Are you convinced? I didn't think so. The fact is that the claims that can be made for liberty and justice are much more modest. Justice is not the answer to all social problems. It is only the first step.
In Chapter 1, I listed six questions that a philosophy of basic rights should answer. Now I can summarize how I addressed those questions.
In addition to answering those questions, I drew out some of the implications of the principles of justice. Many more implications can be drawn. I chose to write about the ones that I find most interesting. In particular I explored implications with regard to political philosophy (in Chapter 6 and in Appendix C), with regard to economic systems in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8, and where an individual who wants to live by the principles of justice should draw the line in today's society (Chapter 10). In Chapter 9, I contrasted justice with fairness as they affect some social issues of current interest. (In Appendix B, I treat the relationship between justice and punishment.)
Absolute freedom to do whatever you want and to have all of your wishes fulfilled is impossible. The physical laws of nature permanently limit us all. These laws cannot be repealed by any human legislature. They have no expiration date. They are always enforced. There is no need for a state to codify the physical laws of nature, nor is there any need for police to enforce them. If a state decides to add its support to the law of gravity by making it a crime to walk on air, nothing would be gained by the state's legislation. Nature will enforce this law more rapidly than the police possibly could.
The non-aggression principle is the key to libertarianism. In fact, a libertarian may be defined as anyone who understands the implications of and accepts the non-aggression principle without compromise. The non-aggression principle helps us determine what is unjust and what is just, what is criminal and what is non-criminal. If an action is invasive (aggressive), it is criminal. If it is not invasive, it is not criminal. There are no crimes that are not invasions and there are no invasions that are not crimes. If an act is invasive, it violates some victim's rights. If there is no victim, there has been no invasion and no crime.
Libertarians are uncompromising in their tolerance of peaceful activity. They tolerate even the most offensive and disgusting behavior among consenting adults. They regard the non-aggression principle as absolutely binding for all morally responsible adults, regardless of race, religion, nationality, sex, time, or place. They recognize the non-aggression principle as superior to the laws of any state. So, libertarianism is a natural law philosophy.2
Relativists object to natural law and point to the many contradictory moral philosophies practiced in different parts of the world as proof that what is right and what is wrong depend on where you live. To carry this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we should note that the moral philosophy of any individual may be contradicted by that of other individuals in the same society and, therefore, there is no basis for deciding which moral standards, if any, should prevail within that society. In other words, what is right and what is wrong depend on who you are. One man's opinion about right and wrong is as good as another's, so there is no basis for accepting any moral rules that others may try to impose on us.3
One reasonable conclusion to draw from the premise that all beliefs about right and wrong are equally valid, is that they should all be tolerated, or that as many should be tolerated as possible. If there is no natural law, there is no basis for accepting any particular imposed rules, and libertarianism wins by default. Libertarianism is more compatible with consistent relativism than is any other social philosophy.4
I have tried to show that relativism is not correct, there are absolute principles of justice, and these principles also lead to the conclusion that libertarianism is the correct political philosophy. Libertarianism is the most tolerant of all social philosophies. It requires society to tolerate everything that consenting adults do among themselves. It requires nothing else. A libertarian may be a Christian, a Moslem, a Buddhist, an atheist, an Aristotelian, a Kantian, an altruist, an egoist, a prude, or a libertine. Libertarianism takes no stand on what values should be pursued other than justice. It tolerates every peaceful pursuit of happiness, whether that happiness is grounded in materialism or idealism, commodious living or asceticism, skepticism or faith, indulgence or abstinence. The essence of libertarianism is the recognition of both the humanity and the individuality of all people. It is toleration of the tolerant.
The libertarian society differs from all other possible societies in that it is the only one that does not presuppose that one class of people must impose their will on others. In a libertarian society everything would be tolerated except the rule by one man or one class over another. Libertarians consider rule by one man over another as a crime, and, broadly interpreted, the only crime. To ensure that no one may impose his will on others, everyone must be allowed the freedom to defend himself from such imposition. The only prohibition necessary in a just society is that no one can be allowed to impose his will on others without their consent, except in defense against such an imposition.
It can still be argued that the public doesn't know what is good for them and that the free market caters to the whims of the consumers rather than producing and distributing things that are objectively good. This is true. The free market does not force people to do what is objectively good. Instead, it allows them to indulge their personal preferences. This is what makes the free market the only economic system compatible with justice. It is the only economic system that treats each individual as if he were a responsible moral agent.
Go to Appendix A. Questions about Our Moral Sense
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