Libertarianism Simplified

Libertarianism is sometimes treated as a complicated moral, political, and economic system. While there may be difficult positive applications of it, libertarianism is a simple system of principles.

The non-aggression principle is the fundamental principle of libertarian theory. This principle holds that aggression (the initiation of physical force against persons or their property) is inherently wrong.

Libertarianism is the idea that anything that would be wrong for one man to do to another man by force is wrong for a group of men to do to a man (or group of men) by force.

For every right, there is an equal and opposite responsibility. For the right to his own life, a man has the responsibility of not infringing upon the right to life of another man. To enjoy the right to his own property, a man must not infringe upon the right of any other man to his own property.

To add to his property morally, he must use the means of voluntary exchange, rather than acquiring goods or services by the use of force. He may improve his own estate by homesteading, that is, adding value to property which he has come upon by enhancing it with his labors.

A libertarian society allows men the opportunity to create prosperity and pursue happiness for themselves peacefully. However, what may be prosperity for one man is not necessarily the same for another. So, each individual man in a libertarian society has the right to dispose of his own person and property in the way(s) in which he sees fit. He is allowed to pursue his own happiness.

In pursuing his own happiness, a man may behave immorally, but there should be no legislation against his immoral behavior(s) unless they forcefully take away from another man’s rights to his own person and property. A man may do something ethically wrong, but he has not committed a crime unless and until his actions have a victim (other than “society”), a victim whose right to either life, liberty, or disposal of property has been violated.

With these basic principles in mind, libertarian theory becomes much easier to understand. There are a wide number of sets and sub-sets of theory that fall within the bounds of these simple ideas, but they all maintain these common themes.


7 thoughts on “Libertarianism Simplified

  1. What you are failing to mention here, is where you derive your definition of crime from. I suspect it’s an interpretation of your own opinion.

    Libertarianism seems to not take human nature seriously, or, into account at all. You seem to be putting to much trust in humans’ ability to live a reasonable and good life, without societal checks and balances. Modern societies are made of millions, often hundreds of millions, of individuals, and on that scale a society simply cannot exist without a functional government.

    What Libertarians do exceedingly well is sit on the sidelines, arms folded, and complain. No idea was ever put into action by complaining that it wasn’t so, yet that seems to be the Libertarian modus operandi.

    It’s hard to read Libertarians without concluding that they’ve never been out of the country– perhaps never out of the suburbs. They don’t know what Latin American rule by the elite looks like; they don’t know any way of running an industrial economy but that of the US; they don’t know what an actually oppressive government looks like; they’ve never experienced a depression; they’ve never lived in a slum or experienced racial discrimination. At the same time, they have a very American sense of entitlement: a gut feeling that they’ve earned the prosperity they were born into, that they owe the community nothing, that they deserve to have whatever they want, that no one should stand in their way.

    In short, they’re spoiled, and they’ve evolved a philosophy that they should be spoiled.

    1. A crime is an act of aggression against another man’s person or property. Put another way, a crime is a violation of the non-aggression axiom. Libertarianism is not necessarily libertine in its social structure, but instead recognizes that the state has no business ensuring that people live “reasonable and good lives” anywhere beyond the realm of punishing crimes which harm a man’s right to his person, his property, or his liberty.

      I will admit that oftentimes libertarians have a tendency to enjoy the sidelines, but this is not universally the case. One of the hallmarks of most libertarians is their desire to effect change through non-violent means. This requires putting out a great deal of educational material or “complaining” in an attempt to win others over to the side of liberty. I won’t offer a response to your final paragraph, because it’s a long string of ad hominem.

  2. R Campbell Sproul, I’m new to your blog but want to say I love it and I appreciate your writings from a christian/libertarian view.

    If I may just point out, I’m not sure how KPHaskins could have read this blog post and then accused libertarians of being spoiled and entitled, thinking that nothing should stand in the way of them having what they want.

    R Campbell just laid out why aggression is wrong and that we shouldn’t use force against others. That means we understand property rights and ownership as important. Meaning we think it’s wrong for us or for anyone else to take from others.

    It is the people who believe in the state who believe it is ok to take from others and to use force to get what they want.

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