Libertarianism is Only a Theory of Law

Libertarianism Is Only a Theory of Law
By Rik Storey 
21st November 2016

I am tired of both libertarians and their critics misrepresenting my beloved libertarianism by insisting that I am party to some sort of cult which teaches that some unspecified deity has written the non-aggression principle on tablets of stone.  I have lost count of the number of times I have had to parrot the most notable libertarian scholars – libertarianism is just a theory of law, not an entire ethical system, complete with cultural mores, which must be imposed on everyone.  As Lew Rockwell put it, ‘Libertarianism is concerned with the use of violence in society. That is all. It is not anything else. It is not feminism. It is not egalitarianism… It has nothing to say about aesthetics. It has nothing to say about religion or race or nationality or sexual orientation.’

So when people dismiss libertarianism because some libertarians are cultural Marxists, they do so out of ignorance.  Libertarianism has a deontological attitude towards law; that is, in order for there to be certainty and security of private property rights, there must be the rule of law and not the rule of legislators, i.e. no man must be above the law.  The only sense libertarians are egalitarian is that they think the law should apply equally to all in a given group.

This is the great Western heritage, not originating with the Anglo-Saxons or the ancient Greeks but the libertarian and egalitarian aristocracies of the Indo-Europeans from whom all the European civilizations are descended.  Of course we recognise that not every civilization had to establish the rule of law or the NAP to function or avoid a plague of locusts.  Rather, libertarianism and the rule of law is part and parcel with the uniqueness of Western Law and, therefore, the uniqueness of Western civilization.  But what is that law?

The unique Western attitude to law and its overwhelming success, according to Sinha, make it the fundamental and central trait of the West.  The reason for making the law the king of kings lay in the higher degree of rationalism in the West; if a law has to apply to all people in all situations, which social norms can we determine do just that?  The only such ‘right’ we can determine is the negative right to be left alone in your person and property – private property rights.  The nature of law, then, demands that it rule or else we must submit to the unreliable whim of an individual or group being legislated and imposed on us, as if by divine power.

Naturally, the libertarian and egalitarian aristocracies of the Indo-Europeans produced civilizations which already acknowledged this, as the king could not violate the private property rights of another free man for fear of retribution from other powerful lords and the loss of honour, glory and respect from one’s kinsmen.  Therefore, this rational and ruling law was not just discovered but studied and refined in it’s natural environment – the West.

So, the next time you think of dismissing libertarianism because you are repulsed by some open borders supporter, some cucked feminist or someone who insists the world must fall before the NAP, remember that you can simply dismiss them as ignorant without dismissing libertarianism.  What’s more, if you understand that there is a difference between law and morality (the customs of a culture) and you love Western civilization and the rule of law, you are a libertarian!



  1. This is excellent, concise. No bullshit. Gets straight to the point, and nails the argument perfectly.

  2. a) No, it is not anglo saxon its diasporic cosmopolitan (eastern european / russian). As was Rothbard (Mises). There are no commons in libertinism. The west constructs commons.

    b) Libertinism is an insufficient basis for law since it does not eliminate enough internal conflict, retaliation, and transaction costs to eliminate demand for the state.

    Done. Period. End of story.

    There is only one source of liberty: the reciprocal insurance of armed men against the imposition of costs upon which that they have invested by the bearing of costs.

    One begs for liberty. One fights for sovereignty. One possesses liberty by permission and therefore it does not and cannot exist. One either possesses sovereignty by the demonstrable ability to deny others the alternative, or one begs for whatever he can get from the ruler.

    The era of ‘pussy-tarians’ is over.

      • In-group (people investing in and profiting from the same commons) –vs– out-group (people not investing in, or profiting from the same commons, and often investing in or profiting from competing commons)

        Humans risk proportionately by genetic distance + cooperative distance. Humans retaliate proportionally by cooperative distance.

        In the context of your question, we demonstrate costly punishment of trust violators ingroup which while expensive preserves the value of the low transaction costs of ingroup cooperation in an environment of trustworthiness. This is the function of norms and laws: decreasing transaction costs by increasing trust by increasing retaliation dramatically to preserve trust and discounts on transaction costs.

        • Mostly makes sense. The in-group/out-group definition is especially interesting.

          Your second point about genetic/cooperative distance and its relationship to willingness to risk/retaliate is also interesting. My personal experience seems to bear that out, but I’d have to see some data on that to be convinced that the relationship is as consistent and predictable as you indicate.

          On the point of internal retaliation, however, I’m catching mixed messages. Perhaps I’m misreading your words. From your first comment, I was under the impression that internal retaliation was a thing to be eliminated:

          “Libertinism is an insufficient basis for law since it does not eliminate enough internal conflict, retaliation, and transaction costs to eliminate demand for the state.”

          In your reply to my question, retaliation seems to be a useful tool of the law – something to be encouraged:

          ” This is the function of norms and laws: decreasing transaction costs by increasing trust by increasing retaliation dramatically to preserve trust and discounts on transaction costs.”

          So this brings us back to the original question, which is what you mean by “retaliation.”

          Is it a general term in reference to any act, legal or private, aimed at righting any perceived offense (physical or otherwise)? Or do you employ the term within a more specific context and limited scope?

          For example, if someone slanders me and does damage to my reputation, there are many forms of retaliation I could take (as it relates to the standard definition of the word).
          1) I could reciprocate with my own calumnies
          2) I could bring a legal suit against him
          3) I could injure him physically
          4) I could damage his property

          I could also broaden the scope of my retaliation and do any of the above things to others with whom the offender associates or to those for whom he cares. I might also increase the severity of my retaliation more or less arbitrarily – demand more money in the case of a lawsuit or aim to kill rather than maim in the case of physical violence.

          Some of these options are obviously preferable to others if the goal is social harmony, high trustworthiness, and lowered transaction costs. All of them are, nonetheless, forms of retaliation. And there is basically no limit on the number and kind of perceived offenses for which one might resort to retaliation:

          Calumny, physical injury, damage to property, fraud, voicing unwelcome views within earshot, wearing clothing one might deem offensive, etc. Things ranging from reasonable to insane by our standards.

          This is why I ask what you mean by internal retaliation.

    • Yes. The NAP is fundamentally untenable because some people are just so evil they simply need killing. There are plenty of irredeemable psychopaths who can only be answered by violence (and, sadly, in may cases aren,t… I shall refrain from naming names of any public figures since this is a public forum and that’s a simple exercise for the reader).

  3. Much to agree with here; but by no means all. This is a very slippery area, so it may seem as if I’m splitting hairs.

    I agree that libertarianism cannot include specific cultural mores to be imposed in everyone. That is because, for me, the ideas of libertarianism are culture independent. But when Lew Rockwell says that libertarianism “has nothing to say about religion or race or nationality or sexual orientation,” I disagree. It does have something important to say about all these things – namely, that they don’t matter. The way I like to put it is: “people are to be judged only by what they do, not by who they are.”

    I disagree with Rockwell in another way, too. For me, libertarianism isn’t (or shouldn’t be) concerned only with the use of violence. It should be concerned with non-violent harms too. For example, violations of privacy, or untruthful or deceitful smears on someone’s reputation. And non-violent fraud, too.

    And when Rik Storey says, “The only sense libertarians are egalitarian is that they think the law should apply equally to all in a given group,” I think he has understated his point. For me, the law – and we’re talking here, I think, about what has historically been called “natural law” – must apply equally to all without exception.

    • “It should be concerned with non-violent harms too. For example, violations of privacy, or untruthful or deceitful smears on someone’s reputation. And non-violent fraud”
      That leads to the whole cloth of bullshit the leftists espouse… we must do this to save the children. Bullshit.

      • it’s still amazing to me that any talk of non aggression principle continues, when the causal problem of cooperation is the prevention of retaliation for the imposition of costs upon that which others have born costs to inventory without imposing costs upon that which others have born costs to inventory; where people inventory life and limb, offspring, mates, relations, private property, shareholder property, common property, normative ‘property’ (manners, ethics, morals, norms, traditions, myths, group evolutionary strategy), institutional property (laws, courts, banks, etc), monuments (churches temples museums works of art), and territory (within borders). The fact that we suppress local rents by the centralization of rents in order to fun the suppression of local rents, and that as a consequence we must then suppress the centralized rents by conversion from monopoly to market, does not mean that commons are somehow necessarily bad. They are just necessary. The problem is not the commons, but elimination of rents. And any talk of anarchism is merely a statement of the failure of one to solve the problem of the elimination of rents. There has always been a solution to the problem of the rent-seekers: rule of natural common law, and markets for consumption, marriage, production, commons, dispute resolution, and rule. It’s democracy that has destroyed the common law, which is our only method of obtaining sovereignty, and granting the permission of liberty to the middle class, and freedom to the remainder of the classes.

      • John, do you think that intercepting people’s e-mails or correspondence is morally OK? Or tweaking some bits in a bank’s computer, to transfer money from a victim’s account to a recipient’s? Neither of these involves physical violence.

        There are real rights, like privacy, and faux “rights” like social security. You’re quite right to call out the latter as a “whole cloth of bullshit.” But the former are still real rights.

          • I’d agree, but that’s not what Lew Rockwell (quoted in this article) is saying. My view is that it ought to include non-violent harms as well as violent ones. But then, we must ask, what is a “harm?” Is a violation of privacy a “harm?” Or, otherwise put, is privacy a “right?” Then we’re back in the same old argument I’ve just been having with John Pate.

            • Neil,

              Forgive me, I am no expert and certainly will defer to you and others here on these subjects, however the NAP would make no sense at all if the term ‘Aggression’ was confined to a proscription of physical violence. I am very clear in my own mind that the NAP, as a rights-based moral theory, applies as much to non-violent rights violations as those involving physical force. I see no ambiguity or basis for debate about the matter. If it didn’t, the whole theory would be a nonsense, and while I would not wish to gainsay Lew Rockwell, if he really did say that then his understanding of things has to be considered suspect.

              Regarding what is a ‘harm’, I would go back to Mill and adapt his Harms Principle and assert that a ‘harm’ is anything that undermines or erodes the sovereignty or autonomy of a human being. That principle is the important starting point, and leaves the particulars to be decided politically. The question of whether a violation of privacy is a ‘harm’ is, in my view, a matter of policy and convention rather than philosophy, since the concept of privacy is too malleable for us to generalise about productively.

              On a broader point, I actually don’t accept that there are ‘rights’ (or natural rights) in an objective sense. I reject natural rights philosophy other than as a contingency. However, I do think liberties exist objectively – i.e. liberties exist independently of human civic formation. I have the liberty to live, walk around and do all sorts of things, but I can’t say that I have the right to do these things other than on the basis of some social construction.

              Contemporary usage and understanding of the word ‘right’ is in any case a perversion of the original concept. ‘Right’ simply means ‘law’ and if we accept that we have rights, then we are rejecting self-government in favour of top-down rule. I would prefer to reject rights altogether and simply rest on the existence of liberties, which may or may not be legitimately infringed.

        • Although I have no problem with agressing against psychopaths simply because they’re psychopaths, it’s not right to use government aggression where no real injury has occurred. Intercepting someone’s email is a very poor example – if you don’t want your email intercepted then encrypt it. Caveat emptor. Banks cover the cost of bank and credit card fraud all the time without the law being involved. You’re not coming up with any examples that convince me – all you’re doing @neil lock is empowering the government at the expense of the individual, “for the children.”
          Bring back dueling – that should cut down on the casting of aspersions about a man’s character.
          No. Keep the government out of my life.

          • Encrypting your e-mail is all very well (and I’ll be starting to do it just as soon as I get a computer more powerful than this one), but it has costs, both direct and indirect. And those are costs that you (and I) shouldn’t be having to pay. The scum that impose those costs on us owe us compensation, at the least.

            And it certainly isn’t any part of my intention to empower the government – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s precisely situations where governments violate the rights of innocent people that I’m aiming at. For me, their violations of our rights are criminal and worse, even when they don’t actually involve violence.

            • There’s always a cost of doing business. In the particular case of email you don’t need to encrypt all of it, just some of it. A bit more paranoia about life in general is a good thing. When you think you’re paranoid enough it proves you aren’t. The less laws the better, for whatever reason – the government should be doing nothing that isn’t narrowly limited to the defence of national interests against clear and present dangers.

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