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The Ludwig von Mises Institute

Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian School

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ALL OF MY WORK has revolved around the central question of human liberty. For it has been my conviction that, while each discipline has its own autonomy and integrity, in the final analysis all sciences and disciplines of human action are interrelated, and can be integrated into a "science" or discipline of individual liberty. In particular, my Man, Economy, and State (2 vols., 1962) set forth a comprehensive analysis of the free-market economy; while the analysis was praxeologic and value-free, and no political conclusions were directly upheld, the great virtues of the free market and the evils of coercive intervention into that market were evident to the discerning reader. The sequel to that work, Power and Market (1970), carried the analysis of Man, Economy, and State further in several ways: (a) a systematic analysis of the types of government intervention in the economy clearly shows the myriad of unfortunate consequences of such intervention; (b) for the first time in modern political economic literature, a model was outlined of the way in which a totally stateless and therefore purely free (or anarchistic) market economy could function successfully; and (c) a praxeological and therefore still value-free critique was conducted of the lack of meaningfulness and consistency of various types of ethical attacks on the free market. The latter section moved from pure economics to ethical criticism, but it remained within the bounds of value-freedom, and thus did not attempt a positive ethical theory of individual liberty. Yet, I was conscious that the latter task needed almost desperately to be done, for, as will be seen further in this work, I at no time believed that value-free analysis or economics or utilitarianism (the standard social philosophy of economists) can ever suffice to establish the case for liberty. Economics can help supply much of the data for a libertarian position, but it cannot establish that political philosophy itself. Political judgments are necessarily value judgments, political philosophy is therefore necessarily ethical, and hence a positive ethical system must be set forth to establish the case for individual liberty.

     It was furthermore clear to me that no one was engaged in trying to fill this crying need. For one thing, until very recently in this century there have been virtually no libertarian political philosophers. And even in the far more libertarian nineteenth century, only Herbert Spencer's great Social Statics (1851) set forth a thorough and systematic theory of liberty. In For A New Liberty (1973), I was able for the first time to put forward at least the brief outlines of my theory of liberty, and also to expound and defend the "anarchocapitalist" political creed far more substantially than in Power and Market. But For A New Liberty was more popular than scholarly and it concentrated mainly on the application of the libertarian creed to the important social and economic problem areas in American society. The great need for a systematic theory of liberty still remained.

     The present work attempts to fill this gap, to set forth a systematic ethical theory of liberty. It is not, however, a work in ethics per se, but only in that subset of ethics devoted to political philosophy. Hence, it does not try to prove or establish the ethics or ontology of natural law, which provide the groundwork for the political theory set forth in this book. Natural law has been ably expounded and defended elsewhere by ethical philosophers. And so Part I simply explains the outlines of natural law which animates this work, without attempting a full-scale defense of that theory.

     Part II is the substance of the work itself, setting forth my theory of liberty. It begins, as the best economic treatises have done, with a "Crusoe" world, except that the condition and actions of Crusoe are here analyzed not in order to establish economic concepts, but rather those of natural-rights morality—in particular, of the natural sphere of property and ownership, the foundation of liberty. The Crusoe model enables one to analyze the action of man vis-à-vis the external world around him, before the complications of interpersonal relations are considered.

     The key to the theory of liberty is the establishment of the rights of private property for each individual's justified sphere of free action can only be set forth if his rights of property are analyzed and established. "Crime" can then be defined and properly analyzed as a violent invasion or aggression against the just property of another individual (including his property in his own person). The positive theory of liberty then becomes an analysis of what can be considered property rights, and therefore what can be considered crimes. Various difficult but vitally important problems can then be dissected, including the rights of children, the proper theory of contracts as transfers of property titles, the thorny questions of enforcement and punishment, and many others. Since questions of property and crime are essentially legal questions, our theory of liberty necessarily sets forth an ethical theory of what law concretely should be. In short, as a natural-law theory should properly do, it sets forth a normative theory of law—in our case, a theory of "libertarian law." While the book establishes the general outlines of a system of libertarian law, however, it is only an outline, a prolegomenon to what I hope will be a fully developed libertarian law code of the future. Hopefully libertarian jurists and legal theorists will arise to hammer out the system of libertarian law in detail, for such a law code will be necessary to the truly successful functioning of what we may hope will be the libertarian society of the future.

     The focus of this work is on the positive ethical theory of liberty and of the outlines of libertarian law; for such a discussion, there is no need for a detailed analysis or critique of the State. Part III briefly sets forth my view of the State as the inherent enemy of liberty and, indeed, of genuine law. Part IV deals with the most important modern theories which attempt to establish a political philosophy of liberty: in particular, those of Mises, Hayek, Berlin, and Nozick. I do not attempt to review their works in detail, but rather to concentrate on why I think their theories fail at the task of establishing an ideology of liberty. Finally, Part V attempts the virtually pioneering task of beginning to set forth a theory of strategy of how to move from the present system to a world of liberty—and also my reasons for being highly optimistic about the long-run, and even short-run, prospects for the achievement of the noble ideal of a libertarian society, particularly in America.

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