Natural-rights libertarianism

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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[edit]

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]

Political parties[edit]

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[edit]

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]

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]


  1. ^ Miron, Jeffrey A. Libertarianism: from A to Z. Basic Books, 2010. p.38
  2. ^ a b Bradford. R. W. "The Two Libertarianisms," Liberty Magazine, 1988.
  3. ^ a b Wolff, Jonathan. "Libertarianism, Utility, and Economic Competition" (PDF). Virginia Law Review. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Zwolinski, Matt. "Libertarianism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  5. ^ Yeager, Leland B. Ethics As Social Science: The Moral Philosophy of Social Cooperation. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2001. p. 283
  6. ^ a b Murray Rothbard 1982. The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press.