Libertarianism and the State
Classical liberalism emphasizes the importance of individual liberty and contemporary (or welfare) liberalism tends to emphasize some kind of material equality. The best known form of libertarianism—right-libertarianism—is a version of classical liberalism, but there is also form of libertarianism—left- libertarianism-that combines the classical liberal concern for individual liberty with the contemporary liberal concern for a robust concern for material equality. In this paper, I shall assess whether libertarianism in general—and left-libertarianism in particular—can judge a state to be just without the universal consent of those it governs. Although Robert Nozick has argued, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia , that libertarianism is compatible with the justice of a minimal state—even if does not arise from universal consent—few have been persuaded. Libertarianism holds that individuals have very strong rights of non-interference and all non-pacifist versions thereof hold that they also have strong enforcement rights. Given that these rights are typically understood as protecting choices, it is very difficult to see how a non-consensual state could be just. Those who have not consented to the state's powers retain their enforcement rights, and the state violates their rights when it uses force against them to stop them from correctly and reliably enforcing their rights. I will outline a different way of establishing that a non-consensual libertarian state can be just. I will show that a state can—with a few important qualifications—justly enforce the rights of citizens and extract payments from wrongdoers to cover the costs of such enforcement. Moreover, certain versions of left-libertarianism—unlike right-libertarianism—can justly redistribute resources to the poor and invest in infrastructure to overcome market failures.
Social Philosophy and Policy 24 (01