Libertarianism: Is It Viable?

Posted on June 27, 2014 by


I just finished reading the classic book by Jan Narveson, The Libertarian Idea, published in 1986.  Now this book was no walk in the park. Narveson is a philosopher (and a pretty good one at that) and he writes in that very logical style–which I think we need more of at times.  But whether you are inclined to Libertarianism or not, you really ought to give this a read.  Set aside about four weeks for slow reading and digestion. pay close attention to the basis of his argument.  He came to Libertarianism by way of his growing opposition to Utilitarianism.  And he has embraced it with gusto, as a quick reading of his biography will show (he is emertus at the University of Waterloo).  Without giving away the argument–which some might wish I would–Narveson begins with the basic proposition that we own ourselves and have rights that are not given by the state but possessed by virtue of being us.  From that a minimal, but not non-existent, state derives, but for the most part our own individual or voluntary collective actions.  We do not owe any moral or legal duty to others such that the state may tax or confiscate property merely to give it to others, though, to reiterate, we may and even ought to help others voluntarily.  

There is much more to say.  Read the book.  It is worth the mild pain.  Also bear in mind that Narveson is not an epistemological foundationalist, unfortunately.  Nor does he have very much good to say about Christianity, even more unfortunate, mainly it appears, because of his strong empirical-positivist, dare I say, scientist, presuppositions.  Nevertheless, a Christian can agree with a good deal of what he writes, though on different grounds.