I have recently taken to reading a lot about the philosophical underpinnings of Libertarianism. Like many unsuspecting saps, my first discussion with a Libertarian was initiated when one made some off-handed comment about the government robbing them of their money at gunpoint. I am not one to shy away from discussions on politics. Upon hearing what I thought to be an absurd claim which I thought was likely based on poor logic, I asked for them to back up their claim. The Libertarian in question was thrilled to be able to explain the concept to me and carefully laid their argument as most do:
Libertarian: Do you agree that the initiation of force is immoral?
Me: Well I guess.
Libertarian: The government takes our money by force.
Me: How do you figure?
Libertarian: What happens if you don’t pay your taxes? The government will throw you in jail. They are initiating force against you.
So something is up with this. I dug a little deeper, acquiring a copy of For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray Rothbard. Rothbard describes three types of Libertarians, two of which are straw men he easily burns:
1. Emotivist Libertarian
2. Utilitarian Libertarian
3. Natural Rights Libertarian
Rothbard describes the Emotivist Libertarian as someone who asserts that “they take liberty or nonaggression as their premise purely on subjective, emotional grounds.” This straw man is easily dispatched: “By ultimately taking themselves outside the realm of rational discourse, the emotivists thereby insure the lack of general success of their own cherished doctrine.” He takes utilitarianism to its logical and extremist conclusion in which the benefit of the many outweighs that of the one unilaterally; an obvious irrational, even if logical, result. With 1 and 2 easily burned to the ground, the 3rd option is the convenient winner.
Natural Rights, says Rothbard, come from Natural Law which is described by the philosopher John Locke. The Natural Law of the self are defined as Life, Liberty, and Property. Rothbard posits three possible arguments for self-ownership: the individual owns…
A. their whole self
B. part of their self
C. none of their self
Rothbard goes on to argue that A is the only possible answer. He argues that B is not possible because if you do not own your whole self, then you cannot convince anyone of it since you own part of them and they own part of you. All owners of your “self” would have to agree… this degrades to absurdity quickly. For C, he argues that if you owned none of yourself then you would have no control at all.
I feel like Rothbard is ignoring a key component of the definition of Natural Rights on purpose. If the self is made up of Life, Liberty, and Property, then self ownership must be applied to each, not all three unilaterally. Applying the idea of self-ownership to Life, Liberty, and Property, I posit the following:
LIFE = A*
LIBERTY = B
PROPERTY = B
The Libertarian claims A (ownership of the whole self) for each. To a Libertarian who believes this, please tell me:
* I do not believe in absolutes. I think that both A and C are absolutes. I still have to come to terms with the idea of absolute ownership of LIFE. I think in this case, it means that I own my personal body (even though that concept doesn’t really make sense to me). I choose A in this case for the sake of argument.
** Property as described by Rothbard in Chapter 2 of For A New Liberty.
OK! First post is up. I will have to revisit this quite a few times in order to really get my understanding all nailed down.
My Dad recently e-mailed me his results on a US Religious Knowledge quiz. I went ahead and took the quiz and got 10 out of 15 questions correct. Fun conclusions can be drawn from all the statistics available from the full survey. For one, Atheists are more better informed about world religion in general than many religious people.