An Introduction to Libertarianism


Libertarianism is a prescription for a system of ethics for societies. It is built upon a structure of property rights drawn from multiple historical sources: the early Roman legal structure and philosophers, Britain and Western Europe’s and America’s early legal system, and notably John Locke have all contributed heavily to these frameworks in the classical sense.

Modern libertarianism has accumulated this historical knowledge and expounded on it in a universal manner to cover all human beings. We claim that every individual owns themselves as their first claim on property rights. This means that anyone who attempts to force them to do something with their body that they do not agree to is a violation of their property rights. Rape, murder, torture, etc are all examples of violations of property rights of the individual. Very few people, perhaps sadists and warmongers, would truly disagree with this premise of self ownership.

The second claim of property rights is the right of ownership of physical objects in reality. This is a much more difficult premise to defend. There are the usual knee jerk reactions: yes but they can’t own just anything! What if they take over all of the water on the planet! Or what if they try to own another human being?!

In order to argue that a human being has self ownership, they must also be able to claim things in the physical reality as their own. Human beings need food and water to survive; at the very least, the inability to own this property and ingest it would prove a very bleak future for the human race indeed. John Locke’s premise was that unowned property that has never previously been claimed or has been deemed abandoned may be claimed by a “first owner” who must mix their labor with that property.

An example would be an unowned apple tree in a field. If it is unowned, anyone may approach it and take an apple. By mixing their labor with the apple, eg by picking it, they then own the apple and may eat it. Going further, if they invest their labor into cultivating the tree by trimming it, caring for it, watering it, keeping pests away from it, etc then they would own the tree itself.

Once ownership has been established, exchange is the natural next step. If I own an apple tree, and someone near me owns a pear tree, we can trade our goods so that we may both enjoy the literal fruits of our labor. Without trade, we would only have what we own. With trade, we can have some of what everyone else owns as well.

As property rights are universal, there can be no restriction on the ownership of goods except that it must follow the rules set forward above. No one may approach an island and lay claim to the entire thing. This is in violation of the “mixed labor” principle; that which has not been altered by labor is technically not owned by the claimee. No one can claim an entire lake without taking the pain of altering the entirety of it. This ensures that property does not fall into a state of being unowned but still somehow “owned”.

As for ownership of other people as regards slavery, this would violate the first claim of property rights: self ownership. If everyone owns them self, no one may also own that person as property rights are meant to be solely exclusive ownership.

This system of property rights, far from being a selfish approach to societal structures, facilitates social gain. By my owning an apple tree and caring for it, I’ve generated more apples in the world than would have existed without my interventions. If I do not eat all the apples, the apples will go bad. I’m impelled by my own self interest to trade the apples with other people, with enriches them, while gaining a profit allowing me to enrich myself, as well. Voluntary exchange is not a zero sum game where some people benefit and others do not: every exchange leads to a greater social gain to all parties involved.

An example of a violation of property rights in the material sense would be someone stealing my apples from me in the middle of the night. This leads to fewer apples for everyone: I am discouraged from investing my labor in the care of the tree, as the more apples I produce the more apples I lose as people steal them. This is a recipe for social disaster: production, or the increase of material wealth, relies on a strong system of property rights. There is much correlation to this in the world: the more affinity a country has for property rights, the more wealth that country generally has.

Which brings us to our two major arguments for libertarianism and property rights: efficiency and ethics.


Libertarianism’s first effect is to maximize wealth in society by using efficient mechanisms such as profit/loss, competition, and business/exchange to deliver the most amount of goods and services to the most amount of people. One of economic’s most important lessons is that there is scarcity in the world: we only have a certain amount of any resource available to us at any time. Moreover, those resources are dispersed around the planet. How do we get them into the hands of consumers?

As alluded to above, those who produce goods and lead the economic reordering of society are entrepreneurs. They attempt to gain profit by offering goods/services at a specific price which they presume will render more on the market (input) vs the costs of producing that product (output). Property rights are the necessary prerequisite for this process; no entrepreneur will spend time building up a production process only to have someone steal their apples, so to speak.

If the entrepreneur is unsuccessful in this task, he will end up with more cost than income. His losses will force him to reappraise his effort: how can he better serve the customer? How can he reduce waste and reduce his costs while maintaining his quality? Is his product simply unnecessary compared to other products? Should he change his entire business model? Accruing severe losses and ignoring these important signals could lead to insolvency and bankruptcy. Far from being disastrous, however, this is just the feedback loop of the market warning other businesses to do better or face similar consequences. A business who goes bankrupt sells up their capital goods to other entrepreneurs who will try to do a better job at serving the masses.

As a result, efforts are centered on business and production that is in line with what other people want. This is done in a mathematical, scientific manner: those goods/services that are desirable and of social benefit lead to profit, those that are not desirable lead to loss and bankruptcy. It is the efficiency of private property and voluntary exchange that leads to wealth generation in society and the social good of libertarianism.


Moreover, property rights are ethical. Not only do they lead society to the greatest prosperity, they also lead society to the greatest emotional and personal benefit. No society can exist where murder and theft are normalized. The trauma and heartache from this being a constant in people’s life is no way to live.

That generally rape, murder, pedophilia, slavery, and other ethical considerations are generally outlawed and banned legally and culturally in most developed societies is a testament to property rights. Where we are lacking is applying these rights universally. Generally, there is a double standard given to governments in regards to property rights.

If I force someone to give me 1/3 of their income against their will, this would generally be considered unethical. I would face social backlash and outcry. However, when a group of people called the government do the same, exact thing, they are praised and even encouraged to do so. If I forced someone to surrender their home and leave it so that I could build a Starbucks, that would be illegal. However, the government may do the same thing and call it “eminent domain” so as to face no consequences. Blowing up homes with bombs is generally frowned upon, yet governments may do so with impunity around the world.

Libertarians take property rights to their logical extreme: that they must apply to everyone, everywhere, at all times. Governments violate them at will, which is problematic in many ways. The consequences in society from these violations are rampant.


Libertarianism is, today, a mature and full fledged intellectual powerhouse. Thanks to the efforts of those like Murray Rothbard, Leonard Read, Robert Higgs, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and others who have laid the early groundwork of synthesizing classical ideas with modern ones, we now have a very systematic framework to present to society.

It is easy to dismiss libertarian ideas because we “just want the rich to run roughshod over everyone else” or “support the right to own guns so must therefore advocate violence” or “want poor grandmothers to starve in the streets”, but these are just caricatures of our ideas. It takes a long time of deep, intellectual conversation and study to fully grasp the ideas we lay forward, but why should society settle for anything less than a robust and comprehensive understanding of social issues? Why should soundbites rule the day while intense, rigorous study be dismissed by those who lack even the most rudimentary understanding of it?

I hope that this website lies in testament to the depth and insight that libertarianism can offer to the world. I’ll be writing book and TV show and movie reviews as well as posting interesting commentary as I think of it. I hope that you enjoy it!

Welcome to the Austrian Circle, and I look forward to speaking with you.

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