In Defence of the Bright Line – Aggression and Harm in the Digital Age


In Defence of the Bright Line – Aggression and Harm in the Digital Age

By Duncan Whitmore

In a recent discussion concerning the regulation of so-called “Big Tech”, Jeff Deist has raised the question of whether the proliferation of digital technology requires us to reconsider the traditional, libertarian conception of unlawfulness:

The larger question for libertarians is whether their existing conceptions of property rights, harms, torts, and free speech still work in a thoroughly digital era. Principles may not change, but facts and circumstances certainly do. Rothbard’s strict paradigm for what ought to constitute actionable force, especially as discussed in part II of The Ethics of Liberty, requires some kind of physical invasion of person or property. In doing so, Rothbard necessarily distinguishes between aggression (legally actionable) and the broader idea of “harm.” The former gives rise to tort liability in Rothbardian/libertarian law; the latter is part of the vicissitudes of life and must be endured. Theorists like Professor Walter Block and Stephan Kinsella have expanded on this “physical invasion” rule, applying it to everything from blackmail to defamation to (so-called) intellectual property. Aggression against physical persons or property creates a legally actionable claim, mere harm does not.

But Rothbard’s bright-line rule seems unsatisfying in our digital age. If anything, the complexity of modern information technology and the pace of innovation make the case against bright-line tests. For one thing, the sheer scale of instantaneous information ought to inform our view of aggression vs. harm. A single (false) tweet stating “famous person X is a pedophile” could reach hundreds of millions of people in a day, ruining X’s life forever. This is a bit worse than a punch to X’s nose in a bar fight, to put it mildly.

To avoid taking these remarks out of context, it should be noted that the main purpose of Deist’s article is to reject the option of a “sclerotic federal bureaucracy” resolving problems created by digital technology, in favour of evolutionary regulation arising from the adjudication of real cases. As such, one suspects that Deist is thinking out loud so as to raise possible issues rather than constructing a carefully considered argument regarding the scope of actionable harm. Nevertheless, he does reach an unqualified conclusion:

Libertarians and conservatives should broaden their conceptions of tort and contract remedies, and support the evolution of what constitutes harm in a digital era.

Given such certainty, a detailed examination of the matters that Deist raises is warranted.

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It’s Time to Stop Despairing


It’s Time to Stop Despairing

By Duncan Whitmore

It is difficult not to feel despondent when considering the enormous loss of liberty that has been inflicted by government lockdown policies in response to COVID-19. This despair has been compounded for many on the right by the final failure of Donald Trump’s attempt to challenge November’s presidential election result, together with the sudden, panicked attempt to remove him from office just days before his term expires, as well as the purging of him and prominent cheerleaders from social media. In this vein, the following quotations – all from prominent libertarians or conservative-libertarians – are not unrepresentative:

“2021 is going to be worse than 2020. Sorry”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet: the worst is yet to come”

“The lockdown is permanent, get used to it. It is all about political control. NOBODY HEALTHY IS DYING.”

It is true that any opponents of lockdown policies need to have a realistic grasp of why these draconian policies have been resorted to and how the situation is likely to pan out. Indeed, enough is now known about COVID-19 for us to be well past the point of lending the state the benefit of the doubt in its decision to continue with those policies. Thus, explanations other than the protection of health must be sought.

Nevertheless, the amount of time spent despairing is beginning to come at the expense of time that could be spent working out how to fight back. Happily, Sean Gabb has helped to buck the trend by offering some reasons as to why the past year has not been all that bad. While Gabb acknowledges that his personal circumstances have contributed much to his relatively sanguine view, it is, nevertheless, a refreshing counterbalance to the torrent of doomerism that seems to be erupting from the right. Continue reading

In Praise of David Cameron (& Co): A Libertarian Fatwa


by Keir Martland

Not long ago, I wrote something nasty about Margaret Thatcher for the Libertarian Alliance. Yet even I will concede that in order to be so cruel about the old cow one must inevitably come across as sympathetic to some less than civilised people. In order to attack the Thatcher government and its record one must to some extent deny the existence of the many problems this country faced in 1979: the rampant inflation; the militant trade unionism; the lack of self-respect as a nation; the high rates of direct taxation; the low levels of home ownership. I will concede that even if one takes a dim view of the Thatcher government, there are many allowances that can, and indeed must, be made.

However, when considering the latest tax credits debacle, I am unable to make similar allowances for Mr Cameron and his government. This particular episode is a perfect example of economic illiteracy, legislative incompetence, and constitutional ignorance.

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Debate: We’ve Never Had it So Good


My college’s History Society was to have a debate today, which was cancelled. Censorship! No, actually, revision sessions were scheduled at dinner. But, as the likelihood of this debate taking place before the end of the term is now virtually zero, here is what I intended to say – and will say when it goes ahead. 

Motion – ‘We’ve Never Had it So Good’

I must take issue with this motion. I find it patronising and almost 100% wrong.

Oh, indeed, some qualifications are called for. I won’t try to deny that we are all immeasurably better off than our 1914 counterparts in that we can Skype people, we can live our lives without fear of rickets, polio, or David Lloyd George , and we can go days without having to do anything involving a great deal of physical exertion. Maybe this means we are freer in some sense, but it is certainly not up for debate that we are more comfortable on the whole than our great grandparents were when they were our age. What is up for debate is whether we are, in addition to being better off in terms of lifespan and technology, better off in politics, economics, the law, society, and culture.

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France today – the UK tomorrow


David Davis

Government internet regulation: this is how it will be here, and soonish I guess. Harriet- Harmonisation, Corpus Juris and all that.

Speaking merely personally and very generally, I don’t think we will ever return to a state of even partial liberalism, like what existed for some decades aaround the turn of the 19th Century and a little after. WE’d better try to enjoy what’s left, and make the best of the Endarkenment to come.

There will be local and passing opportuities for skilled people to keep stuff working, here and there, to preserve archives and libraries of knowledge where possible for the distant future, and to try to maintain something of what we might have had.

Joking on Twitter is no laughing matter…


David Davis

…for the thought-Police. Perhaps they ought to go round in threes instead of twos: one will be able to  read, the second can write, and the third wallah will keep a close eye on the two intellectuals.

Some poor sod has been arrested and “bailed pending further enquiries”, and all his usual deviced have been “seized”, for joking on “Twitter” about blowing up a closed Geordie airport…it’s clearly no longer safe to make the sort of joke that’d have been commonplace in a real war.

Concerning of course stuff like “Twitter”, it is an inherently unsafe mode of contact, rather like sharing dirty needles or used condoms. You have no idea who your “folowers” really are – even the word is sinister in these surveilled times.

And I copied this to the Daily Torygraph:-

Nobody who takes his anti-Western Terrorism seriously is going to want to blow up a nothing-airstrip in the British North East. This was a clear joke by an irate traveller.

In these times of hyper-State-hysterial-surveillance – not for “terrorism” but for ultimate control – something like “Twitter” is a very dangerous thing. You do not know the thoughts of everyone who “follows” you.

Furthermore, to want “followers” is vain and empty: you ought not to think that your life contains exciting news for unknown people: Get a proper life instead. (Twitter I predict will die.)

But the central fact remains: those who purport to have our “security” at heart have lost all sense not only of perspective, but of humour.

I hope “Robin Hood Airport” or whatever it’s called, goes bankrupt. With humourless attitudes like that, it deserves to lose all the passengers that can flee from it as fast as possible.

These unthinking security-droids will have to go.

Don’t take offence: it can be infectious.


David Davis

Guess what? Alleged “offence” to the [stricter parts of] the Hindu religion has been given by this:-

If the link is broken by the Torygraph or by threats, I have downloaded it and will reinsert it directly into the post, so don’t worry.

The offence-police clearly are watching minutely, all the detailed activities of what Mao would have called “Wicked capitalists and running-dogs of the Boss Class”. This appeared as a promotional poster in 3 (yes just three) restaurants in Spain.

It’s  __always__ always always something in, or done by, “Western” culture, isn’t it, that does the offending.

__Never__ never the other way about. Strange really, since we are such nice, inoffensive, tolerant and accommodating people. Perhaps you had not noticed this, since we are so submissive. We need to locate the source***, therefore, of all these allegations of “offence”.

You can bet your life that if a whatever-it-is-bar or bistro in somewhere-or-other was to depict a devil brandishing items that looked like a Communion-Wafer and a wine-flaggon, as part of some promotion, nobody in the West would object. We take this sort of stuff in our stride: it’s what we’re like – f*** it, we’re too bloody busy anyway, to worry about these trifles.

I should have thought that, Hindus being broadly associated with the Indian Persuasion, were more sensible than to allow themselves to get caught up as yet more innocent catspaws {like the moslems have been suborned already} in the generalised GramscoFabiaNazis’ war. This war is to destroy what matters about Western Civilisation. Like toleration of others’ customs of free speech, humour, and so on.

This war is run, in the main, by really really nasty Westerners, who hold to atavistic, pre-barbaian even, notions about how a human civilisation ought to look and arrange itself. These particular Gramscotrons will not scruple to use as innocent unaware pawns, those groups and religions who take themselves and their vulgates sufficiently seriously to be persuaded that they can be “offended” by what the controlling Gramscotrons point to.

***Very dangerous people, mostly indigenous, that we allow to flourish in our midst.

As libertarians, we are continually offended, 24/7, by the outpourings of socialists and all other varieties of GramscoFabiaNazi murderers, “dear leaders”, “intellectuals”, “educationists”, “social psycholgists”, politicians and the like. But we get over it and move on. All we really do is plan how to remove all barriers to a pfoperly-functioning minimal-statist (or even non-statist if that is what people actually want) civilisation, in which one is free to __say__ or depict anything one pleases. But in which __ nobody__  may employ coercion, threats or force to drive others in an unwilling direction.

Just like some “Hindus” have “driven” Burger King.