In 1999 I offered a
qualified defense of a pro-perty rights-based
“duty to tolerate”
against a traditionalist Catholic's ridicule of the same. In
I added an asterisked note citing an eminent libertarian theoretician's
denial of my position that a libertarian society must tolerate
anti-libertarian advocacy if it consists in the exercise of one's property
rights and the violation of no one else's.
Two Cheers for Locke
Jeffrey Bond’s dialectical alchemy by
which he morphed John Locke, a Christian philoso-pher of freedom, into a
tyrannical anti-Christ seemed plausible only because he overlooked Locke’s
doctrine of property. The “duty to tolerate” that Bond disparages
presupposes that doctrine: the objects of toleration are property
owners, not propositions.
Religious division characterizes not only
mankind as a whole, but also significant subsets thereof, e.g., the
English people of the 17th century or the American people of the 21st.
Painful awareness of this fact inspired the first formulation of the duty
to tolerate. Given the volatile potential of ethical and religious
diversity in the same polity, how can we agree to limit interpersonal
Locke believed that, unlike animals who
only physically control things, people morally own things as well:
it is morally wrong for one person to interfere with another’s use of his
justly held property, even in the name of religion. Within the limits of
one’s property one ought to be free from threats of violence for
disobeying God’s laws except where such disobedience violates
someone’s property rights. To sin is to abuse liberty, but no less an
exercise thereof. To violently interfere with another’s sinning within
the limits of his property is itself a sin that should also be a
Men have purposes, and they act to
achieve them by using scarce resources. After the Garden of Eden, resource
competition is a given. If there is to be civil life instead of permanent
civil war, men must agree about how one justly acquires ownership of
scarce resources and how to deal with those who acquire them unjustly.
All members of society share roughly the
same physical domain, the totality of things on which they
physically could act. To reduce violent conflict, however, we need
to know what things fall within each member’s moral domain, the
range of things on which he may act, outside of which domain he may
not. Once we know that, the liberal imperative is clear: act within, and
only within, your moral domain; refrain from acting outside of that
domain. The duty to tolerate follows as a corollary: tolerate the
within-domain actions of others.
To tolerate is not to celebrate. I
tolerate your acting within your moral domain when I put up with
something you do that I think is morally reprehensible. If you justly own
a thing, you may use, consume, alter, give away, exchange, or destroy it.
If I approve, I will encourage you. If I disapprove, I must nevertheless
tolerate you. For if I were morally within my rights to express my
disapproval by depriving you of your property or its use, I would be
implying that it was in effect mine and not yours. If you could later
overpower me, you could make “my” property “yours” again. There is no
civil life where this kind of alternation of possession is the norm.
What are Locke’s rules for just
ownership? First, each person owns his own body. Second, he owns whatever
he may find in nature that was unowned but with which he “mixes his labor”
by picking it up, fencing it off, or cultivating it. Third, he owns the
increase his property yields. Fourth, he owns what he acquires through the
exchange of property with another. Fifth, he owns what others give him
outright from their justly owned property. One may test each of these
assertions by reflecting on its denial.
These rules yield a single policy toward
both illiberals and deniers of geometrical theo-rems: we may combat either
intellectually, but we must tolerate both within the limits of their
property. Here is where the liberal rubber meets the illiberal road. No
doubt Bond would ignore the geometry denier, so long as his denial
remained merely verbal, but Bond would probably not show the same benign
neglect toward the person who openly denied a Catholic dogma.
In an illiberal Catholic State, the
expres-sion of heresy would be a capital crime. For if heretics endanger
souls and if the civil authority ought to promote their salvation, then it
has the right to execute heretics. Bond does not formulate this syllogism,
but I challenge him to repudiate or affirm it. It bears directly on the
issue between traditional Catholicism and its liberal challenger.
Locke could provide a framework within
which both illiberals as well as liberals would be free, but that was not
enough to please the former. A theorist of a liberal regime can only
recommend the outlawry of actions that undermine it and the surveillance
of those inclined to commit them. Liberalism is like other political
theories in this respect.
Bond thinks this fatally undermines
liberal-ism. For if we’re really all illiberals under the skin, he argues,
then the so-called “liberal” contradicts his profession of tolerance if he
keeps any party of illiberals under surveil-lance. Once again, however, the
doctrine of property rights illuminates the solution: illiber-als may
propagandize and organize in a liberal society without fear of reprisal.
Should they convince a critical mass of liberal citizens to renounce Locke
and all his works, then that liberal polity would soon dissolve. Liberals
will not stand idly by, however, while their enemies cause its
overthrow. (Cause, please note, not merely motivate people to
Liberals must, for example, tolerate
mon-archist rallies, publications, broadcasts, and other actions that
further monarchism, but oppose any attempt to impose a monarchy. Again,
Communists may propagandize freely against property rights,* but if they
try to set up a Communist regime with other people’s property, they must
be prosecuted as thieves. Similarly, traditional Catholics may persuade as
many people as they can that the Catholic Church alone has religious
truth, but Catholics may not, even when they are the majority, force
people to act like Catholics or suppress non- or anti-Catholic opinions.
Liberals violate no one’s rights if they take illiberals seriously by
keeping a watchful eye on them.
John Locke believed people of opposed
reli-gious convictions could co-exist in the same polity and peacefully
pursue their sometimes convergent, sometimes divergent, interests. For
that he deserves one cheer. Another goes to his theory of property rights
as interper-sonal boundaries. For his theory of ideas, however, a Bronx
cheer. There is no neces-sary connection, however, between his epis-temology
and his politics: the duty to tolerate neither presupposes nor entails
indifferentism, agnosticism, idealism, or skepticism. Murray Rothbard
(1926-1995), for instance, was a radical Lockean in politics and a Thomist
realist in epistemology.
Locke did not take the logic of property
rights to its anarchistic conclusion. Had he done so, there would have
been no room in his system for a civil magistrate to put Catholics, or
anyone else, under a cloud. The individu-alist anarchists of the 19th and
20th centuries took that step, Rothbard being the most systematic and
scholarly among them. Strict adherence to Lockean rules of ownership
is a firewall against the emergence and con-tinuance of rights-violating
States that tax, conscript, and forbid and compel certain exchanges of
property between their owners.
That Locke regarded Catholics as disloyal
subjects of the English crown should not affect one’s assessment of
liberalism. Today’s liber-als, or libertarians, have gone beyond their
philosophical grandfather in theory and in practice. Perhaps one day their
thought will be engaged directly in the pages of The Roman Forum.
Bond, “Locke’s Doctrine of Tolera-tion: A Contract with Nothingness,”
The Roman Forum, Feb. 1999.
2 See his
The Ethics of
New York: New York University Press, Second Edition, 1998.
* Libertarian theoretician Hans-Hermann
soon as mature members of society habitually express accep-tance or even
advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy
(majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members,
and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively
and, in the case of continued noncon-formity, exclude and ultimately expel
these members from soci-ety. In a covenant concluded among
proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protect-ing their
private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech
exists, not even to un-limited speech on one's own tenant-property.
One may say in-numerable things and promote al-most any idea under the
sun, but naturally no one is permitted to ad-vocate ideas contrary to the
very purpose of the covenant of pre-serving and protecting private pro-perty,
such as democracy and communism. There can be no tol-erance toward
democrats and com-munists in a libertarian social order. They will
have to be phy-sically separated and expelled from society.
Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protect-ing family and
kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting
lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They—the
advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as,
for in-stance, individual hedonism, para-sitism, nature-environment wor-ship,
homosexuality, or commun-ism—will
have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a
Democracy: The God That Failed,
Transaction Publishers, 2001, 218.
does not, however, tell his reader what the separation, expulsion, and
physical re-moval of advocates of dangerous ideas might consist of.
Unless those actions are voluntary refusals, on virtually everyone else's
part, to have any dealings with such advocates—which
boycotts could have the same effect as physical ejection—it
is hard to see how a libertarian society's
could encom-pass the possibility of ejecting someone for peaceful advocacy.
August 17, 2007