Complaining to Mary:
Christian Libertarians and the Paradox of Blackmail

Libertarians — By on February 2, 2006 at 2:08 am

The medieval monk and scholar Caesarius of Heisterbach tells of hearing a lay brother praying to Jesus: ‘



  • Gordon Mullings

    Hi Joe
    Interesting post. As I reflect onthe dilemma of libertarians, I keep thinking that owning a gun and pointing it are well within my rights, and so is being in the presence of otherp[eople. But combining the two under certain circumstances DOES amount to a dangerous threat!
    Thus, combining otherwise innocent actions can get us into deep waters fast.
    Perhaps the key concept in Tort will help: there are duties of care that we owe to one antother, and to neglect to carry out or reject such a duty lands us in a liability. That is, inaction can be a wrong.
    Thirdly, there is a principle in law on slander and libel, that reputation is valuable and unjust harm to reputation incurs liability. In this context, I think that it is plain that since all of us are struggling sinners, we might want to reflect on how Jesus’ counsel in Matt 7 might help resolve this issue on the personal level:

    MT 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
    MT 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    Now, how that could be put into a legal system, apart from maybe a statute of limitations joined to a community service to work off what we have domne that makes us vulnerable to blackmail, I do not know.
    All the best
    Gordon

  • http://www.soupskitchen.blogspot.com Soup

    My stance toward libertarianism is similar to my view of Arminianism: wrong, but certainly not heretical
    On what basis do you substantiate Arminianism to be “wrong”?
    Do the myriad scriptures referencing Christ’s sacrifice for “all” and for “the world” mean something other than the plain text suggests?
    Do you run roughshod over free will with the concept of predestination when both are clearly Biblical truths taught by scripture?
    I’ve yet to see or hear a satisfactory explanation of the Calvinist conviction that Christ “died for some” (the predestined only) using the light of scripture.

  • http://www.pseudopolymath.com Mark Olson

    Joe,
    Jeremy Pierce at Parablemania recently noted that what makes blackmail ethically wrong is the coercion in his observations on the same Volokh post.

  • Nick

    Joe,
    Do you subscribe to a Christian conservative view of the legality of blackmail? If so, could you summarize it and explain how it avoids the paradox that you see for Christian libertarians?
    How does the Christian libertarian decide what should be considered a crime? How can blackmail be considered a sin that should not also be classified as a crime?
    Is it your contention that all sins should also be crimes? If not, how do you escape this dilemma with regard to other sins and crimes?

  • http://www.pseudopolymath.com Mark Olson

    Oops, guess I should read the whole post carefully until I comment. I’ll crawl back into my hole now. :)

  • http://www.attitudecentral.blogspot.com Pablo

    Arminianism is wrong? How so?

  • Lots

    I have NEVER thought about this paradox before (two whites = black). Call me ignorant! You obviously haven’t provided any answers … but at the very least you’ve given me (a relative nobody) something to talk about for the next few days! :)
    … very interesting … i gotta think about that for bit …
    Lots Tusej

  • http://thomasz.blogspot.com tz

    Blackmail involves “Detraction”.
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chapter 2, Article 8, Section 3:
    2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.[277] He becomes guilty:
    – of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
    – of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;[278]
    – of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
    2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.
    http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/eightnin.html#AGAINST
    The item might not be a personal fault or sin, but might be something like that you were the victim of abuse when you were a child, or that someone in your family has a problem, or some other thing that you will be hurt by if exposed, although you are not guilty in any way.
    Consider “rape shield” laws – there in court where it might bear significance, is it proper to consider wether the victim is a floozy or a virgin? Here there is an absolute law against bringing up the truth in a forum specifically designed to determine the truth.
    I would also give another instance where there is a recognized medical or pastoral privilege on information in court – your pastor or priest cannot be compelled to expose information.
    Lets go a step back and ask if I expose embarassing information or gossip which is FALSE, it would be libel or slander – and ought those be illegal or not as they limit “free speech” in an expansive definition?
    Do you limit speech specifically designed to harm, including shouting “Fire” (or I suppose Anthrax or Sarin today) in a crowded theatre?
    One other factor is whether the person doing the blackmail is entitled to the information. The CSS algorithm for DVD encryption was the source of a bit of humor as it was a trade secret which was part of court records until the MPAA lawyers had those sealed. Do we also accept trade secrets (including private contracts not to disclose) and/or things like copyrights which distributing true data is considered illegal.
    If someone hacks your medical records, and finds you are being treated for an embarassing condition, or one which might cause harm if exposed (e.g. a potentially fatal or contagious disease, but you’ve told no one about it yet and are handling it), they have already committed a crime. The data is not a matter of public record.
    In such cases, an offer to pay for a service is like an offer of a thief to let you buy back the stolen merchandise. The information – the content of the service – has been illegally obtained, so the person has no right to make it public, just as a thief has no right to sell a stolen object.
    I think under such cases – false information, or information illegally obtained – we can agree that asking someone to pay to not be slandered or data-pirated should be illegal as it is a threat of doing an actual crime.
    Credible threats of crime ought to be illegal in themselves whether it be murdering your body, destroying your property, or your reputation. It is called extortion when the threat is to your body or physical property. Blackmail is merely a more specific label when it involves the property right in your reputation.
    The remaining case is where your reputation is technically false in some area. People believe you are an upstanding citizen, but you have some addiction (Maybe we can get more detailed records of who exactly orders porn at Promise Keeper’s conventions). The problem is that we all are sinners and have things we would rather not have exposed. Do unto others…
    If the information is public, then I don’t think there would be a case, but if I tell you something as a friend in confidence, there is an implicit contract not to expose things even if the friendship dissolves.
    The last case – eavesdroppers are violating privacy. If you lock your door, It is breaking and entering even if I pick the lock and do no damage. It would still be illegal if you left the door unlocked.
    Your private space of information is something which I would attach a property right to – not much different than physical property or even some things in “cyberspace”. In order to obtain the information which is subject of blackmail, you would have to trespass into the space and steal the information. The information would not be yours to expose.
    So first, what are combined are not moral or legal “whites”. The information which is to be spoken is “stolen merchandise”, and that the money for service is actually a threat to perform a criminal act damaging to the person. You have two “blacks” combining in such a way to be considered a worse crime.
    It is compounded because enforcement of the property rights violated typically would cause the threat to become actualized.
    Consider a parallel with kidnapping where the abductor says “go to the police and you will never see your child again”. Blackmail tends to package things easier – go to the police and the justice system will do the destruction automatically for me.
    1. The information is in some sense stolen so there is no “free speech” right in the exposure – consider if I published the name, address, phone, birth date and social security number of someone here (inviting identity theft) – would that be free speech?
    2. The offer is to undo a criminal act (which would be difficult to go to the police about) or not voilate a contract (when I give out information there are privacy policies) for pay.
    3. If we allow people to benefit by finding areas of crime that are difficult to prosecute (or would hurt the victim worse), we encourage crime itself, thus in such cases the penalties must hurt the perpetrator much more than the twice damaged victim.

  • Hoots

    If blackmail should not be criminalized because it is simply a

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Nick Do you subscribe to a Christian conservative view of the legality of blackmail?
    Yes, though I should clarify that I

  • Hoots

    As tz rightly points out, even if I publicly tell the truth after attempting blackmail, the information may still be privileged and the telling illegal.

  • George Ditter

    My take fowhat it’s worth is that blackmail is illegal on the ground that making it so tends to deter blackmail. The value to society of you being able to get money from me to not have embarassing information disclosed is low, so why protect that interest. The danger that the target might kill a blackmailer to keep him quiet, which danger can be lessened by deterring blackmail can’t be ignored. Finally, getting truthful information out is of value and blackmail tends to suppress such information.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    I don

  • Branden

    Joe Carter states:
    “When personal freedom conflicts with social relationships, libertarianism almost always side with the individual in a way that is not found in Scripture. While I

  • Branden

    excuse my typo…
    we aren’t ‘for’ sin, cheap grace, etc…..

  • SonnyJim

    What a ridiculous supposition;
    There’s nothing illegal about me showing you a gun that I legally own.
    There’s nothing illegal about me asking to use your car.
    Why is it that if I combine the two it’s illegal?
    Hunh?

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    Is blackmail even a sin?
    2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.
    In the O’Reilly case I described, justice doesn’t seem to give Bill a right to act in the manner he did and still preserve his reputation. One might even consider the legal type of blackmail to be a type of charity, allowing him to substitute financial loss in exchange for loss of reputation.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Branden I think your problem with Christian Libertarians hinges on this…
    This is not OT Israel with a king sitting on the throne as chosen by God. In other words, we are not a theocracy.

    First, I am not remotely close to being a dominionist, much less a theocrat. Second, you

  • Branden

    many things will bot be properly communicated/expressed in writing on a forum as this. So I offer grace and hope to receive it in this discussion.
    Please elucidate on where you find what type of govt.’s where espoused at all in the Bible.
    And please elucidate and expound on how you find Libertarianism as un or anti-Biblical.

  • Branden

    Joe
    I have moved my discuss over to the Vox site.
    Please feel free to answer there if you like.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Branden many things will bot be properly communicated/expressed in writing on a forum as this. So I offer grace and hope to receive it in this discussion.
    Absolutely. I hope I didn

  • http://parableman.net Jeremy Pierce

    Joe, you left out the point of my recent post. It’s exatly in combination that you get a factor that doesn’t occur with either of the two in isolation. You get an element of coercion.
    SonnyJim, it’s not exactly parallel, because if you pull a gun out and tell someone to do something, there is an implied threat that if they don’t you’ll shoot. It would be illegal to shoot. It’s not illegal to reveal embarassing information about someone. Both involve a kind of coercion, though, and even if you never intended to shoot I believe it’s illegal to threaten to shoot someone. It’s not illegal to threaten to reveal embarassing information about someone unless it’s also done in the context of trying to get someone to do something.
    What I’m not sure of is whether that something you’re trying to get them to do is relevant to whether the blackmail is illegal. It’s not illegal to threaten your kids with telling their friends about some embarassing fact unless they take the trash out. It is illegal to try to influence a senator’s vote by threatening to publish pictures of the male senator getting it on with a man.

  • Mike

    Joe, what you are not seeing in your arguement is that one party is coercing the other to give up something that he would not otherwise give up. In your example, by threatening to damage the reputation of the other by exposing some embarassing information that has been otherwise private. You have to consider what the info is, how it was obtained and is it true. It may be slander.
    Our laws are woefully inconsistent in the US. Trying to make sense of one law with regard to another is often futile.
    It’s strange that blackmail is okay if done through the court system, as in O’Reilly’s case.
    Is that really better than your understanding of the Libertarian viewpoint? (Assuming there is a unified Libertarian viewpoint–HA).
    MK

  • rdsmith3 (Bob)

    Oh for Pete’s sake, Joe, why are you making this so complicated? The whole thing falls apart with the premise: 2. There’s nothing immoral or illegal about asking for money in exchange for a service (in most cases).
    What service is a blackmailer providing — not embarrassing someone?
    If you look at this from a business law perspective, you do not have a commercial transaction. With a commercial transaction, there must be an offer, an acceptance, and consideration (something of value that is exchanged for the offer). You do not have those elements here. There is no service being provided, and there is not a willing acceptance of the alleged service. Therefore, the blackmailer is attempting to reap financial gain from not offering any service from a party who has not willingly accepted.
    I don’t really see a paradox at all. It is illegal and immoral.

  • CW

    This is a tangent in its own right, spawned as tangents can be from non sequitor intending to illustrate a point. In my humble opinion, comments on Arminianism and Catholicism should be seen as unfortunate slips.
    This article did not need them in order to provide its point. The writer could have merely substituted “other religions I take exception” or some variant. Such a tack could avoid a dilution of the fundamental concept under debate. This article was not about those groups, so drawing them in through a such deragatory manner detracts from the writers thesis. Our debates should rest on their merits, not on tearing down others concepts as worse than our own therefore mine is at least better.
    I thank tz for the response from the Catholic Catechism. The approach supports the writers perspective of starting from principles to distill a solution rather than back-solving to justify a conclusion.
    If I may, I’d also like to add my two cents on the difference between the alleged blackmail under examination and slander or libel. The latter are untruths spread to cause damage. The blackmail could be true and would not be slanderous or libelous.
    Good for you that you freely air your views and invite others to comment. That is laudible, however, stay on subject and avoid non sequitor. You’ll elicit much better debate, I’m sure.

  • Mike

    Here’s an article from the late great Murray Rothbard discussing the Libertarian view of blackmail…
    From The Ethics of Liberty
    http://www.mises.org/rothbard/ethics/sixteen.asp
    MK

  • http://www.soupskitchen.blogspot.com Soup

    I knew that was coming. ; )
    I don

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    CW In my humble opinion, comments on Arminianism and Catholicism should be seen as unfortunate slips…his article was not about those groups, so drawing them in through a such deragatory manner detracts from the writers thesis.
    You make a good point. I certainly didn’t mean for it to come across as deragotary so it would have been wise to avoid any confusion. Although I obviously failed in the effort, my point was to try to show my support for the Christian libertarian view by associating it with other views that I respect, though personally reject.
    The fact that I don’t agree with a belief, theory, or system should certainly not be viewed as a sign that “mine is inherently better.”
    Soup I accept the charge leveled in your last statement, and note that by default you must have also rejected any and all critiques of Calvinism.
    Not necessarily. I wouldn’t say that I’ve rejected any and all critiques of Calvinism. Some are quite valid and likely unresolvable (at least to my limited understanding). It is just that I have accepted more of the the critiques against Arminianism than I have Calvinism. Both my good points; I just think that Calvinism makes more of them.
    I promise, though, that I’ll take up the topic soon.

  • Mike

    Joe….The fact that I don’t agree with a belief, theory, or system should certainly not be viewed as a sign that “mine is inherently better.”
    Come on now….If you don’t agree, then you must think that that idea is wrong (or you would agree with it). If you believe it’s wrong, why would you not think that your idea is better? Your comment sounds like so much of the relativist nonsense that’s being passed around these days. Surely you don’t think that all ideas are equal in value…..????

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Mike Come on now….If you don’t agree, then you must think that that idea is wrong (or you would agree with it).
    True.
    If you believe it’s wrong, why would you not think that your idea is better? Your comment sounds like so much of the relativist nonsense that’s being passed around these days. Surely you don’t think that all ideas are equal in value…..????
    No, of course not. I

  • Mike

    Joe,
    then how do you know what to believe?
    sure, we can never know everything. does that mean you have doubts about what you believe?
    i don’t think there’s anything wrong with being dogmatic about what you believe as long as you are open to criticism and remain open to changing your viewpoint should someone show you that you are in error. otherwise, it would seem that you are just floating along and going whichever way the wind blows.
    OR….are you worried about offending someone???
    OR…maybe I’m reading too much into your statements?

  • http://johncoleman.typepad.com John

    Ok…this will be a quick response because a) I am at work! and b) I fear I may be repeating something everyone understands but (I think) bears repeating.
    Joe writes: “…libertarianism almost always side with the individual in a way that is not found in Scripture.”
    Yes. Yes. Yes. This is true. So here is my argument in a nutshell. There is, in my mind, a stark separation between personal and political beliefs, e.g. there are many thing I would never let my brothers do that I am perfectly content to keep legal in the United States. This is necessary for practical reasons (coercion, historically, is a bigger killer than freedom), and acceptable because the Bible has no Sharia law–Christianity demands no congruence between personal beliefs and political legislation–and, as Josh notes, the Bible even seems to lay the groundwork for a philosophy that celebrates the liberty of each individual to make his or her own choices–for good or ill.
    Maybe that is why libertarian Christians and other Christians speak past each other so often. It’s not that we think the individual should always be preferenced over the group. It’s that we think in political systems, the only reliable methodology is to preference the individual over the group in questions of coercion, and allow social relationships to add the nuances and texture of community.

  • http://www.soupskitchen.blogspot.com Soup

    Joe!
    CLEAN UP ON AISLE 5!!!
    Someone posted a barrage of porn links at the end of the “Embryo Eaters” thread.

  • http://www.soupskitchen.blogspot.com Soup

    Soup I accept the charge leveled in your last statement, and note that by default you must have also rejected any and all critiques of Calvinism.
    Not necessarily. I wouldn’t say that I’ve rejected any and all critiques of Calvinism. Some are quite valid and likely unresolvable (at least to my limited understanding). It is just that I have accepted more of the the critiques against Arminianism than I have Calvinism. Both my good points; I just think that Calvinism makes more of them.
    I promise, though, that I’ll take up the topic soon.
    Posted by: Joe Carter at February 2, 2006 01:11 PM

    Fair enough, but the end result is the same – rejection of Arminianism in favor of Calvinism.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Mike Then how do you know what to believe? sure, we can never know everything. does that mean you have doubts about what you believe?
    That

  • http://www.soupskitchen.blogspot.com Soup

    Soup Fair enough, but the end result is the same – rejection of Arminianism in favor of Calvinism.
    I hadn’t really thought of it as a zero-sum equation before. So are all Christians either Arminian or Calvinist? (I’m not saying that’s not the case, only that I’m wondering if there is something we aren’t missing.)

    That is an interesting point to ponder, and I suppose the short answer could be “yes, even though they may not know it”.
    I’d like to reflect upon this subject a bit and perhaps explore it on my blog later.
    As iron sharpens iron…thanks Joe!
    Look forward to the Arminianism vs. Calvinism thread!

  • Tim L

    Joe states that his stance is that Arminianism is wrong.
    A few thoughts:
    1) I have done this wrong before, but Arminianism is not the subject here.
    2) I am so glad to find someone who finds it a disagreement rather than a heretical issue.
    3) My pastor is Greg Boyd. He is definitely a man of God. But he may also possibly be wrong.
    Then again, He may be right! What’s the big deal? He has the important stuff right (Jesus is our savior, the narrrow path, etc)

  • Tim L

    I will say one thing though ;-)
    I find that the most disturbing argument against Arminianism is regarding God’s knowledge of decisions that we free will beings make.
    People respond that God would say, “whoops, didn’t know that was going to happen” or other statements similar to that.
    But even if you detest Arminianism, how can you say that? God is wisdom. IF we truly have the free will argued in Arminianism, what decision can a free willing being make that God couldn’t anticipate? Are you saying God is stupid? There is not a single decision that a person (or prinicpality) can make that God can’t anticipate.
    Joe,
    How come your site never remembers my personal info any longer. I have to enter my name, email and click yes, yet it never retains.
    Tim L

  • http://weekendfisher.blogspot.com Weekend Fisher

    I think the conversation was on bad ground as soon as it framed the problem like this:

    1. Free speech rights allow me to publish embarrassing information about someone (in many cases).
    2. There’s nothing immoral or illegal about asking for money in exchange for a service (in most cases).
    3. But when 1 and 2 are combined, we call it blackmail and make it illegal. How can it be that the combination of two legal acts could make something illegal?

    Other people have already pointed out the context v. mere combination fallacy so I won’t go there again. There are other problems. The case in question was trying to force a vote by less than honest means.
    And in the case of blackmail, let’s say it’s a $5000 fee for not telling … today. But the threat is not over at that, and some other day the person will be back asking for another $5000 for the same silence, and there’s no end to the extortion. I think that’s among the reasons it’s illegal: the possibility of information becoming an unlimited debt which it is impossible to pay.

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    I think the “two rights make a wrong” analysis is a false construction of the question, at least when we conflate *moral* and *legal* questions.
    Volokh’s point, of course, concerns the legal elements; his analysis asks why two legal actions, when conjoined, are justifiably considered criminal. It’s an interesting question, but I think Gordon’s first response above pretty well covers it. To use another common version, I have every right to shout “Fire!” if I like, and I have every right to go to a crowded theatre, but if I put the two actions together, I have not merely done two legal things, but I have endangered others, and will be charged accordingly.
    The question, then, is what makes threats of exposure conjoined with demands for payment to avoid exposure different from the two separate actions.
    The “rights” analysis above is interesting, but the “right to privacy” is so vexed that I would prefer to avoid that.
    Blackmail is a property crime. It is the use of force (or, if one is lying, both force and fraud) to extort property.
    Under any proper construction of human liberty, a just transfer of property involves mutually informed consent. If I withhold or misrepresent facts relevant to your decision, I commit fraud; if I use fraud or force (whether actual or threatened, whether physical or otherwise) to influence your consent contrary to your interests and intentions, then I have acquired your property unjustly. You are, then, entitled to appeal for restitution to whatever powers claim to uphold justice among us; failing that, you are entitled to compel me to restore what is yours, yourself. If Greg Forster’s around, he can probably quote chapter and verse from Locke on that, and we could find Blackstone, Bastiat, Hayek, or numerous others who would back that construction.
    I am, certainly, free under such a construction to speak about your indiscretions. I am, moreover, free to ask you for money–and you are free to give me money (Please do, if you have any to spare ). I am also free to carry a gun. Neither the speech nor the gun, however, may be used to acquire property by coercion.
    What is criminal in blackmail is neither the speech nor the demand, but the use of force (threat of force, in this case, doing a violence to you socially) to obtain property you would not otherwise give me.
    I can carry a gun. I cannot threaten you with the gun. To do so is considered criminal. Why? Not just because it makes you afraid, but because the threat unjustly constrains your freedom to act.
    That said, there are times when coercion is justified; there may be times when the particular form of coercion known as blackmail may also be justified. It is nearly impossible to imagine a case where blackmail-for-profit would be justified, however.
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    I can’t think of a better example of the moral difficulties of Christians-who-vote-Republican than this.
    Look at the above post and comments; all of them.
    How many of them -do any of them- actually take into account that the issue of blackmail involves usually more than two people?
    Blackmail is illegal because it affects more than the two parties involved; it affects the entire social structure, through families, business relationships, and so on.
    In the “libertarian” world somebody could get blackmailed, shoot themselves, and leave a widow and/or orphans who would have to rely on the good graces of the charity-that-made-welfare-necessary-in-the-1930s.
    Structuring legislation that has the side effect of making more widows and orphans isn’t party of any religion I know about…

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    Two more quick things:
    1) While I am a Christian, and consider myself a civil libertarian in political philosophy (albeit a conservative in politics, because libertarianism is impracticable as a full-fledged system), I think it is inappropriate to try to reason directly from theology to politics and arrive at a “Christian libertarianism.” Libertarian political philosophy does accord well with Christian principles, but it can only have traction where a certain sort of cultural consensus is available; under other cultural conditions, Christian principles might well support or even demand other approaches entirely. The philosophy would still be valuable to moral reflection on law, though.
    2) an interesting parallel would be harassment: Nothing legally prevents my speaking to you on the street, and nothing legally prevents my demanding money from you; you are free to ignore me, give me money, berate me, or ridicule me. But if I come to you daily, or hourly, or constantly, with that demand, I do at some point constitute a marked impediment to your conduct of your affairs–I unjustly constrain your behavior. That becomes a coercive use of my presence and speech, and is justiciable.
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • Eric & Lisa

    Tim L writes;
    “Are you saying God is stupid?”
    If I am, was it my choice to say it?

  • Eric & Lisa

    Tim L writes;
    “Are you saying God is stupid?”
    If I am, was it my choice to say it?

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    And in the case of blackmail, let’s say it’s a $5000 fee for not telling … today. But the threat is not over at that, and some other day the person will be back asking for another $5000 for the same silence, and there’s no end to the extortion. I think that’s among the reasons it’s illegal: the possibility of information becoming an unlimited debt which it is impossible to pay.
    A debt, though, is something that you are obliged to pay. A purchase is something you can choose to pay or not pay depending upon its price. If someone else knows you’ve been having an affair and also demands $5K isn’t that a price you can choose to accept or decline? Yes I’m sure the blackmail victim would rather not have to pay but when the pipes fail in my house I’d rather not have to pay a plumber but it isn’t unethical for him to charge me…even for him to charge a premium for making an emergancy call in the middle of night.
    I’m still not sure I’ve heard a good explanation for why blackmail is unethical from either a libertarian or just a general Christian POV.

  • Mike

    Boonton,
    Read Rothbards article that I linked to for a good Lib analysis–doesn’t describe it as unethical but is a good analysis.
    The Christian point of view would be that blackmail is unethical because you are taking advantage of someone. A Christian should show love and compassion to his fellow man. Instead of saying that I’m going to tell everyone about your affair if you don’t pay me, I should offer advice to that person to encourage him to end the affair and help him see that what he is doing is hurting everyone.
    Remember Jesus gave a new command–love one another–and Paul gave us the description of love in 1 Cor 13. If we as Christians applied this to everyone that we met, the world would have a very different opinion of Christians. See http://www.kindnessinjesus.org

  • http://thomasz.blogspot.com tz

    Rothbard is good but gets a few things wrong. The URL is above at:
    http://www.mises.org/rothbard/ethics/sixteen.asp
    (aside, Rothbard is also pro-abortion, but Doris Gordon shreds his ideas better than I can at l4l.org; The writings of Rothbard are good, but they are not sacred libertarian scripture – the argument should be conducted and let the best man or woman win).
    1. A lot depends on whether the blackmailer is using public information or private information and Rothbard is a bit sloppy here. We don’t normally consider the idea of a telepath as blackmailer – they had to obtain the information in some manner, and whether that was licit or not has bearing. Which is why we should all be worried about public records. Exposing an embarassing story in narrative is different than redirecting a URL. My point is blackmail is more akin to “you steal something in such a way it would be a problem to prosecute the theft but offer to sell the merchandise back”. That encourages better stealth.
    2. Reputation is, or at least should be objective. Rothbard never says anywhere that property rights, ownership of bodies, etc. are subjective opinions, but “rights” are just as abstract, to a large extent Smith’s rights are “purely a function of the subjective attitudes and beliefs about him contained in the minds of other people”. I believe the property line is here, you believe otherwise. Why should subjective and even false opinion dominate only in the area of reputation?
    Or why is it wrong to bankrupt a business by arson, but it is not wrong to bankrupt it by gossip?
    Truth is a perfect defense against libel and slander (but not against blackmail as the ownership of the information dominates).
    There is a further problem. I can successfully steal from you if I can merely affect the subjective opinions on who actually owns something. That is how socialism attacks liberty – that the poor should “own” property of the rich because it is more fair. But if I convince 99.9% of the population that Brown owns something of Smith’s, where does Smith’s property right go? Is it objective or subjective. Can subjective AND ERRONEOUS information be allowed to override objective truth?
    Also in Catholicism, it says we must follow our conscience. But it also says we must properly form our conscience. That is we must try to know the truth as much as possible. It is permissible and good to discuss things like is happening here, but not to try to rationalize sinful behavior. Sin is dealt with by contrition and repentance, not sophistry.
    The formation of my conscience is like the formation of my opinion of others, or to use the key phrase, their reputation.
    In either case, if I am told falsehoods, I will be damaged. I will buy the worse mouse-trap, I will not recognize rights which I should, I will commit acts of evil because I don’t consider them sinful.
    But to ask a question which I can’t answer right now, do I have the right to the truth? I.e. someone is violating the right to my own mind? Isn’t that fraud? When I listen to you, am I not expecting (an implicit contract) that you will tell me the truth, or at least if giving subjective opinion state the lack of quality like merchandise that is sold “as-is”? It might simply be more convienient to let the victim of the libel or slander sue than the thousands of fraud victims. For a false statement damages me in ways which I cannot comprehend if I don’t recognize it just like a coke bottle filled with pesticide.
    Or as Merlin explained the most important virtue of a Knight: “Truth, that it; Truth – because when you lie you murder some part of the world”.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The Christian point of view would be that blackmail is unethical because you are taking advantage of someone. A Christian should show love and compassion to his fellow man. Instead of saying that I’m going to tell everyone about your affair if you don’t pay me, I should offer advice to that person to encourage him to end the affair and help him see that what he is doing is hurting everyone.
    Hmmmm I’m not so sure this follows even from the Christian POV Mike. It seems that blackmail could be viewed as a fair economic transaction between two parties that agree to an exchange. ‘Taking advantage of’ seems to imply that the ‘victim’ of blackmail has some type of property right in keeping the information secret which the blackmailer is violating. If the information was obtained in a confidential manner (such as a confessional or theraputic relationship) then you have an argument. But what about blackmail that does uses information that is not so protected?
    Remember Jesus gave a new command–love one another–and Paul gave us the description of love in 1 Cor 13. If we as Christians applied this to everyone that we met, the world would have a very different opinion of Christians. See http://www.kindnessinjesus.org
    Yes I’m sure you’re right however even in a world of all Christians who all apply Jesus’s rule perfectly commerce could still take place and people could still drive hard bargains. I’m not sure this is any different.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    To put it in more simple terms, the question of it either being sinful or illegal seems to imply that the victim of blackmail has some right to keep the information secret & the blackmailer is violating that right. How does the ‘victim’ aquire this right to keep information secret? Why does this right depend on the exposers motives? In other words if the blackmailer doesn’t want anything and he just releases the information then there’s no crime…yet if the victim has a right to keep the info secret then shouldn’t there be whether or not the blackmailer is willing to keep silent in exchange for something?

  • http://thomasz.blogspot.com tz

    The right to keep information proprietary does NOT depend on the potential exposer’s motives. It doesn’t matter if I am trying to help poor music fans or hurt the record companies if I distribute an MP3. It is a violation of copyright. You have no right to have or expose medical records. (checked if your insurance company’s site is secure recently?)
    There are standard procedures for things like IP rights, but there are also implicit (or even explicit) contracts. If you knew everything you said to your doctor would be public knowledge, you would probably not seek treatment for many things. The hippocratic oath includes a privacy provision. If custom gives me the expectation of privacy, then I have the right not to have the information exposed, or you need to inform me (think miranda warning) that anything I say can and will be made public based on my whim.
    The only borderline case I can think of is some public but generally obscure or hard to access information (note: identity theives have combed court records, much easier online, but they have done so in the paper stacks). If the information was easily accessed, then there might have been (and maybe will be) laws to seal the information.
    The case of known criminal conduct where instead of exposing the crime (so the investigation will focus on the proper individual – and innocents are going to be bothered by being investigated, and some are even convicted), the evil is in NOT reporting it. If I can pay you to do one evil act (not expose the true criminal), why shouldn’t I also be able to pay you to do other forms of evil?
    Charging money for spiritual goods is the sin of simony (after simon magus in Acts who was blinded by God when he offered to pay for the holy spirit).
    Or consider prostitution or a jury vote. These tend to be considered crimes only when money is charged or exchanged. Why cannot I pay for consent and why ought not the Judge’s gavel function just like an auctioneer’s? (I have a long answer, which I posted long ago on my blog, but provoking the thinking process is what I want to do here as it is another path to the right answer).

  • http://thomasz.blogspot.com tz

    One other consideration – think about China, and the item of exposure is the fact the person is a Christian, or even a pastor, or holds services in their home. They will be imprisoned for their faith. Or under the Nazis that someone was hiding Jews.

  • Eric & Lisa

    There are also other forms of blackmail.
    For example, I could threaten Joe that I would spam his website and get a group together to spam his website everyday until it is gone off the web unless he pays us money not to do it.
    That’s like Mobster window insurance. You pay us for window insurance. Those who don’t pay start winding up with broken windows all the time.
    There are many different types of blackmail.

  • Eric & Lisa

    There are also other forms of blackmail.
    For example, I could threaten Joe that I would spam his website and get a group together to spam his website everyday until it is gone off the web unless he pays us money not to do it.
    That’s like Mobster window insurance. You pay us for window insurance. Those who don’t pay start winding up with broken windows all the time.
    There are many different types of blackmail.

  • http://thomasz.blogspot.com tz

    Threatening violence or property is more commonly referred to as extortion, but blackmail may be a special case of extortion, or perhaps in a more general usage (at m-w.com, the 1st definition for blackmail is an old one which is about threatening pillage).
    The original post elsewhere was about someone threatening exposure of a senator’s sexual (dis)orientiation if they voted for Alito – which I would note did NOT involve money, but a senate vote (more akin to my example of a juror above).

  • http://www.soupskitchen.blogspot.com Soup

    Joe,
    I spent some time exploring the Calvinsim vs. Arminianism issue tonight, take a look over at my blog when you have a few minutes.
    I’m interested in your feedback.

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    @Eric & Lisa–
    Not to take issue unnecessarily, but you are making a minor error in your post.
    There are many forms of *extortion* (gaining money through threats). One kind of extortion is blackmail (gaining money through threats of exposure of harmful information).
    There are, of course, different forms of blackmail, but it’s a little “off” to call extortion that doesn’t involve threats of *exposure* “blackmail.”
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    The right to keep information proprietary does NOT depend on the potential exposer’s motives. It doesn’t matter if I am trying to help poor music fans or hurt the record companies if I distribute an MP3.
    True some information is proprietary but this has nothing to do with blackmail law. If I know you once had an abortion because I hacked into your credit card statements that is illegal whether or not I attempt to blackmail you. If I know you once had an abortion because I saw you go to a clinic or because I heard you talking about it to a friend in a Starbucks, it isn’t illegal for me to know that or even publish it but it is illegal for me to go to you and say I will publish unless you pay me something. Why?
    The case of known criminal conduct where instead of exposing the crime (so the investigation will focus on the proper individual – and innocents are going to be bothered by being investigated, and some are even convicted), the evil is in NOT reporting it. If I can pay you to do one evil act (not expose the true criminal), why shouldn’t I also be able to pay you to do other forms of evil?
    Ahhhh but it’s illegal to blackmail even here. I have no legal obligation to tell the police that I know you’re a drug user but it is illegal to say I’ll report you unless you pay me $50 per week….if I do report you after saying this that in itself becomes evidence that could be used against me!
    Or consider prostitution or a jury vote. These tend to be considered crimes only when money is charged or exchanged. Why cannot I pay for consent and why ought not the Judge’s gavel function just like an auctioneer’s?
    A different case, the judge or jury member already has an outstanding obligation to the state to decide cases impartially. Since they have already been ‘brought’ so to speak they are cheating their clients in a manner of speaking if they sell their judgement to you. Likewise if I hire a lawyer to sue Joe then that lawyer has a COI which would prevent him from accepting money from Joe for services.