After much thought and debate about this topic over the last 25 or so years, here is my attempt at a lean, concise, precise definition of what a libertarian is:
A libertarian is a person who believes that the invasion of the borders of (trespass against) others’ bodies or owned external scarce resources, i.e. property (with property allocations determined in accordance with Lockean homesteading rules and contractual transfer rules), is unjustified, because they (for whatever reason) prefer or value grundnorms of peace, prosperity, and cooperation and who have enough honesty, consistency, and economic literacy to recognize that the libertarian assignment of property rules is necessary to achieve these grundnorms.
Such a person, if he is consistent, also cannot help but recognize that the state, being an agency of institutionalized aggression, is inherently criminal and illegitimate.
Note what this does not say: It does not say that the libertarian necessarily believes all aggression is immoral, but rather that it is unjustified; it does not imply that rights are a “subset” of morals. It also does not say why the person values peace, prosperity and cooperation and favors it above interpersonal violent conflict. It also does not make the common mistake of interpreting the libertarian-Lockean property allocation rule as requiring one to prove title all the way back to the very first use of the resource; rather, it says that whoever has the best claim to a disputed resource has a property right in it (is its “proper” owner), and that as between any two claimants, the one having an earlier claim (use) of the property has the better claim. This does not require title to be traced back to the beginning of time but only to the earliest time needed to defeat any actual or potential claimants; though it implies that someone who can trace title back to the first appropriation has the best possible claim of all (unless title has been assigned by contract). Note also that although the libertarian rule is the Lockean rule this does not imply Locke’s reasoning in justifying his homesteading rule was correct—in particular it does not imply that Locke was right to say that labor is owned or that labor-ownership is the reason why first possession of a resource is sufficient to establish property rights in the resource.
Intellectual Property Rights have always been a hot topic among libertarians. One of the main arguments in favor is the belief that these rights are essential for entrepreneurship. Businesses wouldn’t be able to innovate without the financial fruits of their intellectual labor. But exactly how essential is intellectual property in this regard? Would an end of these rights mean an end of commerce? Or the reverse? Find out during this upcoming webinar!
Jeffrey Tucker is executive editor of the newly refurbished Laissez Faire Books, a leading publisher of libertarian books, and founder and head of the Laissez Faire Club. He also author of Bourbon for Breakfast (2010), It’s a Jetsons World (2011), and Beautiful Anarchy (2012).
As many of my readers know, I often lecture and speak and give podcast or radio interviews on various libertarian topics and issues, such as intellectual property (IP), anarcho-libertarians, Austrian law and economic, contract theory, rights and punishment theory, and so on. I also blog and comment regularly on such matters in various blogs (primarily The Libertarian Standard, on general libertarian matters, and C4SIF, on IP-related matters), Facebook, and so on—often posting my take on a given issue in response to a question emailed to me or posted online.
This month I am launching a new podcast, Kinsella on Liberty. I expect to post episodes once or twice a week. The podcast will include new episodes covering answers to questions emailed to me (feel free to ask me to address any issue of libertarian theory or application) as well as interviews or discussions I conduct with other libertarians. I’ll also include in the feed any new speeches or interviews of mine that appear on other podcasts or fora, as well as older speeches, interviews, and audio versions of my articles, which are collected for now on my media page). Audio and slides for several of my Mises Academy courses may also be found on my media page, and will also be included in the podcast feed later this year. Feel free to Subscribe in iTunes or Follow with RSS, and spread the word to your libertarian friends. I welcome questions for possible coverage in the podcast, as well as any criticism, suggestions for improvement, or other feedback. My general approach to libertarian matters is Austrian, anarchist, and propertarian, influenced heavily by the thought of Ludwig von Mises, Murray N. Rothbard, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. My writing can be found in articles here and blog posts at The Libertarian Standard and C4SIF, such as: