Points of Libertarianism

My Thoughts On: May 21st, 2003

When I sat down designing the 'NAM, I thought of the principles I had embraced to really make the site coherent. This short article will help shine the light on the ideology of the 'NAM, and some of it's core principles.

Well, it's time to get into the grit. Why is this site here? I'll help explain some of the ideas behind it, hopefully that will justify it's existance a little to our visitors. The 'NAM endorses Libertarianism as it's political ideology, but what is that, really? And where did it come from?

Modern Libertarians often consider the American Revolt against the British to be one of the most significant events in world political history. Why? It's because Classical Liberalism, the ideology of the U.S. founding fathers, is the original basis for most Libertarian thought today. Modern "Conservatives" and "Liberals" both claim to follow this ideology today - and in some regards, domestically, economically, and militarily - they may be right. Modern Libertarians, on a different coin, don't simply claim to follow Classical Liberalism, they claim to follow it more consistently than any other ideological group today. Their orthodox practice of it's principles are so different from the modern mixed economy/interventionary government model that there is a big need to distinguish itself from both the Left and Right wings as a seperate path altogether (which may even be best described as the "up/down" idiom as opposed to the "left/right" one).

But what ideas do Libertarians endorse and how do those ideas stem from the Classical Liberalism of U.S. founding fathers?

One of the vital points of the American Revolution is that, unlike other revolutions of it's era, the leaders of the Revolution wrote down and formally declared principles of complaint against the British Empire. This formal declaration is now known as the Declaration of Independence. The document sets forth a series of grievances against the British King, and declares the 13 American colonies independent from British rule. Libertarians idolize the document because it lays down a series of ideas regarding the purpose of government and man's right to govern himself. A key passage which you may be familiar with is printed below,

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

--- Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, paragraph 2

Libertarians see this passage to be illustrating several key points of a secure political philosophy, those being:

1. Men have rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", REGARDLESS of the recognition by a state of these rights. They are "inalienable" and a part of nature or providence, granted, as Jefferson says, by god himself. His broader point doesn't necessarily need to be religious to continue to be valid, but what it does demonstrate, is the idea that these rights exist and that they are "self-evident".

2. Governments are instituted among men for the explicit purpose of securing these rights.

3. That when governments constantly fail to recognize these rights, it is the right and duty of the people governed to alter the government or abolish it and establish a new one.

There are a lot of principles associated with the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Libertarianism has a very clear definition of what these "rights" are and how that limits the nature of legitimate government. They also clearly advocate the alteration/abolishment of governments that do not recognize these rights.

To understand Libertarianism better, we have to find out how "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" relates to human rights and the principle of self-ownership.

If there is a principle that is really core to the Libertarian ideology, it is the principle of self-ownership. This principle, simply put, is that people own themselves, and cannot be compulsed to dispose of their bodies or labor by others except by explicit voluntary agreement. Self-ownership is the primary argument used against one of the oldest forms of institutionalized tyranny, slavery.

This principle is self-evident, a truth that makes itself obvious when considering who you are and what owning something is. You obviously own yourself, in the literal sense at least. When it's applied to a society of people certain obvious truths stem from it regarding ethics of ownership and what it means to own yourself in other senses. Just as you might own yourself, others thus own themselves. Not recognizing this is self-defeating of the principle of self-ownership: what good does your declaration of self-ownership do you if others do not recognize it, and visca-versa? Simply put, none.

This leads us to the conclusion that if you want to endorse self-ownership as a social principle, it must be a moral entitlement, not a "grant" or "privilege" of the state.

Among "self-evident truths" presented in the Declaration of Independence are the "inalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Libertarians often ascribe to the belief that self-ownership is the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", because without it, you cannot live, be free, or act upon your personal volition or course of action with your body or labor to pursue what makes you happy.

Truly, freedom depends on the right of one person to own themselves, and likewise, for that person to own no one BUT himself. This creates an explicit concept of property: your body is something you own, and are entitled to. You decide what to do with it and how it is disposed of, just as a land-owner might use his deed of ownership to dispose of the resources of the land, you use your intellectual deed of ownership over yourself to dispose of your own resources. These may be intellectual resources or literal physical ones. Either way, you are your own property.

Libertarians use a Lockean theory of property to expand this property claim to include products of labor and homesteading (acquisition of land/abandoned property or assumption of entitlement of property through voluntary agreement). Much in the same way you own yourself, you can claim ownership over other things in your possession which you own through direct use/creation. However, this property claim is only legitimate if it doesn't directly violate an existing property claim made by others - because, just as you own your property and have rights to it, others have similar rights you must respect, disrespecting them revokes your moral argument to self-ownership.

This allows an individual the capability to assume property for use, for example - land for agricultural cultivation - and produce a claim of entitlement over that property so that only he has a right to use that property. At first it may sound like this is a very questionable extension of the self-ownership principle, but it's much more obvious when you consider things you take for granted - for instance, air or food. If you do not own the air you breath in open spaces or the food you traded for, then others can claim priority of it's use regardless of the moral legitimacy you might've had in acquiring these things. In such a world you might work hard to honestly get others to consent to provide these things for you, but still be trumped by the principle of "might makes right" and end up suffocating/starving.

Not the kind of world one would consider full of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

Self-ownership is the basis of human rights in a Libertarian model society - you have rights to own yourself and property you've acquired legitimately - and others have equal rights. You cannot violate the rights of others and others cannot violate your rights. If those rights are violated then an ethical argument is in place that the subject has abdicated his rights in a civil society. Thus is the reasoning behind governments being erected - to protect citizens from rights violations, such as murder, assault, slavery, and theft.

There may be more to it than that, but hopefully you have an idea as to where I'm coming from on some issues. I hope to follow this up with some more later, but until then...