10 Nov 2019

You Didn’t Build That (God Did)

Religious 14 Comments

There’s nothing wrong with the logic of libertarian property rights (homesteading etc.). The problem only comes in if you assume empirically at the outset that the Earth was unowned when the first human stumbled upon it.

Because if the opening Genesis account were true, for example, then God is obviously the owner of everything. Again, for me to point this out doesn’t refute The Ethics of Liberty in terms of its framework, it just shows that most practicing Rothbardians have been incorrectly applying some of its theorems.

This is also related (somewhat) to some of the difficult events in the Old Testament when “God was mean” as opposed to Jesus when “God was nice.” (Of course I am not endorsing these sentiments, but I’m sure the reader gets what I mean and how people think like that, when the first encounter Scripture.)

When God (working through Moses) rescued the children of Israel out of slavery, He led them through the desert for 40 years. His presence in Israel was manifest in the form of a column of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night.

Then when He would deliver them into the Promised Land, they not only won military victories that the recently-liberated slaves had no business winning, but the Israelites also took possession of entire cities. It would be like showing up at a really nicely furnished Airbnb except you are there permanently (so long as you follow the landLORD’s rules).

This was a stark reminder to the Israelites that everything they had was ultimately from God; they couldn’t point to some of their possessions as due to their own merit.

I realize a Randian reading this would pull back in horror, but no, recognition of such facts actually gives you immense peace and wisdom. It’s not that happy people are grateful, it’s that grateful people are happy.

14 Responses to “You Didn’t Build That (God Did)”

  1. Aaron Rodgers says:

    Very nice!

  2. Andrew in MD says:

    This is really tough. This is the kind of thing that ultimately made me decide that I’m not really a libertarian even though I still lean libertarian.

    It sounds really awkward for you, Bob, to be endorsing the taking of entire cities by military force. I get that you’re saying that God’s possession of the Earth trumps all other possession claims but I don’t get how you fit that into a logically consistent framework.

    If your church leadership became absolutely convinced that God had spoken to them and convinced them that they were absolutely required to raise an army and capture Dallas, TX, would you pick up arms and join the war effort?

    If God plucked you out of your life, erased your knowledge of the Old Testament, and then made you the 17th Rothbardian Arbiter in the United Arbitration Federation, randomly selected to decide between invading Israelis and the original rulers of some city, would you find for the Israelis? If so, by what justification? That you believe in their claim to divine right?


    All right, so I already think you’ll say that if God wants you to decide one way or another in these extraordinary circumstances that He’d intervene and ensure the correct outcome. He knows what you would do and would speak to you or compel you to make a necessary choice.

    And I think that’s right but I also think it’s kind of a cheap out. If God’s will defeats libertarianism whenever they come in conflict then what’s the point of libertarianism? And how do you tell the difference between a violation of the NAP and an exercise of divine rights?

    I feel like I could fill 1000 pages debating this argument back and forth with myself but I’d really like to hear you weigh in on it. Because the position I keep landing in is this: Christianity is true and sufficient. Libertarianism is interesting but unnecessary and sometimes wrong.

  3. Matt M says:

    “they couldn’t point to some of their possessions as due to their own merit.”

    Well, except to the extent that worshipping God (thus, being worthy of the benefits he bestows upon them) is meritorious, right?

    The OT is full of “Isreal worshipped God, and God rewarded them, then they turned from God and he punished them severely” type stories, is it not? And given that they have free will, choosing to worship and obey God is meritorious, and also explains why God favors them, isn’t it?

    I always felt that was one of the major pivots when you go from OT to NT. OT says “God rewards you if and only if you do exactly as he demands.” NT says “God loves you unconditionally, Earthly rewards/punishments are loosely tied to your virtue, at best, but you should probably do as he demands anyway, in order to earn/merit your heavenly reward”

  4. poppies says:

    Andrew in MD, your concerns are only material if God doesn’t own everything. As the ultimate AirBnB landLORD, he has the logical right to remove whomever He chooses and install whomever He chooses. You can bring up evidence if you have it that the Israelites were mistaken about God’s intentions, or lying, but a straightforward reading has no libertarian awkwardness at all. That is, in fact, one of the points of this post.

    Matt M, there are tons of passages in the OT clarifying God’s unconditional love for even wayward Israel. That’s a big part of the book of Hosea. Love and punishment aren’t mutually exclusive; the OT and NT mention this very concept. Further, the NT goes to great pains to denigrate *any* human virtue, claiming that salvation specifically can’t be merited and must just be received as a free gift by the unworthy, with such receipt called out as nothing meritorious. There really is no pivot, just a gradual unveiling of the full gospel across the centuries.

    • Andrew in MD says:

      I think you misread the intention of my post. I don’t disagree with anything you wrote there. My point is that libertarianism is nigh pointless in the face of Christianity. And, to the extent that you’ll allow that a non-Christian can be a libertarian, that non-Christian libertarians will be led astray by their libertarianism when considering property disputes over which God has a preference.

      Libertarianism is an intricate, nuanced philosophy of property rights. But when you mix it with Christianity, the whole thing goes out the window. Because if God wills something that was otherwise a violation of libertarianism, then it’s okay. So what we’re saying is that, on matters in which God has an opinion, libertarianism has nothing to add to the conversation. And if that’s true, then libertarianism is only valuable in situations upon which God holds no opinion. This would mean that libertarianism would only really be valuable if God is generally indifferent to the affairs of men. And I don’t know any Christian that believes that.

    • Tel says:

      As the ultimate AirBnB landLORD, he has the logical right to remove whomever He chooses and install whomever He chooses.

      Out of consistency … the same would apply regarding abortion.

      The parents created the baby, and the mother is ultimate owner of the space, so she has the logical right to remove whomever she chooses.

      If humans have no particular right to exist in a world created by God then babies have no particular right to exist in a world created by their parents either.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Tel, hang on–a woman created her womb de novo?

        And also, by your same logic, an adult woman today isn’t the supreme master of her womb–her own parents would be, right? Because they created her originally, so they own her.

        Ah but wait, they aren’t the real owners, because they in turn are owned by the woman’s grandparents, and so on.

        So although you might think at first my argument applies to human parents, it doesn’t.

        • Tel says:

          People grow up and become adults, and most cultures have some formal process by which it gets declared that this person is now responsible for themselves and therefore owned by themselves. Admittedly there’s arguable cases and the details might vary from time to time, but the general principle has always been there.

          The Bible goes to some effort to establish a chain of command where parents rule over children, although doesn’t fully confer “ownership” as such. Similarly there’s been a long tradition that wives should be obedient to husbands, but again, not “ownership” as such. It’s not a chattel ownership to be disposed at will … more of a custodial responsibility where obligations extend in both directions.

          There’s also the distinction made between children and adults, so by implication a transition from one to the other must exist. This would be probably the most well known Bible quote.


          That said, it does not explain the details of exactly how a child becomes an adult … the presumption being that the reader would already know that. It does at least establish that children and adults operate differently.

          If you are seriously suggesting that I’m supposed to consult with my long dead ancestors as to all the things I do in life, then clearly that’s impractical (the Japanese do “consult the ancestors” on significant issues, Abe-san got pushback for having incorrect ancestors and was recommended not to consult with those guys). I happen to believe my ancestors are gone and not coming back, although I accept that opinions differ on that matter. You could say I inherited ownership of myself no different to people inheriting the family farm or family business.

          If you want to look at it another way … then all through religion is the notion of God as a father, and this is important in Christianity but it turns up in other places as well. When you consider the Gaia worshipers and nature religions that are getting popular today they impose a powerful motherhood figure instead of a father figure, but the same parent/child relationship applies. Hindus have separated out the various aspects, for example Ganesha embodies aspects of a father figure while Krishna has childlike aspects.

          If you are going to say, “Oh these moral rules apply to God, but these different moral rules cover parenthood” then how do you explain the strong consistency of a parent/child relationship existing across multiple religions? Sounds a bit like a convenient double standard.

        • Harold says:

          Is it not ownership of the womb that is important, not ownership of the fetus?

          Even if the fetus owns itself, that does not give it the right to occupy space it does not own. It does not therefore matter who created the fetus.

          • Grane Peer says:

            If a woman was significantly intoxicated that she invited you to fly in her private jet she should wait till the plane lands before kicking you out, no matter how uncomfortable she becomes as she sobers. Of course if she really can’t live with her decision she could do the honorable thing and crash the plane with both of you in it.

            • Harold says:

              “Should” according to what? Most people I think would agree that it would be the decent thing to do, but most people are not property rights fundamentalists. Does she have the right to kick you out mid flight? Say she didn’t invite you on but you were a stowaway.

  5. Harold says:

    Out of interest, why did it take 40 years to travel a few hundred miles?

    • poppies says:

      Andrew in MD, I think we disagree at a particularly deep level. I don’t think God acts in any way contrary to libertarianism as a property rights theory. As ultimate Creator, He has property rights in everything that exists. Therefore, He can with all libertarian justification do whatever He wants with His theoretically uncontested property.

      Since humans generally traffic in a plane of contested property rights, however, libertarianism is a useful and correct tool, IMHO, in a world of scarcity and dispute. God is certainly not indifferent to the affairs of men, but He is also unlikely to palpably show up to a real estate contract discussion, so we use libertarianism to help guide us to internally consistent and morally upright outcomes.

      • Andrew in MD says:

        I don’t know what level we disagree at or even if we disagree beyond subjective value judgements. Perhaps we are in complete agreement on objective matters and simply haven’t found the words to adequately express our ideas.

        I think you’re arguing that we should use secular libertarianism in general because we don’t always know God’s will. But consider all the cases we know of where God clearly has exerted His will. In many of those cases, secular libertarianism would have decided against God’s will. So why should we assume that secular libertarianism is a reliable paradigm for achieving “internally consistent and morally upright outcomes” when it would fail many of the test cases we have available to us?

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