CJay Engel

October 23, 2019

The Stages and Styles of Libertarianism—My Journey?

These are not perfect, and only instinctual for the time being— but based on my long exposure to the libertarian literature, this is a generally helpful guide. It is different than other ways of dividing up “libertarians” (such as deontological/utilitarian) I started my journey at #2.

-Libertarianism as an emphasis on doing whatever you want and having a libertine lifestyle and consciously breaking free from older understandings of ethics and virtue. (Internet anarchists)

-Libertarianism as a general spirit or mood under which one approaches the world—there needs to be a personal responsibility, of course, but man should be set free from the dogmas of past behavior mandates. Man is born free, but everywhere in chains. (Reasonite libertarians— French style liberalism)

-Libertarianism as relating to politics in a broad sense; giving sovereign onus to “the people” in a vague, at-large sense. In this way, democracy and liberalism were improvements on the past, even if they weren’t perfect. (1960s Rothbard)

-Libertarianism as only relating to political theory in a particular sense: political theory is the investigation of the rights of government, if there are any, and takes the position that government ought to completely leave people alone (post-60’s Rothbard) 

-Libertarianism as a general rule (NAP) that applies not only to the state, but also to all people, of which the state’s managers are also a part. Therefore political theory is more general a demanding of people than merely a theory of the rights of the state (Ethics of Liberty Rothbard—Rothbard in his final form).

-Libertarianism as a legal theory— an approach to the framework of rights, freedom, coercion, and distribution of titles based on the logic of the ownership of property (Hans Hoppe’s clarification and distillation of Rothbard)

-Now, where I am at, perhaps more specific than Hoppe: Libertarianism as a string of propositions based on a particular formulation of the logic of property ownership, that informs, but does not fully encapsulate, legal theory (which is broader in the sense that it must deal with current obligations, current structures, specific societies/traditions, the development and course of prevailing institutions.) In this way, all “rights” are dependent on the actual ownership relationships/structures between humans within the same legal order. This approach to legal theory must take into account sociology, history, political science, culture, prevailing governments, anthropology, and other areas of study in order to inform one’s path forward. 

The logic of property ownership, which is abstract, informs and guides the way forward and can improve the laws of an actual, given society. In property, the abstract meets the real (it unites Hoppe and Burke).

Profoundly, it separates politics from legal theory and allows one to treat politics in an imperfect and "realist" way, never reaching the ideal, but understanding the restraints and limits and dangers of ideology in politics—which is much different than the current presumptions of political purity as taken up by libertarian activists.

A private property society is an ideal in an impossible way, which has no bearing on the logic of the matter (ie, the logic of this propertarian libertarianism doesn’t depend on its viability). 

In this way as well, the libertarian theorist (or is he now a jurist?) is both better described as a propertarian (because “liberty” refers only to what one can do with his property, and it’s a different liberty than the emphasis that classical liberalism had) and, more interestingly, could even defend feudal Europe (not that we should—just considering the logic); after all, the landowner owned his property and serfs lived on it has his permission. There are other implications, some more shocking and perhaps astonishing, but we’ll wait on this. 

In this way, I’ve either deconstructed my way out of libertarianism in a meaningful sense (after all, who else defines it the way I do?) or I’m a libertarian in such a unique and strictly defined sense that it's obvious why I wouldn’t agree with any other libertarian on almost anything.

You tell me. 

About the author

C.Jay Engel is the founder and publisher of Bastion Magazine. He has written for, LRC, David Stockman, and related. He owns several consulting business, actively works on the magazine, and lives in Northern CA.

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