Huemer’s Libertarianism

A concise expression of Michael Huemer’s libertarianism which provides the foundation for his critique of state authority:

“The foundation of my libertarianism is much more modest: common sense morality. At first glance, it may seem paradoxical that such radical political conclusions could stem from anything labeled ‘common sense’. I do not, of course, lay claim to common sense political views. I claim that revisionary political views emerge out of common sense moral views. As I see it, libertarian political philosophy rests on three broad ideas:

i) A nonaggression principle in interpersonal ethics. Roughly, this is the idea that individuals should not attack, kill, steal from, or defraud one another and, in general, that individuals should not coerce one another, apart from a few special circumstances.

ii) A recognition of the coercive nature of government. When the state promulgates a law, the law is generally backed up by a threat of punishment, which is supported by credible threats of physical force directed against those who would disobey the state.

iii) A skepticism of political authority. The upshot of this skepticism is, roughly, that the state may not do what it would be wrong for any nongovernmental person or organization to do.

The main positive ethical assumption of libertarianism, the nonaggression principle, is the most difficult to precisely articulate. In truth, it is a complex collection of principles, including prohibitions on theft, assault, murder, and so on. I cannot completely articulate this set of principles. Fortunately, it is not the locus of disagreement between libertarians and partisans of other political ideologies, for the ‘nonaggression principle’, as I use the term, is simply the collection of prohibitions on mistreating others that are accepted in common sense morality. Almost no one, regardless of political ideology, considers theft, assault, murder, and so on morally acceptable. We do not need a complete list of these prohibitions, since we have been able to construct the arguments of this book by relying on intuitions about specific cases. I have made no particularly strong assumptions about these ethical prohibitions. I do not, for example, assume that theft is never permissible. I simply assume that it is not permissible under normal circumstances, as dictated by common sense morality.

The second principle, that of the coercive nature of government, is equally difficult to dispute. The coercive nature of government is commonly forgotten or ignored in political discourse, in which the justification for coercion is seldom discussed. But virtually no one actually denies that the state regularly relies upon coercion.

It is the notion of authority that forms the true locus of dispute between libertarianism and other political philosophies. Libertarians are skeptical about authority, whereas most accept the state’s authority in more or less the terms in which the state claims it. This is what enables most to endorse governmental behavior that would otherwise appear to violate individual rights: nonlibertarians assume that most of the moral constraints that apply to other agents do not apply to the state.”

Michael Huemer (2012-10-29). The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (pp. 177-178). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

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One thought on “Huemer’s Libertarianism

  1. I would add a caveat: Some defenders of the state do not believe it is exempt from common sense morality, they believe state authority somehow satisfies this morality. They just don’t have any valid arguments for how it satisfies morality.

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