On Conflict


When a man enters into conflict with another man, he seeks to employ some means towards some end. Conflict comes when the other man disputes the use of such means or such an end. It is worth noting that ends themselves are best understood as a collection of means, that is, ends can only be achieved by the employment of means, and thus ends are means in and of themselves. Thus, we recognize that all conflicts (at least in the legal sense) are conflicts over scarce goods.

Even in cases of extreme irrationality, irrationality being a lack of foresight or the employment of means towards an end without consideration of the future outcome beyond ends, a person still is initiating a conflict over scarce means.

Take, for instance, a murder of passion. The means, in this case, are the murder weapon, and the use of some person’s body. Why anyone engages in such an act is irrelevant. The conflict over the use of such means has occurred in this act. Person x wishes to use person y’s means, his body, towards the end of the death of person y. Person y wishes to use his scarce means, his body, towards the end of being alive, and thus may employ scarce means (perhaps some weapon of self-defense) towards this end.

While it may seem too technical to employ this “economic” thought towards all conflicts, I would be a fool not to point out that economics is most fundamentally understood as the study of human action. That is, how do humans interact with the commons (nature), and with each other?

The point of the above is to demonstrate that all conflicts, however they may arise, are questions of the legal sphere (to see my discussion on the separation of legality and morality, and to understand why legality is concerned with scarce goods, click here). Thusly, we must conceive of a legal system that settles conflicts. To do so, I will discuss two things: firstly, who has the right to means in any conflict, and then the system itself that arbitrates between the conflict of two or more parties.

Firstly, who has the right to means in any conflict? To discuss this, we must distinguish two types of means: the commons and owned property. The commons are parts of nature that have not yet been homesteaded, in the Lockean sense. The commons become owned property when a person mixes his labor with the commons and employs the commons towards a task. Thus we give property rights to the first homesteader, and he retains possession over a good till he gives it away, trades it, sells it, or abandons it. In this sense, humans own two things. Their bodies (as they are the first users of their body), and any property they own. Thus, in any conflict, nature itself affords rights to the first appropriator, and unless they consent to some trade or sale, or they violate someone else's property, they cannot have this right to property violated.

Let me discuss some objections to this proposition and elaborate on the proposition further. Firstly, can a man be said to have personal property, but not private property? This is an objection proposed by many on the left, who see businesses, housing, or other such items as the means of the collective. However, I believe this to be far from the case. Firstly, if (as many anarcho-communist do) the claim is made that the government must exist to protect private property and keep it in the hands of the bourgeois, then why is this not also the case for personal property? The distinction is not immediately clear. Secondly, when does personal property become private property? There is no clear answer here. Ownership cannot be said to be justified in one instance but not another. Another objection may be that this private property is contingent on what is deemed “the good of society” but this is far from the case. If we hold this view (as many will), then we forfeit the ability to call private property a “right” at all. It is not a right, it is a privilege. But this is not a good foundation for an ethic, especially one that is meant to be transcendent and apply to all instances of political thought. Things are either rights or not, and unlike something like “free” healthcare, which requires government to create, private property rights exist in accordance with nature, which is presupposed by the very legal system in discussion.

Now I will turn to the second question. How ought we defend such private property? Generally speaking, it has been thought that this is the role of government. However, this is actually a minority view (mostly just held by libertarians and minarchists). Most people would either deny absolute private property’s existence or absolute nature. Along with this, the vast majority of people in in favor of the state believe that the state has more functions than merely property protection. There is also a problem with the assumption that such a role must be given to the government, namely that the government functions off of taxes, and these taxes are generally not consensual. But if they are not consensual, then the very property right protectors are themselves property rights violators, and are unfit to provide protection.

Thanks to the great work of austro-libertarian writers such as Dr. Hans Hermann Hoppe and Dr. Robert Murphy (I recommend Dr. Hoppe’s book The Private Production of Defense and Dr. Murphy’s book Chaos Theory), we can conceive of such a system that allows for consensual exchanges of property while maintaining the defense of property from malicious actors. Insurance companies can serve as defense for individuals or collective groups, and unlike the government, they have a much higher incentive to maintain quality protection of the individual over the government, as the government is a monopoly over defense by definition.

There is much more to be written on private defense, especially to offer up the thoughts of the great thinkers above, but I will leave that for a future article.

In conclusion, private property must be upheld in a consensual way, so as to maintain a system that can resolve conflicts over scarce goods.