41. “Why There are No Dilemmas in Widerquist’s ‘A Dilemma for Libertarians'”


Abstract: Karl Widerquist has recently argued that libertarians face two dilemmas. The first dilemma arises because, contrary to what Widerquist takes libertarians to suggest, there is no conceptual link between robust property rights and the libertarian state. Private property rights can legitimately yield non-libertarian states. Libertarians must thus remain committed either to robust property rights or the libertarian state. I call this the “Conceptual Dilemma.”

The second dilemma is empirical in nature. Libertarians can try to undermine state property rights by showing that the means by which all present states came to have their property was unjust. However, doing so would presumably undermine almost all the property claims of private individuals. So the dilemma is that libertarians can undermine state property rights only by undermining individual property rights, on the one hand. On the other, libertarians can vindicate private property rights of individuals only by vindicating state property rights. I call this the “Empirical Dilemma.”

I attempt to diffuse both of these dilemmas here. I argue that the Conceptual Dilemma relies on a misunderstanding of the libertarian’s commitments. In particular, I show that libertarians need not think robust property rights can yield states more extensive than Nozick’s minimal state. I then argue that Widerquist ignores libertarian scholarship aimed at meeting the Empirical Dilemma. Many libertarians have attempted to demonstrate that there are legitimate private property rights which are illegitimately disregarded by current states. The upshot of this discussion is that there are no genuine dilemmas posed by Widerquist’s “A Dilemma for Libertarians.”