Libertarianism: a good social justice theory?

A dive into the political philosophy of libertarianism.

Understanding Libertarianism

Libertarianism, in its simplest sense, means defending or liberating freedom. The influential political philosopher of the 18th century, Thomas Paine, believed that, out of the two different classes of people in the country, one pays taxes while the other receives and thrives upon them. It was the former class that birthed the libertarian philosophy.

The Non-Aggression Principle (NAP)

As per libertarianism, it is the intervention of the government (for example, through taxes) that disrupts the ‘natural harmony’ that exists between productive people. Libertarians strongly believe that any law formulated by the government should not force people into following it (unless it is formulated to protect other citizens’ rights). With the exception of the binding law of taxation, I share their opinion.

The Era of Neo-Libertarianism

There has been a noticeable rise in the popularity of libertarianism. The present-day neo-liberals believe that justice is not an outcome, but a process. The base beliefs of this philosophy are that every individual deserves the right to lead their lives in whichever way they deem appropriate, as long as they are not disrupting others’ right to do the same. I agree with this philosophy. If a person violates this right, they are subjected to some form of punishment by the judiciary (for example — thieves, rapists and murderers).

Therefore, libertarians or neo-liberals support the existence of a minimalist government and believe that practices like abortion and gay marriages are social freedoms that must exist. This is an appealing political and social philosophy because it upholds values like true freedom and justice, which I think are objectively good.

Criticisms for Libertarianism

Even though libertarianism has some appealing aspects, not one nation in the world has tried to adopt this philosophy. A reason for this might be the complete rejection of social welfare. Thinkers like Friedrich von Hayek and Robert Nozick have given the following arguments in their support:

  1. The distribution of social benefits in itself is made possible through agents who are not concerned with its overall results.
  2. To achieve complete ‘social justice’, the thriving free-market economy will have to be replaced by a stifling and sluggish bureaucracy, which would retain absolute control over resources.
  3. This implies that personal liberty would be highly limited, as people will not have the complete freedom to use their own resources, as the allocation of the government would be binding.

But these arguments are not convincing, as the complete elimination of welfare in a nation would ultimately do more harm than good. The poor and the aged would no longer be able to depend on the state to avail basic benefits like food and healthcare. Drug legalization would devastate the society. The unregulated economy would not be able to check the rise of monopolies (which would, ironically, undermine the spirit of free markets).

So, libertarianism, with all its strong points, is still not a convincing theory of social justice. With a careful study of other social justice theories, a similar conclusion would arise. Therefore, an amalgamation of the strengths of various theories is required to create an ideal one.

The Thinking Lane is a space where Kritika Parakh’s thoughts are converted into blogs. As a philosopher, she writes to inform and to invoke.