The Shaffer Dictionary

I try to keep track of my own and others’ definitions of the most critical words used in discussing political philosophy. Here’s something Butler Shaffer wrote when I was only 3 years old:

The following definitions comprise a part of my view of reality, in all its humorous — and often frustrating — manner.

an institution of war, theft, murder, rape and predation, . . . the absence of which, it is said, would lead to disorder.

a practice employed by governments in looting all of its citizens in order to obtain the necessary funds to chase down and punish looters.

the price men are forced to pay in order to keep peace among the politicians.

Shaffer’s more recent writings are here.

lying to the state

For the most part, embracing ethical libertarianism meant that my actions were far more restricted. For instance, I had previously had no problem in principle with the justice of punching someone in the face for mere verbal abuse. The concept of coercion — and specifically, the emphasis on the initiatory nature of coercion — narrowed the field of ethically legitimate options.

There is one thing, however, (and some might see it as quite a major thing) that I had previously considered unethical which became quite straightforwardly legitimate when submitted to the Do-Not-Initiate-Force-Or-Fraud Test.

I refer to the question of lying to the police — or to state operatives in general.

Previously, I had considered it wrong to lie. Does that mean I would have told the Nazi soldiers where exactly I had hidden the Jewish family in my annex?


First of all, I distinguished candor and honesty. My personal restriction against lying was very technically about the truth content of my statements, and not about any positive obligation to give people all the information they want. Secondly, it was clear to me that the hypothetical Nazi soldiers didn’t count, although I’m not sure I could have given a coherent explanation why.

The Non-Aggression Principle is demanding. It leads inexorably to philosophical anarchism, after all, if you’re willing to follow the logic to its … logical conclusion. But it also makes clear that state agents are automatically aggressors, and just as it is ethically legitimate to defend oneself against force by using force against the aggressor, just as it is potentially legitimate even to seek retribution for the initiation of rights-violations, so too is it ethically righteous to lie to thugs and liars. Hitting back is not the same thing as hitting first, no matter how many TV heroes tell you it makes you “no better than them!” (But notice that these action-show moralists are never pacifists: they want you to let the police take care of it. Talk about propaganda for a monopoly!)

Here’s how Dom Armentano put it:

In my view the victim has absolutely no moral duty to be truthful to anyone hell-bent on harming him or stealing his property, especially if the truth would make the crime even more likely. Simply put, criminals forfeit their right to truth when they steadfastly refuse to respect the sanctity of life and private property. Therefore it would be entirely appropriate, I dare say mandatory, for a potential victim to fib or lie (about the nearness of the police, for example) if the fib could prevent the robbery or help catch the criminal. And since 99% of politics concerns the suppression of liberty and the forceful redistribution (theft) of property, I would argue that the same fib loophole applies there — and with a vengeance.

And here’s Rothbard on the same point:

If the State, then, is a vast engine of institutionalized crime and aggression, the “organization of the political means” to wealth, then this means that the State is a criminal organization, and that therefore its moral status is radically different from any of the just property-owners that we have been discussing in this volume. And this means that the moral status of contracts with the State, promises made to it and by it, differs radically as well. It means, for example, that no one is morally required to obey the State (except insofar as the State simply affirms the right of just private property against aggression). For, as a criminal organization with all of its income and assets derived from the crime of taxation, the state cannot possess any just property. This means that it cannot be unjust or immoral to fail to pay taxes to the State (since it cannot be unjust to break contracts with criminals).

Hemingway, on the other hand …

Here is a blockquote within a blockquote on Ernest Hemingway among the lefties:

When left-wing critics of the 1930’s attacked him for not embracing doctrinaire Marxism, Ernest Hemingway replied:

I cannot be a communist now because I believe in only one thing: liberty. First I would look after myself and do my work. Then I would care for my family. Then I would help my neighbor. But the state ‘I care nothing for. All the state has ever meant to me is unjust taxation … I believe in the absolute minimum of government.

A writer is an outlyer like a gypsy … If he is a good writer he will never like the government he lives under. His hand should be against it….

(Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story by Carlos Baker, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969)

In the foreword to his own book, Baker writes: “If [Hemingway] was the fierce individualist who resisted fad and fashion like the plague … who believed that that government is best which governs least, who hated tyranny, bureaucracy, taxation, propaganda….”

– Jerome Tucille, “From Libertine To Libertarian,” Libertarian Forum, 2.2, January 15, 1970, available from in PDF.

consistency is a harsh mistress

I say in my review of Robert A. Heinlein’s most libertarian novel,

There are many of us who are grateful to Heinlein for introducing us to the distinction between liberty and democracy, between personal freedom and collective sovereignty, between the society and the State.

But after giving us our first push in an unpopular and unsupported direction, he then refused to follow us to the natural conclusions of his own arguments. He was our ideological forefather, not our brother.

I won’t comment any further on this short article I found in a 1969 issue of Murray Rothbard’s Libertarian Forum, other than to note that agorists Sam Konkin and J. Neil Schulman were not only big fans of Heinlein, but defended him as a libertarian.


One of the more distressing tendencies among American right-wing “libertarians” is a symptomatic willingness to identify popular authors as freedom-loving if they so much as use the term liberty in their works. The undisputed guru of this coterie is Robert A. Heinlein, writer of scores of science fiction short stories and novels; his book, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, is often singled out as representative of “anarchist” or “libertarian” science fiction. It is an enthralling novelette describing a futuristic moon colony which rebels against planet Earth under the aegis of a small group of classical liberals who have come into power via revolution. The rhetoric of these bourgeois revolutionaries is unabashedly Randian, although a signal character is identified as a “rational anarchist”.

“Moon” is the latest production of the prolific Mr. Heinlein, noted also for “Stranger in a Strange Land”, which supposedly captivated the attention of hip people several years ago. One would expect Heinlein to be somewhat sympathetic to the Movement, having read his utopian creations which hint at the possibilities of an open society; to the contrary, a bitter awakening is in store for Heinlein fans who are more than armchair devotees of liberty.

According to a February issue of National Review magazine, Robert Heinlein is one of 270 signers of a jingoist petition circulated in the US Author’s Guild by the facile William Buckley and his spiritual cohort Frank S. Meyer. The petition, a belated retort to an earlier anti-Vietnam war roster of authors (which was eminently successful), calls for “the vigorous prosecution of the Vietnam war to an honorable conclusion.” Deep contemplation is not necessary to comprehend the statist, authoritarian implications of such New Right weasel words and the concomitant beliefs of men who would endorse it.

Only one other science fiction writer joins Heinlein in the missive, Poul Anderson; the other signatories are well known in the rightist arsenal (Stefan Possony, Eugene Lyons, Brent Bozell, John Dos Passos, Francis Russell . . . ad nauseam). The case of Robert Heinlein is useful in evaluating both the politics of his followers and the commitments of entrenched and established American writers: It is clear that a writer cannot serve two masters, both justice and the mighty dollar — one must give way, if not on the written page, then in one’s personal life. While Heinlein has never been so explicitly libertarian as to be judged hypocritical, the lesson remains an open and obvious one.

An interesting footnote to this question comes from our British comrades: Several years ago, in Anarchy magazine, the monthly publication of Freedom Press in London, an article appeared on science fiction in the English language, in which Heinlein was singled out as “the only fascist science fiction writer in America.” This prophetic note comes from a libertarian community that has no need for propertied quislings.

– Wilson A. Clark, Jr.

The Machinery Of Friedman

For a long time, I’ve felt bad that never included a review of David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom. I read it and Rothbard’s For a New Liberty back to back, and Rothbard’s book (which I also never reviewed) drew me into Austro-libertarianism and ultimately to The Ludwig von Mises Institute, which was the beginning of the end of my own anarchist website.

But now and again, I will add something to (as I did yesterday) and today I’m adding Joseph Salerno’s review of Friedman from back in 1973:


“Suffice it to say that crippled in its inception, Friedman’s analysis cannot but lead to lame conclusions.”


The Machinery Of Friedman

By Joseph Salerno

[First published in The Libertarian Forum, 5.12, December 1973, available from in PDF.]

In The Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman bases his apologia for anarcho-capitalism on solely “practical” considerations. In so doing, he eschews the bedrock foundation of the natural rights ethic and rests his theoretical structure on the dangerously shifting sands of utilitarianism. All this, we are told, to avert the popular disapprobation that attends ethical vis a vis practical concerns. Consequently, we find Mr. Friedman in chapter 34 equably discussing the production and utilization of retaliatory nuclear weapons in a free society, without recognition of the moral problem entailed in the very existence of weapons of indiscriminate mass annihilation. But this particular shortcoming bears an integral relation to an overriding general flaw in Friedman’s exposition.


Here is how I defined rights at

OBLIGATIONS (Rights & Responsibilities)

Obligation: Something that a moral agent ought or ought not to do.

  1. Positive obligations are those things you are obliged to pursue.
  2. Negative obligations are those things you are obliged to avoid.

Responsibilities: The obligations you have to others in the world.

  1. Positive responsibilities are those things you are normatively required to do for others.
  2. Negative responsibilities are those things that you are proscribed from doing to others.

Rights: The responsibilities that the rest of the world has to you.

  1. Positive rights are those things the world owes you.
    (Examples of claimed positive rights include: the right to employment; the right to healthcare; the right to an education.)
  2. Negative rights are those things that all others must avoid doing to you.
    (Examples of claimed negative rights include: freedom of speech; right to privacy; right to self-defense.)

And here’s what I’ve decided to add today:


We shall be speaking throughout this work of “rights,” in particular the rights of individuals to property in their persons and in material objects. But how do we define “rights”? “Right” has cogently and trenchantly been defined by Professor Sadowsky:

When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use.[53]

Sadowsky’s definition highlights the crucial distinction we shall make throughout this work between a man’s right and the morality or immorality of his exercise of that right. We will contend that it is a man’s right to do whatever he wishes with his person; it is his right not to be molested or interfered with by violence from exercising that right. But what may be the moral or immoral ways of exercising that right is a question of personal ethics rather than of political philosophy — which is concerned solely with matters of right, and of the proper or improper exercise of physical violence in human relations. The importance of this crucial distinction cannot be overemphasized. Or, as Elisha Hurlbut concisely put it: “The exercise of a faculty [by an individual] is its only use. The manner of its exercise is one thing; that involves a question of morals. The right to its exercise is another thing.”[54]

[53] James A. Sadowsky, S.J., “Private Property and Collective Ownership,” in Tibor Machan, ed., The Libertarian Alternative (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1974), pp. 120-21.

[54] Hurlbut, cited in Wright, American Interpretations, pp. 257 ff.

Murray N. Rothbard,
The Ethics of Liberty,
“Natural Law and Natural Rights”

And another thing …

From my beloved Chicago Manual of Style:

“Next to the groundless notion that it is incorrect to end an English sentence with a preposition, perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the equally groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin one with but’ or and.’ As in the case of the superstition about the prepositional ending, no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctrine ever read any English themselves.7

7. Charles Allen Lloyd, We Who Speak English: And Our Ignorance of Our Mother Tongue (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1938), 19.

And here’s another one:

a; an. Use the indefinite article a before any word beginning with a consonant sound {a utopian dream}. Use an before any word beginning with a vowel sound {an officer} {an honorary degree}. The word historical and its variations cause missteps, but since the h in these words is pronounced, it takes an a {an hourlong talk at a historical society}. Likewise, an initialism (whose letters are sounded out individually) may be paired with one article, while an acronym (which is pronounced as a word) beginning with the same letter is paired with the other {an HTML document describing a HUD program}. See 5.73.

That’s right, folks, it’s “a history” not “an history”!

It occurs to me that there is a connection between deliberately awkward English usage prescriptions and, e.g., recycling paper: neither makes any sense from the perspective of the supposed goals — clear and consistent communication on the one hand and efficient, environmentally friendly use of scarce resources on the other — but they both appeal to that religious instinct to create an elite minority who feel good about the extra efforts they make while looking down on those who don’t make the same sacrifices.


Someone felt compelled to leave an anonymous comment on this post, giving dictionary definitions for “tinsel,” “tree,” and “bling-bling.” I was surprised that “bling-bling” was already in the dictionary. But here it is, less than a week later, and A.Word.A.Day at is featuring “The Reduplicatives. That could be the name of a rock band — the one known for razzle-dazzle and a hoity-toity demeanor. They come in pairs, have a little chit-chat, and then hurry-scurry off to their next go-go gig.”

Today’s example:


Something’s in the air …

I have seen the future …

… and it gives me the creeps!

I wonder why the legs bend at unexpected angles.

Check out the part where the guy tries to kick to robot over!

(Thanks to Machina Maleficarum for pointing this one out.)

black Americans understood FDR's New Deal

(some of them, anyway)

From the very bottom of today’s daily article at


[1] That blacks in the 1930s knew that they stood to suffer increases in racism is explained in Bernstein, David E., Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts From Reconstruction to the New Deal (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001).

Consider also a cartoon that appeared in a black Chicago newspaper, the Chicago Defender, during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term:

In the first panel, a man says to his wife, “Dear, the Old Factory is Now a Member of the ‘NRA’ [National Recovery Administration] which means better wages and better hours!” In the second panel, men crowd a factory before work, reading a sign that says, “UNDER THE ‘NRA’ THIS FACTORY SHALL ADVANCE WAGES AND MINIMIZE HOURS OF ALL EMPLOYEES. HENCEFORTH WE SHALL EMPLOY WHITE HELP ONLY.”

How the same dynamics apply to minimum wage legislation (and all other labor regulation) is left as an exercise for the enterprising reader.