance SOUTER were to willingly accept far less than market value for this property, then some later ruling given "the SOUTER precedence" could easily allow property to be confiscated at far under market value in the name of nationalism/patriotism.

Is this what we want?

MamaLiberty says:

I'm glad I'm not alone in the belief that using the power and tools of the state is immoral and self-defeating. I'm also very disappointed to discover the number of otherwise intelligent people who seem to be able to overlook this most important point and express support for this immoral action.

The other thing that keeps hitting me in the face is this business of government taking for "public use" as being somehow ok. Government theft is just that, no matter what is taken or for what reason. Bulldozing homes is no more justified to build a road than it is to build a shopping mall.

Until we are ready and willing to defend ALL property rights as absolute, we will not have any liberty -- only death.