Libertarianism Is Based Only on Property Rights

Matt BruenigI’ve long been a fan of Matt Bruenig’s battles with the “serious” libertarians. What he shows is what I know from experience: libertarians don’t think very deeply. It is a political ideology that appeals to people on a superficial level, because it has a certain mathematical simplicity to it. The arguments you most hear are that no one has a right to bother you if you aren’t infringing on their rights. Thus, libertarians tend to be in favor of the very governmental functions that are most often used by governments to oppress their people: the military and police.

The philosophical basis of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle: the idea that one cannot initiate force against another. But what does it mean to initiate force? This is where libertarians get into so much trouble. They believe in private property. Thus, if you think you own a piece of land and I step on it, you think that I am initiating force. But if I don’t accept the idea of private property, then I think you are initiating force. So the non-aggression principle is begging the question. The real issue is whether there should be private property or not. But libertarians pretty much never even mention that question — they take it as given.

So all libertarianism is left with is a particularly belligerent approach to property rights — one where a person can initiate all the aggression they like as long as they (or more likely, their ancestors) staked a claim before anyone else got there. To me, there is a real sense in libertarian thought that it works backwards from the result it is looking for. Proponents want absolute rights to their property, and so they work back to the non-aggression principle. But actually what they do is a lot of intellectual busy work that goes nowhere: I must have absolute rights to my property because I must have absolute rights to my property.

Unless we are going to get into Inequality: the Monopoly Analogy, all people born should receive an equal share of the earth’s resources. Obviously, that would be pretty hard to do as a practical matter. So as a result, we as a society, have come up with other mechanisms to facilitate this — at least to a small extent. These include things like safety net programs, public education, and so on. Is that really so hard to understand? Apparently it is to libertarians. To them, it is absolutely right and fitting that Donald Trump and someone else born to poor parents on 14 June 1946 get absolutely divergent resources because of the accidents of their births.

Say what you will about aristocrats, at least they had a theory for why one’s lot in life was totally random. Libertarians offer no excuse for why Trump deserved to inherit his fortune other than that history itself is a kind of God that must be worshiped. That is ultimately what the non-aggression principle means in practice: no one is to do violence to the way things are. And I fully acknowledge that in such a world, there are some born with great dis-fortune who will do well, and vise versa. But libertarianism stacks the deck heavily — providing the opposite of equality of opportunity.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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