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Freedom's Phoenix

Personal Responsibility

January 13, 2009 - 12:00am
Nick Coons by Nick Coons


When discussing our ideas with people, libertarians often use the term "personal responsibility" without giving so much as an explanation as to what this means. We don't often realize the ambiguity that many people may infer from the term, because in the context in which we use it, it seems self-evident to us.

One may argue, "people are not responsible, look at the enormous credit card debt of many familes, which is not responsible at all."  And herein lies the ambiguity, because "personal responsibility" does not mean that everyone acts responsibly.  Simply put, it means that each person is responsible for the consequences of his or her own actions.

Libertarians believe that society should exist in such a way that individuals are responsible for their own actions.  By extension, this means that no one can be responsible for your actions, and you cannot be responsible for the actions of others.  There are at least two reasons for this:

  • Because you can't force people to do what you want, you can't control what they do and therefore can't be resopnsible for it.
  • While there will always be people that act irresponsibly, in general people make more responsible decisions when the consequences of those decisions fall on their own shoulders, instead of on the shoulders of someone else or society at large.

If we want to encourage people to act more responsibly, then we need to allow people to accept both the positive and negative consequences of their decisions instead of passing those consequences off to others.

Related Content:

Call Me Irresponsible: Birthrates, Families, and Culture - Kimberly Ruff
Financial Bailout - Nick Coons
Unfunded Liabilities and the National Debt - Richard Sutton

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