Life for the first-world web surfer is pretty easy. We wander the web reading, watching and listening to whatever takes our fancy. We contribute to conversations, share videos, collaborate on creative projects, and we exchange with one another for mutual profit. Of course every now and again we get into debates we wish we didn’t have to. Sometimes the enemies of rationality throw up nonsense like hopelessly loaded scenarios in an attempt to discredit philosophy and aggrandise the knee-jerk use of violence that they would see us all subjected to.

For now the statism of our time confines us to a present in which we are dreamers, embattled by people claim to be better in their thought processes because they’re more empirical. The fact that scientific, indeed technocratic, socialism failed so spectacularly in the Soviet Union, China, India, Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola, Romania, East Germany, Poland, Mongolia, Vietnam, Combodia, and Peru and is currently failing in Argentina, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Venezuela doesn’t faze them. The argument should be ours to lose. But then one day, when there’s no government but still private property, and Matty owns a house and the land it’s on while Valen owns the land all around Matty’s plot, and Valen hates Matty – let’s say they disagree about economics – then what chaos and conflict will follow? Matty is surrounded, then, by Valen. A discussion to this effect arose on DeviantArt very recently.

The argument being made against free trade here is that a social order built on property rights would permit murder by omission of permission to cross Valen’s land. Valen would be the cause of Matty’s untimely death and supposedly face no penalty whatsoever for it. Is that the case? Does basing law on property rights invite immorality on the order of Valen’s unchallenged encirclement of Matty? Where do property rights come from anyway? And what operating assumptions should we entertain about who else lives nearby?

It’s important to take note of where property rights come from; namely the principle of mixing mental and physical effort (labour) with whatever the something in question is. The first example is your own body as you gestate in the womb and rollick around for your first few years after birth. The homesteading of the body is a slow process and the end is hard to identify because we could assign almost any marker we want. Is it when children talk? Is it when they become cognisant of things belonging to others? Is it when their time preference starts to fall in response to growing up? Next up you, theoretically, homestead unowned natural resources and turn them into your alienable property through the same process as for your body. The difference is the alienable bit.

You can give away your alienable property or exchange it for something else you value more highly. You obviously can’t cease to control your body and so you can’t give it away. A prostitute does not sell their body, but the service of their sexual company for a limited time. QED you can’t give or trade away your body. It’s de facto yours for the long haul. If you own your body, and that is the origin of al property rights, and you live in a location surrounded by the property of one specific individual who refuses to permit you basic access rights (how this situation could even arise is a question worth asking later) across his land to the outside, do you sit and starve, call for help, or what? What can be done?

For the time being it will suffice to assume that Matty and Valen are the only two living nearby, and so that nobody can be expected to rush to the aid of one before the other could strike. This basic fact of life is something we all live with around our fellow human beings almost constantly, but let’s entertain the notion that something is special about a free-market anarchy and that there’s some unique need to address the question of what will result from Valen refusing to let Matty cross Valen’s circular plot in order to buy groceries and partake of social life. It is now obvious that Valen is actively endangering Matty’s life on account of having him surrounded and under threat of death if he attempts to cross Valen’s land.

The next step varies depending on what factors are to hand. Does Matty possess a firearm or three? If so, then violent self-defence is necessary, as killing Valen would simply remove an existential – and intentional on Valen’s part – threat to Matty’s life. Since this is self-defence, no DRO would take issue with Matty’s conduct after it was established what had happened. Likely Valen’s DRO would have to dispose of the late party’s land by giving it either to Matty or to Matty’s DRO as restitution by the deceased.

If Matty has no firearms at his disposal, or if he doesn’t feel he can make a shot before being killed by Valen – maybe Valen is a better marksman or firing from a hidden position – then poor little Matty will have to fall back on cable broadband or 3G/4G signal to call for help. But why would anyone ever help Matty? The answer should be evident from the shooting scenario above. Matty is in danger of death by the action of Valen, and so the community can justifiably come to his aid, presumably through something like the Peacekeeper network or just a private version of today’s police but with a lawyer present to get an agreement from Valen to permit Matty to cross his land from then on. If Valen refuses, then he is refusing to respect Matty’s right to life.

This means the security folk are justified in asking Valen to submit to safety checks – paid for ad hoc out of Valen’s pocket – in the name of Matty’s continued liberty on the surrounded land. If he refuses even to this, even knowing he’s asking those around him to let him starve another human-being to death, it has now become justifiable for the agents of the DRO to either restrain him or, if necessary, to kill Valen, with the same consequences as in the first scenario; all the land goes to Matty or Matty’s DRO. Since Valen has demonstrated severe and degenerate sociopathy it is in the public interest to remove him to a facility where he cannot exact his evil whims on others.

Such a private equivalent of a prison would be an expansive beast, probably covering a wide land area and populated by inmates busy keeping their skills sharp and up-to-date for when they are released. If this is the case, and Valen is alive and well, then his land is still his, though he will be unable to see to its maintenance and it might be the case that as long as he is incarcerated his property can be sold by his DRO without his permission as long as he receives the proceeds of the sale upon his release. Meanwhile Matty breathes a sigh of relief that he can securely cross the land even of someone who forgot that in a free society access rights are best agreed in advance of land purchases in order to expedite a safe and long life.

But something is amiss in the conversation linked to at the beginning of this piece. Where is the same scenario now? By this question I mean in the world of today. What would happen today? And where is the same scenario in a socialist state or stateless society? What are the outcomes in these three alternatives to freedom? Well now, roads are all state-owned now, but the state employs only a small share of the population as road use enforcers, making it highly improbably that any enforcer will be around to save Matty if he has to cross a road that Valen refuses to let him cross. This situation repeats in both socialist utopias as the road is held in common either by a state in the present day sense, or by an almighty global co-op, or by a co-op covering the society of people that Matty and Valen know.

Perhaps in a socialist paradise there would be socially-funded gangs roving the landscape policing all attempts by people to claim ownership of land and kidnapping or killing them if they were found to be doing so. For be it from me to truly know the nature of an anarcho-socialist society but it seems that to prevent de facto re-privatisation of land and creeping re-privatisation of everything else there would have to be socially-funded anti-propertarians to enforce the socialist order. That’s what’s so great about the anarcho-capitalist order, it enforces itself. The only other self-reinforcing anarchism would be anarcho-communism, the society of the commune, which we already have in the world today in the form of pre-cvilised tribal societies in the Amazon, Indonesia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Why we should all go back to living like that escapes me utterly. The process of de-industrialisation and de-civilisation would throw up vastly bigger problems than the odd “don’t cross my land” property rights dispute. Suffice it to say, such disputes would be vanishingly rare in a free society as people would include clauses in contracts against such things, indeed in the very titles to land themselves. Obviously that can’t completely guarantee moral behaviour, but neither can a monopolist of law and order like the state or the near-state of anarcho-socialism. Since nothing in life is completely certain save death and human action let’s move on to more peaceful and useful thoughts, like implementing actual smart property title in Bitcoin and Ethereum.

So, why did the Libertarian cross the road?

… to enjoy his right to get to the other side!