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Should slander be protected as free speech?

in Ask Dr. Ruwart, Liberator Online by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

Should slander be protected as free speech?

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QUESTION: I have questions about a past column of yours on the topic of blackmail. You wrote: “Manyslander libertarians consider slander of a person’s reputation to be a violation of the non-aggression principle; others don’t.”

I’m confused. It seems to me that slander should be protected as free speech in a libertarian society. There’s no aggression involved. So what’s the problem?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Not all libertarians agree on whether or not a lie constitutes aggression. A lie does not necessarily affect only one’s reputation. For example, a service provider could be put out of business by a well-publicized lie and lose all their assets before they were able to set the record straight. I have actually seen this happen to a publicly-traded company, where stockholders lost their investments and the employees lost their jobs.

Does a person have the right to free speech? Of course! Must they take responsibility for the consequences of their speech? That is the real question.

For example, if a person purposely yells “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and people are killed in the stampede, is he or she guilty of manslaughter if there was no fire? The person yelling “Fire!” has the right to free speech, certainly. Must that person pay restitution to those who are injured or the survivors of those killed?

What if the person thought they smelled smoke and truly believed that there was a fire? They were trying to help people and didn’t lie, but the result was the same. Are they responsible for the dead and injured?

This is where libertarians disagree over this issue. Some libertarians would agree with you that the only consequences that a liar should have to face is damage to his or her reputation, regardless of the consequences of that lie. Others believe that a liar is responsible for the resulting damage.

 

Do What You Say You’ll Do

in Liberator Online, Walk the Walk by Brett Bittner Comments are off

Do What You Say You’ll Do

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There are many approaches to summarizing libertarian philosophy, whether it’s “The Golden Rule,”rugged individualism, or the complete works of Ayn Rand.

doPersonally, I embrace Richard Maybury’s approach most, when he introduces two laws in “Whatever Happened to Justice?“:

  1. Do all you have agreed to do, and
  2. Do not encroach on other persons or their property.

I find that most libertarians handle the second of those laws quite well, as most of us subscribe to the non-aggression principle. Where we can ALL, libertarian and non-libertarian alike, use a bit of help is with the first.

Carl Jung is quoted as saying, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”

What you do, or don’t do, is the foundation of your reputation to others. We’ve all heard that someone’s reputation precedes them, and a reputation can often tell others more about you that any words you may communicate. Keeping in mind that you might be the first libertarian someone has met, shouldn’t you be a shining example for who and what we are?

When we can’t live up to doing what we say we will do, we lose our credibility. Losing credibility is a deal breaker for someone trying to persuade others to examine libertarianism. It’s like putting a question mark at the end of every promise we make and every position we take. Would you really want to take a chance on losing that trust? We have many other things to overcome without having to rebuild credibility.

So, how can we make sure we live up to part of living a libertarian lifestyle and embracing #1 above?

First, don’t take on too much. Often, we see a void and we step up to fill it. As a former manager in the service industry, I realize that we often over promise and under deliver, but if we flip that, we can make sure we meet our commitments by setting reasonable expectations and wowing with our results. Switch to an “under promise, over deliver” approach and see the results of keeping things under control.

Next, honestly evaluate the level of effort or time necessary to do a good job meeting the commitments you make. Something may seem to be quick or easy on the surface, but it can really bite you when it’s more complex than you first thought. Being honest about what it will take, along with not taking on too much will help you to do what you say you’ll do.

Finally, when you can’t make things happen on the timeline you’ve set, make sure you you offer explanations, not excuses. Excuses are flimsy, and the real reason is often the better route, especially if it’s humbling.

Are you ready to do what you way you’ll do?

Would Blackmail be Legal in a Libertarian Society?

in Ask Dr. Ruwart, Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 16 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

blackmailQuestion: How would a libertarian society deal with blackmail? Thinking of the blackmailer as a gossip offering the service of his silence for a fee, I cannot find any reason why it should be illegal in a libertarian society. Both parties receive something of value and the agreement is consensual.

My short answer: The criteria for illegality in a libertarian society would be: “Does it threaten first-strike force, fraud, or theft?” For example, if I pay blackmail to someone who would otherwise beat me, they are using the threat of first-strike force to take my money, very much like a thief does. This would clearly be against libertarian law.

If I pay blackmail to someone so that they won’t tell a true but embarrassing tale about me, I am not being threatened with first-strike force, fraud, or theft. Quite possibly, such “blackmail” might (depending upon the circumstances) be considered a private contract under libertarian law. If the blackmailer told his or her story anyway, I might be able to sue for contract violation!

If I pay blackmail to someone so that they won’t lie about me, the situation is not as clear. Many libertarians consider slander of a person’s reputation to be a violation of the non-aggression principle; others don’t.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions for further reading on this topic from Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:

* “Defending the Blackmailer“ by Walter Block. Walter Block has been writing about libertarianism and blackmail for decades. His collected writings on this topic are in his 2013 book Legalize Blackmail.

This provocative selection is a chapter from his classic 1976 book Defending the Undefendable, which you can download as a free ebook from the Mises Institute.

Excerpt: “What exactly is blackmail? Blackmail is the offer of trade. It is the offer to trade something, usually silence, for some other good, usually money. If the offer of the trade is accepted, the blackmailer then maintains his silence and the blackmailed pays the agreed-upon price.

“If the blackmail offer is rejected, the blackmailer may exercise his rights of free speech and publicize the secret. There is nothing amiss here. All that is happening is that an offer to maintain silence is being made. If the offer is rejected, the blackmailer does no more than exercise his right of free speech.”

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