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Property Rights Do Not Justify Sexual Harassment

September 29th, 2009

To extrapolate from a sample size of exactly one (who has, if I’m not mistaken, previously defended such absurdities as “slavery contracts”), a singular, authoritative “anarcho-capitalist” ethos[1], is the apex of ridiculousity. With that out of the way, François Tremblay is tilting at strawmen again. Quoting Block, Tremblay takes issue[2] with:

Another type of pinching or sexual harassment is that between a secretary and her boss. Although to many people, and especially to many people in the women’s liberation movement, there is no real difference between this pinching and the pinching that occurs on the street, the fact is that the pinching that takes place between a secretary and her boss, while objectionable to many women, is not a coercive action. It is not a coercive action like the pinching that takes place in the public sphere because it is part of a package deal: the secretary agrees to all aspects of the job when she agrees to accept the job and especially when she agrees to keep the job.

Specifically, Tremblay charges:

Once you accept that much degree of control over other people’s actions, then you can justify any degree of control. “Anarcho”-capitalists will complain that Block’s ravings are not indicative of their beliefs, but they will remain utterly unable to explain why he’s wrong without contradicting their own beliefs

Block’s argument is so stupid that I feel dirty just knowing that some readers might interpret this as a positive defense of his argument. I do not[3].  To the extent that Block believes an ambiguous employment agreement grants the employer unlimited license to molest his employees, absolutely he is a raving ass. This does not mean that the entire corpus of “anarcho-capitalist” ethics is wrong, only that maybe this particular belief is wrong, or does not follow, or is improperly framed, etc.  A reappraisal:

Either the secretary agreed to the circumstances explicitly set forth by the terms of whatever agreement she reached with her employer, or she did not.

If you know your neighbor has a rule, that any visitor to his house is obligated to wear the “funny hat“, you can’t barge in to his kitchen and refuse to wear the “funny hat”. You either wear it, or you befriend someone else. If she does not agree to the terms ex ante, having been fully informed, then she ought not take the job in the first place.

If she did not agree to be sexually harassed because these terms were not presented to her, then there was no meeting of the minds, and on general principles of law and reason, the uninvited and unwelcome intrusion into her personal space—indeed her beingis in-fact coercive, and worthy of derision. Ergo, Block is an ass, and wrong to-boot.

If she did agree (in which case it’s not harassment), and later decides she is no longer satisfied with the arrangements, then no the employer is guilty of no specific wrongdoing, and yes she ought to leave. Further, her withdrawal of consent may not be construed as breach of contract since such interpretation essentially permits unlimited license over another (i.e., “slavery contracts”).

Does it boil down to “property” at some level? Kind of, but not really. At least not entirely, as Tremblay presumes. “Property” is not the whole story, nor is it even a crucial determinant in evaluating this scenario. Block is wrong, not because of his belief in property rights, but because an argument resting solely on this premise is as stupid as a football bat.


  1. I do not consider myself an anarcho-capitalist
  2. Walter Block is wrong
  3. Comments suggesting that I support such a stupid argument will be redacted or deleted at my discretion

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