Lifeboat Situations: Freedom in Times of Emergency
By Duncan Whitmore
From time to time, the fundamental right of each of us to our individual liberty is challenged by the notion that such a right shouldn’t necessarily apply in emergencies. In the regular, fair weather of societal relations, it is easy enough for us to agree that we should, for instance, have no right to physically injure or steal from other people. But what if an emergency could be resolved only by a breach of the non-aggression principle (NAP)? What if that situation was so desperate that the only way to avoid almost certain loss of life (or severe bodily harm) was to violate the property rights of another person?
Some of these emergency situations are easier to resolve in favour of the NAP than others. This is obviously the case when the degree of harm that would be inflicted on another person is equivalent to the degree of harm that one seeks to avoid for oneself. For instance, if John is in need of an urgent heart transplant, it would be absurd to suggest that he could instruct a surgeon to extract Sally’s heart so as to transfer it to his (John’s) body, thus condemning Sally to the very fate that was meted out for him. More realistically, what if a man needs to drive his dying wife to the hospital in as quick a time as possible in order to save her life? Given his desperation, is it not likely that he will drive less carefully and with a lower degree of consideration for other road users than if he was just driving to work? Unfortunately for him, however much we may empathise with this man’s sense of urgency, he would not be relieved of the requirement to avoid striking pedestrians and other cars. As we said in a previous essay:
If a man drives dangerously in order to get his wife to hospital as quickly as possible so that her life can be saved, it’s absurd to suggest that he can, in the process, simply create more emergencies by knocking over any pedestrian that gets in his way. Absolving the defendant in such a case means that everyone else can be forced to bear the cost of his priorities and his urgently desired needs.
In short, however unfortunate your plight, you cannot offload the cost of the burden onto other people. Indeed, to look at it from another angle, the avoidance of harm to oneself (or to someone for whom you care) is itself a benefit; obtaining that benefit at the expense of other people through physical force is the very essence of aggression.
Matters become slightly more difficult when the number of people that can be saved during an emergency is greater than the number that would suffer from aggression in the process. For instance, in a famous case in English law – a literal lifeboat situation – three stranded seafarers killed and cannibalised a fourth so as to provide food for survival. Once rescued, two of the survivors were prosecuted and found guilty of murder (although their final sentence was a mere six months’ imprisonment). While this case is complicated by the fact that the victim was as equally marooned as the defendants (i.e. he, and everyone else, would have died anyway had he not been sacrificed), we can see that the principle in favour of the judgment is the same regardless of the extent of the emergency. A group of people should not be able to offload the burden of their shared misfortune onto another person any more than a single individual can; each individual is an end in himself, and cannot be sacrificed for the benefit of others. Indeed, all of these examples are simply a more extreme variety of the general, oft-cited problem of the supposed need to balance “security” with “liberty”. The libertarian answer to this is that nobody’s security can be bought at the expense of another person’s liberty.
The Flagpole and the Stranded Hiker
It is submitted, however, that the most difficult type of scenario is where the emergency is grave but the extent of the aggression that would be inflicted upon another person in order to resolve that emergency is slight, even trivial. Never one to shy away from difficult questions, Walter Block raises two examples:
[Y]ou are standing on the balcony of a 25th story high-rise apartment when, much to your dismay, you lose your footing and fall out. Happily, in your downward descent, you manage to grab onto a flagpole protruding from the 15th floor of the balcony of another apartment, 10 floors below. Unhappily, the owner of this apartment comes out to her balcony, states that you are […] holding on to her flag pole, and demands that you let go (e.g., drop another 15 floors to your death). You protest that you only want to hand walk your way down the flag pole, into her apartment, and then right out of it, but she is adamant. As a libertarian, are you bound to obey her?
You are lost in the woods, freezing, with no food. You will die without shelter and a meal. Fortunately, you come upon a warm cabin stocked with staples. You intend to eat, stay the night, leave your business card, and pay double any reasonable price that could be asked. Unfortunately, the cabin has a sign posted on the door: “Warning. Private Property. No Trespassing.” Do you tamely go off into the woods and die?
The plight of the unfortunate individual (P) in such scenarios could be aggravated if the property owner (O) decides to invoke the right to self-defence. Could, for instance, O shoot P in order to get the latter off the property in question?
If we accept the scenarios at face value, I agree with Block that, in our role as libertarian theorists, the question of aggression is our only concern. In other words, if, in each case, P decides to save himself by violating the property rights of O, our only focus is on whether P is guilty of an aggressive act. I also agree with Block that the strict, logical answer is yes. In principle, the reasoning is identical to that given in the earlier examples above: P cannot offload the cost of his unfortunate circumstances onto O.
Critics of the non-aggression principle are likely to claim this as a resounding victory, for it appears as though we would happily condemn the poor, unfortunate P to an easily avoidable death for the sake of maintaining the logical elegance of our theory. Indeed, even for libertarians, such a strict answer seems counter-intuitive, even ghastly. Have, therefore, opponents of libertarianism identified a crucial weakness in the libertarian ethic?
Needless to say, my answer to this is no. But in order to show why this is so, we need to move beyond accepting these kinds of scenario at face value by looking instead at some of the assumptions upon which they are built – assumptions which we will soon see are rather dubious.
Real Problems vs Invented Problems
The first and most obvious problem is that the likelihood of these (and similar) ethical problems actually occurring is close to zero. This is clearly so with the flagpole scenario; the scenario with the stranded hiker may be more believable, but it is still likely to be extremely rare and far removed from the kind of “typical” emergency we cited earlier in which the man had to rush his dying wife to the hospital.
On the one hand, it is true that extreme, hypothetical scenarios can serve to test the strength and consistency of a suggested rule. Anticipating possible challenges and exceptions is, in fact, the best way to determine whether one’s thinking is on the right path. If a proposition crumbles easily under the weight of too many challenges or exceptions, then the validity of that proposition becomes more difficult to sustain.
On the other hand, it is also true that ethics is not a mere mind game; real problems in need of real solutions involve real people conflicting over real goods for real ends. Thus, the likelihood of these imagined scenarios arising in reality is far from an irrelevance. If no one ever does get stuck on a flagpole, and if nobody really gets lost in the woods in front of the only cabin around, then do these scenarios say anything at all about the NAP when the latter seems perfectly valid when it comes to the very real problems of murder, theft and rape? Indeed, if it is true that “hard cases make bad law” then we are entitled to ask whether invented cases should make any law at all. If they do not, then we could argue that a hypothetical scenario should not serve to invalidate an ethical proposition if the latter seems satisfactory when addressing empirical problems.
The danger of conceding too much ground to hypothetical scenarios becomes all the more pressing once we realise that such scenarios do not, in fact, have to be utterly absurd in order to be unrealistic. In fact, the two suggested by Block are variations on a much broader, more mundane preoccupation: the fear of monopoly supply. In those scenarios, there is only one cabin in the woods in which P can take shelter, and there is only one apartment through which P dangling from the flagpole can make his escape to safety. P’s life is entirely in the hands of O and O alone. Such a fear is often cited to justify the need of state intervention into the economy more generally. For instance, what if a single firm was to accumulate the entire stock of the world’s iron, coal or computer chips? Surely the state should step in to distribute some of these vital resources so that the economy as a whole can benefit from them? Even here, however, such a possibility has rarely, if ever, been an empirical problem in the market economy in which ownership must be derived from either homesteading or voluntary transaction. Ironically, it is only government privilege and/or forced confiscation that can create actual monopolies. But even if such a unipolar accumulation of a given resource was to occur, most capital goods have value for their owners only because they can obtain a revenue from selling the services those goods provide. If, for example, one man was to own all of the oil in the world, he wouldn’t be able sit around and drink it; instead, he will be amenable to offloading it in exchange for a reasonable price, especially if (as is also likely) he cannot absolutely preclude all possible substitutes. All in all, while such monopoly accumulation can be imagined, its lack of empirical relevance should render it relatively inert as a justification for breaching the NAP. We should say the same, therefore, about more extreme scenarios.
The second problem is the standard to which the NAP should be held. Scenarios such as those cited by Block attempt to demolish the NAP by virtue of the bad consequences that would result if the principle was followed (i.e. the avoidable death of P). But to conclude from this that the NAP is an unviable ethic is to assume that it must represent some kind of abstract ideal – a perfect solution for a perfect world. Setting such a high bar is typical when it comes to debating radical, counter-intuitive propositions such as a society without a state. The notion that our wonderfully representative, democratically elected governments may not be everything they are cracked up to be begets a psychological discomfort that is often too much for people to bear. In the resulting eagerness to bury their heads in the sand, they end up shutting out all consideration of that possibility. This usually takes the form of pouncing on the first glimmer of weakness in the arguments of the libertarian: that, regardless of how convincing the latter may be on any number of topics, should he slip up on just one thing, or if there is a single plight, however, minor, to which he cannot explain an adequate libertarian solution, the debate is shut down, with the libertarian vision declared unworkable.
Why, however, should we acquiesce to this way of thinking? If, for the sake of argument, we assume that our preoccupation should be with consequences, then surely the NAP need only be better than the next available alternative? Why should it have to be perfect? In fact, it is a testament to the NAP that critics have to go to such extreme lengths in order to demonstrate any of its possible weaknesses. Critics of statism, on the other hand, can point easily enough to all of the empirical and well known disasters caused by excessive government: the persistence of poverty, inflation, war and democide, to name only the most obvious. Why should we listen to statists who have to invent problems in order to trash our principles when the results of everything they stand for can be gleaned from history books on the Soviet Union or Cuba?
Moreover, even if we were to concede, in scenarios such as the flagpole, that the NAP should be breached so as to legally avoid the harm to P, why would this serve to demolish the principle in its entirety? Could we not, given the highly unusual circumstances, accept the fact that there is an exception that proves the rule? It certainly isn’t obvious to me that rescuing P off the flagpole at the expense of O would somehow serve to justify the entire edifice of national state coercion, redistribution and welfare.
The third problem with the scenarios we cited is that they have assumed away much of the relevant information. As Block point outs, hypothetical examples are always crafted to elicit an emotive response to the plight of P, i.e. to the man clinging to the flagpole or to the woman trapped in the woods. You are invited to think only of that person’s pain and desperation. But the needs of O, the owner of the apartment or of the cabin, are never specified. Why do their needs not matter? As Block suggests, how do we know that the purpose of the cabin is not to act as a life preserver for O – a purpose that could be frustrated if P was to break in and eat all of the food, even if P was prepared to pay compensation at a later date?
Such scenarios are also worded to so as to indicate that the utilitarian argument would favour P. We are invited to weigh only the good and bad between P and O once the emergency has been made apparent, i.e. the possibility of death to P versus what appears to be a mere minor inconvenience to O. In the real world, however, no state of affairs occurs in a vacuum; rather, it has causes, and, once again, the description of each scenario is short on the detail as to precisely how each emergency arose. How is it that someone came to fall off a balcony and onto a flagpole? How does a person come to be stranded in the woods with neither food nor shelter? Many of such accidents or emergencies do not just happen, but are, in some way, connected to the lack of care, attention and preparation of P and, thus, are at least partially self-inflicted. If people knew that they could offload the burden of such emergencies by aggressing against the property of other people, then the cost, to them, of these emergencies is reduced. All else being equal there will, therefore, be more carelessness, more risky behaviour, more messing around on balconies, more ventures into the remote woods without proper preparation, and, thus, more accidents and emergencies. Myopic attention on a specific situation is a characteristic of statist thinking; it fails to understand how changing rights and obligations serves, in turn, to change people’s behaviour, thus creating much bigger problems in the long run. Indeed, the genesis of the welfare state is in the amelioration of apparent helplessness, a welfare state that then balloons precisely because increasing numbers of people are robbed of the incentive to find ways of preventing their problems from arising in the first place.
Moreover, in spite of our earlier suggestion that the admittance of an exception does not necessarily invalidate a rule in its entirety, we must be mindful of the fact that, as Block points out, any number of situations could be classified as an “emergency” worthy of such exemption: starving or ill children, or homelessness on a frosty night, for instance. As we saw with the onset of the COVID hysteria, the mere claim that we were in an emergency situation gave way to the knee-jerk abolition of a whole plethora of rights and freedoms. At the tail end of this debacle, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the heavy handed Emergency Act in order to deal with the truckers’ convoy occupying Ottawa’s Parliament Hill in protest of vaccine mandates and other restrictions. The very word “emergency” is not one with which the state can be trusted.
The Sociological Dimension
Turning now to a much wider field, the scenarios as described fail to consider the entire social, moral, ethical and cultural context in which a free society can flourish, further revealing their dubious nature.
This discussion will move us beyond the mere logical treatment of the scenarios Block described; as such, we are stepping outside of the bounds of strict, libertarian theory. However, although Block is one of the “thinnest” of “thin” libertarians, he has himself highlighted the errors of being tone deaf to wider moral and cultural matters. In a humble reflection upon the ethical vacuum of his earlier Defending the Undefendable, Block says:
[W]hen I argued for the legalization of avant-garde sexual and drug practices (in the first edition of Defending the Undefendable), I wrote about them far more positively than I now do.
I was altogether too enthusiastic about the virtues of these callings [prostitute, pornographer, etc]. I waxed eloquent about the “value of the services” performed. I totally dismissed the moral concerns of third parties. I showed no appreciation of the cultural conservative philosophy. Nowadays, when I reread these passages, I regret them.
The mistake I made in my earlier writing, it is now apparent to me, is that I am not only a libertarian but also a cultural conservative. Not only am I concerned with what the law should be, I also live in the moral, cultural, and ethical realm […] As both a libertarian and a cultural conservative, I see no incompatibility between beliefs which are part of these two very different universes of discourse.
Here, I wish to go further than Block by stating that not only is there an absence of incompatibility between libertarianism and the wider “moral, cultural and ethical realm”, but that this latter realm must be congruent with liberty if a free society is to prevail. As Block’s mentor, Murray N Rothbard, explains:
Libertarianism is logically consistent with almost any attitude toward culture, society, religion, or moral principle. In strict logic, libertarian political doctrine can be severed from all other considerations; logically one can be – and indeed most libertarians in fact are: hedonists, libertines, immoralists, militant enemies of religion in general and Christianity in particular – and still be consistent adherents of libertarian politics. In fact, in strict logic, one can be a consistent devotee of property rights politically and be a moocher, a scamster, and a petty crook and racketeer in practice, as all too many libertarians turn out to be. Strictly logically, one can do these things, but psychologically, sociologically, and in practice, it simply doesn’t work that way.
And as a more recent commentator puts it succinctly:
Respect for people’s rights cannot be isolated from the rest of our moral psychology. We cannot reliably respect the rights of those we are bigoted against just by resolving to respect them, while sacrificing our characters to bigotry and the vices of dishonesty, injustice, and cruelty.
A legal system that preserves private property rights is not some kind of artificial, detachable unit that can sit apart from the rest of society – at least not, that is, for people co-existing in close proximity. It cannot be the case that a population seething with venomous eagerness to kill or maim each other will be restrained by a magical minority of policemen and judges making angelic obeisance to the libertarian code. Instead, any legal system is likely to emulate, rather than counter, the prevailing morality of the people it serves. This moral milieu can be manifest either as enthusiastic fervour for certain principles on the one hand, or passive resignation to those who possess such fervour on the other. Thus, a libertarian legal system must come from the people themselves, or, at least, from a significant and vocal minority of them who are influential enough to maintain the prevalence of the libertarian understanding of justice ahead of any other.
Nor can such a system arise out of a social and cultural vacuum. It is not the case that, on one day, everyone is fighting, plundering and pillaging in a war of bitter hatred, while, on the next, each person has begun to confine himself to his own property boundary in respect of a libertarian code that has sprung out of nowhere. Rather, the development of institutions that preserve freedom requires a pre-existing degree of mutual trust, trust that generates the further motivation to recognise the justice and/or benefits of social co-operation over violence.
It is possible, of course, for antagonistic parties to develop the means for arriving at peaceful relations if they realise that the avoidance of fighting is to their mutual advantage. However, such a state of affairs is more akin to a divorce settlement than a marriage, a truce that is likely to be maintained only by agreeing methods to stay out of each other’s way. It is unlikely to form the basis for the kind of positive interaction that we associate with a healthy and vibrant community. For the latter to be sustained in the long run, we can presuppose instead that the majority of people are willing to embrace the same social and cultural milieu, and that they are not a population of would-be criminals and sociopaths. In fact, outlaws who wish to breach private property rights deliberately by engaging in murder, theft or rape are actually a comparatively minor problem with which a legal system in a free society would have to deal from time to time. The real value of property rights lies in the avoidance and resolution of conflicts between people who otherwise have no wish to harm each other. From such foundations, the entirety of complex social relations can be built. Voluntary trade and exchange, for instance, are impossible unless we can first agree upon what is yours and what is mine. As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbours.
In turn, the legal context of a free society provides a self-reinforcing mechanism for the social, cultural and institutional context. Devoid of either state funding for their ventures or the cushion of state welfare for their mishaps, people need to cultivate good relationships with their families, friends, colleagues and communities in order to guarantee their own well-being and security. Legally, people are free to be as rude, boorish, unpleasant, immoral and depraved as they like within the boundaries of respecting private property rights – nobody will throw you in jail for causing “offence”, for instance. But if you do so behave, who will want to offer you a job? From where will you obtain an income? How, if you want an investor to contribute to your business, will you obtain the money if you hurl insults at him? Which of your friends and family will be there for you in times of difficulty or distress if you have done everything you can to make them despise you? In short, in a free society, there are strong incentives for maintaining a basic level of decency towards other people, and to cultivate healthy relationships and good standing in the community. The cost of failure in this regard is social ostracism.
Once we appreciate this context, we can see how utterly contradictory and incongruous scenarios such as the flagpole dangler and the stranded hiker really are. As we know, the scenarios presuppose the existence of a legal system that upholds people’s rights to self-ownership and private property. As we just explained, upholding such a legal system requires a high degree of social and cultural cohesion which, in turn, requires most people to display towards each other a basic level of goodness and decency. Thus, if P and O were to meet each other in everyday life, we can expect each of them to default to a minimum degree of mutual trust, in spite of the fact that they are perfect strangers. As a result of this, if P was to find himself in an obvious quandary – i.e. stranded on the flagpole or in the woods – it is unlikely that O would regard P with suspicion, distrust or hatred. Private property rights notwithstanding, the overwhelming likelihood is that O will lend assistance to P so as to bring the emergency to an end. Further, if O was to fail to do so, we can imagine swift and uncompromising censure and ostracism from the rest of community.
However, this is not how the scenarios as described by Block play out. Instead, as soon as the emergency becomes apparent, we are expected to believe that the attitude of O switches to one of rank cruelty with no regards for the consequences. Rather than recognising the obvious plight of P and lending a hand – as any decent person would do – some kind of unusual, wholly unexpected psychological trigger has been activated in O’s head, driving him to the absurd, incongruous insistence on the strict enforcement of his private property rights, an action he knows will condemn P to certain death. We are expected to believe also that O is utterly immune from societal and cultural pressure, caring not for the attitudes of his friends, family and community, as if they will all just happily accept his decision to effectively end the life of P. But who would want to associate with such a demonstrably heartless person? Which employer could stand to have such an odious individual in the workplace, to the disgust of all of his colleagues? How could anyone in O’s family refuse to feel the utmost shame for what he has done? Why does none of this have any effect on O?
In fact, the attitude displayed by O in the scenarios exceeds even that which could be expected in a so-called “Wild West” movie. We can easily imagine a hapless wanderer on the frontier straying onto a rural homestead only to be greeted by the owner brandishing a firearm to backup a very clear demand: “Get off my property, stranger!” But even in this context, it seems unlikely that the property owner would simply refuse help in the event of an obvious emergency in which the stranger is relatively incapacitated.
This incongruity betrays an ironic misunderstanding in the minds of those who cite scenarios such as the flagpole as reasons to object to the NAP. Almost certainly they buy into the misapprehension that a free society is a sociologically individualistic, atomised dystopia in which there is no regard for community, reputation, and cohesion, and where good manners, kindness, consideration and selflessness are absent features. No doubt they assume also that such rank individualism is what characterises our present, supposedly “capitalist” society – one in which we are told to be suspicious and distrusting of all strangers, shooing them away by any means possible.
However, it is actually the opposite that is true: it is the provision of a welfare state, furnishing a cushion of relief for people’s lifestyles and choices, that creates a morally and culturally splintered society, and that it is our degree of socialisation and statism that has generated these characteristics in the communities we live in today. If, as a result of this, a scenario such as the flagpole problem is only ever likely to arise in a society heavily infected by statism, it takes some ingenuity to understand how it should lead us to question the foundational principle of a free society.
A further irony is that we can see how the social and cultural pressures of a free society mean that many potential conflicts are not necessarily in need of a distinctly legal solution. We explained, for instance, how the risk of social ostracism would normally be enough to ensure that O does not display abject cruelty towards by P, even if he wanted to. As such, the problem would never see the inside of a courtroom, and the law need not pronounce any judgment on the matter. And yet it is statists, who are always telling us that society is so much more than legal rules and market transaction, who are likely to demand that we demonstrate a satisfactory legal solution to problems such as the flagpole.
Actually, this characteristic of statists is entirely fitting: not only do they think that commands disseminated from on high can solve all ills, but the destruction of traditional institutions and values (which would otherwise have served to regulate behaviour) means that an ever greater number of social and cultural problems created by different behaviour and lifestyle choices have to be resolved from the top-down by an increasing number of laws. Indeed, in our own society, this is precisely what we are used to: the government legislating on this, that or the other kind of unpleasant behaviour, or people taking each other to court in order to sue for “racism”, “sexism”, “offensiveness”, or to protect their alternative lifestyles by citing their “human rights”. Once we realise this, we can see that assessing problems such as the flagpole wholly by reference to legal relationships is really begging the question: such a myopic focus presupposes that the nature of the extant social order is a statist one in which all other methods of regulating behaviour have dried up.
Pointing all of this is not, of course, decisive in addressing the scenarios such as the flagpole. As we have explained before, however, we are not merely libertarian theorists wrangling over the difference between aggression and non-aggression; we wear hats also as libertarian activists who seek to persuade people of the justice and benefits of a free society. This latter endeavour requires us to move beyond the realm of intellectual argument by making judgments on sociological and cultural elements as well. Once we can do this the case for a free society is less likely to be derailed by citing hypothetical emergencies.
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 To avoid complications, we are assuming that the emergency has not been created by the aggressive actions of a third party. In such a case, the possibility arises that all of the reasonably expected consequences of the action in question – including the impact of the defensive efforts of the victim – are the legal responsibility of that aggressor. For a brief discussion on this, see part of this previous essay.
 R v Dudley and Stephens, (1884) 14 QBD 273 (DC).
 Austro-libertarians might suggest also that the impossibility of making interpersonal utility comparisons is, in any case, a dent in the utilitarian notion that several lives are necessarily more valuable than one.
 Such scenarios can be pushed further by asking whether the sacrifice of one person in order save a hundred, a thousand, or a million people, or, indeed the entire world, would be justified. We will come such extreme hypotheticals later.
 Walter Block, The Nonaggression Axiom of Libertarianism, Ch. 10 in Iulian Tãnase and Bogdan Glãvan (eds.), Building Blocks for Liberty: Critical Essays by Walter Block, Libertas Publishing (2006), 217-20 at 218.
 We should note, however, that if O does retain such a right, there is an obligation upon defenders to use a degree of force no more than is sufficient to bring the act of aggression to a close (as can be discerned in the circumstances as they arise). Given that, in each scenario raised by Block, O can see clearly that P is in a quandary and of likely minimal threat, it is unlikely that a libertarian court would find that the imposition of deadly, defensive force would be permitted.
 Block, 219.
 A related and equally fictitious fear (to which some libertarian scholars have suggested exceptions to the NAP) is that of “entrapment” or “encirclement” by the owners of property which surrounds your own property. We have dealt with this here.
 This is, of course, assuming that we are allowed to debate in the first place. The mere attempt at suggesting, say, that the NHS should be scrapped is often enough to be dismissed as an imbecile.
 This is not to suggest that people do not encounter freak acts of nature that cannot be attributed to the fault of either themselves or any other person. However, ameliorating the risk of genuinely unfortunate events can be achieved by the purchasing of insurance. Indeed, we can envisage that, in a free society, some insurance packages would include cover for compensation payable to third parties if a genuinely desperate situation has resulted in an aggressive act.
 Walter Block, Libertarianism and Libertinism, Ch. 17 in Tãnase and Glãvan (eds.), 303-15 at 313-5.
 Murray N Rothbard, Big-Government Libertarians, in Llewellyn H Rockwell, Jr. (ed.), The Irrepressible Rothbard: The Rothbard Rockwell Report Essays of Murray N. Rothbard, Center for Libertarian Studies (2000), 100-115, 101.
 The notion of peaceful, social relations arising out of an Hobbesian state of nature is one of the pillars of so-called social contract theory, which we have criticised before.
 Incidentally, all of this shows that the concept of “social credit” has always been present in human societies. The danger posed by so-called “social credit scores” enforced by digital technology is not the notion of “social credit” itself; rather, it is the demand to conform to behaviours demanded by the state rather than by the voluntary interactions of the community.
 I have elaborated on this distinction most fully in my recent essay series on How to Fight for Liberty.