Defined Out of Libertarianism

Apparently, I am not a libertarian. So claims Samuel Freeman, who, according to Will Wilkinson, "reserves the label 'libertarian' for natural rights anarchists and minimal statists such as Nozick, Rothbard, and Rand." According to Freeman's definition of the term, those who fall within the category of libertarianism fall outside the category of liberalism.

Hayek, Buchanan, and Friedman (I think it's safe to assume we are talking about Milton here), on the other hand, are classical liberals and not libertarians, because they have "room for an account of legislative authority or political legitimacy, which he takes to be necessary conditions of liberalism."

I haven't read the Freeman paper yet, so I can't comment on his arguments, but I am skeptical of his conclusions. For one thing, he seems to be confusing two separate issues, a problem I noticed in a debate between Richard Epstein and Walter Block. In that case, the confusion was between economic methodology and the political theory, whereas in this case, the confusion is between ethical methodology and political theory.

We need to separate two dichotomies from each other: the Natural rights/Consequentialist dichotomy and the Minarchist/Anarchist dichotomy. It is possible to be any one of the four combinations that can be made using these two dichotomies.

Political Theory
Minarchist    Anarchist
Ethical Methodology     Natural Rights Ayn Rand Murray Rothbard
Consequentialist  F.A. Hayek David Friedman

Now, if Ayn Rand and David Friedman are both arrested under the suspicion of having committed a crime together, should they cooperate or defect? (Sorry, bad Prisoner's Dilemma joke; 2x2 tables do that to me sometimes.)

The two groups of people Freeman cites sit at only one nexus of this divide: Nozick, Rothbard, and Rand are the natural rights ethicists, while Hayek, Buchanan, and Friedman lean more towards consequentialism. But then Freeman seems to confuse the issue by defining the first group out of liberalism and into libertarianism because this group has "no room for an account of legislative authority or political legitimacy," a charge which would seem more applicable to anarchists. Rand and Nozick certainly believed in legislative authority and political legitimacy; whereas consequentialist anarchists, who would seem to fit within Freeman's second group, don't. So are the only true liberals the consequentialist minarchists, or are anarchists okay so long as they do not subscribe to natural rights ethics? And what's wrong with natural rights ethics anyway? Weren't John Locke and Thomas Jefferson classical liberals?

Share this

BTW, you're no longer

BTW, you're no longer invited to the Libertarian Christmas Party.

- Josh

Do I have to give my back my

Do I have to give my back my secret decoder ring? On the bright side, at least I'll always have the secret libertarian handshake.

Do I have to give back my

Do I have to give back my secret decoder ring?

Sure, just blurt it out, why don't you!

On the bright side, at least I'll always have the secret libertarian handshake.

You didn't read the fine print very well, I see. Once you're out, you can't do the secret libertarian handshake.


- Josh