I need to give you some background for this article. Don’t worry
if it looks like I’m wandering, I’m only setting the stage. I’ll be getting to
the point in a minute or two.
I follow a blog—Bionic Mosquito. You can see it here. It’s a mix of hard-core philosophy, libertarianism, Christianity, and the never-ending quest for truth. Sometimes the author, Bionic Mosquito (or BM, as he is known), gets into subject matter which I am not interested in and I skim through it and move on. Other times, he presents a topic to which I go back, over and over, until I have it thoroughly understood. Occasionally I comment.
Recently, a post on ethical absolutism appeared which drew my attention. In this, Bionic Mosquito posted some comments by Murray Rothbard, the demi-god[i] of libertarianism. Rothbard was apparently in disagreement with Ludwig von Mises, who was instrumental in the creation of Austrian economics, about the question of ethics. Is ethics absolute or relative? Is there an objective truth or is all truth subjective?
Rothbard had this to say.
“The absolutist believes that man’s
mind, employing reason (which according to some absolutists is divinely
inspired, according to others is given by nature), is capable of discovering
and knowing truth: including the truth about reality, and the truth about what
is best for man and best for himself as an individual.”
I have included here a quote from
Bionic Mosquito’s post. He makes an argument that I cannot improve on.
“I could probably stop here;
from this statement, two points are clear: first, that there is an objective
truth regarding humans and for humans, and second, that it is to be discovered
by humans, not created by humans.
But I won’t stop here; his statements grow ever stronger and more
Back to Rothbard.
“Philosophically, I believe that
libertarianism — and the wider creed of sound individualism of which
libertarianism is a part — must rest on absolutism and deny relativism.”
All right, then, so far, so good.
Rothbard (and Bionic Mosquito) states that there is an objective truth that man
can find if he searches for it. That truth is best for man as an individual and
as a society. Furthermore, it does not come from man, but it is available to
man. He (Rothbard) then states without any doubt or equivocation that
libertarianism “must rest on absolutism and deny relativism.”
OK, let’s get to my argument.
If Rothbard could be so certain that there was absolute truth, an absolute ethic, an absolute moral code that he would bank his life’s work on it, then why in the world would he spend so much time and effort trying to justify abortion as a woman’s right? Why would he pursue the idea of ‘property rights’ so vigorously that he arrived at the conclusion that a woman’s subjective decision could override the objective truth about the unborn child in her womb?
“The proper groundwork for analysis of
abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies
immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she
has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the
fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to
this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent.
But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer,
then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the
mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion
should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the
expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body.2 Any laws restricting
or pro- hibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.”[i]
Rothbard says that there is an absolute ethic, an objective moral code which all men and women would be better off following, but spends a large part of his life on the issue of property rights—compelling him to declare that women have absolute ownership of their bodies and the concomitant right to destroy their unborn children.
If there is an absolute, objective moral code which declares that all human beings have value and that to kill one is to commit murder, then it is certain that killing an unborn child is murder, because it is without doubt a human being. If this is true, then Rothbard is wrong. It is my opinion that he became so caught up in the theory of property rights that it simply transcended his viewpoint about absolute ethics. In other words, he lost sight of the forest looking at the trees.
The question to ask then is this. Is there an absolute code
which declares that unborn children are human beings, that they have value in
the sight of that code, and that it is wrong to treat them as so many are today—torn
apart and thrown away? I have no better answer than this quote from the
Ultimate Definer of absolute morality, ethics, and truth.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; …”—Jeremiah 1:5
the circles of libertarian thought, Rothbard is viewed with the same type of reverence
and awe that Hercules was in ancient Greek Mythology.
Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, 1998 ,
pg. 98. See this review.