Saturday, 14 August 2010

What is Libertarianism?

Libertarianism is a political philosophy. Like all political philosophies, it is a system, or set of principles, for allocating property ownership. It provides an answer to the question: who is the rightful owner of X?

Law is the application of political philosophy. All courts must operate according to some political philosophy, since dispute resolution involves, first and foremost, determining who the rightful owner of the disputed property is.

In libertarianism, property can be rightfully acquired only by (a) homesteading, or (b) voluntary exchange. These principles are held to be universal: no-one can rightfully acquire property any other way, for example, by stealing it.

Property is originally created through the interaction of labor and nature. The homesteading principle is that the first owner of the property – the “homesteader” – is the individual who supplied the labor. It is the formation of an objective link between the homesteader and the property that gives him the right to ultimate decision-making jurisdiction over how that property is used, i.e. ownership rights.

Property ownership rights can be transferred from one individual to another by either voluntary exchange or coerced exchange. Libertarians believe that only voluntary exchanges constitute a rightful exchange of property. Involuntary exchanges include murder, rape, slavery, assault, theft, fraud and trespass. Under libertarian law, these activities are outlawed.

Libertarianism can be contrasted with socialism. Under socialism, the first owner of original property is not always the homesteader; the most obvious case being the outlawing of drugs. And some involuntary exchanges are lawful; the most obvious case being taxation.

Socialism is necessarily non-universal; there are different laws for State employees, such as tax collectors, than there are for non-State employees. Most individuals are not allowed to threaten others with violence if they do not pay tribute.

Government is incompatible with libertarianism. A government is a territorial monopolist of law. The only way a government can maintain this territorial monopoly is by aggressing against potential new competitors in the production of law and forcing individuals within the territory from using any other legal system for conflict resolution. Government therefore necessarily violates the libertarian principle that only voluntary exchanges are rightful.

A libertarian, qua libertarian, is concerned with ending acts of aggression, as that term is understood according to libertarian philosophy. Under libertarian law, no individual is allowed to initiate coercive exchanges.


  1. How would you respond to this. Consider this example. You can either steal a bread or starve, is it justified to steal? You would probably agreed it would be justified. You could say the society isn't behaving in a moral way towards this person, so he doesn't have to behave morally towards society.

    So if a society doesn't pledge to take care of its citizens, it is justifying immoral behavior of citizens toward society, thus toward each other.

    Such a system should be considered to have immorality at its very core, and unless it can create a very favorable economic condition fast enough, is doomed to break down socially.

  2. @Wouter,

    Tha is a common problem with people thinking using the statism-centric mind of these days: they create an example that not only does not happen in real life but also reinforces their own view of the world. This is story-making...

    Is there such a situation that either you steal or you starve? Couldn't just you offer your work in exchange for the bread you need?

    By not providing some starving person a piece of bread no one is being immoral. Surely you are free to exercise your right to compassion and give a piece of bread for such a person, but by no moral code we have you are obliged to. Surely you can offer that piece of bread in exchange for something you need.

    That is the central problem with collectivists: they think everybody (taken collectively as "society") has some moral obligation towards every single person. This is a childish way of thinking: "the whole-powerful society have to provide for everyone". Real life is much more complicated. Every person is responsible for its own self.

    Look: we have charity organizations for people who want to be volunteers. People who are so concerned with their fellow person who would donate time, money and resources to help others. But this is something people do out of their good hearts. No one has the obligation to have a good heart. And surely no one can be mandated to have one.

    Free Market works and doesn't require idealized people to function. Your "the-society-has-some-moral-obligation-towards-all" world-view is flawed by requiring everyone to have a good heart. This is why collectivism in any of its forms is doomed and prone to have crooks as their leaders.

    This is a good animation that summarizes what I am trying to explain: