eviction3

Rent and feudalism in an anarcho-capitalist society

Matt D. Harris Anarchism, Class War, Featured, Social Justice, Socialism 45 Comments


First, a disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an anarcho-capitalist, but I have a fair number of friends who do.  I’m fairly well-versed in ancap theory as well as theories from which it sprung forth (traditional anarchism and classical liberalism) as well.  I’m approaching this subject from an anarcho-capitalist perspective in order to critique some common statements made by self-professed anarcho-capitalists, and address what I see as one of the core problems of ancap theory and one of the most common ways in which ancaps tend to contradict themselves, as I value intellectual consistency in general. 

So first, let’s talk a little bit about some legitimate and illegitimate actions when a tenant with whom you’ve contracted to pay you rent in exchange for use of a structure you built fails or even passively refuses to do so.

Legitimate actions when someone ceases to pay you “rent”:

  1. Cease to provide services which you provided such as maintenance/repairs.
  2. Cease to provide third-party services which you had provided prior, such as utilities or trash removal.

Illegitimate responses to someone failing to pay you “rent”:

  1. Use force to kick them from their home because you claim “ownership” over it.
  2. Contract with the state or some other entity capable of greater force than you are personally capable of to do so.
  3. Initiate force or coercion in any other manner.

Modern evictions contract through the state to do the dirty work

See, initiating force and coercion are, by my libertarian standards, a bad thing.  I often refer to myself as a libertarian anarchist because I value the core belief of libertarianism: the non-aggression principle.  The non-aggression principle clearly states that one should not initiate force or coercion.  Pretty simple, straight-forward stuff there.  By any sane definition of libertarianism, the act of eviction; that is, of using force to remove someone from their home because they have failed to pay you for use of their home, is absolutely unlibertarian.  The notion that such a failure (or even passive refusal) to pay constitutes an initiation of force is an absurd notion, with no basis in reality.

Given the standard anarcho-capitalist rhetoric regarding property rights and self-ownership, it strikes me that ownership of one’s own self (inclusive of body, mind, etc) is by far the most critical property right and the one from which all others spring forth.  This makes a great deal of sense, as an inability to hold ownership over yourself – your own free will, that is – essentially invalidates any other rights you may have, including any property rights.

Thus I am unable to escape the conclusion that even by their own logic, anarcho-capitalists are unable to support the notion of forcible eviction of tenants who fail or even passively refuse to pay rent.  Since the bodily autonomy of the tenant is related to their self-ownership, while the absentee ownership claims made by the landlord over the rental property are far removed from the landlord’s own bodily autonomy and self, clearly the bodily autonomy of the tenant must receive a higher priority in terms of what rights must be respected by others and hence take precedence in such a case. This seems pretty cut and dry to me, but maybe it isn’t to everyone.  Maybe some folks who believe in property rights actually value absentee ownership claims over bodily autonomy in such a case.  Fair enough.

Do anarcho-capitalists care more about homelessness, or more about profit?

So let’s look at this from another critical perspective, as well.  Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty states that responses to violations of one’s rights must be proportional.  If I snag a cheap spoon from your house, you can’t cut off my hand; you can simply demand recompense in the value of the spoon or something else effectively proportional to the value of the spoon which I wrongfully took from you.  If I slap you across the face, leaving only very temporary harm, you can’t permanently maim me in response (such as to crush my skull), you can simply take action proportional to a face slapping.  Seems fair and reasonable, right?  Rothbard’s statement obviously applies to property rights, as well, however.  Thus when someone violates a rental contract by failing to pay, certain measures are, by Rothbard’s own assertions, absolutely justified.  As above, one may cease providing maintenance or other services that were specified in the rental contract.  That said, the initiation of physical force in order to remove the tenant from the property is clearly not proportional to a simple failure to pay rent in accordance with a contract.  Claiming that physical force is an appropriate and proportional retaliation to failure to uphold a business agreement would quickly lead to usurers with scimitars chopping off hands – and human history does speak of such people, justified by societies which felt violence was an appropriate response to failure to meet contractual obligations monetarily.

Therefore, based on one or both of these arguments, I don’t see how any anarcho-capitalist can feel justified in claiming that evictions for passive non-payment of a contractual obligation are a legitimate response.

Finally, let me leave you all with this gem: Hooker Visits the Rich Capitalist

App alerts parents to signs of meningitis

North Devon Journal February 23, 2012 A free iPhone App could save lives by helping people detect meningitis early and it is being supported by a Braunton mum who knows only too well about the effects of the illness. site symptoms of meningitis

Jodie Cross’s daughters Millie and Lydia both had meningitis as toddlers and is urging as many people as possible to download the free App.

Lydia, who is now 10, had both her legs amputated below the knee at the age of two.

The free App has been set up by the Meningitis Research Foundation and takes 30 seconds to download. web site symptoms of meningitis

It includes vital information on the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia, details of the local hospital’s Accident and Emergency department, latest news and a selection of fundraising challenges, as well as a game challenging users to blast the meningitis bug.

Jodie said: “The MRF App is a great way to learn important information about meningitis and septicaemia.

“So many people don’t know the symptoms so the app can tell you what to look out for and get you to the nearest hospital in time.” MRF chief executive Chris Head said: “Knowing the signs and symptoms of meningitis is crucial and quick action can save lives.

“This app ensures people have vital life-saving information directly at their fingertips.” For more information on the iPhone app please visit www.meningitis.org/iphone or download it from the iTunes store.

Matt D. HarrisRent and feudalism in an anarcho-capitalist society

Comments 45

  1. Brad Spangler

    Just a point of clarification: the force used to evict someone is not a response to failure to pay. It’s a response to failure to leave a house which doesn’t rightfully belong to them — which means that force is a response rather than an initiation of force.

    If you want to argue that the house ought to rightfully belong to the tenant then we can examine that claim but it would be a seperate matter to consider. Only if the claim that the house rightfully belongs to the tenant is true can the use of force to evict them be rightly considered an initiation of force.

    I’m not being sarcastic, either. In many cases under statist law, the landlord might not be a legit owner in terms of libertarian theory and, so, the place very well MAY rightly belong to the tenant.

    1. Matt D. Harris

      Brad, how can it be claimed that simply peacefully residing in a given place of residence is the initiation of force when no one else was otherwise using it?   To occupy someone else’s home, that is, to deprive them of their privacy and use of their residence, could be considered an initiation of force, /perhaps/, or just a douchebag move.  However it’s clearly not an initiation of force to simply continue to occupy a residence which you have been occupying exclusively, regardless of whether you pay someone or not. 

      1. MerlinYoda

        Most (if not all) rental agreements involve some sort of contract. The consequence of habitual failure to pay rent is spelled out in the contract as the landlord having the right (under the contract) to evict you for such failure to pay. Since when does anything under the anarcho-capitalist banner invalidate contracts entered into by two private individuals?

        1. jamayla

           

          Since when does anything under the anarcho-capitalist banner invalidate contracts entered into by two private individuals?

          Since when does anarchism have anything to do with decrying state authority while justifying identical arrangements in the ‘private sphere’ simply because someone signed a piece of paper? There is nothing voluntary about an arrangement in which the majority of people have no choice but to contract with a privileged minority for sustenance.

          The ‘But the worker/tenant signed a voluntary contract!’ bleating from ancaps is no different than ‘America: love it or leave it!’ jingoism. Every anarchist has heard the “If you don’t like the state, why don’t you just leave?” argument from authoritarians in which they conveniently leave out the part where you’ll simply be moving to another state.  People are tired of being chattel; they don’t care whether their slavery is called ‘taxes’ or ‘rent’, whether their masters are ‘politicians’ or ‘bosses, bankers, & lords’.

          Ancaps will argue that (unlike the state), bosses & lords aren’t “holding a gun”, so these transactions are voluntary. I suspect that such people live in La-La Land or something – it isn’t the case that something is either wholly voluntary or violently coercive; there are many degrees of force. The fact that Person A doesn’t use naked force to directly compel Person B doesn’t mean that the arrangement between A & B is ‘voluntary’.

          1. William Hinds

            Then don’t contract. I took it to be self-evident that ANY anarchist society would allow for opt-outs.

            Homesteading being just one of many forms of opting out of rent.

          2. jamayla

             

            Then don’t contract.

             This is like saying, “Well, don’t get yourself raped, then!”

             The only reason wage labor & rent exist as institutions is because alternative ways of living are denied us. These institutions are coercive both historically & presently – no formerly self-sufficient, agrarian population has ever ‘voluntarily’ transitioned to wage labor -  just as the transition to industrial wage labor in Europe was pushed along by land enclosure & laws against vagrancy, European colonialists in Africa often instituted taxes to goad the native population into selling their labor to bosses. This is true the world over – wage labor & rent are sustained by tight controls on the public’s access to the landbase, and by legal titles upholding absentee owners’ claims to their ‘property’.
             
            There are already more than enough unoccupied buildings (foreclosed homes ‘owned’ by a bank, businesses who’ve folded, old abandoned buildings, and more) to house anyone who’d like shelter; but needy people who attempt to reside in them are currently prosecuted as ‘squatters’ because these buildings are someone else’s ‘property’. In a stateless world, absentee owners would have no means by which to enforce these property claims, and unoccupied buildings would be up for grabs. There’d be about as much demand for landlords (or bosses & cops) as there’d be for a DMV.

          3. William Hinds

            By paragraph:

            1. No, it really is not. As a matter of fact, I find that analogy to be crass and disgusting.

            2. You are correct as much as anything can be certain or correct, allowing for minuscule exceptions.

            3. Yes, there are more buildings than paying renters. In a stateless world, many individuals (my self included) will find no-state alternatives to securing our property rights.Its like nobody here commenting has read “Practical Anarchy”… I am done with this topic unless anyone wants me as a guest for their podcast. :D

          4. jamayla

            1. No, it really is not. As a matter of fact, I find that analogy to be crass and disgusting.

             I find pro-capitalist apologetics crass and disgusting; and as someone who’s been directly harmed by both capitalism & sexual violence, I feel confident making the analogy.

             

            In a stateless world, many individuals (my self included) will find no-state alternatives to securing our property rights.

             Privatizing oppression (e.g. private cops, courts, and/or prisons) has nothing to do with anarchism. Furthermore, in the absence of a state forcing adherence to your will, people (anarchists, in particular) aren’t going to care about your ‘property rights’ – if you’re asserting some claim over resources you aren’t personally using/occupying & are willing to use force to back it up, you’ll most likely be shot.

          5. jamayla

             Capitalists love to shift the goalposts this way, exclaiming, “Aha! You commie reds are going to initiate force against me & my private property!”

            Again, the question isn’t whether anarchists are going to ‘initiate force’ against you; but whether you’re willing to use force to enforce your property norms – would you endorse the use of violence to quell a worker uprising? Do you endorse the use of force to expel people (broke tenants, ‘squatters’) from homes ‘owned’ by someone who isn’t occupying them? (These aren’t rhetorical questions, btw; I’m hoping for a response.)

            If so, your views have absolutely zero in common with the past & present anarchist community – propertarian ‘anarchists’ are on the same intellectual footing as Glenn Beck-style neocons who try to pass themselves off as ‘libertarians’. Just as war-mongering & xenophobia have zero to do with libertarianism, propertarianism & pro-capitalist apologetics have zero to do with anarchism, no matter how many out-of-context quotes from Spooner, Proudhon, etc. that ancaps extract from their butts. If you people persist in calling yourselves ‘anarchists’ & expect us to agree, I hope you have the same response when Reaganites & Glenn Beckians call themselves ‘libertarians’.

          6. jamayla

             Capitalists love to shift the goalposts this way, exclaiming, “Aha! You commie reds are going to initiate force against me & my private property!”

            Again, the question isn’t whether anarchists are going to ‘initiate force’ against you; but whether you’re willing to use force to enforce your property norms – would you endorse the use of violence to quell a worker uprising? Do you endorse the use of force to expel people (broke tenants, ‘squatters’) from homes ‘owned’ by someone who isn’t occupying them? (These aren’t rhetorical questions, btw; I’m hoping for a response.)

            If so, your views have absolutely zero in common with the past & present anarchist community – propertarian ‘anarchists’ are on the same intellectual footing as Glenn Beck-style neocons who try to pass themselves off as ‘libertarians’. Just as war-mongering & xenophobia have zero to do with libertarianism, propertarianism & pro-capitalist apologetics have zero to do with anarchism, no matter how many out-of-context quotes from Spooner, Proudhon, etc. that ancaps extract from their butts. If you people persist in calling yourselves ‘anarchists’ & expect us to agree, I hope you have the same response when Reaganites & Glenn Beckians call themselves ‘libertarians’.

          7. William Hinds

            “You people”?

            Oy vey, the collectivism is so pervasive in your dialectic that you cannot treat me as an individual. You and Matt come in here and present straw-men of ancap ideas, then expect me to give a fuck. No, I do not. If you have not read Practical Anarchy, you are not up to date on modern anarcho-capitalist thought.

            Thusly, you would be incapable of debating me since you apparently do not understand “my side”.

          8. jamayla

            You…come in here and present straw-men of ancap ideas

             Ancaps are propertarians (i.e. they believe that those who invest capital into some venture are thereby wholly entitled to profit from it when they aren’t personally using or laboring upon the resources; or more specifically, that the ownership claims of bosses & landlords are legit). This isn’t a ‘straw man’; it’s what ancaps actually believe.

             Furthermore, you didn’t answer either question I asked.

             

            you would be incapable of debating me since you apparently do not understand “my side”.

             Yeah, I’ve seen it all before – the Austrian economics swill, Rothbard’s swill, the Stefan Molyneux fan club, and cherry-picked/out-of-context quotes from old school anarchists like Spooner & Proudhon. Arguing that I can’t criticize you simply because I haven’t read your personal favorite piece of ancap blather is like arguing that you can’t criticize me simply because you haven’t read every single issue of ‘Species Traitor’ ever released.

          9. William Hinds

            Why are you reiterating anything? I will not answer your questions, because they have been answered better by others in the books you refuse to read. Why should I bother attempting to educate the self-proclaimed uneducable?  Since you have seen it all before, you already know all the answers. 

            When did you become an anti-civver? when you needed new rhetoric to spice up your politics, which had become boring as fuck? Probably.

            Here, check it: http://crimethinc.com/texts/selected/asfuck.php

            You are boring, your dishonest debate tactics are boring, your politics are boring and so are your pseudo-intellectual logorrheic screeds. All of your questions have been answered in boring fashion elsewhere. 

          10. Matt D. Harris

            Wait, what?  You’re advocating in favor of lifestyle anarchism here?  LOL!  I’ve met these people. 

            You’re the guy who’s dumpster diving because you think it’s cool, not because you’ve already expended the entirety of the monthly stipend your parents send you. 

            You’re the guy who is criticizing the working class for participating in capitalism while enjoying the fruits of your parents successes in this capitalist system: successes that are out of reach for so many people today. 

            You’re the guy who has dreds because you think it makes you look cool, like Bob Marley, man, but doesn’t actually know anything about reggae culture or the oppression of people in the carribean. 

            You’re the guy who claims to be homeless, but when it rains or snows or gets too hot, shows up back at mom and dad’s with your ditzy pseudo-anarchist girlfriend for a “place to crash”. 

            Yeah.  Lifestyle anarchist.  I know you.  

          11. William Hinds

            You obviously do not know me, I’m a successful capitalist and profiteer. Deal with it.

          12. jamayla

             He probably thinks that ‘we commies’ all like crimethinc.

             I don’t even know why I bother engaging with ancaps anymore; they have so many unwavering base assumptions that are nonsensical. But when I see them spout their nonsense online (the only place you’ll ever see them) I
            just can’t resist
            .

      2. William Hinds

        Failure to abide by the rules laid forth in said rental contract will allow the property owner to seek renumeration as laid out in the default clause of the same. Simple.

        When you violate the rental contract (peacefully or not), you are initiating aggression (in a very passive agressive way) against the property owner. 

        1. Matt D. Harris

          “When you violate the rental contract (peacefully or not), you are
          initiating aggression (in a very passive agressive way) against the
          property owner.”

          You’re saying that, in your ideal society, it’s OK to use violence against someone who has not used violence? 

      3. jamayla

        To occupy someone else’s home, that is, to deprive them of their
        privacy and use of their residence, could be considered an initiation of
        force, /perhaps/, or just a douchebag move.

        This is a useful point you’ve made here, because it reminds me of arguments against intellectual property – basically, if you build a car & I take that car from you, I’m depriving you of its use & initiating force against you. However, if I use your ideas to build a car that resembles yours, I haven’t initiated force against you because I’m not depriving you of your car’s use.

        Similarly, because absentee-owners aren’t personally using/occupying the resources they claim, no one is ‘initiating force’ against them by using these resources without paying – ‘squatters’ can’t deprive owners of the use of buildings when the owners weren’t using (i.e. living in) them in the first place. One might argue that profiting from tenants constitutes ‘use’, but this implies that profiting from copyrights & patents constitutes ‘use’, as well.

    2. jamayla

      Only if the claim that the house rightfully belongs to the tenant is
      true can the use of force to evict them be rightly considered an
      initiation of force.

       The problem here is that arguing points from an ancap point of view requires a host of other absurd assumptions (primarily about ‘rights’ & property) that are completely out of touch with reality – notably, that nebulous ‘social contracts’ justifying state coercion are invalid, while identical arrangements in the ‘private sphere’ are somehow A-OK simply because someone (‘voluntarily’, they will argue) signed a piece of paper.

       For instance, I’d argue that the house doesn’t ‘rightfully’ belong to the lord because tenants sign contracts under varying degrees of financial duress which constitute force; because the lord’s capital with which he created the house is derived from the labor of others; and because the lord is a hoarding parasite who isn’t personally occupying the house, anyway.

      However, to make any judgment against the lord, ancaps would have to look for contractual quibbles (e.g. picking at semantic issues with the contract’s wording) instead of considering the broader social context in which seemingly ‘voluntary’ transactions occur. This is part of why ancap theory is inherently statist, as I argued before.

  2. jamayla

     It’s the proportionality issue that makes propertarians look silliest, I think. Basically, either they’re willing to use excessive (i.e. out of proportion to the ‘offense’) force to defend these property norms, or not. If the former, they aren’t anarchists – put simply, any belief in absentee ‘ownership’ coupled with the claim that the owner has absolute sovereignty over his property justifies totalitarianism – if a capitalist’s claim to resources that he’s not personally occupying/using is legitimate because he’s invested considerable capital into those resources (e.g. building apartments on land he does not occupy; creating a workplace in which he won’t be performing the labor) , then the state’s claim to resources that politicians aren’t personally occupying/using is legitimate because the state has invested capital into those ventures, as well.

     The ancap might protest here, arguing that the state’s funds aren’t generated in a ‘voluntary’ manner in the first place, whereas those of investors somehow are. This argument ignores the fact that investors’ wealth is derived from the labor of others, and that this system depends on the state to exist. Hence, the state’s power to compel taxes is no more coercive than the owners’ of apartment buildings power to compel rent – in either case, there’s no room for those who’d like to opt out.

      1. jamayla

         This isn’t a case of me kicking ancaps out of the ‘true anarchist clubhouse’ simply because they don’t share my views – most anarchists don’t share my (communist-leaning, anti-civ) views, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t anarchists, and it doesn’t mean I think poorly of them – market socialists are certainly anarchists, and many of them are awesome people. Anarchists who honestly think that our current level of technological development is salvageable are certainly anarchists, and many of them are awesome people, too. Ancaps, though, are simply irrelevant offline & a pain in the ass online.

         It’s a matter of historical context & present practice: aside from a few right-wing cranks making weird grainy Youtube videos about silver currency in their basements, ancaps effectively don’t exist in the wider anarchist community – propertarianism is directly opposed to past & present anarchism as it’s been theorized (in literature) & performed (in activism).

        Basically, if I’m pulling a ‘no true Scotsman’ by not regarding ancaps as ‘anarchists’, they’re doing the same by not regarding Glenn Beck as a ‘libertarian’. Ancaps protest when Glenn Beck & his ilk try to pass themselves off as libertarians – Glenn Beckians are a bunch of war-mongering, xenophobic authoritarians who’ve nothing to do with libertarianism. Similarly, I protest when ancaps try to pass themselves off as anarchists – they’re a bunch of capitalist crypto-statists who have nothing to do with anarchism.

          1. jamayla

             

            No matter what you say, you cannot un-ring the bell of your intellectually dishonest rhetoric.

            I’ve presented pretty clear arguments as to why ancaps aren’t anarchists, and why propertarianism is inherently statist. Sorry, but simply shouting “You’re wrong you’re wrong you’re wrong!” at the top of your lungs isn’t a counterargument.

          2. William Hinds

            I pointed out two glaring intellectually dishonest debate tactics in your post. They are now a matter of public record. There is no shouting, only me, informing you that you are not worth debating because you cannot adhere to the rules of debate.

            We could argue, but why should I argue with someone who is so misinformed about ancap that they resort to your level of tactics? 

  3. writerJames

    This feels like a suitable point to ask a naïve question about the fundamental principles of anarchism. Feel free to correct any misconceptions that render it incoherent, or point me to where such obvious things are explained; I’m still getting to grips with the basics on all this stuff.

    I get that the renters’ rights you’re talking about come from an anarchist opposition to the notion of property (as distinct from possession), but what I haven’t quite unravelled yet is: How is this squared with the idea that workers should own the fruits of their labour, with regard to the people who built the structure that’s now being rented?

    I mean, with the current system, paying rent seems like a crucial part of the workers involved in construction being rewarded for their labour, and I’m just not clear how this is resolved in an anarchist system. Again, apologies if I’m sounding muddled, I’m still just starting out in getting my head around these ideas.

    1. Matt D. Harris

      James, it’s a matter of preventing hoarding of resources – more specifically, of natural resources – and most specifically, of land.  Absentee land ownership is a lynchpin of the system of oppression that exists today under state rule.  

      As far as construction workers being rewarded for their labor, it would be up to them and whomever they performed the labor for to work out such compensation.  If someone then goes on to claim absentee ownership of the land and domiciles, then that person is clearly attempting to hoarde natural resources in order to create artificial scarcity.  This doesn’t involve the construction workers, unless the construction workers themselves are attempting to hoarde land in order to create artificial scarcity. 

    1. MerlinYoda

      What would be the “acceptable” resolution of, say, renting out a room in one’s home to someone else which winds up habitually failing (or even unjustly refusing) to pay an agreed-upon rent (either monetarily or even by performing some labor around the house to offset the value of the rent owed).

      I ask because I don’t know of many cases where people have their homes constructed such that they could shut off heat to one specific room and it’s hit and miss as far as shutting off electrical service to only that room and only that room. Would it be an “illegitimate” action to change the locks on them for failing to pay?

    2. Matt D. Harris

       Keep in mind that this isn’t written from my point of view, per se, but rather to attack claims made and positions defended by some self-identified anarcho-capitalists from an anarcho-capitalist perspective, using arguments based on the work of Rothbard and other ancap theorists. 

  4. Neverfox

    First, my own disclaimer: I am not an anarcho-capitalist, but I do align myself closely — if not exactly — with the “freed-market anti-capitalist” crowd that includes people like Johnson, Long, Carson and Chartier. They all have slightly different views of property themselves and I would say that my own views are still fluid. I don’t pretend to have solved all of the philosophical questions, and the result is that I don’t fully claim to be either a pure neo-Lockean or a pure occ/use proponent, though I reserve the right to become either or neither down the line. My main focus, lately, has been to just engage the arguments of others and ask questions so that, by thinking dialectically, I’ll gain more clarity. The reality is that my response may sound a little negative only because I tend to think more deeply about what raises my eyebrows.

    That said…

    clearly the bodily autonomy of the tenant must receive a higher priority in terms of what rights must be respected by others and hence take precedence in such a case. This seems pretty cut and dry to me, but maybe it isn’t to everyone.

    It isn’t to me for a few reasons. First, this doesn’t really get you where you want to go. At best, this would block the landlord from removing the tenent while the tenent was physically and uninterruptedly present on the property. But it was lose its steam the minute they left for work/food/vacation etc. At that point, the landlord’s actions would have little to do with the bodily autonomy of the tenent, and then we’re back to asking who really owns it. It doesn’t do anything to establish a right for the tenent to replace the landlord as the most objectively linked person to the property. You might want to argue that there are other reasons the tenent is more linked, and I’d encourage that, but this here doesn’t seem like a fruitful line to pursue.

    In addition, it’s not clear to me that we want a rule that says bodily autonomy is always more important that other types of rights (if that is indeed your claim here), even if we don’t go as far as accepting all of ancap property theory. I think we would still want to say that grabbing some external object can count as force against a person. If we didn’t, grabbing all of your food would count as non-aggressive, straining the concept of aggression. Now, a thought like that might end up doing more work for the tenent than the landlord but, at the very least, I don’t think you can come right out and say that “clearly the bodily autonomy of the tenant must receive a higher priority” without providing some additional justification.

    the initiation of physical force in order to remove the tenant from the property is clearly not proportional to a simple failure to pay rent in accordance with a contract.

    Clearly? I’m not so sure. First of all, Brad is correct, I think, in clarifying that it isn’t the failure to pay that matters but, rather, remaining on the property. Next, the principle of proportion doesn’t preclude using greater force than is involved in the aggression. As Roderick Long explains:

    Let me guard against a possible misinterpretation of this principle.  It might seem that if the defensive response must be proportionate to the threat, then we can never be justified in using greater force than our aggressor (e.g., killing someone to prevent them from inflicting serious but not fatal harm on us).  I think that would be a mistaken inference.  An aggressive killing is worse than a defensive killing.  Hence aggression need not be fatal in order for deadly force to be a proportionate defensive response to it.

    If we believe that, then it at least seems feasible that the principle could allow that someone could be physically removed for squatting on property. Whether it turns out to actually be the case that some type of physical action is allowed will be a matter we have to reason out…

    …which brings me to my final point here. “Physical force” runs a wide gamut, from gently carrying a non-compliant individual off the property to blowing them up with a nuke. If you’re going to invoke the principle of proportion, you probably shouldn’t be so quick to brush aside the diversity of physical responses, lest one meet it. Personally, I don’t have an intuition that carefully carrying a person off of a piece of property should be lumped in with nukes or even “chopping off hands.”

    Claiming that physical force is an appropriate and proportional retaliation to failure to uphold a business agreement would quickly lead to usurers with scimitars chopping off hands – and human history does speak of such people, justified by societies which felt violence was an appropriate response to failure to meet contractual obligations monetarily.

    Well, OK; but what if it is appropriate and proportional? Isn’t that just so much the worse for those who come along later and assume incorrectly that an appropriate and proportional response justifies any and all violent responses?

  5. Less Antman

    Matt, I believe there is a third and maybe fourth legitimate response you should have included:

    (3) Use all available channels of communication to notify others in the community of the actions of the squatter, and trust the social norms to reject the squatter’s actions and force them out through reputation mechanisms, ostracism and boycott.

    My guess is that this will work well when the absentee owner is a widow whose life savings went into the rental property and not work so well when the absentee owner is an unpopular billionaire.

    (4) Obtain insurance against possible contractual breach through either an insurance company or mutual aid society, so that the loss of the property to the squatter is shared. Item 4 is probably a useful extension of item 3, for it encourages the development of credit rating agencies that will make ostracism and boycott far more effective.  Even without a legal power to evict, there are mechanisms in a free society that can protect sincere landlords from fraudulent tenants without the need for institutionalized violence in enforcement.

    Let me add that this is not an entirely foreign concept in America.  Bankruptcy law through most of American history effectively permitted debtors to obtain a discharge of their unsecured debts without repayment and with the retention of substantial current and all future assets.  No debtor prisons and no right of seizure for unsecured loans.  And yet, unsecured loans have hardly been rare even with their ultimate unenforceability.

    In my view, property has proven itself to be an important source of abundance in those societies that have recognized it, and discarding such a useful social convention would harm the overwhelming majority of ordinary people.  But the assumption that it must be absolute and enforced by violence rather than be a second order good reflecting the goodwill the property owner has earned from the community and be enforced by powerful social norms with the types of exceptions that fill common law (such as the rejection of adhesion and contracts made under duress) is unfounded.

    I come from an ancap background, but I’ve come to strongly respect the criticism of some ancoms, and the works of both David Friedman and Elinor Ostrom have persuaded me that we’re looking at property the wrong way unless we recognize that a right to property is actually a bundle of different rights that both can and should be unbundled instead of just assuming that one is either pro-property or anti-property.

    Anyway, this dialogue needs to continue.

    1. Matt D. Harris

      Seems perfectly reasonable to me.  My essential goal is a society free of the initiation of force.  I identify as anti-propertarian because I believe that defense of some abstract property claims – but most especially, absentee claims to natural resources like land – require the initiation of force.  

  6. Matthew Spaanem

    If there is, as you say, no grounds for removing a squatter from a rental facility then we would quickly see the end to all rental properties. Why would anyone expend the labor or currency to build an apartment building if there was no way for her to ensure that her renters would continue to pay?

    Why would anyone sell their home to another person unless they were compensated in whole upfront? If you stop paying your mortgage to a bank (or previous homeowner) and they have no grounds to remove you from the home then you have stolen it, you are a thief.  

    How are thieves dealt with in anti-property anarchism?

  7. jas skoczowski

    “Just a point of clarification: the force used to evict someone is not a
    response to failure to pay. It’s a response to failure to leave a house
    which doesn’t rightfully belong to them — which means that force is a
    response rather than an initiation of force.” So it’s violent responce for nonviolent beahaviour. So it is initiantion of force.

  8. andycleary

    “Without states to grant titles and police for enforce them with force, there’s no such thing as property ownership.” Just isn’t true: property can exist purely as agreements amongst people to recognize it as such. Two neighbors can simply agree not to eat the corn the other has grown, say, in return for being able to plan around an assumption that the corn they are growing will be there for them to use, and voila’, property is born, without violence, without a state. Of course, such property is not absolute, but that’s the point: by thinking of property as a n absolute, ancaps justify violence and ancoms throw away an incredibly useful conflict-avoiding tool.

Leave a Reply