[ExI] Crying "fire" in a crowded theater: Rothbard's view

dan_ust at yahoo.com dan_ust at yahoo.com
Fri May 1 15:00:25 UTC 2009

--- On Wed, 4/29/09, painlord2k at libero.it <painlord2k at libero.it> wrote:
> I'm talking about a formal contract that people accept
> freely.
> Obviously, people that don't accept the contract of mutual
> defence is probably left alone to fend off for themselves in
> case of troubles.
> Or would be forced to pay more to be defended.

They couldn't be forced; they could only be charged.  And no one could stop them from relying on others -- as in the case of charity.  E.g., were I living in a libertarian society and some person were being attacked, I might come to her or his rescue even if I don't know her or his status in terms of having a formal mutual defense contract with me.
>> How does this relate to Rothbard's view of Holmes
>> crying-fire-in-a-crowded-theater argument?
> My understanding is that Rothbard addresses the
> crying-fire-in-a-crowded-theater argument as a problem of
> free speech, where the Schenck v. United States is not a
> free speech argument but a series of unlawful acts
> undermining the war efforts of the US.

Actually, that's not exactly the way the Court viewed it: the majority opinion was this was a case about where freedom of speech is limited.  In other words, it was about the boundaries of freedom of speech.  Of course, to be sure, these limits were, for the Court, set by the nation being at war.  However, your take on this -- agreeing with the Court, it seems -- is not libertarian, but legalistic.  Yes, if one agrees with a statist court interpreting law in a statist fashion, then you can agree with said limit.  Rothbard -- and here he is not standing outside strict libertarianism -- does not agree.

Also, the crying-fire-in-a-crowded-theater argument is just what Holmes uses to establish that freedom of speech can be limited.  It's an analogy he uses, I take it, because simply arguing as you do would not in his [Holmes'] mind not settle the issue.  (In fact, another constitutional interpretation could be that the First Amendment supersedes any congressional declaration of war -- so that merely by declaring a war, the First Amendment cannot be set aside.  Note: this is not a libertarian interpretation.  The strict libertarian interpretation is that the federal government has NO right to set limits of rights, including setting limits on free expression or drafting individuals.  This strict view seems to me to fit with Extropianism better than the alternative -- the alternative being that governments have a right to abridge individual rights.  The latter -- governmental interpretation and abridgement of rights -- seems to me to be a call for regression
 and turning back civilization from an advance toward posthumanity to barbarism.)

>> In my understanding of Schenck v. United States, I
>> completely and
>> wholeheartedly disagree.  Schenck was not under
>> contractual
>> obligation to the federal government not to express
>> his opinion
>> concerning the draft and the war.
> In fact, Schenck was not incriminated for printing the
> leaflets and distributing them to the wide public or stating
> his opinion in public, but to sending them to drafted men to
> incite them to resist the draft and disobey to lawful orders
> and the words he used were not rational albeit passionate;
> they were directed to incite fear and other strong emotions
> in young men that were vulnerable to them.
> The proper way to prevent the draftees to be sent in war
> was to change the Congress opinion or the electors opinion,
> not push the draftees to mutiny and rebellion.

That's the not the "proper way" from a libertarian perspective, but from a statist one.  The libertarian view would be to call the draft itself unjust and thus to be resisted period.  (The only limits to said resistance would be that no one's rights be violated in the process.  That the Congress declared war gives it and the rest of the government no special right to ensalve (to draft) and no right to prevent someone from expressing views that will undermine the government's efforts to enslave or to make war.)

>> Even if he were under some sort of
>> obligation for common defence -- something that
>> remains to be proved
>> -- it's hard to see how that same government's
>> involvement in a
>> European war had anything to do with the common
>> defence.
> This would become a longer thread, so maybe it is better
> not start it now. I limit myself to note that the best way
> to help people after a earthquake is to build earthquake
> resistant homes before the earthquake.

And while US involvement in World War One is a long debate, the actual outcome was not to make, to stick with your metaphor, "earthquake resistant home," but to make the homes more vulnerable to earthquakes.  After all, it set the stage for a much worse conflict and the aftermath of that was the Cold War.  (My opinion is US involvement in World War One actually made the world safe for the British and French states to expand into the Middle East and for fascism and communism to rise -- the fruits of which we're still seeing to this day.  Hard to say what might have been, but my guess is had the US stayed out of that European war, Germany would've eventually been forced to negotiate, but the outcome would've been much more limited -- rather than the British and French dictating terms to the losers.)
>> At best,
>> it'd be a matter of opinion and one could easily
>> imagine a reasonable
>> opinion against that war being for common defence.
> In fact, I'm sure many were against the war but only a few
> went if jail.

But the point is many were silenced.  In fact, the government (or any criminal gang) need only make an example or two to silence many more.  This is exactly the kind of thing I think goes against an open and Extropian society: the fear that expressing an opinion that goes against official policy, especially during a supposed emergency, is quashed.  In fact, it's during crises and emergencies when elites all too often suppress contrary views and rationalize this suppression in the name of the greater good -- a greater good which they, notably, define and supposedly speak for.




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