Libertarianism seeks to convey the richness and depth of libertarian political philosophy. It does so both by offering illuminating critical accounts of philosophical defenses of basic libertarian principles – principles of individual freedom, property rights, voluntary cooperation, and radical limitations on state authority – and by exploring the relationships between different philosophical approaches to these libertarian principles.
In a chapter on “Historical Antecedents,” Libertarianism examines libertarian or libertarian-leaning arguments in John Locke, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer. A chapter on “Libertarian Foundations” describes in some detail Robert Nozick’s case for natural moral rights and F.A. Hayek’s case for rules of just conduct compliance with which facilitates a society of voluntary cooperation that is advantageous to all its members. A chapter on “Economic Justice and Property Rights,” spells out Nozick’s defense of his historical entitlement theory of justice and Hayek’s various critiques of “social” justice.
An online bonus chapter, “Further Philosophical Roads to Libertarianism,” examines Hillel Steiner’s rights-based left-libertarianism, Loren Lomasky’s largely Humean case for basic rights of liberty and property (combined with rights to assistance in dire circumstances), Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl’s perfectionist case for a libertarian political and legal order, and David Schmidtz’s indirect utilitarian case for a classical liberal social and economic order.
An examination of the arguments of each of these authors brings out the presence of three major philosophical approaches in support of libertarian or libertarian-leaning conclusions. These are the natural rights, the cooperative to mutual advantage, and the indirect utilitarian approaches.
A final chapter on “Objections: Internal and External” discusses and assesses the dispute between libertarian anarchists, anti-taxation minimal statists, and minimal statists who accept taxation to fund the defense of rights. This chapter then discusses and critiques objections to libertarianism raised by John Rawls, Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, and G.A. Cohen.
Here are a dozen of the more striking contentions to be found in Libertarianism.
1) John Locke actually had arguments for natural rights – pretty good ones.
2) Herbert Spencer, rather than John Stuart Mill, should be recognized as the fountainhead of freedom-friendly indirect utilitarianism.
3) Nozick’s argument on the basis of “the separateness of persons” for the existence of moral side constraints and the natural rights correlative to them is more complex and powerful than is generally appreciated. More specifically, Nozick’s “separateness of persons” argument for side constraints and rights is more plausible than John Rawls’ “separateness of persons” argument for his contractarian framework.
4) Hayek had the interesting idea that he could bypass arguing directly for moral principles by, instead, disclosing the social scientific errors that had led to classical liberal principles being dethroned. The rules of just conduct endorsed by Hayek would be re-enthroned by an understanding of how such rules facilitate desirable social and economic order.
5) Nozick’s arguments on behalf of his historical entitlement theory of justice in holdings are more complex and powerful than is generally appreciated – especially his Liberty Upsets Patterns argument.
6) Hayek’s beloved claim that it is meaningless to ascribe injustice (or justice) to an unintended array of holdings is mistaken; but a number of his critiques of “social justice” that are based on a sound understanding of the function of market remuneration are important and insightful.
7) There are lots of interesting libertarian philosophers out there other than Nozick.
8) Left-libertarianism still cannot reconcile the degree of economic equality that it seeks with the robustness of the self-ownership that it seeks.
9) Rawls’ critique of libertarianism in his Political Liberalism does nothing but reinforce Nozick’s Liberty Upsets Patterns argument against all pattern theories of justice.
10) It’s a good thing that Yul Brynner’s character in The Magnificent Seven had not read Murphy and Nagel’s The Myth of Ownership.
11) Although G.A. Cohen understood some of the virtues of markets, he did not appreciate the crucial virtue emphasized by Hayek — that markets enable individuals with radically distinct ultimate values to cooperate to mutual advantage.
12) Indirect defenses of libertarian conclusions understandably tend to morph into cooperation to mutual advantage defenses and both of these approaches at crucial junctures need to appeal to a moral standing that individuals possess that requires their freedom be respected.
Eric Mack is Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University. His new book Libertarianismis now available from Polity.