June 2, 2016

Liberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism is a Liberal View

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Our contribution in this chapter is to address the argument made by philosopher Samuel Freeman (2001) that libertarianism is not a liberal view. Freeman’s argument is based on the claim that full alienability of property rights is antithetical to liberal political institutions. We address Freeman’s argument by arguing twofold. First, although he derives a logically valid theory of libertarianism, which indeed has illiberal implications, Freeman’s account of libertarianism mistakenly conflates an absolute notion of private property and contract with liberty itself. Second, we argue that private property and freedom of contract are necessary, but not sufficient for a liberal view of libertarianism. Sufficient for a liberal view of libertarianism is a framework of general and universally applicable rules that exhibit neither discrimination nor dominion over individuals before the law, i.e. liberty. The right to private property and contract are normatively laden principles, yet contextual and endogenous to a political framework that gives space to exchange and human flourishing. Ultimately, what Freeman is criticizing is an illiberal view of libertarianism that structures atomistic interaction, one where human interaction is passively based on a logical derivation of the non-aggression axiom. Our account is that libertarianism, properly understood, is a liberal view that structures social interaction, one where human interaction is open-ended and exchange is initiated by individuals’ purposive plans.