Speech delivered at the 12th annual meeting of the Property and Freedom Society in Bodrum, Turkey, on September 17, 2017
We know the fate of the term "liberal" and "liberalism
." It has been affixed to so many different people and different positions that it has lost all its meaning and become an empty, non-descript label.
The same fate now increasingly also threatens the term "libertarian
" and "libertarianism," which was invented to regain some of the conceptual precision lost with the demise of the former labels.
However, the history of modern libertarianism is still quite young. It began in Murray Rothbard’s
living room and found its first quasi-canonical expression in his For A New Liberty. The Libertarian Manifesto,
published in 1973
And so I am still hopeful and not yet willing to give up on libertarianism
as defined and explained by Rothbard with unrivaled conceptual clarity and precision, notwithstanding the meanwhile countless attempts of so-called libertarians to muddy the water and misappropriate the good name of libertarianism
for something entirely different.
The theoretical, irrefutable core of the libertarian doctrine is simple and straightforward and I have explained it already repeatedly at this place. If there were no scarcity in the world, human conflicts, or more precisely physical clashes, would be impossible. Interpersonal conflicts are always conflicts concerning scarce things.
I want to do A with a given thing and you want to do B with the same thing. Because of such conflicts—and because we are able to communicate and argue with each other—we seek out norms of behavior with the purpose of avoiding these conflicts. The purpose of norms is conflict-avoidance. If we did not want to avoid conflicts, the search for norms of conduct would be senseless. We would simply fight and struggle.
Absent a perfect harmony of all interests, conflicts regarding scarce resources can only be avoided if all scarce resources are assigned as private, exclusive property to some specified individual or group of individuals. Only then can I act independently, with my own things, from you, with your own things, without you and me clashing.
But who owns what scarce resource as his private property and who does not?
- First: Each person owns his physical body that only he and no one else controls directly.
- Second: as for scarce resources that can be controlled only indirectly (that must be appropriated with our own nature-given, i.e., un-appropriated, body), exclusive control (property) is acquired by and assigned to that person, who appropriated the resource in question first or who acquired it through voluntary (conflict-free) exchange from its previous owner.
For only the first appropriator of a resource (and all later owners connected to him through a chain of voluntary exchanges) can possibly acquire and gain control over it without conflict, i.e., peacefully. Otherwise, if exclusive control is assigned instead to latecomers, conflict is not avoided but contrary to the very purpose of norms made unavoidable and permanent.
Before this audience, I do not need to go into greater detail except to add this: If you want to live in peace with other people and avoid all physical clashes and, if such clashes do occur, seek to resolve them peacefully, then you must be an anarchist or more precisely a private property anarchist, an anarcho-capitalist or a proponent of a private law society.
And by implication, then, and again without much further ado: Someone, anyone, is not a libertarian or merely a fake libertarian who affirms and advocates one or more of the following:
- the necessity of a State, any State, of "public" (State) property and of taxes in order to live in peace;
- the existence and justifiability of any so-called “human rights” or “civil rights” other than private property rights, such as “women's rights,” “gay rights,” “minority rights,” the “right” not to be discriminated against, the “right” to free and unrestricted immigration, the “right” to a guaranteed minimum income or to free health care, or the “right” to be free of unpleasant speech and thought.
The proponents of any of this may call themselves whatever they want, and as libertarians we may well cooperate with them, insofar as such a cooperation offers the promise of bringing us closer to our ultimate goal, but they are not libertarians or only fake libertarians. Read more >>