Chapter 11. Conclusion

Here are the topics in this chapter after this introductory section. In a libertarian society everyone would be prosperous and healthy, athletic, and beautiful. No one would be disrespected. No one would have to work and no one would be involuntarily unemployed. Each man would have an abundance of women eager to make love to only him. Every woman would find her true love and live happily ever after. No one would ever die or get old. And everybody would always bat fourth.

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.

  1. What do the terms justice and natural rights mean?
    I gave brief definitions in Chapter 1. The rest of the book elaborates on and is intended to clarify these definitions.
  2. To whom do these terms apply?
    They apply to moral agents. In Chapter 3, I described the characteristics of moral agents in general and then showed that normal adult human beings are moral agents, which means these rights apply to us.
  3. Why should we be concerned with morality at all?
    In Chapter 2, I explained that concern for morality is intuitive. It is built into us. So we don't need to search for an additional reason to be concerned with it.
  4. Why should we believe that natural rights even exist?
    In Chapter 2, I explained that we have inherited a moral sense that causes us to develop a belief in these natural rights at an emotional level that we cannot honestly deny. I discuss this moral sense in more detail in Appendix A.
  5. How can we find out whether something is a natural right?
    I divided natural rights into basic rights and specific (property) rights. In Chapter 4, I listed criteria for basic rights, analyzed some moral maxims, and refined the most promising ones to arrive at rights that meet all the criteria. In Chapter 5, I listed criteria for property rights and analyzed the alternative ways of allocating control of goods and resources.
  6. What natural rights do we have?
    In Chapter 4, I showed that we have the right to use self-defense against invaders to stop their invasions, we have the right to be free from invasion, and we have the right to do anything that is peaceful and voluntary. In Chapter 5, I explained why each of us has the right to own his body and mind, which means we have the right not to be murdered, raped, or assaulted. In Chapter 5, I also showed that we have the right to acquire property by the homestead principle and that we have the right to voluntarily make contracts to trade or give away our legitimate, alienable property.
So I believe that I have met the minimal objectives that I listed at the outset, and I have developed the principles of justice sufficiently to guide us in the legitimate exercise of our rights.

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.)

Liberty and Freedom

In this book I have advanced the principle that each adult human being or moral agent has the basic right to do whatever he pleases with his own life and property, limited only by the equal rights of others and by his own abilities. Because this principle supports the greatest extension of liberty that is logically possible, it is a libertarian philosophy.

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.

Tolerance and Moral Relativism

Libertarians may disagree on questions of science, religion, technology, art, virtue, and many other things. What makes libertarians different from everybody else is that libertarians consistently refuse to impose their opinions on others by force. Everyone else, to one degree or another, believes it is legitimate to impose their will by brute force on other peaceful human beings.1

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.

Self-Fulfillment and the Free Market

Although I did not intend this book to be a justification of the self-fulfillment philosophy, and although I sometimes try to be neutral with respect to the various philosophies of virtue, it so happens that the free order required by justice is the order that maximizes the opportunities for everyone's self-fulfillment. And, although I reject utilitarianism as impractical and psychologically unacceptable, the free-market system that justice requires is probably the economic system that will come the closest to attaining the utilitarian goal of maximizing the general welfare. This cannot be proven, because the general welfare is undefined and cannot be measured. But the free market maximizes opportunities and incentives to produce goods and services that people actually want. It is the economic system that does the most efficient job of satisfying the demonstrated preferences of the public.

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.

Summary of My Thesis

The main argument of this book, leaving out some steps and leaving out digressions and rebuttals to objections, can be summarized by the following definitions and steps:

Definitions

The moral rules for determining the legitimacy of physical force and threats are the domain of justice. All moral rules regarding actions that do not involve the use or threat of physical force are outside the realm of justice. An unjust act is called a crime. All crimes involve physical force or the threat of physical force to deprive someone of rights.

Steps

  1. If there is such a thing as morality, there must be moral agents who choose between right and wrong and who are responsible for their actions.
  2. People who are not psychopaths believe there is such a thing as morality and that they are moral agents.
  3. For individuals to function as moral agents, they must have the right to make their own decisions and the freedom to act on those decisions.
  4. Therefore, it is a crime to use physical force or the threat of physical force to prevent someone from exercising his right to make his own decisions.
  5. By definition, no one has the right to commit a crime.
  6. Therefore, it is not a violation of someone's rights to use physical force or the threat of physical force to make him stop committing a crime.
  7. So people have the right to use force in self-defense against criminal aggression.
  8. People also have the corollary rights to be free from aggression and to do anything that is peaceful.
  9. The only kind of society compatible with all of this is a free-market society in which crime is kept in check by private individuals and voluntary organizations.

Go to Appendix A. Questions about Our Moral Sense

Go back to the table of contents.

Go back to Libertarian Essays by Roy Halliday.

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