What Type Of Libertarian Are You?

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution draws from Tom Palmer’s new book and comes up with 5 main categories of libertarians:

1. Cato-influenced (for lack of a better word).  There is an orthodox reading of what “being libertarian” means, defined by the troika of free markets, non-interventionism, and civil liberties.  It is based on individual rights but does not insist on anarchism.  A ruling principle is that libertarians should not endorse state interventions.  I read Palmer’s book as belonging to this tradition, broadly speaking.

2. Rothbardian anarchism.  Free-market protection agencies will replace government-as-we-know-it.  War is evil and the problems of anarchy pale in comparison.  David Friedman offered a more utilitarian-sounding version of this approach, shorn of Misesian influence.

3. Mises Institute nationalism.  Gold standard, a priori reasoning, monetary apocalypse, and suspicious of immigration because maybe private landowners would not have let those people into their living rooms.

4. Jeff Friedman and Critical Review: Everything is up for grabs, let’s be consequentialists and focus on the welfare state because that’s where the action is.  Marx is dead.  The case for some version of libertarianism ultimately rests upon voter ignorance and, dare I say it, voter irrationality.

5. “Hayek libertarianism.”  All or most of the great libertarian thinkers are ultimately compatible with each other and we have a big tent of all sorts of classical liberal ideas.  Hayek and Friedman are the chosen “public faces” of this approach.  “There’s a classical liberal tradition and classical liberal values and we can be fuzzy on a lot of other things.”

As good a distinction as any other I suspect – curious how people would define Australian Libertarians – if along similar lines, other ones etc.

(h/t Reason Magazine)

72 thoughts on “What Type Of Libertarian Are You?

  1. On reading those I think I’m a social democrat who hates income tax, wants a gold standard and thinks we should repeal many of the laws made after 1909 (not the ones that amounted to a repeal of the criminalisation of homosexuality or premarital sex or sexual equality before the law). I also think we should then reform the institutions of democracy to avoid repeating the mistakes of the last 90 years. Somebody else can decide which box I fit in if any. My economic world view is supply-side in the Jude Wanniski model.

  2. I think the ‘Mises Institute nationalism’ is a little misleading, personally…

    That being said, as I stated in that thread I’m a combination of #2 and #3 except that I am in favour of free & open immigration, not immigration restriction or border protection.

  3. I was going to say minarchist, but that is almost as broad a term as ‘libertarian’! I am a pen-anarcho-capitalist, an almost-anarcho-capitalist! (Rothbardian-lite?)
    I think someone will own, and thus control, the roads, so why not reform counties and shires, making them citizen-run gated communities? With Government functions filled by residents on a time-share basis?

  4. Bee – good to see the lewrockwell blog continues its fine tradition of quoting people out of context to distort facts in conspiracy-theorist like fashion…

    *ducks for cover*

  5. What about Randian libertarians – those who see self-interest as a virture and capitalism as a moral system. Or are they not considered libertarians but Objectivists instead?

    Also what about these so-called ‘libertarian socialists’ or ‘libertairan communists’ they are anti-property rights anti-capitalist and anti-statist all at the same time. To me it seems a logical impossibility (being pro freedom and anti freedom simultaneoulsy), but they do exist.

  6. Objectivists generally refuse to be called libertarians though… and as for the contradiction of libertarian socialists, true, there are quite a few breeds of those, but I think they generally fall outside of what is the “movement”.

  7. Lol, Tim – the Lew Rockwell blog itself alternates between insanity and genius, depending on who’s writing and the topic.

    I’m not sure exactly where they’ve quoted out of context though? Unless you’re referring to their list of Cato links at the end (which I haven’t gone through so I can’t judge.)

    I still really think to characterise the Mises Institute types as nationalistic is a bit odd.

    Papachango – I’d agree, Randian libertarians should be included.

    As for the ‘libertarian’ socialists and communists, I don’t think they’re libertarian at all.

  8. Yes I was.
    Also Bee, you really should link your blog when you’re writing comments here 🙂

  9. I agree, I really don’t think I’d have any common ground with a libertarian socialist at all. But given the use the word libertarian the distinction should be made, even if it’s just to exclude them.

    I don’t read Cato, but it sounds like I’d be closest to Number 1. Though I have a problem with It is based on individual rights but does not insist on anarchism. This imples that anarchism is the system that would result in the greatest individual rights. I don’t believe this to be the case at all (the strong would rule the weak), hence the legitimate role of government in protecting individual rights

  10. Objectivists claim that their political philosophy is “libertarianism”, so I think it’s safe to include them.

    The one group missing from the above is the “imperialist libertarian” or whatever you want to call that group. They are almost non-existent in America so it’s reasonable for them to be excluded there. But (unfortunately) there is a strain of imperialist libertarians here.

    I prefer my old nomenclature. People are either anarchist, minarchist or moderate… based on mostly morality, utility or a split.

    Some left-anarchists fit into anarchy. Others are just socialists with the wrong name.

  11. As far as I can see, the objectivist issue with libertarianism is either: 1. hoity toity I’m more intellectual than those redneck libertarians, don’t mix me in with that rag-tag bunch ’cause I’m much too smart and sophisticated (much like the bunch who insist on being called ‘classical liberals’ and will correct you if you call them libertarian), or 2. the Ayn Rand position of ‘libertarians can’t justify their position from first principles according to reason – they only want liberty because it ‘feels’ right, therefore I can’t agree with them………..even if I actually agree with what they say.

  12. I think what John is trying to describe is the neolibertarian position. That ‘s libertarians who believe that pre-emptive strikes can be justified, that national defence in ones own borders isn’t relevant to a technological, globalised world, and this doesn’t necessarily make war any less moral.

    And no less controversially, that when given a difficult choice the pragmatic solution is often the way to go, and this may mean getting government to get it done if that seems like the quickest solution and the goal still complies or ‘sits OK’ with a libertarian society.

  13. Ron Paul supported Israels pre-emptive stike against Iraqs nuclear fascilities in the 1980s. However I wouldn’t call him an imperialist libertarian.

  14. Ron Paul supported Israels pre-emptive stike against Iraqs nuclear fascilities in the 1980s. However I wouldn’t call him an imperialist libertarian.

    There’s plenty of common ground between the strains. We’re like one big dysfunctional family.

  15. “Which group do those of us that just want less taxes and more gambling, drinking and hookers fit in?”


  16. Posted by Lew Rockwell on July 9, 2009 03:00 PM
    “Stephan, these detailed taxonomies are just sand in the eyes. There are only two kinds of libertarian, much as some would like to obscure it: Rothbardian and non-Rothbardian. But even that can be a distraction in our everyday work. As Murray noted — minarchist or anarchist, constitutionalist or monarchist — there is really only one consideration: Do you hate the state?” ( http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/029428.html )

  17. I was wondering whether to post that, Michael.

    I think there’s four types:

    1. Austrian/Rothbardian

    2. Friedmanite/Cato

    3. Randian/Objectivist

    4. Neolibertarian – ‘We’re libertarians but we love imperialism and we hate immigration!’

  18. Bee, the answers regarding foreign wars and immigration problems put forward by many of the libertarian schools of thought tend to be highly theoretical. I think the neo’s have a point. I also think of it as ‘Republican libertarianism’ or ‘libertarianism for the masses’.

  19. I disagree with Rothbard on fractional reserve banking, I disagree with Friedman on the monetarism, I don’t have a clue what Rand is trying to say and I don’t much like wars. I don’t feel at home in any of Bees boxes. Perhaps I’m not a libertarian.

  20. There’s a libertarian sign for everyone, TerjeP! Bee thinks you can even bee an Imperialist Libertarian! Perhaps you should come up with a logical system that you have developed, and call it TerjePism, and simply say it’s your brand of Libertarianism!
    Aren’t we all libertarians now?

  21. They’re broad theoretical categories, you don’t have to agree 100% with any one category to broadly be placed within it (I’m sure there’s one general school you’re overall more sympathetic to), otherwise we’d each be a category unto ourselves. That just seems to be the rough overall split I’ve seen without getting *really* into specifics.

    Nicholas – I think Michael above elucidated it better than I did. It’s Republican libertarianism, or ‘libertarianism with a scoop of nationalism on top’ – I know a lot of people who are otherwise libertarian on nearly every issue but stop short when it comes to those two.

  22. Libertarian – non aggression axiom (principle) and Lockean / Rothbardian homesteading private property principles applied to everything.

    Where you differ on it’s application, i.e FRB etc. You are a libertarian.

    Unjust wars disqualify you completely, since you are violating both blatantly.

    Neo-conservatives are not Libertarian. The Republican lite crowd, who do not support Ron Paul are not Libertarians. Example: Glen Beck is not a Libertarian. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6C6E6ayh4U )

  23. Being such an individualist philosophy, of course no one is going to identify 100% with Rothbard, Friedman, Rand, Hayek or whovever. We think for ourselves rather than indulging in groupthink.

    I would argue that the common thread is small government, individual freedoms and property rights. The last bit would exclude so called ‘libertarian communists’ but no great loss IMHO.

  24. Pingback: Weekend Essays on Liberty: Who is a Libertarian? at catallaxyfiles

  25. I might be an Objectivist but I find it hard to play the ‘subspecies’ game, primarily because my views come from more than just Rand.

    I do, however, find there are legitimate cultural differences amongst libertarians. I find many have a culturally conservative streak, and although they agree that the state should not set social policy, they personally live socially conservative lifestyles and are uncomfortable with large degrees of social nonconformity.

    But I don’t think this could justify a taxonomy of different types of libertarian.

    Additionally, if we are to classify people via institutional affiliation, where does it end? Even Objectivists can be further subdivided into Orthodox (ARI) and Open-System (TAS) categories.

  26. Agree entirely Andrew. This thread is self-indulgent.

    I’m quite happy to declare I am not a libertarian but a classical liberal. Nobody tries to define them in terms that nobody else understands, or put them in little boxes that don’t fit.

  27. I disagree with Michael C’s definition.

    The ALS has always used an inclusive definition that even has place for crazy warniks like Michael S, peace-mongers like Sukrit, moderates like pommy, gold-nuts like Terje, anarchists like me, AGW skeptics like nick, AGW believers like Jarrah, Liberal party members like Tim, objectivists like Andrew, libertines like Yobbo, shooters like DavidL, so-called libertarian conservatives like Fleeced, flying insects like Bee, Muslims like Amir, Buddhists like Matthew FS, mis-named libertarian socialists like Shem, pragmatists like Jason, idealists like Justin Jefferson, animal-rights anarchists like Ben, public servants like Spender, bird-baiters like jc, dirty foreigners like Sinclair and many others.

    Sure, we all disagree on a number of things. But ultimately we recognise that the government is generally the problem, not the answer. And we believe that humans should generally make their own decisions, but not make other people’s decisions.

    Unless of course, you’re married. 😛

  28. I am not JUST an AGW sceptic, John! I am also a Lockean believer in private property rights!
    Like many people, I also separate my political views from my individual lifestyle. I.E., Politically, I oppose socialism in all its’ forms, but, individually, I am a sociable person, who gives to charities. Many of the aims of socialists are very good, such as helping people escape poverty, but it should not be by government actions.
    Also, whilst I accept that individuals should be free to smoke or drink, I don’t, and will advise them to no do so, if asked.
    So I think this question doesn’t bring out all our options. I will describe myself as a sociable libertarian in future, and let people make of it what they want.

  29. I don’t think there’s a need to justify yourself as a ‘sociable libertarian’. That’s one of the biggest lies perpetuated by socialists – that we libertarians, being individualists, are selfish and unsociable, uncompassionate, heartless etc etc. The argument is usually refuted by asking what’s so compassionate about holding a gun to someone’s head and forcing them to give their property away to the needy. True, but additionally it’s worthwhile to note that nothing in the philosophy of liberty precludes friendship and helping others out. Even Ayn Rand values friendship as a tool of mutual self-interest, and while Rand is an exception, most libertarian schools of thought advocate some degree of altruism.

    Interestingly did anyone read the Age op-ed by Josh Gordon on Sunday? It was about as close as the Age comes to criticising the nanny state – they acknowledged that it sometimes goes a bit far, but it’s all for the public good and very desirable.

    Fairly typical Age left-wing op-ed, except for one thing – they coined a new phrase that I’d never heard before ‘libertarian paternalism’, to describe nanny state taxes and laws designed to make people make decisions that are better for them. The alcopops tax was cited as an example of libertarian paternalism.

    So now even the nanny statists are using the word libertarian to describe their ‘social good’ policies? Heaven help us, no wonder the word is misunderstood.

  30. The term “libertarian paternalism” has been around for a while. It generally means government policy which encourages a form of behvaiour, but doesn’t mandate it.

  31. Dannyee, you either believe in liberty OR community as an absolute standard. Just like you either vote Liberal or Labor, not both! I am aware that some communists claim to be libertarians, but group rights always trump your rights when it comes to a showdown. There might be some communists who are more inclined than others to liberty, but communist is the base noun, and community is their political god.
    Libertarian is meant to favour individual liberty, not groups.
    Just as the groupists stole Liberal in america to mean the opposite of the original meaning, so groupists here are seeking to destroy or taint the meaning of words. Fight them Dannyee!

  32. The term “libertarian communist”, as used by anarchists, is older than the term “libertarian” as you appear to be using it.

    I believe in both liberty and community as values, with practical politics involving a continual balance between them (and other ideals). And I don’t believe in “absolute standards” – it is those that make so many US libertarians just like hard-line Stalinist or Trotsykist communists in their inflexibility, failure to accept real-world complexity, and obsession with doctrine and faction.

  33. So do you vote for both Liberal AND Labor, simultaneously?
    I believe in the rights of property-owners. On your property, you should be the absolute Monarch. On public property, if you choose to be a citizen, you could be like a share-holder, democratically voting for politicians, or voting directly on all local matters.
    That is my hard-line libertarianism- ownership determines rulership. It is an absolute standard, and having an absolute standard enables you to make sense of many issues.
    Incidentally, physics has one absolute standard, that everyone will measure the speed of light in a vacuum as the same speed. In the real world, absolute standards rule, so why not in the political world?

  34. nicholas — it is not true that you can only believe in liberty or community. I strongly believe in both. I believe liberty contributes to a stronger community.

    You are also wrong that communists (or libertarian-socialists, or left-anarchists) necessarily side with government action. Indeed, according to Marx end-state communism would have no government.

    It is true that some self-described communists or libertarian-socialists are actually just socialists with a funkier name. But some of them are simply libertarians with a different name and an entirely different nomenclature and different hopes for the future.

    The different language can often lead to arguments based on misunderstandings. But if you are flexible with your language (not your ideas) and listen to their underlying point, there is often a significant political overlap. Indeed, on some ways of understanding the words, I’m happy to call myself a communist.

    The LDP had an exec member who used to call himself a “libertarian socialist” and we had a candidate who was a left-anarchist. He hated capitalism, trade, business etc… but he didn’t want to ban it. He just wanted to be left alone so that he could freely set up his own commune (on his private property) with his friends.

    If you met this guy you would consider him the “enemy”. But he’s not.

    The difference between libertarians and statists is NOT that one is about individuals and the other about community. The difference is that libertarians want voluntary community while statists want forced community.

  35. Hey, I call myself a sociable libertarian! My isolationism is political, but I also am willing to volunteer and help people, and socialise. And my dividing line is still based on property, so your communal friend would have my support to do his own thing, so long as he left me alone. Traditional communists and socialists don’t do that, but insist that we must all be forced to support each other.

  36. nicholas — you miss my point. I am fully aware that the philosophies of you and my friend are consistent. My point is that if you discussed politics together you would walk away convinced that you disagreed on everything because you would be using different language and talking straight past each other.

    Some people call themselves communist or anarchist when they are actually socialist. But that is not what those terms necessarily mean, and some people use them in ways that are consistent with libertarian society. So you shouldn’t immediately assume they are your political opposite until you understand how they are using language.

  37. Nicholas – do you really think you should be able to impose any rules you like on those that reside on your land? For instance in your worldview can a landlord decree that tenants who play loud music after 10pm will be whipped and that repeat offenders will be executed? Such an outlook sounds a lot like serfdom.

    I think people should have a right to peaceful enjoyment and profitable use of their property and a right to defend their property however absolute dictatorship within the private property rhelm is not my idea of liberalism.

  38. Well, I was born in England, home of the English language. Not everyone has that advantage. It is true that others sometimes don’t use the language correctly. But I still think that absolutes have some place in our philosophies, and I will stick with my absolutes.

  39. TerjeP, yes I do incline to that right of landlords, because any exception will be used by socialists until it has become a new social tyranny. And why are you picking on me? John Humphreys, as an anarcho-capitalist, would believe that Landlords would also have these rights.
    Neither of us has said that this would be wise on the part of landlords, and I would say that this could be handled better than in your example. However, there should never be a law against stupidity, or we’d all be in jail at some time!

  40. And if you’ve been reading some other comments of mine, you’ll remember that people can take out insurance to cover court costs, and law suits, and could call on insurance and security forces to protect their bodies and rights- so a deranged landlord, or landlady, might be taking on citizens with powerful friends. I also expect that a libertarian culture would mean that everyone knows that owners make rules on their properties, and owners post their rules where all can see them and know what to expect.

  41. nicholas — in my opinion you are using the language incorrectly. But instead of that pointless debate, I was making the more subtle point that irrespective of who is semantically correct, your interpretation is wrong. And ultimately it’s the idea that matters, not which language we speak in.

    Terje — I agree with your concern, but I think it’s a moot point. I would also be worried if brain-eating aliens invaded. And if somebody secretly bought all the land around your house and decided to not let you cross their land. And if you were stuck on a lifeboat in the ocean that belonged to somebody else and they asked you to leave, etc.

    My point is that nobody will join a “kill you if your music is loud” club. That outcome is more likely in a government system where the rule-setter doesn’t have to worry as much about the preferences of the customers.

    As for the broader point of people joining clubs with rules we don’t like. I agree that will happen, but I don’t think that’s a problem. While I wouldn’t sign up to sharia law… if other people wanted to on their property, then I don’t have a problem with that. If you had the power to stop them, I think that would be more akin to serfdom.

  42. John – so members of an aboriginal commune on collectively owned aboriginal land should be left to sodimise their neighbours children and beat their wives free from outside interference if that is their inclination? Or would it just never happen?

    As for brain eating aliens I’d support a law against the activity if it was happening (although I’m hard pressed to see what natural right such a law would violate and how the example is useful). Lifeboat examples define the limitations of a system. You are right that we should not get hung up on life boat examples when designing our system, however if we start declaring absolutes up front (as Nicholas has) then we are insisting that our system can’t ever, and won’t ever need to be improved on, and in my view that closed system mentality smacks of totalitarianism. We don’t need to codify for every lifeboat example however we do need to have a system that can be modified as and when lifeboat scenerios arise. And whilst all such imaginable lifeboat examples won’t arise it can almost be guaranteed that some of them will.

    In terms of sharia law I would be protesting if they were amputating the hands of petty theives and stoning adulters in a neighbourhood near me, even if it was on private land. I would not be quitely minding my own business. I’d be voting for somebody that offered to lock up the perpetrators.

  43. TerjeP, there’s no hope for you! You’re an open-minded person, and that’s all we can say about it….
    TerjeP- what do you stand for? My definition is property ownership, so what do you use? (And there are some countries just across the ocean which do those things you said you would protest about. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran are all neighbouring countries…)

  44. Here’s another one. Should private property owners be allowed to eat travelling salesmen?

  45. If the landlord had clearly warned people that travelling salesmen would be eaten if they infested the property, and a dumb saleshuman still entered the place, then it knew what it was getting into! Just as people have been warned if they see a ‘beware the dog’ sign. Just sit back and let evolution winnow out the salesman genes.
    If a salescritter hollered for help, I might invade the property and help out, same as now, and we could settle in court if a PPO tried to sue me for trespass. I would pass on any costs to the company behind the seller, or at least I would try to, and would sell my side of the story to the papers and media.

  46. I don’t have any vacuums that need cleaning, thank you. If I made a heap of money out of media interviews, maybe I’d buy a cleaner for an odd emergency, but I won’t guarantee it.
    Is this a clever sales ploy? Are you really a vacuum seller, TerjeP And here I’ve been responding to you as though you are human! That’s a fine trick to play!

  47. Terje — I’m afraid I simply don’t understand the meaning of “collectively owned”, so I can’t answer your question. If you’re trying to imply that socialism is the same as private property, then I disagree. If you meant something else, then I’m afraid I didn’t understand you.

    Lifeboat examples don’t show a system is wrong. They show the limitations of lifeboat examples. Recognising a system isn’t perfect is NOT the same as saying we should tinker with it. No system is perfect, so that’s a pointless benchmark. We should be comparing competing options, not comparing freedom to utopia.

    I think you’re using “totalitarian” wrong. As I understand, it is generally meant as the government being involved in the totality of your life. At least, that is how it was intended when popularised by Mussolini. In that context, arguing against government interference in your life cannot be totalitarian. If you meant a different definition, then you’ll have to explain it to me.

    Using my understanding of the word, I think giving the government the power to “protect” us from a thousand scary lifeboat examples is exactly how we end up with totalitarianism.

    You want the government to prevent people from agreeing to contracts that you find objectionable (eg sharia law). How far does this extend? Would you only allow contracts that you agreed with, or would you have tolerance for some contracts that you found only mildly objectionable?

    Either way, I think it is a dangerous concept. I think giving the government the power to ban “bad” (but voluntary) contracts is a dangerous step in the wrong direction, and is totalitarian (by the definition I suggested above).

  48. Re: eating travelling salesmen. This is easy to answer using basic libertarian logic.

    The underlying political point is should a person be allowed to enter into a contract that lets another person kill them (voluntary euthenasia) and should they also be allowed to give that person a right to eat them.

    I support the legalisation of voluntary euthenasia, and as strange as it is, I would also support the legalisation of eating somebody if they had agreed.

    Of course, you can’t kill (& eat) people without their permission.

    When entering somebody’s property you are accepting a contract. But so is the person who owns the property. They can set any rules they like, but unless stated otherwise the implicit contract will include various points as determined by the “reasonable man” test in law.

    For example, when you eat food at a restaurant you can’t then leave without paying because you didn’t sign (or verbally agree to) a contract. There was a clear implicit contract.

    The same applies when entering property. If you want the rules on your property to be “I can kill you for fun whenever I like” then it is incumbent upon you to make that clear. If you don’t, then the implicit “I won’t kill you” element holds.

  49. John – your last point merely restates my point which is that the land owners right to make rules comes with logical moral limitations. It isn’t absolute or free from subordination by other principles. Informed consent is obviously an important qualification.

    Collective ownership is everywhere from family trusts, joint ownership of a home by a married couple, share ownership in a company to mutual organisations such as what we used to have in the form of building societies. Each of these forms of collective ownership has processes for determining control and some processes work better than others (depending on criteria) however the ownership can’t be sensibly considered to be anything other than collective. Aboriginal communes are not that radical in this regard except in that ownership is inaliable and as such it is pretty useless in commercial terms.

    In terms of Sharia law you are not far off saying that Saudi Arabia can have sharia law because the king owns the country and those that don’t like it can always leave. Which is the same as saying Australia can be a social democracy and it’s tough luck if you don’t like it that way because the British crown homesteaded the joint and made the rules they prefer. Fair enough but I’ll still work to undermine both sharia law and aspects of our social democracy in favour of a more liberal rule set. If illiberal means are necessary to secure a liberal state of affairs then I wouldn’t rule it out merely because of some perceived contradiction on your part.

  50. I don’t think the example I gave was a limitation on private property. I think the right to contract is central to the concept of private property rights, and so entering a contract regarding your private property is an example of the full and proper use of your property, not an example of a limitation.

    But perhaps this is simply a semantic difference, where you are pointing out that people can contract to limit the use of their own property. I agree that’s true.

    If by collective ownership you mean joint ownership, then I do understand that concept. Though that is entirely different to what exists in the current socialist aboriginal communes. They have no private property.

    Going back to the original question — if a personal agrees to be punched, then as weird as that sounds to us non-violent types, I would not want a law against it.

    I accept that many children are unable to act on their own behalf, but it is possible to have groups who will act on their behalf. We currently have a government department doing that job (badly), but another option would be civil society groups (who used to do this job, relatively better than the current mob). They can effectively sue for breach of implicit contract and can get the child removed.

    Personally, I doubt that many people (man, woman or child) will voluntarily enter an agreement that includes being beaten.

    I think I’m a long way from defending Saudi Arabia, because I don’t accept the idea that the government owns everthing inside a country. I don’t think it is fair to say that the british crown homesteaded all of Australia. They claimed authority over all of Australia, but to homestead something (as I understand it) you actually have to mix your labour with the land.

    But I think this is a distraction. Let’s go back to a hypothetical starting position of free people. In that scenario, the question is whether people should be allowed to enter into various contracts that might seem objectionable to us… for example a guy purchasing the services of a dominatrix, agreeing to be in a fight, or religious people agreeing to follow certain rules under pain of some sort of punishment.

    While I’m not going to agree with every contract people agree to, I generally think it would be better to allow voluntary contracts.

    I’m sure there are plenty of examples where a smarter authority figure could make better decisions, but I still favour voluntary contracts for a few reasons. First, I respect people’s right to make mistakes. Second, I think voluntary decisions will generally be better, and lead to better decisions over time. And third, I don’t trust that the authority will only use their powers for good. Indeed, my understanding of public choice theory leads me to believe they generally will not use their powers just for good.

    Perhaps some interventions are good enough. I certainly don’t rule that out a-priori. However, I think that because of the importance of private property to a free life, and the track record of government, the burden of proof rests with the government before they intervene and they need to meet a high standard of proof.

    You mention “some perceived contradition on [my] part”, though I’m not sure what this is. If you mean my suggestion that banning a contract would constitute a ban on contracts, then I suggest that my position isn’t just my perception, but is a tautological truism.

  51. One group of people who have joined in an odd set of contracts while in the confines of their community is the Armish people in America. While I find their community a bit strange, and I’d probably encourage youngsters from Armish country to rebell… I’m not sure that the government should go in and shut down the community and force the people to make more sensible decisions with their lives.

    I also think the decisions of Scientologists are pretty weird. And Falun Gong too. Some governments have decided to ban these strange decisions (Germany & China respectively), but, once again, I would prefer that those people be allowed to make their own mistakes.

    I’m certainly not suggesting cultural relativism. I don’t believe that at all. However, I do suggest cultural tolerance… even for those fools who disagree with me. 🙂

    I fear the alternative is not a happy homogenous mono-culture, but a political contest for government favour, increasing cultural conflict, underground movements and a general politicisation of intolerance.

  52. On the subject of tolerance, I am reading a book called “The day of Empire”. It looks at ten empires, and concludes that they start off by tolerating differences, and allowing individuality, and encouraging bright people from all parts of the Empire to join the bureaucracy. Then, at some point, it stops being tolerant, and tries to impose ‘norms’ on all- and the empire ends in turmoil soon after.
    So your point about tolerance has a lot going for it!

  53. John – this has moved well beyond my original point which was in response to Nicholas who suggested absolute sovereignty on private land. My objection was to the term absolute in this context. What you have outlines is something quite different to kingship style “on this ground my will is law”.

  54. TerjeP, anarcho-capitalists also believe that owners are absolute rulers of their land. If you know any anarcho-capitalists, pick also on them, or you’re discriminating!

  55. An absolute ruler does not need to advertise conditions of entry or contract terms. They can eat travelling salesmen without informed consent. It’s a stupid notion regardless of who supports it. Private property is sacred but not that sacred.

  56. But don’t private property owners claim the right to exclude people if they don’t like them, now? And in a libertarian future, wouldn’t a landowner simply make the prudent assumption that guests are backed by some insurance agency with a police force of its’ own? Absolute in law doesn’t mean no-consequences.

  57. Anarchy doesn’t mean you can do what you like. It simply means there is no government. No system is perfect and there will undoubtedly be bad outcomes in all systems… including violence. But anarchists believe that a “no government” system will generally provide greater freedom (including the use of private property) and greater utility than the alternative approaches.

    If there is a suggestion that somebody should have a sort of special property right, where they were free to disregard any contracts they agreed to with relation to that property right, then I disagree with that idea.

    I don’t think nicholas was suggesting that, and so perhaps this whole this is premised on a misunderstanding.

  58. I believe that you are bound to any contract you willingly sign, so I am in favour of contract laws. I also think we should try giving owners absolute rights in property, if only to see what would develop! I also think that citizenship should be an explicit contract, not an implicit social contract.

  59. So Nicholas having a child work in a mine without safety regulations would be ok on your property if parents signed their rights away?

  60. I mentioned a potential libertarian solution to the “child abuse” question above (#57).

    The issue to remember there is that (in my opinion) parents do not own their child. Instead, they have an implicit contract with the child that roughly swaps obedience with protection. If somebody (the child, or a third party) thinks that the contract is being violated by the parents (failing to look after the child properly) then you could sue for breach of contract which would void the contract and remove the child from the custody of the parents.

    I think it’s an open question whether this is best done by a government agency or civil society… though given the recent documented failings of government in this area I think the case for civil society is relatively strong.

  61. Another ‘do it for the children!’ argument! Do they never end?
    Well-run mines want capable adults who know what they are doing, so any other operation would be a shonky deal with minimal safety and no good prospects- and with a short life-span for the workers! Any worker in that situation would have the right to take his/her labour elsewhere, and I would encourage them to do so.
    Here’s a poser for you- if a family owns a block of land, should they be allowed to mine their own land if they find something valuable on it? Even if it doesn’t conform to union standards of safety?
    My answer to my own question would be ‘yes’; BUT I believe in self-ownership, so the children should never be regarded as a commodity. In this age of easy contraception, if you have kids, you should be prepared to raise them until they can work for themselves. The parents cannot sign away the rights of the kids, as the kids have those, so I would never recognise such a bargain, and would help any such victim to be free.

  62. Nicholas this is not a do it for the children argument. Like Terj I am merely testing your absolute property rights concepts. Also your belief in voluntary contracts. A minor has no contract rights else they are deferred to the parent or guardian. So it is feasible that a parent could voluntarily agree to a contract to have their child work in a mine on your property (since you have absolute control).

    John I don’t agree with you concept of the implicit contract that roughly swaps obedience with protection. Being a parent there is nothing I expect of my child and all a give is unconditional love. As part of that might be protection but that is an outcome of the outcome of the unconditional love.

    Perhaps you could explain to me the concept of Civil society in this context. I’ll freely admit that I am exploring my concepts here and in some regards am a simpleton on this as I find my feet.


    Sorry but I don’t have topic starter credentials here. Has anybody else noticed that libertarian economist and predictor of the GFC, Peter Schiff is now running for U.S. Senate?

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