Deontological libertarianism

Deontological libertarianism

Deontological libertarianism (also known as rights-theorist libertarianism, natural rights libertarianism, or libertarian moralism)[1] refers to the view that all acts of initiation of force and fraud should be opposed because they are always immoral regardless of the effects of engaging in them. This is one of the two ethical view points within libertarianism, the other being consequentialist libertarianism, which holds that liberty should be supported and maximized because it leads to good consequences regardless of whether doing so involves initiation of force.[2][3] 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 Robert Nozick and 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 Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. They therefore become libertarian anarchists or anarcho-capitalists.[1]


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.[4] 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 dismissed this criticism by appealing to a process of elimination, claiming that 100% self-ownership is the only defensible ethical position.[4]

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.[2]


  1. ^ a b Bradford. R. W. "The Two Libertarianisms," Liberty Magazine, 1988.
  2. ^ a b Wolff, Jonathan. Libertarianism, Utility, and Economic Competition. Virginia Law Review. 
  3. ^ Zwolinski, Matt. "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2008-08-23 
  4. ^ a b Murray Rothbard 1982. The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press.

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