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The Case Against the State - Libertarian Morality

October 17, 2009 - 8:00am
Nick Coons by Nick Coons

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The target of this article is the vast majority of libertarians that believe in the state. If you subscribe to the idea of libertarianism as a political philosophy, if you agree with the non-aggression principle, but perhaps still struggle with the "proper" role of government or how government can or should legitimately exist in a libertarian society, then this article is for you. On the other hand, if you think government should continue the use of violence to achieve social ends, then this article may not be for you.



The first step is to clarify the non-aggression principle, which states that it is immoral for any person to initiate the use of force against any other person. Libertarians don't believe that this principle evaporates upon taking on the title of "government agent."

Next, we need to clarify "morality." Morality, like science, is objective. A moral rule is a universal. If we say that "stealing is wrong" is a moral rule, then it's just as valid for you as it is for me, it's just as valid today as it is tomorrow, and it's just as valid in Arizona as it is in Wisconsin. A moral rule is one that applies to all people in all places and at all times. If it's not a universal, then it's not a moral rule. Instead, it's just a preference, like "I like chocolate."

In this sense, moral rules are like physical laws. If I drop a rock, it will fall down, and that's what will happen every time I repeat the experiment. For there to be a "law of gravity", it must be consistent given the same circumstances. If I dropped a rock one time and it fell down, and the next time it fell up, then we wouldn't have a physical law anymore.

In determining physical laws and the nature of the universe, we use the scientific method. The scientific method is a process for determining the truth about reality. We can decide to either use or not use the scientific method, but we can't decide to come up with arbitrary results without it and simply declare them to be true out of preference. Likewise, we can choose whether or not to recognize an objective morality, and so we can choose whether or not we act morally. But we can't act immorally and have any credibility in claiming that our actions are moral.

Libertarians are those that understand that moral rules are universal. We apply "stealing is wrong" not just to a subsection of people, but to all people. Just because someone has a government title, special badge, or was selected by others to represent them, doesn't absolve them from their acts being considered immoral if they steal.

But should morality be part of politics? How can it not be? Every value judgment requires morality. How can one know what is "the good" or "the evil" without morality? If it's good that the economy does well and unemployment is low and people have quality health care, you need morality as a basis for determining that it is good. Having "good" presupposes morality.

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Related Content:

The Case Against the State - Anarchy, Not Chaos - Nick Coons
The Case Against the State - Logical Contradictions - Nick Coons
Is Barack Obama Just a Smarter George Bush? - Jim Iannuzo


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