More On The Problems Of A Thin Libertarianism

A number of years ago, Walter Block wrote this article, in which he claims, "libertarianism is a theory concerned with the justified use of aggression, or violence, based on property rights, not morality". I find this claim to be incredibly perplexing because, to my knowledge, questions of the justified use of aggression and property rights inherently are moral questions. Why wouldn't they be? Individual liberty and property rights are ethical norms, and the process of clearly defining them requires a social philosophy. It seems to me that Walter Block is actually not being Rothbardian enough, given that Rothbard explicitly denounced taking a purely legalistic and utilitarian approach to libertarianism. That's why he wrote "The Ethics of Liberty", essentially as a protractor for libertarianism as a social philosophy.

To act as if libertarianism is neutral to morality would be misleading. Libertarianism is not a purely legalistic theory or a legal system, it is a social philosophy that functions as a guide for evaluating legal systems and as a pretext for legal systems. Once the libertarian pretext for a legal system is established, that's when there's a cut off point beyond which there is pluralism or neutrality. But one cannot just conceptually superimpose whatever kind of legal system one wants onto libertarianism, as if it's completely arbitrary. Libertarianism as a social philosophy provides a clear criteria for establishing a legal system; the legal system cannot undermine the ethical norms or it is inconsistant. Libertarianism cannot rationally be bundled with values or preferances that directly or indirectly contradict it, such as an authoritarian legal framework.

In short, Walter Block is conceptually putting the cart before the horse. A libertarian ethical framework provides the context for a legitimate legal system. A legitimate legal system does not create that context, that context must be established prior to the formation of any legal system. Individual sovereignty is not a principle that only applies after a legal system has been established. The non-aggression principle is not a floating abstraction and contextless axoim that somehow constitutes a legal system. It is a very specific principle that has a specific relationship to other ethical concepts and a specific definition of its terms. It requires a more integrated theory of interpersonal ethics to be made clear, otherwise it's reduced to meaninglessness.


# scineram said on 20 January, 2009 11:57 PM

Have you read Against Libertarian Legalism from Van Dun? Interesting exchange with Block it was.

# Brainpolice said on 21 January, 2009 12:05 AM

No I haven't read that. Do you have a link by chance?

# Brainpolice said on 21 January, 2009 09:27 PM

Nevermind, I found it right at this site. :P