1. In the jihad case, Rothbardian liberty correctly prohibits the conquest and Lesterian liberty permits it.

2. Lester considers promises and contracts. It’s hard to tell from this section how he differentiates these. I think he generally follows Rothbard in holding that promises are not legally enforceable but contracts are. Now Rothbard argues:

Suppose, for example, that A and B make an agreement, a “contract,” to get married in six months; or that A promises that, in six months’ time, A will give B a certain sum of money. If A breaks these agreements, he may perhaps be morally reprehensible, but he has not implicitly stolen the other person’s property, and therefore such a contract cannot be enforced. … Simple promises, therefore, are not properly enforceable contracts, because breaking them does not involve invasion of property or implicit theft. (EoL, 79)

Note Hobbes’ perspicuous distinction:

For if they be of the time to come, as tomorrow I will give, they are a sign I have not yet given, and consequently that my right is not transferred, but remain till I transfer it by some other act. But if the words be of the time present, or past, as, I have given, or do give to be delivered tomorrow, then this is my tomorrow’s right given away today. … There is a great difference in the signification of [the] words… between I will that this be thine tomorrow, and I will give it thee tomorrow… (quoted in EoL, 142)

But is this position consistent with Lester’s own theory of liberty? I think not, because the breaking of a promise is a definite imposed cost, just like a breach of contract. Lester affirms as much: “So breaking promises is almost always at least slightly illiberal. … It is libertarianly sufficient that such broken promises, as with deceptions, are compensated for to the extent of the imposed inconvenience we cause others by not keeping them.” (82) Does he mean, compensated according to libertarian law or general moral considerations? Regardless, I see no way for Lester to distinguish between mere promises and contracts in this sense, since costs are imposed in breaking either.

Here, on the contrary, Rothbardian liberty properly permits breaking promises, but Lesterian liberty forbids it.

3. Lester deconstructs the term “coercion,” arguing that it’s ill-defined: “plain ‘coercion’ is not necessarily an invasion of ‘liberty’ in the libertarian sense: boxers give prior consent to the possibility of coercion in the ring…” (72) Once again, how would his own theory evaluate a boxing match? The fighters clearly impose considerable costs on each other; in fact, they try intentionally to impose as much as possible. According to the liberty as minimization of imposed costs criterion, their actions are thoroughly unlibertarian.

But of course, when the benefits are also taken into account, we can see that welfare is well-served by the match. The boxers enjoy a chance of the prize money or the prestige of being a champion. All the other accouterments of a high-profile fight, such as the crowd’s fun, the revenue from sales of tickets and advertising, etc., contribute to the overall profit.

Attempting to lower or minimize the imposed costs would of course defeat the purpose. Lester’s idea of liberty again seems like a poor man’s utilitarianism. At the same time, Rothbard would surely permit the fight as contractually agreed to.

Thus, Rothbardian liberty is compatible with welfare in this case, but Lesterian liberty is not.


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