Thursday, April 20, 2017

Block Responds on Abortion

Walter Block has written his promised response to my challenges to his concept of “evictionism”; this being the term he uses for abortion.  Despite his insistence to the contrary, it is a distinction without a difference – as Block himself admits.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Abortion Once Again: a response to Feser, Goodwin, Mosquito, Sadowsky, Vance and Watkins

Only a libertarian would think to base an analysis of the abortion controversy on private property rights. The present paper does just that. On that basis, it concludes that evictionism is the only policy compatible with libertarianism.

I agree on discussing this on the basis of property rights; I disagree, of course, that evictionism is compatible with libertarian property rights.

I will deal with Block’s criticism of the views of Goodwin and Mosquito…well, because the two are one.  Block references three of my posts on this topic (here, here, and here), albeit only two (and the lessor two) made it onto the list of references; I believe this is because I sent him one of the posts as a document and neglected to also send the link.  In any case, I find all of his cites to be accurate and represented sufficiently in context.

I will not go point by point; there are a few key points on which the disagreement lies.  I will focus on these.


I must get a minor annoyance out of the way first: In rebutting the position of Goodwin / Mosquito, Block offers the difficult issue of rape eight times (if I count correctly) as an argument against my position.  Guess how many times I made an argument in the case of rape in the essays cited:  zero.

Now, one might call me a coward for not going there.  Well enough.  I left it out for a simple reason: if agreement cannot be reached in the relatively simple and overwhelmingly more common case of consensual intercourse (my quick and unscientific search reveals that less than 1% of abortions in the US are pregnancies due to rape or incest), there is absolutely no chance of reaching agreement with the added complication of rape.  No one launched a rocket into space without first passing Algebra 1.

It was very distracting to read Block’s rebuttal while having to dodge rebuttals to points I never made.

The Distinction Without a Difference

However, even in this introduction of his, [Goodwin] writes: “Both have written in favor of abortion (Block via his concept of ‘evictionism’)…” The problem here is that this conflates eviction and abortion, two very, very different concepts. The first means, merely, that the woman can expel, detached from, separate herself from, the fetus, and leaves it as an entirely open question as to what will happen to her baby afterward. At present technology, the baby first becomes viable when treated in this manner in the third trimester. Abortion, in very sharp distinction, is entirely a separate matter. It combines two different acts: the first, eviction, and the second, outright murder.

Block does not like conflating “eviction and abortion, two very, very different concepts.”  Let’s see if even Block “leaves it as an entirely open question as to what will happen to her baby afterward.”

Morally, Block describes abortion – specifically partial-birth abortion in the third trimester – as “outright despicable murder.”  Murder, of course, being a violation of the non-aggression principle.  But what of the first two trimesters, when the unborn child is not “viable”?  What sayest thou, Sir Walter the Evictionist?

In saying this, I reveal where my own heart is at: strongly with the pro-life side of this debate. However, this perspective is incorrect, since it would not allow eviction in the first two semesters [sic], when the fetus cannot live outside of the womb, and this is justified under evictionism.

Take a look at the ream of paper in your printer.  Don’t look at the ream: look at a specific space between two specific sheets of paper.  If you need a magnifying glass or the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs $27 million electron microscope, feel free.  The space between those two sheets is wider than the space between evictionism and abortion, certainly in the first two trimesters.

As Block accepts (as do I) that the unborn child is “human” from conception, that would make it…murder.  Consider the first two trimesters as the context for his statement, with one slight modification:

In saying this, I reveal where my own heart is at: strongly with the pro-life side of this debate. However, this perspective is incorrect, since it would not allow eviction in the first two semesters[sic], when the fetus cannot live outside of the womb, and [murder] is justified under evictionism.

Murder, of course, being a violation of the non-aggression principle. 

Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees…

Block cites Goodwin: “However, the woman did take an action in the situation the act of becoming pregnant.”  An incontrovertible point, I thought.  Apparently not for those who find a Grand Canyon’s worth of space between those two sheets of paper.  Block offers:

First, he focuses on the fact that the woman “did take an action” to involve herself in this situation… merely “taking an action” does not logically imply responsibility for the results of that action.

Keep in mind: we are talking about sexual intercourse leading to pregnancy.  For those of you rolling your eyes at Block’s statement, you may skip ahead to the next section; for the rest of you…what?  Some of you are still here?

OK; my parents had a hard time telling me about this stuff, too. 

Please keep the word “logically” from Block’s statement in mind.  Please.

Block offers, as his counter:

If a woman wears a mini skirt in some locales in Egypt, and more recently Cologne, Germany, she is likely to be molested, even raped.  Is she responsible for that attack? Of course not.


A woman opens her window. This makes it easier for a marauder to enter her property.  Is she legally, ethically, responsible for the evil that ensues? Again, of course not, Goodwin to the contrary notwithstanding.

I know most readers of this blog understand the drastic difference in “logic” between consensual intercourse and the examples Block offers.  I hope even those of you reading now – those who need the sex education course – understand this difference.  Block does not. But, let’s move on.

First, a definition of “logical”:

…according to or agreeing with the principles of logic; reasoning in accordance with the principles of logic, as a person or the mind; reasonable; to be expected.

Instead of introducing nonsensical counter examples, let’s just stick to the subject at hand: is it “agreeing with the principles of logic,” is it “reasonable to expect” that pregnancy could follow intercourse?

Too tough a question to wrap your mind around?  Read this, specifically the section labeled “Anatomy.”  Still not convinced?  Do I have to draw a picture?  How about a video instead? (Relax, it is from Khan Academy; none of that XXX stuff here – you won’t find any of that “defending the undefendable” stuff going on around here on this topic.)

For thousands, or millions, of years (depending on which religion you believe) those little guppies have accomplished the task – countless billions of times.  And that’s just counting the human population; let’s call it a few trillion times to capture the non-human contributors and call it a day.

Consider again Block’s statement: “…merely “taking an action” does not logically imply responsibility for the results of that action.”

And keep in mind: we are discussing sexual intercourse and pregnancy, not short skirts and rape, not an open window and an intruder. 

And keep in mind: logic.

And keep in mind the last two syllables of bio-logic.

Walter – do you have any daughters?  What, exactly, have you told them regarding mmm…how shall I put this delicately…date night?  Do you have any sons?  Would you not consider them “responsible” if they told you of an accidental grandchild?

This isn’t a question of libertarian theory – it is a question of logic; many (maybe most) libertarians fail to consider logic when attempting to apply theory.  Don’t be one of these, Walter.  There are already plenty of these on the left side of the libertarian spectrum.

Based on Block’s illogic, he concludes that the unborn child is a trespasser; based on my logic (well, more precisely, thousands or millions of years of demonstrated bio-logic), I conclude that the unborn child is not trespassing as he was invited.

If you believe Block, educate your children accordingly.  The rest of you, come with me.  I bet I will need the larger conference room.

Look in the Mirror, Walter

In my original piece, I first work through established general contract law – all reasonable and consistent with libertarian theory.  I then move to more specific contract law – examining the relationship of landlord and tenant.

In this short section our author likens the relationship of mother and unborn baby to that between landlord and tenant. This seems like a bit of a stretch, even for Goodwin, since the former never signed a lease, no monthly fees were ever paid, etc.

If any plain old ordinary contract is nonsense, then a real estate lease is nonsense on stilts.


I will break this into two pieces.  It is time for some audience participation:

“Let me ask for a show of hands: how many in the audience can come up with a reason that Goodwin would introduce the relationship between a landlord and tenant into this discussion?  You, way in the back; can you give an answer?”

“Mr. Goodwin…is it because Block uses the term “evictionism”; you know, the thing a landlord does to a tenant?”

“Yes, little Tommy.  You get a gold star today.”

Now, to the second part: “do we have any contract lawyers in the room?  Oh, Ok, you in the second row; tell me, does there have to be a signature in order to have a valid contract?”

“Are you pulling my leg?  Of course not.”

“Oh, OK.  How about this: does consideration always have to come in the form of a monetary instrument, or even a physical good?”

“Boy, Mr. Goodwin, you really ask some dumb questions.”

“Class dismissed.”

Reductio ad absurdum

I will leave this one open ended: you, the reader, decide – without any coaching from me.

Goodwin: “Here I speak to causation not in the abortive act (although this could be used to counter Block’s “evictionism” argument), but in conception. The woman’s “conduct” during intercourse brought on the “result” of pregnancy. It is difficult to accept that the woman somehow has no responsibility at all for the pregnancy (and therefore, the unborn child) directly caused by her conduct.”

Block: There is so much wrong here it is hard to know where to begin. Let us start with the fact that the other day I purchased an apple. I’m a relatively big eater of this fruit. This “caused” the price of apples to rise. My “conduct” thus “resulted” in the fact that some other person, a marginal consumer, got priced out of the market and could no longer afford to make a purchase he otherwise would have made. I am thus “responsible” for this “conduct” of mine. The implication would appear to be that I owe this person an apple, or, at the very least, an amount of money equal to the difference between what he would have paid for it in the absence of my “conduct” and with its presence.

Pregnancy following sexual intercourse; the price increase of all other apples due to the purchase of a single apple by Walter.  Discuss amongst yourselves.  I’ll be at the bar…

Who Says Rothbard is Right?

Look: Rothbard basically developed libertarian theory from whole cloth.  He had few shoulders to stand on – Rothbard was the shoulders for us to stand on.  So, to suggest that he wasn’t right about everything doesn’t take away from the 98% of things he was right about; a remarkable accomplishment, given that he basically invented the school.

In many ways, the following is the crux of Block’s argument, yet given all of the points above it may be the least important point he makes.  But let’s go there anyway.

What makes for a proper contract?  In addressing my statements regarding the reasonable reliance that the unborn child has regarding his residence for nine months, Block cites a long section from Rothbard, discussing the “title transfer” theory of contract.  

Rothbard’s theory is that the only valid contracts are those which involve the transfer of property title.  I have written before, it is dangerous (in terms of application) for libertarians to dictate what is and isn’t the valid object of contract unless the object is a violation of the non-aggression principle.

Here I offer just a snippet of the Rothbard cite:

Logically, the strict believer in the ‘promise’ theory of contracts would have to reason as follows: A voluntarily promised B that he or she would marry the other, this set up the expectation of marriage in the other’s mind; therefore this contract must be enforced. A must be forced to marry B.

A very difficult problem for the individual who tries to apply theory without considering humans, I admit.

…there can be no property in someone’s promises or expectations…

Says who? 

Now, what, exactly is “reasonable” in this context of the jilted bride or groom to be?  I know the answer will not be satisfactory to those who espouse theory in disregard to the humans upon which they choose to practice (Walter, I pray this is not you), but “reasonable” is based on custom and culture; “reasonable” is what is acceptable around these here parts.

“Reasonable” around here means until one is married, one isn’t married.  There are some parts of the world (and Kentucky) where this is considered unreasonable – maybe Block can go try to convince them otherwise.  Bring a shotgun, Walter.

Kind of squishy, I know.  If you have an objective definition for “reasonable,” let me know.  I’ll be back at the bar, enjoying a Maker’s Mark…from Kentucky…with a local…his daughter is supposed to get married tomorrow…her beau isn’t sure….

But Block isn’t done with leaning on Rothbard’s “promise theory.”  I offer the unilateral contract – a contract where one party makes an offer to parties unknown; parties that may not even be born yet.  The simplest example is that of the offer of a reward.  I merely extend this example as a unilateral contract offered by the mother, claimed by the unborn child.

…try as he might, he will not be able to overcome the case in favor of evictionism. For offering a reward is making a promise to pay. There is no contract involved.

What?  There is no contract involved with “…a promise to pay”?  I dismiss this statement, definitively.

And, Rothbard’s dismissal of [such] contracts as legally binding is definitive.

“The science is settled!!!!”  Oh, sorry; this post isn’t about man-made global warming. 

I suspect even Rothbard wouldn’t have the gumption to claim that much of anything that he wrote was “definitive.”  I suspect he would read Walter’s statement and let out one of his classic guffaws.

There is no such thing as “definitive” in this context.  There is nothing about the non-aggression principle that is definitive: define aggression, define initiation, or define property…definitively.  To be “definitive” it must be definitive – like…gravity is definitive; 2+2=4 is definitive.  That kind of thing.

Block suggests that an offer for a reward can only be binding if the one doing the offering posts a bond with a third party, blah, blah, blah.  I thought one nice side benefit of libertarianism was less bureaucracy, not more.

Is it so difficult to accept that Rothbard might be a few millionths of an inch away from the truth on this?  Yet, this is Block’s position.  I disagree.  There is not the one definitive, single correct answer deducible from the non-aggression principle on this topic.

No Murray Rothbard sock puppets allowed, Walter; make your case on its merits, not on Rothbard’s reputation.


Block, now responding to Mosquito regarding specific performance clauses – and regarding the validity of such clauses we agree – summarizes:

…this entire line of reasoning, brilliant as it is, founders on the fact that there is no contract, there can be no contract, of any kind, between mother and the sperm and the egg, which are the only entities that exist at the time of voluntary sexual intercourse.

But there is a contract, most specifically a unilateral contract.  Instead of writing it a different way, I will reproduce my original summary:

The woman made an offer; she placed herself in a position of being obligated to a counter-party that might take her up on her offer. The unborn child took her up on the offer, and can therefore enforce the contract – contracts with minors are enforceable by the minor, if the minor chooses to do so; contracts with a minor can only be voided by the minor. I suspect the unborn child would choose to enforce the contract.

Block does not satisfactorily counter this summary or the argument.  Well, he describes the words as “beautiful.”

Returning to Block’s final word on the matter:

Even if we posit that there can be a contract between the mother and the pre-born infant, an entirely heroic assumption this is not sufficient to support the Mosquito’s contention.

I believe a comma is missing in there somewhere. 

Now…Walter insisted that my “entire line of reasoning, brilliant as it is, founders on the fact that there is no contract.” Yet, here he writes “even if we posit that there can be a contract between the mother and the pre-born infant” it is insufficient to support my contention.  One is left to ask the question: Why is a valid contract not sufficient?  Why the contradiction in Walter’s logic?

We are left to ponder….


  1. Block is so disappointing on this topic.

  2. I'm not 100% convinced either way on abortion, but I lean in favor of Block on this.

    It seems to me your case rests on the "reasonable expectation" that pregnancy follows from sexual intercourse. This carries with it the implicit contract, yada yada, abortion(or eviction) violates libertarianism.

    While it is absurd to disagree that pregnancy is caused by intercourse (although, all Christians represent this. An interesting thought, considering most American pro-lifers would use this logic), it doesn't follow that having sexual intercourse brings with it a "reasonable expectation" pregnancy will follow. Could follow, yes, will follow, no. It seems pretty clear that anyone using any form of birth control is making it explicit they do not want a pregnancy to follow. Anyone who has used some form of birth control and had a 100% record of its success through hundreds or thousands of attempts would have a reasonable expectation that pregnancy will not follow intercourse. These success rates are tested and published, no?

    To argue otherwise seems to me like arguing that because I got in a car, I am therefore the responsible party in any car accident I am involved in, regardless of the details of the case because I had a reasonable expectation an accident "could" occur. Obviously not the case in this scenario, why different for sex?

    Seems to me the average person capable of planning for and executing the use of ANY form of birth control has the reasonable expectation pregnancy will NOT result from intercourse. Whether or not this is the case in most of the abortions is not relevant. Am I on to something here?

  3. A baby in the womb discussed, by Block, as nothing more than a landlord-tenant contractual relationship.

    And some wonder why libertarianism does not make headway?

    Like science unconstrained my any ethics other than scientific discovery; leads to a very ugly place.

  4. I always enjoy reading the logic that goes into these discussions. I have read Rothbard, Block and a few others on the subject, and now BM. It provides some perspective on the application of libertarian theory - or its misapplication.

    However... on this particular topic I have yet to read a popular libertarian writer (that's you BM) include the uncertainties of the topic in their logical application. They always state their assumptions, define the situation, then apply their logic. But what happens when their assumptions are wrong, or at least uncertain?

    For example, the assumption the baby is a rights bearing human from conception (and this reflects my personal belief) is near universal. Some logical interpretation murder revolving around whether or when the baby becomes a "viable" human is occasionally brought up which addresses the initial assumption not at all. I know I have read Rothbard argue that animals lack rights because they lack the ability understand and abide by contracts. If that argument is applied to this topic (and I'm not saying it should be), all that NAP logic on both sides goes right out the window.

    My personal belief is that abortion is murder no mater the circumstances, but that belief comes largely from my upbringing and personal religion. I would not use that belief to impose sanctions or punishment on someone who openly practiced abortion, but neither would I associate or do business with them. One of the reasons I follow BMs writing is his focus on culture being a requirement for a libertarian society to function. That culture provides solutions where the NAP falls short. Abortion falls into that category IMO.

    But for the record, I agree with BM's logic over Block's. If you commit an act that could result in another person's life being linked to your own, intentionally ending that person's life is an act of aggression. The two acts combined, having sex then having an abortion, is the very definition of initiating aggression.

    1. “But what happens when their assumptions are wrong, or at least uncertain? For example, the assumption the baby is a rights bearing human from conception (and this reflects my personal belief) is near universal.”

      I had the luxury of avoiding this in the discussion with Block, because he also begins from this assumption.

      “I know I have read Rothbard argue that animals lack rights because they lack the ability understand and abide by contracts.”

      If I recall correctly, I touched on this in my earlier work on this topic. I wonder…at what age does a human – living and breathing the same air that you and I breathe – have “the ability understand and abide by contracts”? Twenty-one? Eighteen? Five? Subjective, based on the capabilities of each individual?

      A reasonable discussion on this point would lead one to the moment after and the moment before birth – and therefore each preceding moment before the moment before birth.

      And then, what are we left with?

      It is difficult to apply Rothbard’s statement to humans.

    2. "It is difficult to apply Rothbard’s statement to humans."

      Knowing what I do about the animal industries, I find it difficult to apply Rothbard's statement to animals.

      From a cultural perspective, I expect a society that approves of sacrificing babies for the convenience of the parent(s) is putting itself at a disadvantage in the long run. Call it a high time-value preference on a collective scale. It can't be a healthy trend.

  5. Jeff continues to speak (type) my thoughts/beliefs. Thank you, kind sir.

  6. Setting aside the moral issues surrounding evictionism(which I think shouldn't be done, but for the sake of argument I will for this point)- the problem logically with Block's argument is that the act of the mother & father is what caused the unborn baby to "trespass".

    So in essence, they committed an act that guaranteed a "criminal" state(in Block's mind) for the unborn child.

    If I picked up someone, plopped them on my property, then killed them for trespassing I would certainly be held accountable and considered a criminal.

    Some may argue that physically putting someone on my property is a NAP violation, fine but the fact remains that the mother/father forced the unborn child into that position as well- the bottom line logic is that if I put someone in a position that makes them an unwitting "criminal"(intent) knowing I'm doing so, that by extension makes me a criminal.

    If Block is going to label the unborn baby a trespasser he has to logically defend that characterization and all the logic that comes with it.