Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Libertarian Violations of Jussie Smollett

By Robert Wenzel

I see at the post, Rahm Emanuel Goes Off on Jussie Smollett After Charges Dropped, Napster is asking:
While I know that this is not the point of the discussion, intellectually speaking from a libertarian perspective, I'm trying to figure out why Smollett should be sanctioned at all. Did he violate anyone's property rights?
The short answer is that Smollett is a very bad guy. He attempted to use the state for his own personal gain and to promote racial hatred. This is an extreme violation of libertarian principles.

Let me explain with a thought experiment.

Suppose ExxonMobil owns some oil properties in the land of a tin-pot dictator who will not allow ExxonMobil to develop the properties. Let's say ExxonMobil has connections in the State Department and gets the State Department to start a subversive campaign in the country to overthrow the dictator.

Are there libertarian violations here? Of course!

In this case ExxonMobil would be using its connections with government to expand the government and foment unrest in a country in which the United States has no business.

So there are at least three libertarian violations here. First, ExxonMobil would be acting to increase the operations of government--libertarians should always be for shrinking the government.

Second, ExxonMobil would be encouraging the government to use subversive means to manipulate a group of people.

And finally, ExxonMobil, in this case, would be encouraging the government to use its assets beyond the borders of the United States. There is a question as to whether government should deploy any assets anywhere but there is certainly no justification for the United States to be using assets against a tin-pot dictator who is no threat to the United States.

Now with this in mind, let us consider the Jussie Smollett situation.

It appears clear that he staged a racial incident for personal gain. If he had just done this on his own property and called in the media to report his tall tale, we could certainly still label him a bad guy but there would be no violation of libertarianism.

However, he did more than this. He called in the government to add weight to his story. That is he was attempting to expand government resources to promote propaganda.

I rush to point out that this is much different than a situation of a person who has been truly mugged and calls the government police because the police have a monopoly on crime resolution.

This is not what Smollett was doing. He was expanding the context in which government resources are used in much the same way ExxonMobil would have done in our example. This is anti-libertarian.

Further, apparently for his own personal gain, he was attempting to use government resources in a way that would foment racial divisions in the country. This is obviously horrific and certainly anti-libertarian when government resources are used to advance the evil.

Smollett's problem was that he is not too bright and claimed this racial attack occurred in Chicago in subzero-degree weather in a very peaceful part of the city. This would have put Chicago coppers on alert to the tale right there. When he brought a noose and white bleach into the tale, the coppers probably knew right then they had a whopper on their hands. Since Chicago coppers probably didn't see the police force role as expanding this type of racial divide, they did their work and uncovered the scam.

At that point, it became a battle between the government with its agenda and a lone nutjob who wanted to redirect the government agenda.

In other words, there are no real sympathetic creatures here and the best a libertarian can do is cheer on those working in this specific case in
 the best interest of limiting the expansion of government--and in this case it is the Chicago coppers.

However, apparently, Smollett had a few power cards to play and so the race hate instigator got away without a smashing by the coppers and the Chicago "justice" system and that is a disappointment from a libertarian perspective--but not totally surprising.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.


  1. RW, those arguments aren't persuasive. The state exists and taxes and regulates folks regardless of whether ExxonMobil or Smollett act, so their acting doesn't cause those state violations. The fact that Smollett lies and wants to foment unrest aren't themselves a violation of anyone's property rights (would we say that the anti-Trump media, in lying and fomenting unrest with its ridiculous news stories, is violating anyone's property rights?).

    As to "expanding the context in which government resources are used," if A decides to sue B in a government court instead of using private arbitration, would we say that this is a libertarian violation? Isn't that what Walter Block did in suing The New York Times? If A mails a package through the US Postal Service instead of FedEx, would we say that this is a libertarian violation? That connection seems very thin. Surely there needs to be a more direct violation of someone's property rights before we can claim a libertarian violation?

    Now, the stronger case would be if Smollett's actions led to the state trespassing on someone's private property or kidnapping and caging someone in the course of acting on Smollett's claims, as then one could say that Smollett was aiding and abetting these incremental state violations.

    I would agree, however, that Smollett was acting in an unlibertarian manner, but that's a statement about his sentiment and purpose, not about any violation of others' property rights.

    1. It is not just that public resources were used, as in Walter Blocks's case, but they were used for immoral reasons. If the courts are the only way for Block to stop attacks on his character (or whatever he was doing), at least he is doing so to defend himself. Smollett used those resources for personal financial gain and political motives. Big difference. He acted in a manner which is fraudulent for his own financial, political, and social gain.

    2. Smollett staged his own false-flag operation. He could have easily gotten innocent people imprisoned, hurt, or killed from his actions.

      While I realize I'm probably in the libertarian minority, I think if John falsely tells Joe that Fred is sleeping with his wife, and Joe kills Fred, John has violated the NAP and has culpability in the crime.

    3. If Smollett were smarter and the cops dumber odds are two innocent men would have had their lives ruined. It's only because the cops did a good job and Smollett was exceptionally stupid in going about this did that not happen.

      That would be like RW's analogy but with the plot failing to change anything in the foreign land. Sure nobody's rights would have been violated, and the government would be the same, but that's only because the plot failed.

      I suppose if someone tries to pick the lock on the front door of his neighbor's house wanting to burgle the place but fails the violation of property rights didn't happen or was minimal, but the act still intended to.

    4. David T, I don't see why "immoral reasons" makes things different from a libertarian-law perspective. If I steal your money, whether I use it to pay a hit man or give it to a charity, it's still theft.

    5. Pandemic, to your first point, yes, that might have happened, but it didn't. As to your second point, I would agree with you if John's lie were part of a plan to kill Fred, and John reasonably expected that outcome; in that case, John would have used Joe as a firearm. However, without those additional factors, I don't think that John would be held responsible for Joe's actions; after all, Joe is an independent being who made a voluntary decision to kill Fred. Establishing causation for chain events is a tricky part of the law.

    6. JJM, I don't deny that an attempt can be punishable. In the case of your lock-picking example, there was an actual trespass, plus an attempted burglary, and I believe that some form of libertarian law would settle on punishment of both aspects (but the triviality might impact the quantum of damages).

      However, for an attempt, I would think that there would have to be a specific, intended victim who could bring suit. With Smollett, because it appears that there were no actual MAGA-bullies for the police to find or whom Smollett targeted, there were no identifiable victims of the attempt (other than, perhaps, the whole white male population).

    7. Napster, it's not the immoral reasons but the fraud. Fraud is a form of theft. He stole public resources while Walter used the option he had to defend hinself.

    8. David T, the "theft" of the "public resources," by which I assume you mean tax monies or resources they financed, occurred when the state confiscated income from taxpayers. According to Walter's Ragnar theory, someone who relieves a thief of his loot is to be applauded, regardless of what he does with it afterwards.

      I think that your analysis would be correct in a libertarian society where there would only be private security services. But we are dealing here with a fraudster tricking a thief.

    9. Why would there need to be a specific target? Many crimes happen with no specific pre-chosen target. The target it is whatever is convenient at the moment. With Smollett it was part of the failure of execution that resulted in the cops having nobody to pick to hang it on.

      If it had gone as planned it wouldn't be the first time the cops picked someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time to hang a crime or a crime that never happened on.

      The only reason there is nobody to sue is because the plan failed to get far enough for someone to be accused.

    10. JJM, in a libertarian society there would be no state to prosecute alleged offenders; action could only be taken by actual or intended victims (or their agents). The state can get away with prosecuting if someone violates its legislation even if there are no victims, but in a libertarian society, someone's rights would have to have been violated for them to take action. In the case of attempts, I would think that a libertarian court would want to see more of a connection between the failed action and a plaintiff than just "It could have been me."

      The one other aspect to note that I believe would exist in a libertarian society is that private landowners could of course specify what is allowed and not allowed on their property. Thus if this type of thing happened on someone's private land against his wishes, he could take action. But I would then characterize the landowner as the clear "victim" here, in the sense of his rights (to control action on his property) having been violated.

  2. Don't misread the Leftist anger directed at Smollett. They are not angry at him for staging a fake hate crime. After all, without fake hate crimes there would be almost no hate crimes to report at all (anti White hate crimew have blossomed but don't count and are rarely reported or recorded).

    No, the Leftists are angry at Smollett for being so bad at staging a fake hate crime.

  3. RW, if you're interested in more detail on Smollett and the CPD checkout on this incident. Not only to see how upset the cops are with the government but who called who to make the charges go away, how the police weren't even told in advance of the decision, etc. A fair amount of detail in the posts and comments.

  4. With all the falsely prosecuted inmates out there, let's call this hoax a wash. It might be argued that libertarians congratulate Smollet for using up some of the limited State resources that would have otherwise gone in part to imprisoning innocent people. Ironically, had Smollet's ploy been 'successful' it would have resulted in the State imprisoning innocent people.

  5. I'm not buying it.
    Smollett engaged in persuasion, not force. The sine qua non of a "libertarian breach" is using force (including fraud) to violate a person or their property, NOT using speech and persuasion (at least where no direct, pecuniary gain was fraudulently achieved).
    Yes, he harbors non-libertarian ideas, and probably can't be categorized as a "libertarian"...but if there's no violation of a property right---no force or fraud that directly (and maybe materially) harmed another---then he's indulging his vices, and at most is acting unethically, not immorally.
    He didn't commandeer the police; The police don't have a duty or obligation to protect and serve the Public (so says SCOTUS), and therefore the police here acted voluntarily in diverting resources toward catching Smollett in his hoax attempt. So, this wasn't even a fraud upon the police dpt., inasmuch as from the start they very likely knew this was a hoax and were out to investigate Smollett's crime, not catch his attackers.

  6. It is debates like this that turn people off to libertarianism. Smollett is a shitbag. Splitting hairs about whether or not this is a NAP violation is pointless, nobody cares other than the few here commenting. He attempted to dupe the media/public to gain publicity and further is political and personal ambitions. Shitbag. No need to continue the debate. In a perfect world libertarian society, this man would be cast out as a piece of shit and it wouldn't take 14 comments to come to that conclusion.

    1. Rob, I think that you're trivializing the libertarian question, namely, when is it appropriate to use physical force against someone? That's what the debate is about, and that's an important question, because the use of force is a non-trivial matter (I would argue that many of the problems in society today exist because people are numb to the state's use of actual or threatened force with respect to everything we do).

      I agree with your last comment that, in a libertarian society, people could always ostracize someone like Smollett -- whether or not the use of force is also justified -- by excluding him from their property, business, schools, etc., so that he would have to live only with other people like him (which as actor, he probably is!).

  7. I would agree RW, no one wants to acknowledge the greater good or as stated how do "immoral reasons" makes things different from a libertarian-law perspective."

    It makes a very real and negative impact on the libertarian perspective exactly because no libertarian lives in a bubble and black and white stance of modern libertarians ignores issue of real import ... The slow acceptance of injustice will slide us into new areas of oppression and making those that fight the fight have to work harder.

    For that reason alone RW's perspective cant be dismissed out of hand