There is an important implication of my post from yesterday (or, perhaps more accurately, I should say this post as important implications that lead to yesterday’s post): universally absolute rights are logically impossible.
We tend to hear arguments by libertarians and anarcho-capitalists that certain rights, namely property rights, are absolute (for example, see Murray Rothbard’s article here). No one can prevent us from doing what we want with our property (including our bodies) or enjoying our property as we see fit. While on the surface, this seems reasonable, it is a logically impossible thing to enforce.
Let’s consider an example, similar to the one I gave yesterday. Two neighbors have an abutting piece of land. One neighbor, Joe, has a pool and a nice backyard he enjoys lounging in. However, one thing he does not like is the smell of smoke and the sound of loud noises. These things reduce the enjoyment of his property. The other neighbor, Bob, has a backyard as well, but he likes to sometimes hold barbeques, bonfires, and parties. When he does this, he generates noise and smoke that inevitably flow over to Joe’s yard. In other words, Joe’s “stuff” is being messed with.
If both parties have absolute property rights, how can this situation be resolved? If Joe cannot request, require, or negotiate some end to Bob’s activities, his ability to enjoy his property as he sees fit is diminished by Bob’s actions. Likewise, if Joe’s ability to enjoy his property is maintained, then Bob’s enjoyment of his property must necessarily be reduced by reducing or eliminating his barbeques, bonfires, and parties. Either way, someone‘s property right is not absolute. Something has to give.
It is important to note there is no necessary need for state intervention here. Joe and Bob can (and likely will, absent major costs) find some mutually beneficial arrangement. But that arrangement must result is someone’s rights being attenuated. If one of them has an absolute right, the other cannot.
The question should not be whether some rights are absolute or not. Absolute rights are a logical impossibility. Rather, the question should be how to resolve conflicts that inevitably arise when rights collide. If libertarians cannot address these conflicts, then we necessarily secede the argument of conflict resolution to the statists. By insisting on absolute rights, a logical impossibility, we state outright libertarianism has no place in the real world as it cannot resolve conflicts. This has to end.