Noam Chomsky

noam chomsky

Noam Chomsky is a widely known intellectual, political activist, and critic of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments. Noam Chomsky describes himself as a libertarian socialist, a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism and is considered to be a key intellectual figure within the left-wing of American politics. You can find his political views here.

Some of his books:

Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance

Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

Hopes and Prospects

Is a Revolutionist a Terrorist?

If so, considering the original spirit of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is an American revolution even possible?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

– Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

– Declaration of Independence of the United States of America



  1. an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.
  2. Sociology– a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence. Compare social evolution.
  3. a sudden, complete or marked change in something: the present revolution in church architecture.
  4. a procedure or course, as if in a circuit, back to a starting point.
  5. a single turn of this kind.



  1. a person who advocates or takes part in a revolution.


  1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a revolution; revolutionary: revolutionist ideals.



  1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
  2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
  3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.



  1. a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism.
  2. a person who terrorizes or frightens others.
  3. (formerly) a member of a political group in Russia aiming at the demoralization of the government by terror.
  4. an agent or partisan of the revolutionary tribunal during the Reign of Terror in France.


  1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of terrorism or terrorists: terrorist tactics.

Of course, a physically aggressive revolutionist would be, ipso facto, an enemy of the state. Were not the participants in the American Revolutionary War considered enemies of the state by King George? Is the only difference between a terrorist and a revolutionist that the former will attack civilians, while the latter limits its warfare to an established army?

Is a revolution even possible in the first world civilization of the 21st century?

Distributive Justice

Principles of distributive justice are normative principles designed to guide the allocation of the benefits and burdens of economic activity.

After outlining the scope of this entry and the role of distributive principles, the first relatively simple principle of distributive justice examined is strict egalitarianism, which advocates the allocation of equal material goods to all members of society. John Rawls’ alternative distributive principle, which he calls the Difference Principle, is then examined. The Difference Principle allows allocation that does not conform to strict equality so long as the inequality has the effect that the least advantaged in society are materially better off than they would be under strict equality. However, some have thought that Rawls’ Difference Principle is not sensitive to the responsibility people have for their economic choices. Resource-based distributive principles, and principles based on what people deserve because of their work, endeavor to incorporate this idea of economic responsibility.

Advocates of Welfare-based principles do not believe the primary distributive concern should be material goods and services. They argue that material goods and services have no intrinsic value and are valuable only in so far as they increase welfare. Hence, they argue, the distributive principles should be designed and assessed according to how they affect welfare. Advocates of Libertarian principles, on the other hand, generally criticize any patterned distributive ideal, whether it is welfare or material goods that are the subjects of the pattern. They generally argue that such distributive principles conflict with more important moral demands such as those of liberty or respecting self-ownership. Finally, feminist critiques of existing distributive principles note that they tend to ignore the particular circumstances of women, especially the fact that women often have primary responsibility for child-rearing. Some feminists therefore are developing and/or modifying distributive principles to make them sensitive to the circumstances of women and to the fact that, on average, women spend less of their lifetimes in the market economy than men.

  1. Scope and Role of Distributive Principles
  2. Strict Egalitarianism
  3. The Difference Principle
  4. Resource-Based Principles
  5. Welfare-Based Principles
  6. Desert-Based Principles
  7. Libertarian Principles
  8. Feminist Principles
  9. Methodology and Empirical Beliefs about Distributive Justice

  1. Scope and Role of Distributive Principles

Distributive principles may vary in numerous dimensions. They can vary in what is subject to distribution (income, wealth, opportunities, jobs, welfare, utility, etc.); in the nature of the subjects of the distribution (natural persons, groups of persons, reference classes, etc.); and on what basis distribution should be made (equality, maximization, according to individual characteristics, according to free transactions, etc.). This entry will focus on principles of distributive justice designed to cover the distribution of the benefits and burdens of economic activity among individuals in a society. Although principles of this kind have been the dominant source of Anglo-American debate about distributive justice over the last four decades, there are other important distributive justice questions, some of which are covered by other entries in the encyclopedia. These include questions of distributive justice at the global level rather than just at the national level (see justice: international), distributive justice across generations (see justice: intergenerational) and how the topic of distributive justice can be approached, not as a set of principles but as a virtue (see justice: as a virtue).

Although the numerous proposed distributive principles vary along different dimensions, for simplicity, they are broadly grouped here. It is important to keep in mind though that this involves oversimplication, particularly with respect to the criticisms of each of the groups of principles. The criticisms may not apply to every principle in the group. The issue of how we are to understand and respond to criticisms of distributive principles is discussed briefly in the section on methodology at the end (see Methodology).

There has never been, and never will be, a purely libertarian society or Rawlsian society, or any society whose distribution conforms to one of the proposed principles. Some are misled by this fact to believe that discussions of distributive justice are exercises in ideal theory, which is unfortunate because, in the end, distributive justice theory is a practical enterprise.

Throughout most of history, people were born into, and largely stayed in a fairly rigid economic position. The distribution of economic benefits and burdens was seen as fixed, either by nature or by God. Only when people realized that the distribution of economic benefits and burdens could be affected by government did distributive justice become a live topic. Now the topic is unavoidable. Governments continuously make and change laws affecting the distribution of economic benefits and burdens in their societies. Almost all changes, from the standard tax and industry laws through to divorce laws have some distributive effect, and, as a result, different societies have different distributions. Every society then is always faced with a choice about whether to stay with the current laws and policies or to modify them. Distributive justice theory contributes practically by providing guidance for these unavoidable and constant choices. For instance, advocates of the difference principle are arguing that we should change our policies and laws to raise the position of the least advantaged in society. Others are arguing for changes to bring economic benefits and burdens more in accordance with what people deserve. Libertarians usually urge a reduction in government intervention in the economy. Sometimes a number of the theories will recommend the same change in policy; other times they will diverge. Contrary to a popular misconception, economics alone cannot decide what policy changes we should make. Economics, at its best, can tell us the effects of pursuing different policies; it cannot, without the guidance of normative principles, recommend which policy to pursue. The arguments and principles discussed in the present entry aim to supply this kind of guidance.

  1. Strict Egalitarianism

One of the simplest principles of distributive justice is that of strict or radical equality. The principle says that every person should have the same level of material goods and services. The principle is most commonly justified on the grounds that people are owed equal respect and that equality in material goods and services is the best way to give effect to this ideal.

Even with this ostensibly simple principle some of the difficult specification problems of distributive principles can be seen. The two main problems are the construction of appropriate indices for measurement (the index problem), and the specification of time frames. Because there are numerous proposed solutions to these problems, the ‘principle of strict equality’ is not a single principle but a name for a group of closely related principles. This range of possible specifications occurs with all the common principles of distributive justice.

The index problem arises primarily because the goods to be distributed need to be measured if they are going to be distributed according to some pattern (such as equality). The strict equality principle stated above says that there should be ‘the same level of material goods and services’. The problem is how to specify and measure levels. One way of solving the index problem in the strict equality case is to specify that everyone should have the same bundle of material goods and services rather than the same level (so everyone would have 4 oranges, 6 apples, 1 bike, etc.). The main problem with this solution is that there will be many other allocations of material goods and services which will make some people better off without making anybody else worse off. For instance, a person preferring apples to oranges will be better off if she swaps some of the oranges from her bundle for some of the apples belonging to a person preferring oranges to apples. Indeed, it is likely that everybody will have something they would wish to trade in order to make themselves better off. As a consequence, requiring identical bundles will make virtually everybody materially worse off than they would be under an alternative allocation. So specifying that everybody must have the same bundle of goods does not seem to be a satisfactory way of solving the index problem. Some index for measuring the value of goods and services is required.

Money is an index for the value of material goods and services. It is an imperfect index and its pitfalls are well-documented in most economics textbooks. Moreover, once the goods to be allocated are extended beyond material ones to include opportunities, etc. it needs to be combined with other indices. (For instance, John Rawls’ index of primary goods — see Rawls 1971.) Nevertheless, using money as index for the value of material goods and services is the most practical response so far suggested to the index problem and is widely used in the specification and implementation of distributive principles.

The second main specification problem involves time frames. Many distributive principles identify and require that a particular pattern of distribution be achieved. But they also need to specify whenthe pattern is required. One version of the principle of strict equality requires that all people should have the same wealth at some initial point, after which people are free to use their wealth in whatever way they choose. Principles specifying initial distributions after which the pattern need not be preserved are commonly called ‘starting-gate’ principles. (See Ackerman 1980, 53-59,168-170,180-186; Alstott and Ackerman 1999)

Because ‘starting-gate’ forms of the strict equality principle may lead in time to very inegalitarian wealth distributions they are not common. The most common form of strict equality principle specifies that income (measured in terms of money) should be equal in each time-frame, though even this may lead to significant disparities in wealth if variations in savings are permitted. Hence, strict equality principles are commonly conjoined with some society-wide specification of just saving behavior.

There are a number of direct moral criticisms made of strict equality principles: that they unduly restrict freedom, that they do not give best effect to equal respect for persons, that they conflict with what people deserve, etc. (see Desert-Based Principles) But the most common criticism is a welfare-based one: that everyone can be materially better off if incomes are not strictly equal. (see Carens) It is this fact which partly inspired the Difference Principle.

  1. The Difference Principle

The wealth of an economy is not a fixed amount from one period to the next. More wealth can be produced and indeed this has been the experience of industrialized countries over the last few centuries. The most common way of producing more wealth is to have a system where those who are more productive earn greater incomes. This partly inspired the formulation of the Difference Principle.

The most widely discussed theory of distributive justice in the past three decades has been that proposed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice, (Rawls 1971), and Political Liberalism, (Rawls 1993). Rawls proposes the following two principles of justice:

  1. Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value.
  2. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: (a) They are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and (b), they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society. (Rawls 1993, pp. 5-6. The principles are numbered as they were in Rawls’ original A Theory of Justice.)

Under Rawls’ proposed system Principle (1) has priority over Principle (2). In addition to (2b) it is possible to think of Principles (1) and (2a) as principles of distributive justice: (1) to govern the distribution of liberties, and (2a) the distribution of opportunities. Looking at the principles of justice in this way makes all principles of justice, principles of distributive justice (even principles of retributive justice will be included on the basis that they distribute negative goods). Keeping in line with the primary focus of this entry though, let us concentrate on (2b), known as the Difference Principle.

The main moral motivation for the Difference Principle is similar to that for strict equality: equal respect for persons. Indeed the Difference Principle materially collapses to a form of strict equality under empirical conditions where differences in income have no effect on the work incentive of people. The overwhelming opinion though is that in the foreseeable future the possibility of earning greater income will bring forth greater productive effort. This will increase the total wealth of the economy and, under the Difference Principle, the wealth of the least advantaged. Opinion divides on the size of the inequalities which would, as a matter of empirical fact, be allowed by the Difference Principle, and on how much better off the least advantaged would be under the Difference Principle than under a strict equality principle. Rawls’ principle however gives fairly clear guidance on what type of arguments will count as justifications for inequality. Rawls is not opposed to the principle of strict equality per se, his concern is about the absolute position of the least advantaged group rather than their relative position. If a system of strict equality maximizes the absolute position of the least advantaged in society, then the Difference Principle advocates strict equality. If it is possible to raise the absolute position of the least advantaged further by having some inequalities of income and wealth, then the Difference Principle prescribes inequality up to that point where the absolute position of the least advantaged can no longer be raised.

Because there has been such extensive discussion of the Difference Principle in the last 30 years, there have been numerous criticisms of it from the perspective of all the other theories of distributive justice outlined here. Briefly, the main criticisms are as follows.

Advocates of strict equality argue that inequalities permitted by the Difference Principle are unacceptable even if they do benefit the least advantaged. The problem for these advocates is to explain in a satisfactory way why the relative position of the least advantaged is more important than their absolute position, and hence why society should be prevented from materially benefiting the least advantaged when this is possible. The most common explanation appeals to solidarity (Crocker): that being materially equal is an important expression of the equality of persons. Another common explanation appeals to the power some may have over others, if they are better off materially. Rawls’ response to this latter criticism appeals to the priority of his first principle: The inequalities consistent with the Difference Principle are only permitted so long as they do not compromise the fair value of the political liberties. So, for instance, very large wealth differentials may make it practically impossible for poor people to be elected to political office or to have their political views represented. These inequalities of wealth, even if they increase the material position of the least advantaged group, may need to be reduced in order for the first principle to be implemented.

The Utilitarian objection to the Difference Principle is that it does not maximize utility. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls uses Utilitarianism as the main theory for comparison with his own, and hence he responds at length to this Utilitarian objection and argues for his own theory in preference to Utilitarianism (some of these arguments are outlined in the section on Welfare-Based Principles).

Libertarians object that the Difference Principle involves unacceptable infringements on liberty. For instance, the Difference Principle may require redistributive taxation to the poor, and Libertarians commonly object that such taxation involves the immoral taking of just holdings. (see Libertarian Principles)

The Difference Principle is also criticized as a primary distributive principle on the grounds that it mostly ignores claims that people deserve certain economic benefits in light of their actions. Advocates of Desert-Based Principles argue that some may deserve a higher level of material goods because of their hard work or contributions even if their unequal rewards do not also function to improve the position of the least advantaged. They also argue that the explanations of how people come to be in more or less advantaged positions is relevant to their fairness, yet the Difference Principle wrongly ignores these explanations.

Like desert theorists, advocates of Resource-based principles criticize the Difference Principle on the grounds that it is not ‘ambition-sensitive’ enough, i.e. it is not sensitive to the consequences of people’s choices. They also argue that it is not adequately ‘endowment-sensitive’: it does not compensate people for natural inequalities (like handicaps or ill-health) over which people have no control.

  1. Resource-Based Principles

Resource-based principles (also called Resource Egalitarianism) prescribe equality of resources. Interestingly, resource-based principles do not normally prescribe a patterned outcome — the idea being that the outcomes are determined by people’s free use of their resources. Resource-theorists claim that the Difference Principle is insufficiently ‘ambition-sensitive’ and that provided people have equal resources they should live with the consequences of their choices. They argue, for instance, that people who choose to work hard to earn more income should not be required to subsidize those choosing more leisure and hence less income.

Resource-theorists also make a related complaint that the Difference Principle is not sufficiently ‘endowment-sensitive.’ While part of Rawls’ motivation for the Difference principle is that people have unequal endowments, resource-theorists explicitly emphasize this feature of their theory though they differ on which endowments are relevant to questions of distributive justice. They agree that, ideally, social circumstances over which people have no control should not adversely affect life prospects or earning capacities. Some resource-theorists further argue that, for the same sorts of reasons, unequal natural endowments should attract compensation. For instance, people born with handicaps, ill-health, or low levels of natural talents have not brought these circumstances upon themselves and hence, should not be disadvantaged in their life prospects.

The most prominent Resource-based theory, developed by Ronald Dworkin, (Dworkin 1981a, 1981b), proposes that people begin with equal resources but end up with unequal economic benefits as a result of their own choices. What constitutes a just material distribution is to be determined by the result of a thought experiment designed to model fair distribution. Suppose that everyone is given the same purchasing power and each use that purchasing power to bid, in a fair auction, for resources best suited to their life plans. They are then permitted to use those resources as they see fit. Although people may end up with different economic benefits, none of them is given less consideration than another in the sense that if they wanted somebody else’s resource bundle they could have bid for it instead.

As mentioned above, many resource-theorists, including Dworkin, add to this system of equal resources and ambition-sensitivity, a sensitivity to inequalities in natural endowments. They note that natural inequalities are not distributed according to people’s choices, nor are they justified by reference to some other morally relevant fact about people. Dworkin proposes a hypothetical compensation scheme in which he supposes that, before the hypothetical auction described above, people do not know their own natural endowments. However, they are able to buy insurance against being disadvantaged in the natural distribution of talents and they know that their payments will provide an insurance pool to compensate those people who are unlucky in the ‘natural lottery’.

Because the Resource-based theory has a similar motivation to the Difference Principle the moral criticisms of it tend to be variations on those leveled against the Difference Principle. However, unlike the Difference Principle, it is not at all clear what would constitute an implementation of Resource-based theories and their variants in a real economy. It seems impossible to measure differences in people’s natural talents — unfortunately, people’s talents do not neatly divide into the natural and developed categories. A system of special assistance to the physically and mentally handicapped and to the ill would be a partial implementation of the compensation system, but most natural inequalities would be left untouched by such assistance while the theory requires that such inequalities be compensated for. It is simply not clear how to implement equality of resources in a complex economy and hence despite its theoretical advantages, it is difficult to see it as a practical improvement on the Difference Principle.

  1. Welfare-Based Principles

Welfare-based principles are motivated by the idea that what is of primary moral importance is the level of welfare of people. Advocates of Welfare-based principles view the concerns of other theories – equality, the least advantaged, resources, desert-claims, or liberty as derivative concerns. Resources, equality, desert-claims, or liberty are only valuable in so far as they increase welfare, so that all distributive questions should be settled according to which distribution maximizes welfare. However, ‘maximizes welfare’ is imprecise, so welfare theorists propose particular welfare functions to maximize. The welfare functions proposed vary enormously both on what will count as welfare and the weighting system for that welfare. For almost any distribution of material benefits there is a welfare function whose maximization will yield that distribution (at least in a one sector period).

Distribution according to some welfare function is most commonly advocated by economists, who normally state the explicit functional form. Philosophers tend to avoid this. Philosophers also tend to restrict themselves to a small subset of the available welfare functions. Although there are a number of advocates of alternative welfare functions (like ‘equality of well-being’), most philosophical activity has concentrated on a variant known as Utilitarianism. This theory can be used to illustrate most of the main characteristics of Welfare-based principles.

Historically, Utilitarians have used the term ‘utility’ rather than ‘welfare’ and utility has been defined variously as pleasure, happiness, or preference-satisfaction. So, for instance, the principle for distributing economic benefits for Preference Utilitarians is to distribute them so as to maximize preference-satisfaction. The welfare function for such a principle has a simple theoretical form: it involves choosing that distribution maximizing the arithmetic sum of all satisfied preferences (unsatisfied preferences being negative), weighted for the intensity of those preferences.

The basic theory of Utilitarianism is one of the simplest to state and understand. Much of the work on the theory therefore has been directed towards defending it against moral criticisms, particularly from the point of view of ‘commonsense’ morality. The criticisms and responses have been widely discussed in the literature on Utilitarianism as a general moral theory. Only two of the criticisms will be mentioned here.

The first is that Utilitarianism fails to take the distinctness of persons seriously. Maximization of preference-satisfaction is often taken as prudent in the case of individuals — people may take on greater burdens, suffering or sacrifice at certain periods of their lives so that their lives are overall better. The complaint against Utilitarianism is that it takes this principle, commonly described as prudent for individuals, and uses it on an entity, society, unlike individuals in important ways. While it may be acceptable for a person to choose to suffer at some period in her life (be it a day, or a number of years) so that her overall life is better, it is often argued against Utilitarianism that it is immoral to make some people suffer so that there is a net gain for other people. In the individual case, there is a single entity experiencing both the sacrifice and the gain. Also, the individuals, who suffer or make the sacrifices, choose to do so in order to gain some benefit they deem worth their sacrifice. In the case of society as a whole, there is no single experiential entity — some people suffer or are sacrificed so that others may gain. Furthermore, under Utilitarianism, there is no requirement for people to consent to the suffering or sacrifice.

A related criticism of Utilitarianism involves the way it treats individual preferences or interests referring to the holdings of others. For instance, some people may have a preference that some minority racial group should have less material benefits. Under Utilitarian theories, in their classical form, this preference or interest counts like any other in determining the best distribution. Hence, if racial preferences are widespread and are not outweighed by the minorities’ contrary preferences, Utilitarianism will recommend an inegalitarian distribution based on race.

Utilitarians have responded to these criticisms in a number of ways. Utilitarians may apply their theory to the preferences themselves, arguing that utility is best promoted in the long run when people’s preferences are shaped (if this is possible) in ways that are harmonious with one another, suggesting racist preferences should be discouraged. However, the utilitarian then must supply an account of why racist or sexist preferences should be discouraged when the same level of total long term utility could be achieved by encouraging the less powerful to be contented with a lower position. It is difficult for utilitarians to explain why the position of the oppressed is aptly described as one of oppression. Utilitarians have also argued that the empirical conditions are such that utility maximizing will rarely require women or racial minorities to sacrifice or suffer for the benefit of others, or to satisfy the prejudices of others. But if their theory on rare occasions does require people sacrifice or suffer in these ways, Utilitarians have defended this unintuitive consequence on the grounds that our judgments about what is wrong provide us with ‘rules of thumb’ which are useful at the level of commonsense morality but ultimately mistaken at the level of ‘critical theory’.

Utilitarian distribution principles, like the other principles described here, have problems with specification and implementation. Most formulations of Utilitarianism require interpersonal comparisons of utility. This means, for instance, that we must be able to compare the utility one person gains from eating an apple with that another gains from eating an apple. Furthermore, Utilitarianism requires that differences in utility be measured and summed for widely disparate goods (so, for instance, the amount of utility a particular person gains from playing football is measured and compared with the amount of utility another gains from eating a gourmet meal). Critics have argued that such interpersonal utility comparisons are impossible, even in theory, due to one or both of the following: (1) It is not possible to combine all the diverse goods into a single index of ‘utility’ which can measured for an individual; (2) Even if you could do the necessary weighing and combining of the goods to construct such an index for an individual, there is no conceptually adequate way of calibrating such a measure between individuals. (see Elster 1991)

Utilitarians face a greater problem than this theoretical one in determining what material distribution is prescribed by their theory. Those who share similar Utilitarian theoretical principles frequently recommend very different material distributions to implement the principle. This problem occurs for other theories, but appears worse for Utilitarian and Welfare-based distribution principles. Recommendations for distributions or economic structures to implement other distributive principles commonly vary among advocates with similar theoretical principles, but the advocates tend to cluster around particular recommendations. This is not the case for Utilitarianism, with adherents dispersed in their recommendations across the full range of possible distributions and economic structures. For instance, many Preference Utilitarians believe their principle prescribes strongly egalitarian structures with lots of state invention while many other Preference Utilitarians believe it prescribes a laissez faire style of capitalism.

There is an explanation for why Utilitarians are faced with greater difficulties in implementation. Other distributive principles can rule out, relatively quickly, some practical policies on the grounds that they clearly violate the guiding principle, but Utilitarians must examine, in great detail, all the policies on offer. For each policy, they must determine the distribution of goods and services yielded by the policy and at least three other factors: the identity of each person in the distribution (if individuals’ utility functions differ); the utility of each person from the goods and services distributed to them; the utility of each person from the policy itself. The size of the information requirements make this task impossible. Hence, broad assumptions must be made and each different set of assumptions will yield a different answer, and so the answers range across the full set of policies on offer. Moreover, there is no obvious way to arbitrate between the different sets of assumptions. For instance, suppose three Utilitarians agree on the same Utilitarian distributive principle. Utilitarian 1 however, asserts that the population’s utility function conforms to function A (e.g. people’s marginal utility is linear in the goods and services they consume) and is maximized by Policy 1; while Utilitarian 2 asserts that half the population’s utility function conforms to function A and half to function B (e.g. people’s marginal utility is diminishing) and is maximized by Policy 2; Utilitarian 3 asserts Utilitarian 2 is correct about the utility functions of the population but claims that Policy 3 will maximize utility. What seems impossible for advocates of Utilitarian-distribution principles to answer is how we would arbitrate these claims. If Utilitarian principles are to play a role in debates about distributive justice then this is the most important question to answer.

  1. Desert-Based Principles

Another complaint against welfarism is that it ignores, and in fact cannot even make sense of, claims that people deserve certain economic benefits in light of their actions. The complaint is often motivated by the concern that various forms of welfarism treat people as mere containers for well-being, rather than purposeful beings, responsible for their actions and creative in their environments.

The different desert-based principles of distribution differ primarily according to what they identify as the basis for deserving. Most contemporary proposals for desert-bases fit into one of three broad categories:

  1. Contribution: People should be rewarded for their work activity according to the value of their contribution to the social product. (Miller 1976, Miller 1989, Riley 1989)
  2. Effort: People should be rewarded according to the effort they expend in their work activity. (Sadurski 1985a,b, Milne 1986)
  3. Compensation: People should be rewarded according to the costs they incur in their work activity. (Dick 1975, Lamont 1997)

Aristotle argued that virtue should be a basis for distributing rewards, but most contemporary principles owe a larger debt to John Locke. Locke argued people deserve to have those items produced by their toil and industry, the products (or the value thereof) being a fitting reward for their effort. His underlying idea was to guarantee to individuals the fruits of their own labor and abstinence. According to the contemporary desert theorist, people freely apply their abilities and talents, in varying degrees, to socially productive work. People come to deserve varying levels of income by providing goods and services desired by others. (Feinberg) Distributive systems are just insofar as they distribute incomes according to the different levels earned or deserved by the individuals in the society for their productive labors, efforts, or contributions.

Contemporary desert-principles all share the value of raising the standard of living — collectively, ‘the social product’. Under each principle, only activity directed at raising the social product will serve as a basis for deserving income. The concept of desert itself does not yield this value of raising the social product; it is a value societies hold independently. Hence, desert principles identifying desert-bases tied to socially productive activity (productivity, compensation, and effort all being examples of such bases) do not do so because the concept of desert requires this. They do so because societies value higher standards of living, and therefore choose the raising of living standards as the primary value relevant to desert-based distribution. This means that the full development of desert-based principles requires specification (and defense) of those activities which will or will not count as socially productive, and hence as deserving of remuneration. (Lamont 1994)

It is important to distinguish desert-payments from entitlements. For desert theorists a well-designed institutional structure will make it so that many of the entitlements people have are deserved. But, of course, entitlements and just deserts can come apart — a person can be entitled to a payment without it being deserved, just as a person can be entitled to assume the presidential office without deserving it. (Feinberg 1970, 86) Similarly, a person may deserve a payment but not being entitled to it (such instances are potential areas for institutional reform for a desert theorist). Payments designed to give people incentives are a form of entitlement particularly worth distinguishing from desert-payments as they are commonly confused. Incentive-payments are ‘forward-looking’ (Barry 1965, 111-112) in that they are set up to create a situation in the future, while desert-payments are ‘backwards-looking’ that they are justified with reference to work in the present or past. Even though it is possible for the same payment to be both deserved and an incentive, incentives and desert provide distinct rationales for income and should not be conflated. (Lamont 1997)

While some have sought to justify current capitalist distributions via desert-based distributive principles, John Stuart Mill and many since have forcefully argued the contrary claim — that the implementation of a productivity principle would involve dramatic changes in modern market economies and would greatly reduce the inequalities characteristic of them. It is important to note, though, that contemporary Desert-based principles are rarely complete distributive principles. They usually are only designed to cover distribution among working adults, leaving basic welfare needs to be met by other principles.

The specification and implementation problems for desert-based distribution principles revolve mainly around the desert-bases: it is difficult to identify what is to count as a contribution, an effort or a cost, and it is even more difficult to measure these in a complex modern economy.

The main moral objection to desert-based principles is that they make economic benefits depend on factors over which people have little control. John Rawls has made one of the most widely discussed arguments to this effect (Rawls 1971), and while the strong form of this argument has been clearly refuted (Zaitchik, Sher), it remains a problem for desert-based principles. The problem is most pronounced in the case of productivity-based principles — a person’s productivity seems clearly to be influenced by many factors over which the person has little control.

It is interesting to note that under most welfare-based principles, it is also the case that people’s level of economic benefits depend on factors beyond their control. But welfarists view this as a virtue of their theory, since they think the only morally relevant characteristic of any distribution is the welfare resulting from it. Whether the distribution ties economic benefits to matters beyond our control is morally irrelevant from the welfarist point of view. (As it happens, welfarists often hold the empirical claim that people have little control over their contributions to society anyway.) However, for people’s benefits to depend on factors beyond their control is a more awkward result for desert theorists who emphasize the responsibility of people in choosing to engage in more or less productive activities.

  1. Libertarian Principles

Most contemporary versions of the principles discussed so far allow some role for the market as a means of achieving the desired distributive pattern — the Difference Principle uses it as a means of helping the least advantaged; utilitarian principles commonly use it as a means of achieving the distributive pattern maximizing utility; desert-based principles rely on it to distribute goods according to desert, etc. In contrast, advocates of Libertarian distributive principles rarely see the market as a means to some desired pattern, since the principle(s) they advocate do not ostensibly propose a ‘pattern’ at all, but instead describe the sorts of acquisitions or exchanges which are themselves just. The market will be just, not as a means to some pattern, but insofar as the exchanges permitted in the market satisfy the conditions of just exchange described by the principles. For Libertarians, just outcomes are those arrived at by the separate just actions of individuals; a particular distributive pattern is not required for justice. Robert Nozick has advanced this version of Libertarianism (Nozick 1974), and is its most well-known contemporary advocate.

Nozick proposes a 3-part “Entitlement Theory”.

If the world were wholly just, the following inductive definition would exhaustively cover the subject of justice in holdings:

  1. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding.
  2. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer, from someone else entitled to the holding, is entitled to the holding.
  3. No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) applications of (a) and (b).

The complete principle of distributive justice would say simply that a distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess under the distribution (Nozick, p.151).

The statement of the Entitlement Theory includes reference to the principles of justice in acquisition and transfer. (For details of these principles see Nozick, pp.149-182.) The principle of justice in transfer is the least controversial and is designed to specify fair contracts while ruling out stealing, fraud, etc. The principle of justice in acquisition is more complicated and more controversial. The principle is meant to govern the gaining of exclusive property rights over the material world. For the justification of these rights, Nozick takes his inspiration from John Locke’s idea that everyone ‘owns’ themselves and, by mixing one’s labors with the world, self-ownership can generate ownership of some part of the material world. However, of Locke’s mixing metaphor, Nozick legitimately asks: ‘…why isn’t mixing what I own with what I don’t own a way of losing what I own rather than a way of gaining what I don’t? If I own a can of tomato juice and spill it in the sea so its molecules… mingle evenly throughout the sea, do I thereby come to own the sea, or have I foolishly dissipated my tomato juice?’ (Nozick 1974, p.174) Nozick concludes that what is significant about mixing our labor with the material world is that in doing so, we tend to increase the value of it, so that self-ownership can lead to ownership of the external world in such cases (Nozick 1974, pp. 149-182).

The obvious objection to this claim is that it is not clear why the first people to acquire some part of the material world should be able to exclude others from it (and, for instance, be the land owners while the later ones become the wage laborers). In response to this objection, Nozick puts a qualification on just acquisition, called the Lockean Proviso, whereby an exclusive acquisition of the external world is just, if, after the acquisition, there is ‘enough and as good left in common for others’. One of the main challenges for Libertarians has been to formulate a morally plausible interpretation of this proviso. According to Nozick’s interpretation, an acquisition is just if and only if the position of others after the acquisition is no worse than their position was when the acquisition was unowned or ‘held in common’. For Nozick’s critics, his proviso is unacceptably weak. This is because it fails to consider the position others may have achieved under alternative distributions and thereby instantiates the morally dubious criterion of whoever is first gets the exclusive spoils. For example, one can satisfy Nozick’s proviso by ‘acquiring’ a beach and charging $1 admission to those who previously were able to use the beach for free, so long as one compensates them with a benefit they deem equally valuable, such as a clean up or life-guarding service on the beach. However, the beach-goers would have been even better off had the more efficient organizer among them acquired the beach, charging only 50 cents for the same service, but this alternative is never considered under Nozick’s proviso. (Cohen, 1995)

Will Kymlicka has given a summary of the steps in Nozick’s self-ownership argument:

  1. People own themselves.
  2. The world is initially unowned.
  3. You can acquire absolute rights over a disproportionate share of the world, if you do not worsen the condition of others.
  4. It is relatively easy to acquire absolute rights over a disproportionate share of the world. Therefore:
  5. Once private property has been appropriated, a free market in capital and labor is morally required. (Kymlicka, p.112)

The assessment of this argument is quite complex, but the difficulties mentioned above with the proviso call into question the step from (3) to (4).

The challenge for Libertarians then is to find a plausible reading of (3) which will yield (4). Moreover, at one point, Nozick claims the proviso must apply to both acquisitions and transfers, compounding the problem.

Of course, many existing holdings are the result of acquisitions or transfers which at some point did not satisfy principles (a) and (b) above. Hence, Nozick must supplement those principles with a principle of rectification for past injustice. Although he does not specify this principle he does describe its purpose:

This principle uses historical information about previous situations and injustices done in them… and information about the actual course of events that flowed from these injustices, until the present, and it yields a description (or descriptions) of holdings in the society. The principle of rectification presumably will make use of its best estimate of subjunctive information about what would have occurred… if the injustice had not taken place. If the actual description of holdings turns out not to be one of the descriptions yielded by the principle, then one of the descriptions yielded must be realized. (Nozick 1974, pp. 152-153)

Nozick does not make an attempt to provide a principle of rectification. The absence of such a principle is much worse for a historical theory than for a patterned theory. Past injustices systematically undermine the justice of every subsequent distribution in historical theories. Nozick is clear that his historical theory is of no use in evaluating the justice of actual societies until such a theory of rectification is given:

In the absence of [a full treatment of the principle of rectification] applied to a particular society, one cannot use the analysis and theory presented here to condemn any particular scheme of transfer payments, unless it is clear that no considerations of rectification of injustice could apply to justify it. (Nozick 1974, p.231)

Unfortunately for the theory, no such treatment will ever be forthcoming because the task is, for all practical purposes, impossible. The numbers of injustices perpetrated throughout history, both within nations and between them, are enormous and the necessary details of the vast majority of injustices are unavailable. Even if the details of the injustices were available, the counterfactual causal chains could not be reliably determined and, as Derek Parfit has pointed out, in a different context, even the people who would have been born would have been different. (Parfit 1986) As a consequence, Nozick’s entitlement theory will never provide any guidance as to what the current distribution of material holdings should be nor what distributions or redistributions are legitimate or illegitimate. (Indeed Nozick suggests, for instance, the Difference Principle may be the best implementation of the principle of rectification.) Although Nozick is fairly candid about this consequence, many of his supporters and critics have ignored it and have carried on a vigorous debate as though his theory is an attempt to tell us something about the justice of current economic distributions.

Libertarians inspired by Nozick usually advocate a system in which there are exclusive property rights, with the role of the government restricted to the protection of these property rights. The property rights commonly rule out taxation for purposes other than raising the funds necessary to protect property rights. The strongest critique of any attempt to institute such a system of legally protected property rights comes, as we have seen, from Nozick’s theory itself — there seems no obvious reason to give strong legal protection to property rights which have arisen through violations of the just principles of acquisition and transfer. But putting this critique to one side for a moment, what other arguments are made in favor of exclusionary property rights?

As already noted, Nozick argues that because people own themselves and hence their talents, they own whatever they can produce with these talents. Moreover, it is possible in a free market to sell the products of exercising one’s talents. Any taxation of the income from such selling, according to Nozick, ‘institute[s] (partial) ownership by others of people and their actions and labor’. (Nozick, p.172) People, according to this argument, have these exclusive rights of ownership. Taxation then, simply involves violating these rights and allowing some people to own (partially) other people. Moreover, it is argued, any system not legally recognizing these rights violates Kant’s maxim to treat people always as ends in themselves and never merely as a means. The two main difficulties with this argument have been: (1) to show that self-ownership is only compatible with having such strong exclusive property rights; and (2) that a system of exclusive property rights is the best system for treating people with respect, as ends in themselves.

Nozick candidly accepts that he does not himself give a systematic moral justification of the exclusionary property rights he advocates: ‘This book does not present a precise theory of the moral basis of individual rights.’ (Nozick, p.xiv) But others have tried to provide more systematic justifications of similar rights (Lomasky, Steiner) or to develop, more fully, justifications to which Nozick alludes.

In addition to the arguments from self-ownership, and the requirement to treat people as ends in themselves, the most common other route for trying to justify exclusive property rights has been to argue that they are required for the maximization of freedom and/or liberty or the minimization of violations of these. (Hayek) As an empirical claim though, this appears to be false. If we compare countries with less exclusionary property rights (e.g. more taxation) with countries with more exclusionary property regimes, we see no systematic advantage in freedoms/liberties enjoyed by people in the latter countries. (Of course, we do see a difference in distribution of such freedoms/liberties in the latter countries, the richer have more and the poorer less, while in the former they are more evenly distributed.) Now if Libertarians restrict what counts as a valuable freedom/liberty (and discount other freedoms/liberties people value), it will follow that exclusionary property rights are required to maximize freedom/liberty or to minimize violations of these. But the challenge for these Libertarians is to show why only their favored liberties and freedoms are valuable, and not those which are weakened by a system of exclusive property rights.

  1. Feminist Principles

There is no one feminist conception of distributive justice; theorists who name themselves feminists defend positions across the political spectrum. Hence, feminists offer distinctive versions of all the theories considered so far as well as others. One way of thinking about what unifies many feminist theorists is an interest in what difference, if any, the practical experience of gender makes to the subject matter or study of justice; how different feminists answer this question distinguishes them from each other and from those alternative distributive principles which most inspire their thinking.

The distributive principles so far outlined, with the exception of strict egalitarianism, could be classified as liberal theories — they both inform, and are the product of, the liberal democracies which have emerged over the last two centuries. Lumping them together this way, though clumsy, makes the task of understanding the emergence of feminist critiques (and the subsequent positive theories) much easier.

John Stuart Mill in The Subjection of Women (1869) gives one of the clearest early feminist critiques of the political and distributive structures of the emerging liberal democracies. His writings provide the starting point for many contemporary liberal feminists. Mill argued that the principles associated with the developing liberalism of his time required equal political status for women. The principles Mill explicitly mentions include a rejection of the aristocracy of birth, equal opportunity in education and in the marketplace, equal rights to hold property, a rejection of the man as the legal head of the household, and equal rights to political participation. Feminists who follow Mill believe that a proper recognition of the position of women in society requires that women be given equal and the same rights as men have, and that these primarily protect their liberty and their status as equal persons under the law. Thus, government regulation should not prevent women from competing on equal terms with men in educational, professional, marketplace and political institutions. From the point of view of other feminisms, the liberal feminist position is a conservative one, in the sense that it requires the proper inclusion for women of the rights, protections, and opportunities previously secured for men, rather than a fundamental change to the traditional liberal position. The problem for women, on this view, is not liberalism but the failure of society and the State to properly instantiate liberal principles.

One phrase or motto around which a whole range of feminists have rallied, however, marks a significant break with Mill’s liberalism: ‘the personal is political.’ Feminists have offered a variety of interpretations of this motto, many of which take the form of a critique of liberal theories. Mill was crucial in developing the liberal doctrine of limiting the state’s intervention in the private lives of citizens. Many contemporary feminists have argued that the resulting liberal theories of justice have fundamentally been unable to accommodate the injustices that have their origins in this ‘protected’ private sphere. This particular feminist critique has also been a primary source of inspiration for the broader multicultural critique of liberalism. The liberal commitments to government neutrality and to a protected personal sphere of liberty, where the government must not interfere, have been primary critical targets.

While issues about neutrality and personal liberty go beyond debates about distributive justice they also have application within these debates. The feminist critics recognize that liberalism correctly identifies the government as one potential source of oppression against individuals, and therefore recommends powerful political protections of individual liberty. They argue, however, that liberal theories of distributive justice are unable to address the oppression which surfaces in the so-called private sphere of government non-interference. Susan Moller Okin, for example, documents the effects of the institution of the nuclear family, arguing that the consequence of this institution is a position of systematic material and political inequality for women. Standard liberal theories, committed to neutrality in the private sphere, seem powerless to address (or sometimes even recognize) striking and lasting inequalities for women, minorities, or historically oppressed racial groups, when these are merely the cumulative effect of individuals’ free behavior. Okin and others demonstrate, for example, that women have substantial disadvantages in competing in the market because of childrearing responsibilities which are not equally shared with men. As a consequence, any theory relying on market mechanisms, including most liberal theories, will yield systems which result in women systematically having less income and wealth than men. Thus, feminists have challenged contemporary political theorists to rethink the boundaries of political authority in the name of securing a just outcome for women and other historically oppressed groups.

While the political effects of personal freedom pose a serious challenge to contemporary liberal theories of distributive justice, the feminist critiques are somewhat puzzling because, as Jean Hampton puts it, many feminists appear to complain in the name of liberal values. In other words, their claims about the fundamental flaws of liberalism at the same time leave in tact the various ideals of liberty and equality which inspire the liberal theories of justice. Moreover, the task of defining feasible pathways for modifying the structure of liberal democracies without undermining their virtues and protections has proved more difficult than the setting out the criticisms of liberalism. Indeed, despite a legitimate feminist worry about the effects of so-called government neutrality on women’s material status, the relative neutrality of liberal democracies compared to non-liberal societies has been one of the significant contributing factors both to the flourishing of feminist theory and to the many significant practical gains women in liberal democracies have made relative to women in other parts of the world. The challenge, being taken up by many, is to navigate both a coherent theoretical and practical path in response to the best feminist critiques available (see the entry on feminist ethics).

  1. Methodology and Empirical Beliefs about Distributive Justice

How are we to go about choosing between the different distributive principles on offer, and respond to criticisms of the principles? Unfortunately, few philosophers explicitly discuss the methodology they are using. The most notable exception is John Rawls (1971, 1974) who explicitly brought the method of wide reflective equilibrium to political philosophy. This method has been brilliantly discussed by Norman Daniels over the years and the reader is strongly encouraged to refer to his entry (see reflective equilibrium) to understand how to evaluate, revise and choose between normative principles. While there is no point in reiterating the method here there are some supplementary issues worth noting.

Empirical data on the beliefs of the population about distributive justice was not available when Rawls published A Theory of Justice (Rawls 1971) but much empirical work has since been completed. Swift (1995, 1999) and Miller (1999, chaps. 3-4) have provided surveys of this literature and arguments for why those committed to the method of reflective equilibrium in distributive justice literature should take the beliefs of the population seriously, though not uncritically. Indeed, some go even further, arguing that the distributive decisions arising through the legitimate application of particular democratic processes might even, at least in part, constitute distributive justice.(Walzer 1984) Data on people’s beliefs about distributive justice is also useful for addressing the necessary intersection between philosophical and political processes. Such beliefs put constraints on what institutional and policy reforms are practically achievable in any generation — especially when the society is committed to democratic processes.

Two final methodological issues need to be noted. The first concerns the distinctive role counterexamples play in debates about distributive justice. As noted above, the overarching methodological concern of the distributive justice literature must be, in the first instance, the pressing choice of how the benefits and burdens of economic activity should be distributed, rather than the mere uncovering of abstract truth. Principles are to be implemented in real societies with the problems and constraints inherent in such application. Given this, pointing out that the application of any particular principle will have some, perhaps many, immoral results will not by itself constitute a fatal counterexample to any distributive theory. Such counter-evidence to a theory would only be fatal if there were an alternative, or improved, version of the theory, which, if fully implemented, would yield a morally preferable society overall. So, it is at least possible that the best distributive theory, when implemented, might yield a system which still has many injustices and/or negative consequences. This practical aspect partly distinguishes the role of counterexamples in distributive justice theory from many other philosophical areas. Given that distributive justice is about what to do now, not just what to think, alternate distributive theories must, in part, compete as comprehensive systems which take into account the practical constraints we face.

The second and related methodological point is that the evaluation of alternate distributive principles requires us (and their advocates) to consider the application of the distributive principle in the world. If it is uncertain or indeterminate how a particular distributive principle might in practice apply to the ordering of real societies, then this principle is not yet a serious candidate for our consideration. This is also true of principles whose implementation is practically impossible given the institutional/psychological/informational/technical constraints of a society. Distributive justice is not an area where we can say an idea is good in theory but not in practice. If it is not good in practice, then it is not good in theory either.

Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

And Justice for All…


Libertarianism, in the strict sense, is the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things. In a looser sense, libertarianism is any view that approximates the strict view. This entry will focus on libertarianism in the strict sense. For excellent discussion of the liberty tradition more generally (including classical liberalism), see Gaus and Mack (2004) and Barnett (2004).

Libertarianism is sometimes identified with the principle that each agent has a right to maximum equal empirical negative liberty, where empirical negative liberty is the absence of forcible interference from other agents when one attempts to do things. (See, for example, Narveson 1988, 2000, Steiner 1994, and Narveson and Sterba 2010.) This is sometimes called “Spencerian Libertarianism” (after Herbert Spencer). It is usually claimed that this view is equivalent to above “self-ownership” version of libertarianism. Kagan (1994), however, has cogently argued that the former (depending on the interpretation) either leads to radical pacifism (the use of force is never permissible) or is compatible with a wide range of views in addition to the above “self-ownership” libertarianism. I shall not, however, attempt to assess this issue here. Instead, I shall simply focus on the above “self-ownership” version of libertarianism.

Libertarianism can be understood as a basic moral principle or as a derivative one. It might, for example, be advocated as a basic natural rights doctrine. Alternatively, it might be defended on the basis of rule consequentialism or teleology (e.g., Epstein 1995, 1998; Rasmussen and Den Uyl 2005; or Shapiro 2007) or rule contractarianism (e.g., Narveson 1988 and roughly Lomasky 1987). Instrumental derivations of libertarianism appeal to considerations such as human limitations (e.g., of knowledge and motivation), incentive effects, administrative costs, the intrinsic value of liberty for the good life, etc. This entry will not address arguments for libertarian principles on the basis of other moral principles. Instead, it will simply address the plausibility of libertarian principles in their own right.

Although libertarianism could be advocated as a full theory of moral permissibility, it is almost always advocated as a theory of justice in one of two senses. In one sense, justice is concerned with the moral duties that we owe others. It does not address impersonal duties (duties owed to no one) or duties owed to self. In a second sense, justice is concerned with the morally enforceable duties that we have. It does not address duties for which it is impermissible to use force to ensure compliance or to rectify (e.g., punish) non-compliance (e.g. a duty to see your mother on her birthday). We shall here consider libertarianism as a theory of justice in each sense.

Libertarianism is often thought of as “right-wing” doctrine. This, however, is mistaken for at least two reasons. First, on social—rather than economic—issues, libertarianism tends to be “left-wing”. It opposes laws that restrict consensual and private sexual relationships between adults (e.g., gay sex, extra-marital sex, and deviant sex), laws that restrict drug use, laws that impose religious views or practices on individuals, and compulsory military service. Second, in addition to the better-known version of libertarianism—right-libertarianism—there is also a version known as “left-libertarianism”. Both endorse full self-ownership, but they differ with respect to the powers agents have to appropriate unowned natural resources (land, air, water, minerals, etc.). Right-libertarianism holds that typically such resources may be appropriated by the first person who discovers them, mixes her labor with them, or merely claims them—without the consent of others, and with little or no payment to them. Left-libertarianism, by contrast, holds that unappropriated natural resources belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner. It can, for example, require those who claim rights over natural resources to make a payment to others for the value of those rights. This can provide the basis for a kind of egalitarian redistribution.

The best known early statement of (something close to) libertarianism is Locke (1690). The most influential contemporary work is Nozick (1974).

  • Self-Ownership
  • The Power to Appropriate Natural Resources: Libertarianism, Left and Right
  • Enforcement Rights: Prior Restraint and Rectification
  • Anarchism and the Minimal State
  • Some Ancillary Issues
    • 1 Non-Autonomous Sentient Beings
    • 2 Historical Principles and the Real World
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  1. Self-Ownership

Libertarianism holds that agents are, at least initially, full self-owners. Agents are (moral) full self-owners just in case they morally own themselves in just the same way that they can morally fully own inanimate objects. Below we shall distinguish between full (interpersonal) self-ownership and full political self-ownership. Many versions of libertarianism endorse only the latter.

Full ownership of an entity consists of a full set of the following ownership rights: (1) control rights over the use of the entity: both a liberty-right to use it and a claim-right that others not use it, (2)rights to compensation if someone uses the entity without one’s permission, (3) enforcement rights (e.g., rights of prior restraint if someone is about to violate these rights), (4) rights to transfer these rights to others (by sale, rental, gift, or loan), and (5) immunities to the non-consensual loss of these rights. Full ownership is simply a logically strongest set of ownership rights over a thing. There is some indeterminacy in this notion (since there can be more than one strongest set of such rights), but there is a determinate core set of rights (see below).

At the core of full self-ownership, then, is full control self-ownership, the full right to control the use of one’s person. Something like control self-ownership is arguably needed to recognize the fact there are some things (e.g., various forms of physical contact) that may not be done to a person without her consent, but which may be done with that consent. It wrongs an individual to subject her to non-consensual and unprovoked killing, maiming, enslavement, or forcible manipulation.

Full-self ownership is sometimes thought to guarantee that the agent has a certain basic liberty of action, but this is not so. For if the rest of the world (natural resources and artifacts) is fully (“maximally”) owned by others, one is not permitted to do anything without their consent—since that would involve the use of their property. For example, as a result of one’s trespass on their land, one may become their slave. The protection that self-ownership affords is a basic protection against others doing certain things to one, but not a guarantee of liberty. Even this protection, however, may be merely formal. A plausible thesis of self-ownership must allow that some rights (e.g., against imprisonment) may be lost if one violates the rights of others. Hence, if the rest of world is owned by others, then anything one does without their consent violates their property rights, and, as a result of such violations, one may lose some or all of one’s rights of self-ownership. This point shows that, because agents must use natural resources (occupy space, breathe air, etc.), self-ownership on its own has no substantive implications. It is only when combined with assumptions about how the rest of the world is owned (and the consequences of violating those property rights) that substantive implications follow.

Let us now consider five important objections to full self-ownership.

One objection to full (interpersonal) self-ownership is that it denies that individuals have an obligation to help others in need, except through voluntary agreement or prior wrongdoing. Those who advocate libertarianism as a theory of the duties owed to others typically endorse full (interpersonal) self-ownership and are subject to this objection. They reject any such obligation on the ground that it induces a form of partial slavery.

Those who advocate libertarianism as theory of enforceable duties, however, need not be subject to this objection. They can endorse full political self-ownership, without endorsing full (interpersonal) self-ownership. The two are the same except the former is silent about what duties one may owe to others and asserts instead that one has no enforceable duties to aid others, except those that arise from voluntary agreement and prior wrongdoing. Of course, many would still insist that we have non-voluntary enforceable duties to aid those in extreme need when we can do so at little cost to ourselves or others.

The remaining objections apply to both interpersonal and political self-ownership, and hence I shall cease distinguishing them.

A second objection also concerns situations in which individuals in extreme needed can greatly benefit from the involvement of an agent. Instead, however, of addressing whether the agent owes the individual a duty, or has an enforceable duty, to aid her, the question is whether others may use the agent’s person without her consent to aid those in need. For example, is it permissible to gently push an innocent agent to the ground in order to save ten innocent lives? Full self-ownership (of both sorts) asserts that it is not. The rough idea is that individuals are normatively separate and their person may not be used non-consensually for the benefit of others.

A third objection to full self-ownership is that it includes a right to make gifts of one’s services, and that such gifts, when given from members of an older generation to members of a younger generation, can significantly disrupt the conditions of equality of opportunity. (Note that the right to make gifts of external things is not at issue here, since it does not follow from full self-ownership alone.) The right to make gifts of personal services can be defended by emphasizing how such gifts are an essential part of intimate personal relationships. Moreover, if a person has the right to perform an action for her own benefit, then she arguably also has the right to perform it for someone else’s benefit. A possible reply here is that, although the donor may well have the power to make gifts of her services, the recipient may not have a right to the full benefit of those services (e.g., the benefits may not be immune to taxation).

A fourth objection to full self-ownership is that it permits voluntary enslavement. Agents have, it claims, not only the right to control the use of their person, but also the right to transfer that right (e.g., by sale or gift) to others. Some libertarians—such as Rothbard (1982) and Barnett (1998, pp. 78–82)—deny that such transfer is even possible, since others cannot control one’s will. This, however, seems to be a mistake, since what is at issue is the moral right to control permissible use (by giving or denying permission), not the psychological capacity to control. Many authors—such as Locke (1690) and Grunebaum (1987)—deny that the rights over oneself are so transferable, typically on the ground that such transfers undermine one’s autonomy. One might, however, reply that the right to exercise one’s autonomy is more fundamental than the protection or promotion of one’s autonomy. (For elaboration, see Vallentyne 1998. See also Steiner 1994.)

A fifth objection to full self-ownership is that it (like rights in general) can lead to inefficient outcomes. Where there are externalities or public goods (such as police protection), each person may be better off if some of each person’s rights are infringed (e.g., if each person is required to provide service each week on a police patrol). Given the problems generated by prisoners’ dilemmas and other kinds of market failure, in large societies it will typically be impossible to obtain everyone’s consent to perform such services. Given the importance of such services, it is arguably permissible to force individuals to provide certain services (in violation of full self-ownership) as long as everyone benefits appropriately.

  1. The Power to Appropriate Natural Resources: Libertarianism, Left and Right

Libertarianism is committed to full self-ownership. A distinction can be made, however, between right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism, depending on the stance taken on how natural resources can be owned. (Throughout, I use “resource” in the weak sense of “stuff” in the world, with no assumption about whether it has any value to individuals. The term is often used in a more restrictive sense.)

One possible view holds that initially no one has any liberty right to use, or any moral power to appropriate, natural resources. A radical version of joint-ownership left-libertarianism, for example, holds that individuals may use natural resources only with the collective consent (e.g., majority or unanimous) of the members of society. Given that all action requires the use of some natural resources (land, air, etc.), this leaves agents no freedom of action (except with the permission of others), and this is clearly implausible. A less radical version of joint-ownership left-libertarianism allows that agents may use natural resources, but holds that they have no moral power to appropriate natural resources without the collective consent of the members of society (e.g., Grunebaum 1987). Although this leaves agents a significant range of freedom of action, it leaves them little security in their plans of action. They have the security that others are not permitted to use their person (e.g., assault them) without their consent, but they have only limited security in their possessions of external things (except with the consent of others). Agents are permitted to cultivate and gather apples, but others are permitted to take them when this violates no rights of self-ownership (e.g., when they can simply take them from the collected pile).

Given the central importance of security of some external resources, it is implausible that agents have no power to appropriate without the consent of others. More specifically, it is most implausible to hold that the consent of others is required for appropriation when communication with others is impossible, extremely difficult, or expensive (as it almost always is). And even when communication is relatively easy and costless, there is no need for the consent of others as long as one appropriates no more than one’s fair share. Joint-ownership left-libertarianism is thus implausible.

A plausible account of liberty rights and powers of appropriation over natural resources must, I claim, be unilateralist in the sense that, under a broad range of conditions (1) agents are initially permitted to use natural resources without anyone’s consent, and (2) agents initially have the power to appropriate (acquire rights over) natural resources without anyone’s consent. This is just to say that initially natural resources are not protected by a property rule (which requires consent for permissible use or appropriation).

According to a unilateralist conception of the power to appropriate, agents who first claim rights over a natural resource acquire those rights—perhaps provided that certain other conditions are met. These additional conditions may include some kind of an interaction constraint (such as that the agent “mixed her labor” with the resource or that she was the first to discover the resource) and some kind of “fair share” constraint. In what follows, for simplicity, I shall ignore the interaction constraint and focus on the fair share constraint.

Let us, then, consider some unilateralist versions of libertarianism. Radical right libertarianism— advocated, for example, by Rothbard (1978, 1982), Narveson (1988, ch. 7; 1999), and Feser (2005)—holds that that there are no fair share constraints on use or appropriation.[1] Agents may destroy whatever natural resources they want (as long as they violate no one’s self-ownership) and they have the power to appropriate whatever natural resources they first claim. On this view, natural resources are initially not merely unprotected by a property rule (i.e., permissible use does not require anyone else’s permission); they are also unprotected by a compensation liability rule (i.e., no compensation is owed if one uses). A main objection to this view is that no human agent created natural resources, and there is no reason that the lucky person who first claims rights over a natural resource should reap all the benefit that the resource provides. Nor is there any reason to think the individuals are morally permitted to ruin or monopolize natural resources as they please. Some sort of fair share condition restricts use and appropriation.

Consider Lockean libertarianism, which allows unilateral use and appropriation but requires the satisfaction of some version of the Lockean proviso that “enough and as good” be left for others. Lockean libertarianism views natural resources as initially unprotected by any property rule (no consent is needed for use or appropriation) but as protected by a compensation liability rule. Those who use natural resources, or claim rights over them, owe compensation to others for any wrongful costs imposed.

Nozickean right-libertarianism—advocated, for example, by Nozick (1974)—interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that no individual be made worse off by the use or appropriation of a natural resource compared with non-use or non-appropriation.[2] One might object that this sets the compensation payment too low. It bases compensation on each person’s reservation price, which is the lowest payment that would leave the individual indifferent with non-use or non-appropriation. Use or appropriation of natural resources typically brings significant benefits even after providing such compensation. There is little reason, one might argue, to hold that those who first use or claim rights over a natural resource should reap all the excess benefits that those resources provide.

Sufficientarian (centrist) libertarianism—such as something in the spirit of Simmons (1992, 1993) or Lomasky (1987)—interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that others be left an adequate share of natural resources (on some conception of adequacy). There are different criteria that can be invoked for adequacy, but the most plausible ones are based on the quality of one’s life prospects: enough for life prospects worth living, enough for basic subsistence life prospects, or enough for “minimally decent” life prospects. Depending on the nature of the world and the conception of adequacy, the sufficientarian proviso may be more, or less, demanding than the Nozickean proviso. If natural resources are sufficiently abundant relative to the individuals, then Nozickean proviso will be more demanding (since many individuals would get more than an adequate share without the use or appropriation), but if natural resources are sufficiently scarce, then the sufficientarian proviso will be more demanding than the Nozickean one.

Although sufficientarian libertarianism may be more sensitive than Nozickean libertarianism to the quality of life prospects left to others, some libertarians, left-libertarians, argue that it nevertheless fails to recognize the extent to which natural resources belong to all of us in some egalitarian manner. Suppose that there are enough natural resources to give everyone fabulous life prospects, and someone appropriates (or uses) natural resources leaving others only minimally adequate life prospects and generating ultra fabulously life prospects for herself. Left-libertarians argue that it is implausible to hold that those who first use or claim a natural resource are entitled to reap all the benefits in excess of what is needed to leave others adequate life prospects. Natural resources were not created by any human agent and their value, they argue, belongs to all of us in some egalitarian manner.

Let us now consider left-libertarianism. It holds that natural resources initially belong to everyone in some egalitarian manner.[3] We have already rejected one version—joint-ownership left-libertarianism—for failing to be unilateralist (i.e., because it requires the permission of others for use or appropriation of unowned natural resources). We shall now focus on Lockean (and hence unilateralist) versions of left-libertarianism.

Equal share left-libertarianism—advocated, for example, by Henry George (1879) and Hillel Steiner (1994)—interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that one leave an equally valuable share of natural resources for others. Individuals are morally free to use or appropriate natural resources, but those who use or appropriate more than their per capita share owe others compensation for their excess share.

Even equal share libertarianism, one might argue, is not sufficiently egalitarian. Although it requires that the competitive value of natural resources be distributed equally, it does nothing to offset disadvantages in unchosen internal endowments (e.g., the effects of genes or childhood environment). Equal share libertarianism is thus compatible with radically unequal life prospects.[4]

Consider, then, equal opportunity left-libertarianism advocated, for example, by Otsuka (2003).[5] It interprets the Lockean proviso as requiring that one leave enough for others to have an opportunity for well-being that is at least as good as the opportunity for well-being that one obtained in using or appropriating natural resources. Individuals who leave less than this are required to pay the full competitive value of their excess share to those deprived of their fair share. Unlike the equal share view, those whose initial internal endowments provide less favorable effective opportunities for well-being are entitled to larger shares of natural resources. Although this version of libertarianism is highly egalitarian, it limits the egalitarianism to the distribution of the value of the natural resources. Full self-ownership still places constraints on the promotion of equality: Individuals are not morally required to provide personal services or body parts merely because they have more valuable personal endowments.

  1. Enforcement Rights: Prior Restraint and Rectification

So far, we have addressed the core libertarian rights of full self-ownership and the right to appropriate natural resources. A complete libertarian theory must also specify what enforcement rights individuals have when others violate their rights. The idea of full self-ownership does not include a full specification of enforcement rights. This is because the relevant idea is universal full self-ownership (i.e., every agent being a full self-owner), and this notion is indeterminate with respect to enforcement rights (as well as compensation rights). For a given individual, a maximal set of self-ownership rights would include both a full immunity against loss even if the agent violates the rights of others (and hence others would not be permitted to use non-consensual force against her ever) and maximal enforcement rights against others (which would permit the agent to use force against others in order to prevent their violation of her rights). This set of rights, however, is not universalizable. If one agent has the strong immunity to loss of rights, then other agents cannot have the strong enforcement rights (which require the offending agent to have lost some of her rights of self-ownership). Thus, full (universalizable) self-ownership can include no enforcement rights (but a full immunity to loss), or full enforcement rights (but no immunity to loss for rights violations), or anything in between. (On the issue of indeterminacy, see Fried (2004, 2005) and Vallentyne, Steiner, and Otsuka (2005).

One possible position is extreme pacifism, according to which individuals are never permitted to use non-consensual force against others. Another is moderate pacifism, according to which individuals are permitted to use non-consensual force against others only when necessary in self-defense (or the defense of others). This moderate view would allow the use of force against a person to prevent her from wrongfully using force against others, but it would not allow the use of force to rectify past violations (e.g., punish or extract compensation from the rights-violator). Most libertarian positions would allow the use of force for cases of rectification. Many would allow the use of force for retributive punishment, but some—Barnett (1998), for example—reject retributive punishment and insist that compensation for wrongful harms is the sole justification for the rectificatory use of force.

  1. Anarchism and the Minimal State

Libertarianism holds that many of the powers of the modern welfare state are morally illegitimate. Agents of the state violate the rights of citizens when they punish, or threaten to punish, a person for riding a motorcycle without a helmet, for taking drugs, for refusing to serve in the military, for engaging in consensual sexual relations in private, or for gambling. Furthermore, agents of the state violate the rights of citizens when they force, or threaten to force, individuals to transfer their legitimately held wealth to the state in order to provide for pensions, to help the needy, or to pay for public goods (e.g., parks or roads). (Left-libertarians object to such transfers to the extent that these are in excess of what is owed for the appropriation of natural resources.) Some libertarian-leaning theorists—such as Hayek (1960)—argue that it is legitimate to force people to pay their fair share of the costs of providing basic police services (i.e., protection of the libertarian rights and prosecution of those who violate them), but it’s hard to see how this could be legitimate on right-libertarian grounds. If one does not voluntarily agree to share one’s wealth in this way, the mere fact that one reaps a benefit from the services does not, on libertarian grounds, generate an enforceable duty to pay one’s fair share.[6]

One objection, then, that libertarians raise against the modern welfare state is that it uses force, or the threat thereof, to restrict people’s freedom to engage in activities that do not violate anyone’s rights. A second objection is that the modern welfare state—and most states generally—uses force, or the threat thereof, to restrict people’s freedom to use force to protect and enforce their own rights. Although most states recognize a right to use force in self-defense, few states recognize a legal right to forcibly extract compensation from, or punish, a person who has violated one’s rights. States typically punish those who attempt to impose the relevant rectification—even if the private citizens impose the very same rectification that the state would impose. Non-pacifist libertarians, however, deny this. Each individual has the right to enforce his rights in various ways, and these are not lost unless the individual voluntarily gives them up. The objection here, then, is not that agents of the state enforce people’s rights (which they are perfectly entitled to do if the protected person so wishes), but rather that the state uses force to prevent citizens from directly enforcing their own rights.

The above objections to the modern welfare state would be made both by right-libertarians and left-libertarians. Left-libertarians, however, can endorse certain “state-like” activities that right-libertarians reject. For on most left-libertarian views, individuals have an enforceable duty to pay others for the value of the rights that they claim over natural resources. Individuals seeking economic justice could form organizations that, under certain conditions, could force individuals to give them the payment they owe for their rights over natural resources, and could then transfer the payments to the individuals who are owed payments (after deducting a fee for the service, if the person agrees). The organization could also provide various public goods such as basic police services, national defense, roads, parks, and so on. By providing such public goods, the value of the rights claimed over natural resources by individuals will increase (e.g., rights over land for which police protection is provided are more valuable than rights over that land without police protection). Such public goods could be provided when and only when they would be self-financing based on the increased rents that they generate.

Such “justice-promoting” organizations engage in many of the activities of the modern states, and left-libertarianism can accept the legitimacy of such activities. There are, however, three important qualifications. First, organizational activities are limited to enforcing people’s libertarian rights and to enhancing people’s opportunities by providing public goods. Force is never used to restrict activities that violate no libertarian rights. Second, no monopoly on such activities is claimed. There may be many organizations providing such services. Third and finally, the agents of the organization are permitted to use force to make an individual make her payment for the value of rights over natural resources only if such use is, in some suitable sense, the most reliable way of ensuring that she discharges her duty. Corrupt or inefficient organizations are not permitted to use force to collect such payments.

Furthermore, even honest and efficient organizations are not so permitted when the individual owing the payment will voluntarily make the payment directly to the relevant parties. (For elaboration, see Vallentyne, 2007.)

Libertarianism, then, is not only critical of the modern welfare state, but of states in general. Given that so much of modern life seems to require a state, libertarianism’s anarchist stance is a powerful objection against it. In reply, libertarians argue that (1) many of the effects of states are quite negative, (2) many of the positive effects can be obtained without the state through voluntary mechanisms, and (3) even if some positive effects cannot be so obtained, the ends do not justify the means in these cases.

  1. Some Ancillary Issues

5.1 Non-Autonomous Sentient Beings

Libertarianism asserts that each autonomous agent initially fully owns herself and that agents have moral power to acquire property rights in natural resources and artifacts. What is the status of non-autonomous beings—such as children and many animals—that have moral standing (e.g., because sentient)? One possible reply is to deny that there are any non-autonomous beings with moral standing (e.g., because only beings capable of having moral duties—agents—are owed any duties). Non-autonomous beings are simply things to be used. As such, they can be the full private property of agents. Few people, however, will accept that position. Children are not the full private property of their parents. Dogs may not be tortured for fun. Another possibility is to hold that non-autonomous sentient beings are also full self-owners, where the rights involved are understood as protecting their interests rather than their choices (see, for example, Vallentyne 2002). This, of course, would have the wild implication that rats are protected by rights of self-ownership. Perhaps there is some plausible intermediate position, but if so, it has not yet been developed adequately. (See Steiner 1999 for one attempt.)

5.2 Historical Principles and the Real World

According to libertarianism, the justice of the current distribution of legal rights over resources depends on what the past was like. Given that the history of the world is full of systematic violence (genocide, invasion, murder, assault, theft, etc.), we can be sure that the current distribution of legal rights over resources did not come about justly and that adequate reparations have not been made. At the same time, however, we have little knowledge of the specific rights violations that took place in the past (e.g., we have little knowledge of all but the most egregious rights violations that took place more than one hundred years ago). Thus, we have little knowledge of what justice today requires.

The epistemic problem confronting libertarianism is similar to that confronting utilitarianism and other consequentialist theories. Consequentialist theories require knowledge of the entire future that will result from each possible action, and we have very little such knowledge. Libertarianism requires knowledge of the entire past, and we have very little such knowledge. The appropriate answer in both cases is that the facts determine what is just, and we should simply make our best judgments about what is just based on what we know. Moral reality is complex, and it’s not surprising that it’s extremely difficult to know what is permissible.

In the case of libertarianism, an additional response is possible. One could hold that there is a moral statute of limitations for rights violations. After the passage of enough time—or perhaps, after the passage of enough time during which no claim for rectification is made—the right of rectification for a specific past rights-violation may cease to be valid. If the period of time is short enough (e.g., 100 years), this would radically reduce the epistemic problem. It’s not clear, however, that there is a plausible principled libertarian justification (as opposed to a practical one) for such a statute of limitations.

  1. Conclusion

Libertarianism is attractive because (1) it provides significant moral liberty of action, (2) it provides significant moral protection against interference from others, and (3) it is sensitive to what the past was like (e.g., what agreements were made and what rights violations took place). It faces, however, the serious objection that it gives too much protection from interference and not enough attention to making the future better (e.g., by meeting people’s basic needs, making people’s lives go better, or promoting equality). As with all prominent moral and political theories, the overall assessment of libertarianism is a matter of on-going debate.



  • Barnett, R., 1998, The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Epstein, R.A., 1995, Simple Rules for a Complex World, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Epstein, R.A., 1998, Principles for a Free Society: Reconciling Individual Liberty with the Common Good, New York: Basic Books.
  • Feser, E., 2005, “There Is No Such Thing As An Unjust Initial Acquisition,” Social Philosophy and Policy, 22: 56–80.
  • Friedman, D., 1989, The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism, New York: Harper and Row.
  • Hayek, F.A., 1960, The Constitution of Liberty, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Hayek, F.A., 1973, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Vol. 1: Rules and Order, London: Routledge.
  • Hospers, J., 1971, Libertarianism, Los Angeles: Nash.
  • Lomasky, L., 1987, Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Kirzner, I., 1978, “Entrepreneurship, Entitlement, and Economic Justice,” Eastern Economic Journal4: 9–25. Reprinted in Vallentyne and Steiner, 2000a.
  • Locke, J., 1690, Two Treatises of Government, P. Laslett (ed.), New York: Cambridge University Press, 1960. Extract reprinted in Vallentyne and Steiner, 2000b.
  • Machan, T. (ed.), 1974, The Libertarian Alternative: Essays in Social and Political Philosophy, Chicago: Nelson-Hall Company.
  • Machan, T., (ed.), 1982, The Libertarian Reader, Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Machan, T., 1989, Individuals and Their Rights, La Salle, IL: Open Court.
  • Machan, T. and Rasmussen, D. (eds.), 1997, Liberty for the 21st Century, Latham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Mack, E., 1995, “The Self-Ownership Proviso: A New and Improved Lockean Proviso,” Social Philosophy and Policy, 12: 186–218.
  • Mack, E., 2002a, “Self-Ownership, Marxism, and Egalitarianism: Part I. Challenges to Historical Entitlement,” Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, 1: 119–146.
  • Mack, E., 2002b, “Self-Ownership, Marxism, and Egalitarianism: Part II. Challenges to the Self-Ownership Thesis,” Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, 1: 237–276.
  • Mack, E., 2010, “The Natural Right of Property,” Social Philosophy and Policy, 27: 53–78.
  • Narveson, J., 1988, The Libertarian Idea, Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Narveson, J., 1999, “Original Appropriation and Lockean Provisos,” Public Affairs Quarterly, 13: 205–27. Reprinted in Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002, pp. 111–131.
  • Narveson, J., 2000, “Libertarianism,” in the Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, H. LaFollette (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 306–24.
  • Narveson, J. and J. P. Sterba, 2010, Are Liberty and Equality Compatible?, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Nozick, R., 1974, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, New York: Basic Books. Extract reprinted in Vallentyne and Steiner, 2000a.
  • Paul J. (ed.), 1982, Reading Nozick: Essays on Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Rasmussen, D.B., & Den Uyl, D.J., 2005, Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-perfectionist Politics, University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.
  • Rothbard, M., 1978, For a New Liberty, The Libertarian Manifesto, revised edition, New York: Libertarian Review Foundation.
  • Rothbard, M., 1982, The Ethics of Liberty, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press. Extract reprinted in Vallentyne and Steiner, 2000a.
  • Schmidtz, D., 1991, The Limits of Government, Boulder, CO: Westview.
  • Shapiro, D. (2007). Is the Welfare State Justified?Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wheeler, S., 1980, “Natural Property Rights as Body Rights,” Noûs, 16: 171–193. Reprinted in Vallentyne P., and H. Steiner, eds., 2000a.


  • Fried, B., 2004, “Left-Libertarianism: A Review Essay,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 32: 66–92.
  • Fried, B., 2005, “Left-Libertarianism, Once More: A Rejoinder to Vallentyne, Steiner, and Otsuka,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 33: 216–222.
  • Cohen, G. A., 1995, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • George, H., 1879, Progress and Poverty, 5th edition, New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1882. Reprinted by Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1966. Extract reprinted in Vallentyne and Steiner, 2000b.
  • Grunebaum, J., 1987, Private Ownership, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Extract reprinted in Vallentyne and Steiner, 2000a.
  • Otsuka, M., 2003, Libertarianism without Inequality, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Steiner, H., 1994, An Essay on Rights, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. Extract reprinted in Vallentyne and Steiner, 2000a.
  • Steiner, H., 1999, “Silver Spoons And Golden Genes: Talent Differentials and Distributive Justice,” in The Genetic Revolution and Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1998, Justine Burley (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Tideman, N., 2000, “Global Economic Justice,” Geophilos, 00: 134–146.
  • Tideman, N., 2001, “Creating Global Economic Justice,” Geophilos, 01: 88–94.
  • Vallentyne, P., 1998, “Critical Notice of G.A. Cohen’s Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 28: 609–626.
  • Vallentyne, P., and H. Steiner (eds.), 2000a, Left Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate, New York: Palgrave Publishers Ltd.
  • Vallentyne, P. and H. Steiner (eds.), 2000b, The Origins of Left Libertarianism: An Anthology of Historical Writings, New York: Palgrave Publishers Ltd.
  • Vallentyne, P., H. Steiner, and M. Otsuka, 2005, “Why Left-Libertarianism Isn’t Incoherent, Indeterminate, or Irrelevant: A Reply to Fried,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 33: 201–15.
  • Van Parijs, P., 1995, Real Freedom for All, New York: Oxford University Press. Extract reprinted in P. Vallentyne and H. Steiner (eds.) 2000a.

Related Topics

  • Barnett, R. E., 2004, “The Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism,” in P. Berkowitz (ed.), Varieties of Conservatism in America, Stanford: Hoover Press, pp. 51–74.
  • Christman, J., 1994, The Myth of Property, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Gaus, G. and Mack, E., 2004, “Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism,” A Handbook of Political Theory, G. Gaus and C. Kukathus (eds.), London: Routledge, pp. 115–129.
  • Kagan, S., 1994, “The Argument from Liberty,” in In Harm’s Way: Essays in honor of Joel Feinberg, J. Coleman and A. Buchanan (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 16–41.
  • Sanders, J and J. Narveson (eds.), 1996, For and Against the State, London: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Skoble, A., 2008, Deleting the State, New York: Open Court Press.
  • Simmons, A.J., 1992, The Lockean Theory of Rights, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Simmons, A.J., 1993, On the Edge of Anarchy, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Sreenivasan, G., 1995, The Limits of Lockean Rights in Property, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Vallentyne, P., 2002, “Equality and the Duties of Procreators,” in Children and Political Theory, D. Archard and C. MacLeod (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Vallentyne, P., 2007, “Libertarianism and the State,” Social Philosophy and Policy, 24: 187–205.

Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

American Hegemony

Author of Blowback, The Sorrows Of Empire, and Nemesis: The Last Days Of The American Empire, Chalmers Johnson has literally written the book on the concept of American Hegemony. A former naval officer and consultant of the C.I.A., he now serves as professor Emeritus at UC San Diego. As co-founder and President of the Japan Policy Research Institute, Mr. Johnson also continues to promote public education about Asia’s role in the international community.

In this exclusive interview, you will find out why the practice of empire building is, by no means, a thing of the past. As the United States continues to expand its military forces around the globe, the consequences are being suffered by each and every one of us.

America, the Great

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

– John Adams

Professional politicians? An exploited and broken system of representation? Propaganda of scare tactics? News as entertainment? Voting as the illusion of freedom? Private sector in bed with Big Brother? War in the name of “democracy” and “freedom”? Privately owned Federal Reserve? Privately owned for-profit prisons!? WHAT THE FUCK! America, the Great?

First, let me point out that in no other industrialized, democratic country, are there only two strong political parties. In each and every one of these countries, there are at least three political parties that are on an equal footing. I find it incomprehensible that in a country such as ours, which demands choices in every other aspect of life (i. e. – 150 station cable/satellite TV systems), we still limit ourselves to only two options when it comes to politics.

It should be further noted that there is nothing in the Constitution that specifies a two party system. There are even clues in this document that suggest the Founding Fathers assumed that there would always be more than two strong candidates. In fact, if you look at the first several Presidential elections in this country, you would see that there were always at least three Presidential candidates who received electoral votes.

We have been deluded in this country into thinking that a Third Party won’t work. How? Well, first we’re told that if we vote for a third party, we’d be wasting our vote. This is, of course, looking at it from their perspective. In their view, any time you don’t vote for their candidate, the vote is wasted. If that doesn’t work, we’re told that our vote won’t count. Translated, this means that your vote will count, just not for their party. Next, we’re told that we are splitting the vote, helping the other candidate win. I have two comments on that. The first is that this is certainly an egotistical viewpoint. After all, why should you drop your candidate in order to help get their candidate elected? My second comment is that this argument is nothing more than the “voting for the lesser of two evils” logic. We people who vote third party, however, have our own logic. And that is, why should we vote for the lesser of two evils when the lesser evil is still evil? Finally, we’re told that we are being presented with two clear choices, so we don’t need to clog up the field with any more. In reality, this makes no sense. Even if it were true that we are always being presented with two candidates who are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, where does that leave the voters who are in the middle? As an example, how about a voter who has liberal social ideas but conservative fiscal views? Why should these types of voters have to give up fifty percent of their values in order to choose between the conservative and liberal candidates? This is another example, and there are many more, where the two party system is a failure in delivering representational elections.

The present two party system has led to gridlock in the country, which has extended into the general population as well. Essentially, we have become an “us” versus “them” society. There is no middle ground. If you are not with “us”, then you are with “them”, and that makes you the enemy. Moderates who try to compromise with opposing moderates, and who go against the party’s wishes, are branded as traitors. As a result, the serious problems that we are facing in this country are not being addressed. A strong third party could blunt this attitude, and therefore open up a dialogue, since people might realize that it’s no longer just “them” anymore with their diametrically opposing viewpoints.

Ranking America

Vote third party or don’t vote at all! Or vote for the good looking one. Fuck it.

– November, 2012

A Declaration


When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton