Natural-rights libertarianism

Natural-rights libertarianism, also known as deontological libertarianism, philosophical libertarianism,[1] deontological liberalism, rights-theorist libertarianism, natural rights-based libertarianism, or libertarian moralism,[2] refers to the view that all individuals possess certain natural or moral rights, mainly a right of individual sovereignty, and that therefore acts of initiation of force and fraud are rights-violations and that is sufficient reason to oppose those acts. This is one of the two ethical view points within right-libertarianism, the other being consequentialist libertarianism, which only takes into account the consequences of actions and rules when judging them, and holds that free markets and strong private property rights have good consequences.[3][4] Deontological libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle, which states that no human being holds the right to initiate force or fraud against the person or property of another human being, under any circumstances. Deontological libertarians consider this principle to be the basis of all morality, and therefore they believe that any violation of the principle is immoral, no matter what other arguments may be invoked to justify that violation.

Deontological libertarian philosophies

Some deontological libertarians such as Ayn Rand advocate a minimal government to protect individuals from any violation of their rights, and to prosecute those who initiate force against others. Others, such as Murray Rothbard, advocate the abolition of the state, as they see the state as being an institutionalized initiation of force due to taxation. Their view of natural rights is derived, directly or indirectly, from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and John Locke. Hans Hermann Hoppe advocates the abolition of the state on the basis of argumentation ethics.[2]

Deontological libertarianism and political parties

Deontological libertarianism is the form of libertarianism officially supported by the U.S. Libertarian Party. In order to become a card-carrying member, one must sign an oath opposing the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals.[5]

Criticisms and responses

Some libertarians argue that a relaxation of the non-aggression principle can bring the greatest liberty to the greatest number. Rothbard responded to this criticism by asserting that the means ought never to contradict the ends.[6] Consequentialist libertarians ask, "What authoritative force endowed me, and every other human being alive, with the right and responsibility of self-ownership? How does one prove, substantiate, or justify its existence?" Murray Rothbard responded to this criticism by appealing to a process of elimination, which concluded in his asserting that self-ownership is the only defensible ethical position.[6] If humans are not natural self-owners, this must imply that someone else has a higher claim on a person's own life than the person himself. This leaves two remaining options: either some people own other people, or each and every person has an equal partial claim on every other person. The first option does not provide ethics that is true for all humans though, and instead divides humans up into the super-human owners and the sub-human slaves. The second option, while its ethics apply equally to all men, is not conceivable as working as any action done with their own body would require the permission of all other people in the world before the act itself can be taken, and since even being able to vote on something is an act itself, such a system would leave man paralyzed and unable to do anything legitimately. Therefore, the only consistent defensible position is the one of self-ownership, with all of its implications.

Philosopher Jonathan Wolff criticizes deontological libertarianism as incoherent, writing that it is incapable of explaining why harm suffered by the losers in economic competition does not violate the principle of self-ownership, and that its advocates must "dishonestly smuggle" consequentialist arguments into their reasoning to justify the institution of the free market.[3] According to deontological libertarianism, right to private property derives from self-ownership, and competition does not violate self-ownership because no property rights are violated. Furthermore, natural-rights libertarian will usually see no contradiction in using both deontological and consequentialist arguments, instead seeing them as complementary. The good consequences come precisely because morally just means were used, rather than arguing that these means are morally good because they have good consequences.


  1. Miron, Jeffrey A. Libertarianism: from A to Z. Basic Books, 2010. p.38
  2. 1 2 Bradford. R. W. "The Two Libertarianisms," Liberty Magazine, 1988.
  3. 1 2 Wolff, Jonathan. "Libertarianism, Utility, and Economic Competition" (PDF). Virginia Law Review.
  4. Zwolinski, Matt. "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2008-08-23. |contribution= ignored (help)
  5. Yeager, Leland B. Ethics As Social Science: The Moral Philosophy of Social Cooperation. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2001. p. 283
  6. 1 2 Murray Rothbard 1982. The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press.
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