11. “Two Constructions of Libertarianism”

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Abstract: The libertarian first principle—a belief in individual freedom—can lead to two different and not necessarily acceptable societies from the standpoint of liberty. One is the “Union of Liberty,” in which communities, associations, and intermediate bodies are held to rigorous standards of voluntariness (and thus face sharp limits on their internal associational freedom because of the knowledge that children will be born into them). In the other, the “Federation of Liberty,” they are not (thereby allowing children to be born into locally unfree environments).

While in any free society individuals may voluntarily join together and waive some of their rights (in institutions such as contract or marriage, for example), hard questions arise when nonconsenting children are born into restrictive environments that their parents may have voluntarily created. An adult who gives up all of his or her property to a communal religious body upon conversion has made a voluntary choice, but what about the child born into that religious community later on? Thus, the Federation of Liberty can, in theory, turn out to contain no communities that actually value or respect liberty; and even slavery might have a lawful place within it. The Union of Liberty, on the other hand, can, in principle turn out to be society ruled by a strong authority with little respect for dissenting moral traditions, including some self-styled libertarian moral traditions.

Libertarians face a stark choice between these “two constructions of libertarianism”; there is no third way, theoretically speaking. Libertarians must choose one of them. Given the necessity to choose one of these constructions, the Federation of Liberty is arguably preferable to the Union of Liberty.

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