The Essence of Liberty: Property Rights and Non Aggression

It is a sad truth that many Westerners have never critically investigated libertarian political theory. Volumes upon volumes have been written explaining, describing, arguing, and expanding on libertarianism. This article is simply meant to highlight the most important implications of this political theory.  The following is a basic introduction to the philosophy of liberty. Liberty is a philosophy of nonviolence and private property.

                There are so many intellectual giants upon which these two foundations of libertarianism rest that I cannot adequately cite the ideas represented here. Instead I will provide a list of texts in which to explore the philosophical foundations in depth at the end of this post, including Locke, Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe and others.

                Property rights might not be self-evident but are easily understood. To put it simply, property ownership begins with the concept of self-ownership. Libertarianism champions the sovereignty of every individual. This ownership extends to the fruits of one’s labor and their justly accumulated wealth through trade, entrepreneurship, etc… To own something, one must be able to do with the object whatever he or she sees fit, provided the owner does not infringe upon another individual’s right to exercise their personal self-ownership.  The old saying holds true, “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose”.

                In correlation with the foundational principle of self-ownership, libertarianism recognizes any infringement of this right as criminal, or illegitimate. Theft and murder are both forms of criminal aggression no matter if they are euphemistically referred to as taxation, or preemptive war. A libertarian does not grant an agent of the State extra rights. If it is illegal for you or I to do, it is illegal for a law enforcement officer as well.

                Some have attempted to refute the validity of the self-ownership principle, on several different grounds. Rather than discussing the details of every refutation that I am familiar with I will begin and end with what Economist and Philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe calls argumentation ethics. Hoppe derived this a priori theory from similar logic that libertarian standard bearer Dr. Murray Rothbard employed in his Ethics of Liberty, based in argumentation. Hoppe said:

                “Only because the protected borders of property are objective (i.e., fixed and recognizable as fixed prior to any conventional agreement), can there be argumentation and possibly agreement of and between independent decision-making units. Nobody could argue in favor of a property system defining borders of property in subjective, evaluative terms because simply to be able to say so presupposes that, contrary to what theory says, one must in fact be a physically independent unit saying it.”[1]

As Hoppe implies, if the body is not an independent unit owned by its occupier, then argumentation against such a belief would be impossible. If one does not own the fruits of his or her labor, how would an argument distinct and in opposition to self-ownership be proposed?

                Therefore, the first truth of libertarianism is self-ownership. From here a philosophy of peaceful interaction and cooperation amongst individuals can be derived. These are the traits of a sound political philosophy, and libertarianism is just that. The emphasis on peaceful interaction is a result of the non-aggression principle. In order for the concepts of property and ownership to hold true, the initiation of a violence, or aggression must be illegitimate. Aggression can take many forms, and circumstance is an important variable when considering what constitutes aggression. For instance, the act of killing in self-defense is legitimate, as one has the right to defend his or her own property, in this case, their body. Murder is an entirely different story and is the antithesis of libertarian law, or social code. To murder is also to steal the life of which another individual has ownership.

                Involuntary slavery is as well an affront to the libertarian social code. As was noted so famously in a recent NYT hit piece, Dr. Walter Block pointed out that it was not the labor per se that made American slavery so despicable, but it was the compulsory nature of such a system. The involuntary binding of one individual to another is a criminal act constituting aggression. There is disagreement amongst libertarians concerning the legitimacy of a voluntarily entered contract of slavery, but that is not to be confused with an ambiguity on the practice of slavery as we have seen it on a global scale throughout human history.

                A difference between libertarian law and law as it exists in the Western world today is the constitution of a crime. There are countless laws and regulations that are based in no certain principle, rather only the majority vote or corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Running afoul of the millions of laws and regulations is a seemingly unavoidable incident. We see this today because the concept of a crime has lost its true meaning. A crime is initiatory aggression upon the property of others, no more and no less. For an in depth defense of certain “crimes” and immoral laws in America today from a libertarian morality, see Defending the Undefendable by Dr. Walter Block of the University of Loyola New Orleans and the Mises Institute.

                If true liberty promises full property rights in an individual’s body and his or her justly acquired properties and possessions, than the criminalization of certain drugs and substances is unjust and arbitrarily dictatorial. In the United States’ War on Drugs the true aggressors are the agents of government who arrest, murder, and imprison peaceful people acting within their right to own themselves. The same analysis holds true of those who voluntarily buy and sell “illegal” drugs, engage in prostitution, enjoy gambling, partake in moonshining, or any other victimless action that is against the law in the United States and most of the Western world. Governments across the world appeal to the morality of its subjects to gain control. The outlawing of these morally questionable activities has never been successful by any meaningful measure excepting the growth of government control and the loss of liberty.

                The final step in grasping the essence of liberty is applying the libertarian ethic to government itself. There are many grounds upon which agents of government break the libertarian social code, but a select few represent the pervasiveness of lawlessness and tyranny. For instance, in the United States the central bank called the Federal Reserve claims and exercises the power to inflate the only money supply that the government recognizes as legal tender. This inflation sends hundreds of billions of US dollars to large banks and lending companies creating a corresponding rise in nominal values reflected by Wall Street, and decreasing the value of what each individual earns and has saved. Understandably, there is debate within libertarianism about the legitimacy of fractional reserve banking, but what is agreed upon by most is that it must be contractual, or voluntary. Alternatively, within the current and mandatory system of increased inflation and legal tender laws, theft is perpetuated by the government onto its subjects.

                Most damning to the legitimacy of the State is its sole means of existence, taxation. Libertarians view taxation as no more than theft on a massive scale. Theft on a scale such as exists today is not only grossly immoral, but harmful to the economy as a whole. Government taxing and spending creates misallocations of resources, aides in the creation of the business cycle[2], and discourages development, innovation, and opportunity. Due to the inevitability of government to grow, the ever increasing rates of taxation, regulation, and inflation leads down what F.A. Hayek called The Road to Serfdom.

                In conclusion, the degree to which libertarians believe that the principles of liberty can be applied varies greatly amongst respected libertarians. The range varies from anarchy to minimal and limited government. Many believe that a small government is needed to protect the principles of liberty. It is certainly true that the human race would advance dramatically with a correspondingly dramatic decrease in the amount of government in, but it is also true that government cannot exist without taxation, and theft is a violation of the principles government is supposed to protect.

                However far each individual libertarian wishes to see the principles of liberty advanced does not have to be a divisive issue. The world today is a Statist paradise that will most certainly lead to death and destruction, the only real specialty of government. Merely expressing agreement and engaging in productive discussion about libertarian theory is essential today.

                I hope this short introduction created enough interest in libertarian political theory to further research any questions and refutations you have. The following is a list of texts that have laid the foundation for the modern movement of peace, freedom, and prosperity.

The Ethics of Liberty – Murray N. Rothbard
Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market – Murray N. Rothbard
For A New Liberty – Murray N. Rothbard
Human Action – Ludwig von Mises
The Economics and Ethics of Private Property – Hans-Hermann Hoppe
The Second Treatise of Government – John Locke
The Left, The Right and The State – Lew Rockwell
The Philosophical Origins of Austrian Economics – David Gordon
Prices and Production and Other Works – Freidrich Hayek
–  Adam Alcorn
Founder/Editor The Humane Condition
@AdamBlacksburg
Adam Alcorn

Adam Alcorn


[1] http://mises.org/daily/4641 Excerpted from Hoppe, Hans-Hermann The Economics and Ethics of Private Property.

Freedom and Democracy: Oil and Water

Democracy Most western states have some type of a democratic republican form of a government.  These types of governments rely on democratic elections to appoint the leaders of the republic.  Few people take the time to weigh the benefits and costs of such a system.  However, if we are to live in a system such as this, it is of the upmost importance to understand the efficiency and effects of such a system.

First, let’s look at the supposed benefits of a purely democratic system.  Power is dispersed among the entirety of the population.  The larger the population, the less power any one person has over everyone else.  Furthermore, this system allows each person to have some minute say in how the state governs their lives.  A democratic republic is slightly different.  Here, each person has an equal say, should they choose to vote, in electing a group of people who run the government.  Therefore, the power to choose these individuals is dispersed among the entire population.  However, these elected “officials,” are far less constrained in “serving” the “needs” of the public.  This is a very basic outline of the common arguments in favor of such a system.  However, there are some very glaring problems that must be addressed.

The first problem of such a system is economic in nature.  It produces a phenomenon known as rational ignorance.  In other words, a democratic system dis-incentivizes citizens from researching and being informed about both the political system and the issues that are to be addressed through this system.  Rational ignorance springs forth from the fact that time is scarce.  Every hour, every minute, every second is constrained by scarcity.  People do not have an infinite amount of time and since time is scarce, individuals must economize their time in ways that best serves their personal interests.  The problem with any democratic system is what is commonly perceived as its main benefit.  The dispersal of power means that no one person has any real say in the outcome of an election.  Rational people, people looking to economize their scarce resources, will employ their resources only if they think that doing so can accomplish a goal or task.  Taking the ten minutes to vote can certainly fall within the purview of rational people.  It is very little time and it fulfills that nationalistic desire that “good” citizens and brought up with.  However, they are much less likely to take the time to research every issue, every topic, and every political matter that their vote weighs in on.  After all, one vote among millions is statistically insignificant.  Because each individual has a scarce amount of time and an insignificant contribution to the democratic process, they don’t reap any benefits from spending the necessary time needed to become informed on the very issue they are voting on.  In other words, the rational individual in a democratic society is the individual who disregards politics altogether in order to spend his or her time on actions that can actually affect his or her life.  The result of rational ignorance is that bad laws and incompetent leaders infect the democratic system.

The second problem with democracy has to do with how individuals treat and perceive each other.  The one defining feature of every government is coercion.  Every government claims a monopoly on the production of law and how that law is to be enforced.  To clarify, coercion is the instrument through which the state establishes and maintains the laws that it produces.  This is no different in a democratic system of government.  Because of this defining feature, voters are attempting to enforce their political views on every person that falls within the territory of the state.  Interpersonal relationships are not affected by certain political views that individuals hold and vote on.  Certainly, you’d be hard pressed to find opposition to the outlawing of murder.  However, most political topics are little more than divisive opinions.  Topics such as the minimum wage, war policy, foreign policy, budgets, health care, and civil liberties are all issues with multiple sides.  Because coercion is the instrument by which political change is enacted, all democratically decided policies are enforced on everyone.  To elaborate, let’s look at the vitriol that Democrats and Republicans have for each other.  Each party vehemently opposes the other and rightfully so.  After all, each party is attempting to force the other party to live in their ideal government.  Another example is the typical Facebook feed, littered with conservatives trashing liberals and their positions, and liberals ridiculing conservatives and their positions.  There is this great myth that democracy is the process that brings together a diverse populace to collectively decide the laws of society.  In reality, it only polarizes and divides the society it pretends to bring together.  There already is a process for bringing diverse groups of people together.  It is called the market.  Even the bitterest enemies might be brought together through trade, each person only trying to make themselves better off.  The difference between the market and democracy is the decisions of democracy are coercively imposed whereas the decisions on the market occur through voluntary trade and agreement.

What are the implications of such conclusions?  If a society is to live under democratic rule, it must do so with extreme caution.  Every time an individual has a chance to vote to bring another good or service out of the market and into the power of the state, they must ask themselves if they are ready for that good or service to suffer the lower quality that will result from rational ignorance and if they are ready for the bitterness that will spring forth from the individuals opposed to the newly coerced measure.

– Will Shanahan, Contributing Editor, the Humane Condition

Check out Will’s blog at thefuriouslibertarian.com

The Furious Libertarian

The Furious Libertarian

Founded by Contributing Editor and Writer for the Humane Condition Will Shanahan, The Furious Libertarian is great reading. Check it out…

“The Furious Libertarian” is a project to expose the prevailing injustice in society caused by the state.  It is a project that seeks to emphasize the futility of the one dimensional left-right political paradigm that dominates the political world.  Once one realizes how the state systematically regulates, impoverishes, and imprisons innocent people while simultaneously enriching its privileged allies, one can no longer remain apathetic.  This project is educational in nature.  It is ultimately aimed at highlighting and analyzing the various actions of the state that would make anyone furious.  This project will cover everything from the war on drugs to crippling regulations to the disenfranchisement of the poor.  Hopefully, this will move at least one person away from their apathetic relationship with the state.  If so, I will consider it a success.  After all, no one should be less than furious with the state.”

– Will Shanahan

Statism and Liberty – Applying the Message

               Libery Rebuilds Civilizations

               When writing about current events from the libertarian anarchist point of view, whether politically, Geo-politically, or even rhetorically focused, a difficulty arises.  When the mainstream media and the blogosphere are focused on the problems of Statism, as expected the debate is centered on Statist solutions. Speaking only for myself, as a libertarian anarchist, it becomes very difficult to apply libertarian principles to the average popular political debate. Especially when it comes to issues that only arise under a State dominated world, such as immigration. I wrote this article, discussing an older essay by Walter “Don’t Call Me Dr.” Block regarding immigration. He rightly pointed out that borders are arbitrary, and without them there is no such thing as immigration, or emigration, it all becomes simply, migration.

                Accepting and writing about this theory, as I think many libertarian anarchists do, myself included, does not lend itself to a productive spreading of the message of Liberty. I assert this only because of evidence in my own life; I was brought to the message of liberty through thoughtful applications of libertarian political theory with regards to current events. The huge success of the Ron Paul awareness campaigns was based precisely upon his ability to do just that; He made libertarian theory apply to current issues. I think we can all agree it worked, Presidency be damned.

                I am in no way suggesting that the brave and principled men and women who work tirelessly to spread the message of liberty should lay their principles aside. I am suggesting however that we put our heads together and work towards incorporating more libertarian theory   into the mainstream. As any blogger knows, site traffic increases dramatically when this method is practiced. Mainstream Democrats and Republicans that might be interested in libertarian theory are more likely to read an article discussing the issues they feel are important, but from a libertarian point of view.

                We must be honest with ourselves, there are many issues that ‘Mainstream Democrats and Republicans” (MD&R’s) feel are very important that are in fact merely a charade of distraction from the real issues. As libertarian anarchists we understand that the underlying problem in the majority of these issues is the State itself. However, the MD&R’s are unlikely to be persuaded based on the recent NSA leaks to abolish the State entirely on the theory that all governments are parasitic and doomed to tyranny. The minarchist libertarian position on government secrecy is appealing to everyone, including MD&R’s. That is: A government of, by and for the People is not entitled to secret courts, secret laws, and limitless surveillance without a warrant.

                A libertarian anarchist does not sacrifice his principles by promoting minarchist libertarian applications to the Statist world we live in today. We must fight towards freedom, and excusing ourselves from the popular political debates based on strict anti-Statism in its purest form cannot help to spread the message of liberty.

                Many libertarian anarchists would probably respond with an overwhelming pessimism that is hard to resist, and until recently I felt the same way.  They might say, “The idea that the State’s dominance is so overwhelming that spreading the message of liberty at this point in history is futile”.

 It is here that my mind has recently changed. I understand the overwhelming sense of dread when facing Leviathan head-on, seemingly alone. There are many within this movement that desire to leave the country, I am not one of those. I refuse to let a bunch of criminals that have probably never even visited my hometown, chase me out of the mountains I was born and raised in. You might call this a desire to “go down with the ship”, and you would be right. But in the meantime spreading the message of liberty is equivalent to building lifeboats. If we want to come out the other side of this sinking ship we call the State, we have to prepare the lifeboats of liberty.

– Adam Alcorn, Founder/Editor of the Humane Condition

Author can be reached at thcondition@gmail.com or on twitter @AdamBlacksburg