Mises Academy Course: “Libertarian Controversies”

Next month I’ll be teaching a new Mises Academy course,”Libertarian Controversies.” This is my fourth Mises Academy course (the previous three are Libertarian Legal Theory, Rethinking Intellectual Property: History, Theory, and Economics, and The Social Theory of Hoppe), and my fifth time teaching there (I have reprised the IP course once).

From the course page:

Modern libertarianism is a young, developing and vibrant science. Variants includes classical liberalism, minarchism, and, in its most rigorous form, anarcho-Austrian libertarianism. Libertarians of various stripes are influenced by utilitarian, pragmatic and natural law theories, and by thinkers including Ayn Rand, Hayek, Rothbard, Mises, and others. For decades there has been vigorous debate among different camps of libertarians about a host of controversial issues, from the foundation of rights to the nature of government, and about concrete issues such as abortion, strategy and activism, living in an unfree world, anarchy v. minarchy, punishment and restitution, and so on. In this course, libertarian legal theorist Stephan Kinsella will explore a variety of libertarian misconceptions and controversies, from an Austro-libertarian perspective.

In the discussion about misconceptions, Kinsella will identify a number of common libertarian mistakes, confusions, fallacies or flawed reasoning and propose a solution or more consistent approach. Issues to be discussed include: creation as a source of property rights; labor as being owned; unintentional equivocation (harm, authority, hierarchy, etc.); alienability and voluntary slavery; self-ownership as being “nonsense” or religious/mystical; early America as proto-libertarian/Constitution as quasi-libertarian; “aggression” versus “coercion”; scarcity vs. non-abundance; the NAP as “limiting” property rights; “aggression” versus “harm” and “imposing cost”; use of “Would you push the button” hypotheticals; free speech, presumption of innocence, etc. as “rights”; “human rights”; whether “fighting words” can justify a sock in the nose; punishment of non-customer criminals by PDAs; equivocating use of “fraud”; corporations and limited liability; the possibility of “limited” government; positivism and the “source” of rights/legal vs. logical positivism; restrictive covenants; homesteading of easements; Civil War/Lincoln opposition and “neo-confederacy”; Block’s “Ragnar” hypo; why some parts of legal positivism are libertarian and others not; why libertarians are not opposed to some positive obligations; why contract is not binding promises but title transfer; two related fallacies: “If you can sell it, you own it” and “If you own it, you can sell it”; liability of gangleader or President vs. henchman or soldier; liability for “incitement”; “loser pays” litigation rules; educational vouchers; and many more. Kinsella will also discuss the perils of overusing metaphors in scientific discourse, and provide several examples where it can lead to intellectual confusion. (Some of the issues were previously discussed in Kinsella’s earlier Mises Academy course Libertarian Legal Theory.)

In addition to such common libertarian misconceptions and fallacies, libertarians regularly debate and wrestle with other, more difficult questions such as abortion, activism and voting, minarchy v. anarchy, monarchy vs. democracy, the basis of rights, “thickism,” “capitalism” and left-libertarianism, immigration, restitution vs. punishment, defense vs. retribution, ownership of airwaves (EM spectrum), strict liability, climate change/pollution, the Lockean proviso, justified wars, intra-think tank squabbling, children’s rights, conspiracy theories, federal limits on states vs. state’s rights/decentralism, and so on. Kinsella will identify a number of such issues, questions, dilemmas, and controversies, and provide an overview of the arguments and perspectives of different libertarians on these issues.  For most of these matters, there is not an easy solution or one that all libertarians would readily subscribe to. Here, unlike in the discussion of common misconseptions and fallacies, the purpose of discussion is not propose “the right answer” but to provide perspective and fodder for thought and further analysis.

This course will be taught on Monday evenings, 7pm-8:30pm EDT, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 23, 2011. The course page has registration and additional information.