Dante’s Divine Comedy and Intellectual Property

by Stephan Kinsella on May 18, 2013

Interesting article at Strike-the-Root by Lawrence Ludlow, Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Divine Origins of the Free Market, which makes some interesting connections between Dante’s Divine Comedy, the free market, and (anti) intellectual property theory. An excerpt:

In short, Virgil asks Dante to abandon his outmoded economic paradigm of command-and-control economics, where the Diktat of economic viziers can only derail the spontaneous order of things and undermine the natural benefits of a free market. Virgil is telling Dante that the wealth created by the free and spontaneous order is as abundant as the divine light emanating from the sun. One person’s enjoyment of it does not subtract from the enjoyment of another. And please, let’s not over-extend the metaphor by talking about shadows cast by individuals positioned more closely to the sun! We must assume that Dante is referring to a divine sunlight that probably does not cause cancer either! In an analogous way, Stephan Kinsella’s path-breaking work “Against Intellectual Property,” demonstrated that the concept of intellectual property (IP) is inappropriate for a similar reason.

Divine Sunlight, Intellectual Property, and Love

The shared understanding of a concept among more than one person merely expands with the number of people who share that concept. When greater numbers of people appreciate the concept of a wheel and the advantages that a wheel brings to the art of transportation, the sharing of this concept among many minds does not dislodge it from the mind of the person who originally conceived it. One person’s grasp of a concept does not subtract from another’s. In other words, there is no scarcity in the realm of understanding just as there is no scarcity in the availability of divine sunlight to all who are illuminated by it. That is why the concept of IP is an anti-concept and quite destructive. As Kinsella has shown, the concept of property rights was developed to resolve conflicts of ownership that apply to real, or physical, property – not intellectual concepts. Only physical property is afflicted by the burden of scarcity because the limitations of its physical nature imply that it cannot be simultaneously employed by more than one person. In other words, one cannot have one’s cake and eat it, too. But this concept does not apply to intellectual knowledge – which like the sunlight described by Virgil, shares a quality in which “the blaze of Love is spread more widely, the greater the Eternal Glory grows.”

As much light as it finds there, it bestows; (Verse 70)
thus, as the blaze of Love is spread more widely,
the greater the Eternal Glory grows.

As mirror reflects mirror, so, above, (Verse 73)
the more there are who join their souls, the more
Love learns perfection, and the more they love.

In addition, we can perceive here the overwhelming importance of love in Dante’s exposition. Just as the divine sunlight described by Dante’s Virgil is not diminished by its ability to illuminate many darkened minds, and just as Kinsella’s rejection of intellectual property and replacement of that anti-concept by the concept of shared knowledge demonstrates the undiminished capacity of a shared idea to transform countless lives for the better, love itself does not diminish in proportion to its being shared. Instead, it increases and grows tremendously in its impact. This is a powerful message, and it is one we should all consider deeply. From an anarcho-libertarian perspective, the writer Glen Allport has explored the importance of love as a means of emotional connection in his many valuable essays at Strike The Root – most particularly in The Doctrine of Love and Freedom. While I frequently fail in my attempts to incorporate Glen Allport’s approach in my sometimes-snarky essays, these failures cannot diminish the intrinsic value of the important message of free markets or the equally valuable message of love. I hope that this essay does much to make up for the deficit – shortening my own future journey through Purgatory.

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