The Human Body Sword
Borer, Kris, Libertarian Papers
The human body shield problem is the following scenario. A criminal, holding your innocent neighbor in front of him, approaches you and begins shooting at you. You can stop him, but only by shooting through your neighbor and killing them both.
The apparent dilemma is that either a libertarian must admit that it is acceptable to aggress against an innocent individual or he must acknowledge a class of unstoppable super-villain against which no libertarian can stand. (1)
How do libertarians deal with the problem of human body shields? (2) The same way they deal with every other ethical choice: by adhering to the non-aggression principle (NAP).
The NAP can be used to determine whether a libertarian may take any particular action. The human body shield case is interesting because it decouples the rights in conflict from responsibility for the conflict. This prevents us from relying on well established, libertarian analysis of two party cases, where one party is responsible for the conflict.
In order to solve the human body shield problem, we must see how the NAP can be used to resolve conflicts between property rights. We must then examine how responsibility relates to the resolution of such conflicts. Thus equipped, we will tackle the human body shield problem and related examples.
I. Conflict Resolution
First, we must understand what the NAP is and implies. The NAP states that aggressive violence is prohibited. The NAP then implies that defensive violence is not prohibited. Therefore, the NAP implies a simple conflict resolution rule: when property rights conflict, antecedent rights prevail. (3)
In other words, conflicting property rights over invading property are surrendered. For example, normally your neighbor gets to decide how his finger is used, but if he pokes your body with it, then your right to determine how your body is used prevails over his right to determine how his finger is used. His finger was used to initiate the conflict and you would be justified in pushing it away.
Similarly, if your neighbor kicks his ball onto your land, then his right to determine how his ball is used might be in conflict with your right to determine how your land is used. You may not want the ball on your land and he may not want anyone to move his ball. (4)
The conflict resolution rule implies that because the ball was used to initiate the conflict, your conflicting rights …
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Publication information: Article title: The Human Body Sword. Contributors: Borer, Kris - Author. Journal title: Libertarian Papers. Volume: 2. Publication date: January 2010. Page number: Not available. © 2009 Ludwig von Mises Institute. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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