To be radical in any philosophy means to follow its premises to their logical conclusion. The precepts must be held to such an esteem as to be undeniable. Christian love, vegetarian empathy, and Marxist exploitation are such concepts. For Libertarians there are, at base, two: 1. The right of self-ownership 2. All interactions between people (self-owners) must be voluntary. Certainly many people would not choose to contend these basics, they seem reasonable enough. However, as we will see, what they demand we do and accept may appear absurd and unacceptable at face value. But we must, if we are to follow the ideals of freedom, accept them and their conclusions.
Please bear in mind throughout this thought experiment, I am in no way advocating creating these institutions or trying to convince you to attend them. And in every exchange I discuss, I assume consenting adults of sound mind. Also I must point out that the seed of this idea comes from Walter Block and his lectures on “Radical Austrianism, Radical Libertarianism” Now let’s get radical.
A young entrepreneur looking into the field of sports and games (the area he wishes to set up shop) comes to the conclusion that there is just nothing new and exciting to do anymore. Basketball, hockey, boxing: it’s all been done. But he is convinced sports can hold the excitement they once did, the thrill, the pleasure. After some thinking he comes up with the idea of letting people kill one another for fun. He could buy some land, build a park, and charge people to enter and participate. He’d make sure no one outside the park could be hurt: bullet proof walls, far enough from other people, signs posted all around explaining the situation. He would obviously set up some rules: maybe he thinks the game should only last an hour at a time and after an hour no one is allowed to kill. To cover his ass (and more importantly, to be a good person) he explains to each customer individually what happens at this park and has them sign a statement saying that they agree. He may choose not to allow children in.
At this park, people will pay to come in and try to kill other people and have other people try to kill them according to the rules of the owner.
Is he allowed to do this?
Are we allowed to go?
Let’s take it from the beginning. 1. The right to self-ownership implies that if we own ourselves, we are allowed to do with ourselves whatever we would like. It also–insofar as it is a basic premise–applies to everybody, thus others are allowed to do with themselves whatever they would like to do. This right, in itself, does not prevent horrible things such as rape, taxation, and torture. To put an end to that we accept another right: 2. All interactions between people (self-owners) must be voluntary. That is to say that I cannot aggress against you and you cannot aggress against me. Anything involuntarily thrust upon you or I is, by definition, wrong. Thus rape, taxation, and torture are wrong while consensual sex, trade, and sadomasochism are fine (from a legal point of view).
It may strike you that if I own myself and I am free to do whatever I want so long as when I interact with others it is voluntary, that I could very well sell myself into prostitution or even slavery. Yes, that’s correct. The only thing wrong with slavery (at least at the basic level) is that it is involuntary. Slavery is a fine institution if you are allowed to stop being a slave whenever you want. Please do not get me wrong, I am not advocating slavery to any degree, but I am saying that if someone wanted to sell themselves and someone else was willing to buy them and they agree on the price, the exchange should not be prevented.
Taking a less extreme example, boxing matches certainly aren’t outlawed. If two men are willing to be paid to beat each other senseless, no one seems to take issue. And if getting paid $100,000 is fine, then so should $100 or even $0. If $0 is fine, why shouldn’t $-500? In other words, if it is ok to be paid for something, then there should be no problem in paying for it either. So conceivably, a business could be made of people willing to pay to box one another. And several boxing gyms do exist around the country. In Nevada alone there no less than 20. So obviously paying for something should not make it illegal.
But what if you do something illegal, say rape, and pay for it, say by leaving $100,000 in her purse? Is that fine? Absolutely not. Without getting into punishment theory as to what the proper course of action to follow is, it can unequivocally be condemned as completely wrong. What makes it wrong is the fact that the act was not voluntary to begin with. If you’ve got an ice cream cone and I steal it from you and then give you $10, I’ve still stolen your ice cream cone. It doesn’t matter if you were willing to give it up for $10, it was not voluntary trade and is illegal.
At MurderPark, you and I pay for the opportunity to kill one another, how is this different from paying to golf? Well, one obvious answer is: IT’S MURDER!? Killing someone is never justified you may say. Another objection may be, if hiring an assassin is wrong, then clearly paying to become an assassin is equally as wrong. Nothing is more sacred than life, it is claimed, thus any price to end it is unjustifiable and down right despicable. However, each of these arguments comes from emotion, not logic, not from our initial premises.
If I own myself, I am free to do with myself whatever I’d like. This would include getting a piercing, cutting off a finger, giving up a kidney, and yes, self-destruction. If I can pay to get my ears pierced or my finger nails cut or a kidney removed, then there is no logical reason why I shouldn’t be able to pay someone to kill me. Conversely, there is no logical reason why someone shouldn’t be able to pay me to kill them. Obviously, if they felt uncomfortable with killing me, I couldn’t force them to, anymore than I could force a pedicurist to cut my finger off. This springs directly from our second premise, every act between people must be voluntary. The thing wrong with killing as it is now is that it is involuntary. The reason assassins are bad guys is that they kill someone against their will, not because they are paid for it.
Even granted that nothing is more than human life (a sensible enough position), that is no excuse to ban attendance to MurderPark: it would just jack up the price. Since we each only get one life, it is a remarkably scare resource. It is also very important, we can’t do much if we’re dead. Given it’s rarity and necessity, the price will sky-rocket, but something being expensive should not make it illegal. If I decided to charge you $10,000 for a soda, you’d think I was nuts and go somewhere else. But if it was the only soda and you *needed* it, someone would pay a lot to get it. That’s one of the reasons we’re willing to pay so much to doctors: they’re saving our only and necessary life.
It may be disgusting to think that some people might be willing to put their lives in jeopardy while trying to kill others, but then again we may gag at how much a celebrity is willing to pay for a diamond encrusted collar for their dog. Our contempt for an activity, no matter how pervasive and deeply-felt, is no justification for it’s ban. That’s why prohibition was wrong on it’s face not just for the havoc it reaped.
So where have we landed? Unfortunately, in a very strange land
. According to libertarian ideals, it cannot be legally wrong for two consenting adults to try to kill one another. This is because people have the ultimate (indeed, only) say in what they want to do. People also are only allowed to engage in voluntary acts. This brings about the strange scenario where it becomes illegal to force someone to MurderPark under the threat of death outside of the park and perfectly fine to entice them to MurderPark under the promise of death inside the park.
Our libertarian world is a strange one. Strange both in the sense that it is clearly not this one and the sense that it should be. This dichotomy will, at least for the foreseeable future, plague us Libertarians and we must cope with it. It may hurt us, knowing that in the world we want, we would have to allow our mothers to commit suicide and our sisters to become prostitutes. But if we are as convinced of our philosophy as we should be (otherwise, why should we hold it), we must follow our ideals to their ends. While most others face the problem of having to justify means to fit their ends, we are left wanting to justify ends to fit means. A truly confusing paradox filled with extraordinary possibilities. In this deep, dark world, full of its immeasurable complexities and subtle simplicities we must valiantly hold our weak candleflames into the darkness and hope to shine on even the smallest grains of truth, regardless of the demons we may stir.