Genghis Khan: I am Genghis Khan. Not the actual one, but the author’s imperfect allegorical reflection. I like to rape, pillage, loot, and in general, be the flail of God.
Libertarian Villager: You shouldn’t do that stuff.
GK: Why shouldn’t I?
LV: It violates self-ownership. Every person owns themselves.
GK: No they don’t. I own them. Don’t you see me deciding who gets raped or killed? Those who live do so by my mercy.
LV: Okay, I stated that incorrectly. Everyone is the rightful owner of their body. You should respect that.
GK: Hahahahaha. I am Genghis Khan. I make my own “should” with warriors and horses.
LV: Rights are not created by force of arms.
GK: <brandishing sword> Yes. They. Are.
LV: No. Self-ownership is a universal. It’s a natural right given by nature or nature’s God. It does not and can not come from violence.
GK: Do you see this birthmark? This birthmark comes from your nature or your nature’s God. It is a sign that I am his flail. You must have committed great sins, otherwise he would not have sent a punishment like me upon you!
LV: You don’t get it. That violates universally preferable behavior. You can’t make up laws that aren’t universal. Rules for behavior must apply equally to all people at the same time.
GK: Where ever my cavalry treads, I can do whatever I want. The only rule is that rules are written and enforced by the strong. This is universal. It applies everywhere. If you were strong, you could make and enforce rules for self-ownership or whatever else, but you’re weak. Clever, but weak.
LV: You’re a barbarian.
GK: Hahahahaha. I will think about this insult while relaxing among the fountains, gold and women of my palace.
LV: I shouldn’t waste my time talking to people like you.
GK: Isn’t that what the socialists say about libertarians?
LV: Well . . . it’s just that this conversation is difficult because you don’t understand economics: voluntary cooperation, division of labor, free trade.
GK: This conversation is difficult because you don’t understand economics: opportunity cost.
LV: You’re not being rational. Anyone pursuing their self-interest will respect the norm of property rights, starting with self-ownership.
GK: I am being rational. I rape so many women that in a few generations, a measurable percentage of Asia’s population will be my progeny. How is that not in my self-interest?
LV: That’s a good point. Um. Okay, what if I told you that by doing so, you prevent the development of civilization.
GK: What is civilization?
LV: Imagine being able to talk to anyone in the world any time you want, being able to fly through the air, to live to an old age, prevent disease, build buildings that reach the clouds, have instant access to all human knowledge that ever existed.
GK: If I stopped pillaging and looting this would happen?
LV: And raping. Yes. It would happen much faster than it otherwise would.
GK: How fast?
LV: A few generations, maybe?
GK: A measurable portion of Asia’s population will be my children.
LV: Maybe civilization will happen in one generation?
GK: My time preference is not so long. I’d rather rape all those women.
LV: Okay, what if civilization would happen a week from now? Stop raping, killing and pillaging, and civilization will happen in a week — more wealth that you could possibly dream about.
GK: That seems unlikely.
LV: Let’s entertain the hypothetical. Okay? You stop raping, killing and pillaging and in just seven days things which now seem like miracles — flight, the internet, medicine — will become possible and accessible to everyone.
GK: Why do I care if they are accessible to everyone?
LV: Don’t you want wealth?
GK: I’d rather have status.
LV: But, but universalism!
GK: Haven’t we been over that?
LV: Oh, right.
GK: You are trying to trick me.
LV: No I’m not. I’m proposing laws which would create civilization and which can apply equally to all people at all times.
GK: The law of strong also applies equally. You also propose a system which gives the clever agency over the strong. I am strong. Why should I accept it?
LV: But everybody will be richer under that system!
GK: I don’t want wealth, I want status. Wealth only interests me as a signal of status, and it only works when I am more wealthy than everyone else. You also prefer status over wealth.
LV: Not true!
GK: You lie, either to me or to yourself. Why are all advocates of property rights clever, capable people? They advocate the system which gives them the most status. I do the same thing. Except I am more strong than clever.
GK: It is time to admit that the law of the strong is no less legitimate than the law of self-ownership, and time to admit that what you call rights come from violence.
LV: Mr. Khan, the world is very large. There are rivers, oceans, forests and mountains which your cavalry does not cross. Beyond them are other peoples. If they create civilization before you do, they will have tanks, bombers, machine guns — weapons against which your cavalry is useless. They will be stronger than you. Your progeny, numerous though they may be, will be at the mercy of these civilizations.
GK: You have my attention. What do you advise?
LV: Respect self-ownership. Respect private property rights. Turn your cavalry into police men who exercise only defensive violence. Let them punish others who violate property rights. In this way, our civilization will develop first.
GK: If your rights are natural, universal, and extensions of biology, then why do you ask for my warriors to establish them?
LV: It would help against people who don’t agree with us.
GK: Against people like me?
LV: Well, yes.
GK: What else should we enforce?
LV: Only property rights. Everything is reducible to property rights.
GK: What if a clever man tricks me?
LV: Buyer beware.
GK: <thinking> . . . If a clever man enters into a contract with me or my progeny and doesn’t provide symmetry of knowledge, in other words if he hides details from me through deliberate omission, I will kill him.
LV: Whoa. Hold on. Omitting information might not qualify as fraud. That would be up to a judge. And even if it did, killing him as punishment is way out of proportion.
GK: Not only will I kill him, I will kill his family, I will kill his neighbors, and I will raze his native city and scatter lye among the ashes so that nothing ever grows there again.
LV: That violates self-ownership.
GK: If the clever steal by sagacity, our covenant is broken, and I will not tolerate my opportunity cost of recognizing property. Secondly, if two other men make an agreement between themselves, using their property which has the external effect of harming me or my progeny, I will kill them and their families and neighbors and raze their native cities.
LV: All rights are property rights. It should be their business.
GK: Lastly, everyone should have a warranty on purchases suitable to the nature of the product. If a seller refuses, I will kill him . . . and maybe his family too.
LV: These are not universal rights. They are arbitrary.
GK: My opportunity cost is very high. These norms are my price. I will cede agency not merely to the clever, but to those who are both clever and honest.
LV: But is not natural.
GK: <brandishing sword again> This is natural.
LV: On second thought, what you propose is close enough. You have a deal. At least these rights which your cavalry will begin enforcing are much closer to universal rights. They are natural extensions of our biology, and vastly superior to the arbitrary thing you call “the right of the strong.”
GK: You’re so cute.
(This allegory intends to question the universalism of libertarianism, highlight the source of de facto property rights, illustrate the incompleteness of the non-aggression principle and suggest that it’s more productive to consider property rights a social norms, one of many.)