Is the libertarian position really as extreme as it is generally thought?
The Libertarian Idea
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"Producers and consumers of theory of justice literature should read this book. It is a major work...both libertarianism and welfare state liberalism are articulated and put to the test by Narveson. The book is well written, and quite funny, and is therefore suitable for classroom use."
The Journal of Politics
In his analysis of the philosophy of libertarianism, Jan Narveson distinguishes it from conservatism, with which it is often confounded, and asks if the libertarian position is really as extreme as is generally thought. A controversial theory that equates moral legitimacy with maximum individual freedom, libertarianism appears to have radical social and political implications. In his discussion of the essentials of libertarian theory, Narveson weighs major arguments that have been advanced for and against it and considers the difficulties encountered in applying the principle to real-life situations and in the formulation of public policy.
Libertarianism, as understood in current moral and political philosophy, is the doctrine that the only relevant consideration in political matters is individual libertyinsofar as it does not infringe on another person’s individual liberty. Asserting that this is the pure form of liberalism, the author provides an exposition and defense of the coherence of libertarian theory and examines the question of its foundations. After addressing the questions "Is libertarianism possible?" and "Is libertarianism rational?" in the first two parts of the book, the author considers how the theory could be applied to matters of policy. Treating such diverse issues as abortion, the rights of children, public education, freedom of speech, the legalization of drugs, public property and zoning laws, discrimination in hiring, and questions of defense and international relations, he shows both the merits and the limitations of the position. Throughout, Narveson employs the contractarian approach.
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"An original and well-rounded contribution to two growing traditions: libertarianism and contractarianism. As such, it should be of considerable general interest among political philosophers. Its originality is equally evident in its style of exposition, its argumentative strategy, and the conclusions reached, combining to an uncommon degree an acute understanding of high-level moral theory with a serious concern for how this bears on concrete social policy. In short, it is a thoroughly challenging and quite engaging book."
Canadian Journal of Philosophy
"This book is indeed a major contribution to the philosophical controversy over libertarianism. It ranks in importance with Nozick's [Anarchy, State, and Utopia], [and] John Rawlins's A Theory of Justice."
"Narveson has written an original and important book that opponents of libertarianism will have to study and that libertarians will enjoy studying. No one who reads it can fail to be provoked and enlightened."
p>"[In] Narveson's new, bold, and highly readable book...he aims, quite simply, to provide the secure foundations that libertarianism apparently lacks."
Canadian Philosophical Review
"This is a scholarly, well-thought-out book by someone who knows the current scholarly literature as well as knowing his way around thoroughly in ethics and social philosophy."
John Hospers, University of Southern California
"Narveson provides an original contribution to philosophy. He raises three principal questions about libertarianism. First, is it possible? Second, what are the policy implications of libertarianism? And third, is libertarianism rational? ... A relevant and stimulating discussion."
David Gauthier, University of Pittsburgh
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Part I: Is Libertarianism Possible?
Prologue: The Knock at the Door
1. Liberalism, Conservatism, Libertarianism
A Preliminary Definition
Left, Center, Right
Liberal Individualism as One Kind of Conservatism
Another Preliminary Definition
The Subject of Liberty
Liberty and Autonomy
The Nonatomic Individual
What Is Liberty?
Liberty: Freedom to Bring About
Freedom From and Freedom To
Interferences: Where the Action Is
3. Liberty: Negative versus Positive
Negative and Positive Liberty: Freedom versus Power
Lack of Desire: A Constraint?
Lack of Reason: Another Constraint?
Our Subject: Social Freedom
A Note on Slavery
Is “Positive Liberty” Liberty?
4. Two Conceptions of Liberty as a Social Concern
The Two Ideas
What Constitutes Interference?
Interference versus Nonassistance
Rights and Duties: Definition or Mere Correlation?
Rights without Duties? So-called ”Liberty Rights”
Duties without Rights? Rights, Duties, and Justice
Duties to No One in Particular?
Enforcement and Force
A Paradox: My Freedom Is Your Unfreedom?
Rights Prima Facie or Rights Absolute?
’General’ and ’Particular’ ‘Natural’ and ‘Conventional’
Negative versus Positive Rights
Negative versus Positive Rights to Liberty
Libertarianism and Negative Rights
6. Liberty and Property
How Liberty and Property Are Related
Property in Oneself
From Liberty to Property in Things
Property Rights and the ”Freedom Entails Unfreedom” Paradox
7. Initial Acquisition
Getting Ownership Started
Rights to Things Are Rights to Act
Another “Libertarianism Restricts Liberty” Argument
”Acquiring” Not an Act
Arthur’s Argument: Acquisition as Harmful
8. Property Rights Concluded
Capitalist Rights Not to Be Capitalists
Resources and Generational Considerations
Part II: Foundations: Is Libertarianism Rational?
10. lntuitions in Moral Philosophy
Two Kinds of Intuitionism
The Practicality of Morals
The Need for Clarity about Morality
‘Personal’ versus ‘Social’ Morality
The Compleat Deontologist?
Conventional versus Critical Morality
The Idea of the “Contract” Approach to Foundations
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Is Cooperation Possible? The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Morality, the Real World, and Prisoner’s Dilemma
Being Able to Complain
13. The Logic of Contractarianism
The Basic Appeal
The “Natural Law”
A Note on Utilitarianism
14. Contractarianism to Libertarianism?
The Road from Contractarianism to Libertarianism
A False Start: Autonomy Generalized
Another False Start: An Argument from ”Survival”
The Central Argument
The Right to Liberty, Properly Grounded
The Crucial Question
Can We Improve on the Libertarian Option?
Efficiency versus Justice?
The Gospel According to St. Pareto
Part III: Libertarianism and Reality: What Does Libertarianism Imply about Concrete Social Policy?
15. Society and the Market
The Free Market
Market and Morals
Two Views about Society and the Market
Market Morality as a Public Good
What Is Economic?
Capitalism and Consumerism
A Question about Factor Rent
16. The State
The State, Government, Public, Associations, Us
A Note on Democracy
The Down Side of Democracy
Authority and Coordination
The Right to Protection
Protection and Nozick's Argument for the State Law
Enforcement and the Problem of Punishment
Punishment: The Options
The Deterrence/Protection Theory
Redistribution and the State
A Tale of Two Scrooges
Public Goods Arguments
A Note on the ”Minimal State”
A Tale of Three Rules about Mutual Aid
A Note on Symphony Orchestras
18. Insurance Arguments and the Welfare State
The Libertarian Reply
Insurance and Charity
Overwhelming Majorities and Administrative Overhead
A Defense of Charity
Duties of Charity
The “Social Minimum”
19. The Problem of Children
Abortion and Infanticide
20. Freedom and Information
Education: Should We Sell the Schools?
The Orwin Thesis
Freedom of Speech and the Ideological Marketplace
Pornography, Hate Literature, and the Like
A Libertarian Postscript
21. The Public and Its Spaces
Rules, Regulations, and Bureaucrats
Sell the Streets?
On Discrimination in Hiring
Discrimination, Inefficiency, and the Market
The Public Sector
22. Defense and International Relations
Libertarianism and War
Foreign Policy toward Nonliberal States
The Nonrevolutionist’s Evolutionist Handbook
Epilogue: Reflections on Libertarianism
What Has Not Been Proven
The Lure of Nationalism
Privatization, Trivialization, and the Eternal Yuppie
The Secular Problem of Evil
Advice to Libertarian Political Parties
Does It Matter?
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About the Author(s)
Jan Narverson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Philosophy and Ethics
In the series
Ethics and Action, edited by Tom Regan.
No longer active.
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