In my view, the questions moral philosophers grapple with are as interesting and important to libertarianism as those posed by political philosophers. As an advocate for a free society in which people themselves are the moral arbiters rather than government, I believe it is my responsibility to think long and hard about the moral rules I adopt to guide my behavior. The underlying assumption of libertarianism is that people have the ability to act civilly without having a gun pointed at their heads but we must back up this assumption if we want our political philosophy to be taken seriously. Each of us has to set an example by being able to articulate, defend, and advocate for our own moral principles of social interaction, not so that we can force everyone to follow one conception of morality, but to ensure that we are all thinking critically about the principles that we live by and to prove that the libertarian ideal is possible. Libertarians are generally pretty good at explaining how strangers would interact in a free society, but we rarely consider how our relationships with the people we love influence our choices, economic and otherwise, which affect the rest of society in a myriad of ways, good and bad. As individuals with only so much time, attention, and money to devote to others, we must balance competing motivations when coordinating with other people. Love is a powerful motivation and just as important as the standard self-interest that guides our interactions with strangers.
Recently, my estimable colleague Ian CoKehyeng wrote a piece in which he ultimately criticizes the Bleeding Heart Libertarian ideal of social justice, which includes incorporating social justice into libertarianism. Ian does give credit where credit is due by noting that the aspect of the project focusing on the positive outcomes that free markets ultimately produce is important for an outreach strategy for modern libertarianism, but he goes on to criticize it much like Robert Nozick did in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, noting that it focuses on an end-product of distribution, while the proper judgment for justice lies in the process of distribution.
I have been reading Limits of Liberty by James Buchanan and came across a passage I found interesting. In defending the state he imagines a two period emergence. First, “claims are conceptually agreed upon by all parties in the constitutional stage of the social contract. Then, “the state is called upon to monitor these claims, to serve as an enforcing institution, to ensure these contractual commitments are honored.” It seems to me as though the lessons from another of his pieces, “Order Defined in the Process of its Emergence,” can aptly demonstrate the problem with his, and others, defense of the state.
I want to argue that “rights” only emerge from the process of their enforcement. The “rights” are, themselves, defined as the outcome of the enforcement which generates them. The “rights,” the set of property bundles, does not, and cannot, exist independently of the enforcement mechanism. Absent enforcement, there can be no “rights.”