Comments Related to Tucker/Wenzel Feud (Hint: ©)
The feud has to do with their respective stances on intellectual property, but seems to have spilled over into very petty nitpickery of late. Tucker criticizes IP as monopolistic. Wenzel defends it as no different than private property. I think that economics* and Natural Law Theory are on Tucker’s side and that Wenzel, like most anyone on at least one issue, has his blinders on. In a related debate between Kinsella and Wenzel, I see the same thing going on. My comments touch on this a little, but also briefly on the distinctions between Anti-IP Natural Law anarchists (Tucker, Kinsella, Hoppe), Pro-IP Natural Law anarchists (Rothbard and Wenzel), and certain minarcists (in this specific case, the Theonomist, Gary North, but for other minarchists that support IP, look to the Objectivist school of Ayn Rand, and for minarchists that despise IP, start with this wonderful article), as well as the similarity between Rothbard’s “Pro-IP” views and certain later Rothbardians’ “Anti-IP” views. This similarity resides in their agreement that the human will trumps contracts. So, technically, even Rothbard was Anti-IP where enforcement of copyrights as contracts amounted to “voluntary slavery.”
I too am Calvinist in my theology, as well as a libertarian. I don’t see how being opposed to IP is any more leftist than being opposed to other traditional “conservative” values, like imperialism, protectionism, censorship, etc. Nothing is more obvious than that if you have to protect “ideas” that are written in an exact and lengthy form it is arbitrary to not protect all ideas in any and every conceivable form. If you didn’t do this you would essentially be subsidizing one group at the expense of another. In the logical extreme, as Tony pointed out above, if you want to be consistent and just, then there is not a single idea out there, no, not one, no matter how small or common or abstract or basic, that doesn’t belong to someone or someone’s heirs. In which case we are all unabashed free-riding, free-loading crooks and thieves, even those of us way up on our oh-so high pro-IP horse. Also, I find it somewhat ironic that you cite both Rothbard and North on IP in spite of their disagreements on anarchy vs. minarchy (and Natural Law vs. Biblical Law) and then are critical of others who are not minarchists (and like Rothbard, are Natural Law anarchists: Tucker, Kinsella, Hoppe, who are nothing if not clearly right-of-center in the Anarcho-Capitalist community) who disagree (it is a much smaller disagreement than you seem to think, and I will explain why below) with Rothbard, but this is ONLY because they extend his principles further. It leaves me wondering whether you are an anarchist or a minarchist (FYI, I am better described as an anarchist than a minarchist myself, but that is a semantic issue for me) yourself and whether you are a Natural Law theorist or a Theonomist (this is an important distinction, because if you are the latter, then your citation of Rothbard makes no sense in your support of IP, because he supported it on different grounds entirely, grounds that could be extended to reject it as well). Rothbard’s stance on copyrights was not (I paraphrase): “I support them, willy-nilly,” it was, “I support contracts, and thus if a copyright is seen as nothing more than a contract, it is legitimate.” However, Murray also believed in the inviolability of the will. This means that contracts, if permanently enforceable in perpetuity, or even if enforceable for one second longer than either signee wants, are nothing short of voluntary slavery, which is illegitimate in Rothbard’s conception of Natural Law (and only quasi-legitimate in Biblical Law). Thus, there can be no absolute intellectual property rights. But property rights are supposed to be absolute. So it follows that IP is not really property. The individual object on which the idea is printed or stored certainly is property, and is transferrable under contract, but said contract can not contradict the self-ownership principle (in the same way that voluntary slavery does). Even a voluntary contract that states “the signee will not copy or distribute without explicit permission from the author” can and must be violated if the alternative is the violation of the will. Of course, contractarians and utilitarians and Objectivists and Theonomists are free to reject this interpretation, but so long as Rothbard is cited as an authority it should be plain that we are not talking about those groups. All this refutation of IP without even examining criticisms of Locke’s (a sometimes Calvinist, sometimes deist, but a Natural Law Theorist rather than a Biblical Law Theorist) misguided (and disastrous for the world) theories of value and property.
You are mistaken on North’s reverence for the Constitution. He wrote a book on this subject called Conspiracy in Philadelphia. He is one of the harshest libertarian critics of the US Constitution. Now, he, and I presume even you would tend to think that if the Constitution was at least followed to the letter, the people living in the US would be better off. They wouldn’t be living in perfect libertarian harmony as the Constitution is still a statist document, but it is no crime for a libertarian to hearken back to a more benign statist era than the one in which he presently resides. There is a fairly common libertarian strategy called gradualism that allows for this sort of thinking. We are all gradualists at some level, even those of us who foolishly reject the term outright because we are too proud or too set in our ways to see it. It is not to be confused with compromise, which can be found at formerly libertarian institutes (who at least still occasionally crank out something good) like Cato or Reason. Compromise gets you nowhere. But moving back to a more benign statism, a minarchy, especially as a temporary move, is not compromise. If anything, more ground is gained than is given up (though perhaps not a single inch of ground was ceded to the enemy). Of course, I happen to think it is not possible to adhere to the original intent of the Constitution anymore, but it does not mean that if we did do exactly that, by some miracle, we would not be better off. I’m with Tucker on IP, but I still love Mr. Wenzel. I look at this as just another one of those meaningless feuds that won’t do anyone any good.
*Not trying to engage in the argument from authority fallacy here: but it is worth noting that Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk’s views on IP were hostile. and since the founder of the Austrian School, Carl Menger was unclear on the issue, his student E.B.B. is the closest thing to being the first Austrian making a pronouncement on the evils of ©. So this is hardly something radical or Marxian in origin, as some Pro-IP libertarians and conservatives would suggest.