I will describe in this post what I take to be the most plausible form of libertarianism. Because there are so many different topics and issues related to libertarianism, I will mainly sketch over a large variety of topics without going deep into any particular issue. This post is meant as an exercise to formulate, rather than justify, my preferred form of libertarianism.
In a previous post, I stated that people have a variety of libertarian ownership rights. The post covered self-ownership rights, world-ownership rights, and some considerations related to the nature of those rights. In this post, I will consider the implications that I believe these ownership rights have on the permissible activities of a state.
Libertarians are in near-unanimous agreement in their endorsement of ownership rights, both over one’s person and over private property. To say that a person owns a certain entity implies that the person has certain moral rights over the entity, including rights to control the use of the entity, rights to transfer these rights to others, immunities to the non-consensual loss of these rights, etc. In other words, ownership is simply a “bundle of particular rights” (see Vallentyne, Steiner, and Otsuka (2005, p. 204)). However, while it may be intuitive that persons have certain ownership rights (e.g. everyone owns their bodies), there is still an open question regarding how ownership rights should be delineated. In other words, there is still an open question as to which “bundle of rights” come with ownership. So we need principles for delineating the moral rights that stem from ownership. In other words, we need principles that govern how to delineate ownership rights. I will argue in this post that one such principle is what Eric Mack calls the “anti-paralysis” postulate.
The standard pro-life argument against the legalization of abortion is based on the premise that fetuses are persons, combined with the widely held view that it should be illegal to kill persons. Since abortions kill fetuses, it follows that abortions should be illegal. Roughly speaking, the standard pro-life argument can be given in syllogistic form as follows: (1) Fetuses are persons. (2) It should be illegal to kill a person. (3) Abortion kills a fetus. (4) [from 1 and 2] Therefore, it should be illegal to kill a fetus. (5) [from 3 and 4] Therefore, abortion should be illegal. I think a good argument can be given to show that premise 2 is false in the case of abortion. By “good” argument, I mean an argument based on principles that cohere with our shared considered intuitions better than principles supporting any pro-life conclusion. More specifically, I believe that premise 2 can be shown to be false from intuitions that even most pro-lifers hold.
Libertarianism is notorious in its rejection of regulations by the state that many see as morally permissible. For example, libertarians often reject forms of wealth redistribution, welfare states, and social safety nets. Libertarians believe that, even if these programs produce good outcomes, to coerce people into supporting these programs via mandatory taxation (which is backed by the threat of physical force by the state if one doesn’t pay their taxes) is to violate their ownership rights over their property and their body.The point is that we have ownership rights over our bodies and our legitimately acquired property (i.e. property which was acquired without the violation of any else’s rights); therefore, to control (or threaten control of) someone else’s bodies or property without their consent is to violate those rights. Many libertarian philosophers (anarchists) have taken this point to claim that all mandatory taxation is unjust. If this claim is correct, then it seems that libertarianism is committed to the rejection of the state, as most conceptions of the state involve (among other things) mandatory taxation of its citizens. This post will argue that this conclusion is incorrect. I will argue that an adequate justification of the state can be provided on broadly libertarian grounds.