Modern libertarianism began in the 1960s, about 50 years ago, with the writing of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, primarily, and others like Leonard Read, Milton Friedman, Hayek, Mises, etc. Over the years, certain canards or confusions keep appearing, some from insiders, some from our statist critics. There’s a continual need to debunk and counter some of these. As the theory of liberty continues to mature and advance, the mistakes that need to be addressed become more obvious, at the same time that we are more able to address them.
I’d like to discuss here a couple of paired confusions relating to property rights. One relates to the “Lockean” argument for homesteading, or original appropriation of property; the other concerns rectification for past injustices. Both are interrelated. You’ve probably heard both of these in various forms. For example, the opponent of libertarianism just assumes that our theory is based on the Lockean idea of original appropriation—then makes the “original sin” argument that all property rights are tainted by various acts of theft or statism, and therefore, since you can never trace your property title back to the original pristine owner, no current property title is really valid.
My instant reaction to such comments is always: they are (if they are statists) trying to justify taking my property. If they are libertarians, they are trying to justify not being anarchist. Basically, when I hear people talk like this, I brace myself for the inevitable theft that they are about to endorse or condone or advocate. Two favorite quotes of mine come to mind here:
“Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter.” —Ayn Rand, Francisco’s Money Speech
“Is there a need to reform taxes? Most certainly. Always and everywhere. You can always make a strong case against all forms of taxation and all tax codes and all mechanisms by which a privileged elite attempts to extract wealth from the population. And this is always the first step in any tax reform: get the public seething about the tax code, and do it by way of preparation for step two, which is the proposed replacement system.
“Of course, this is the stage at which you need to hold onto your wallet.” —Lew Rockwell
When I hear people saying the libertarian theory of property is flawed because it relies on theft, etc., I know this is just a precursor to some kind of advocated aggression. I hold onto my wallet. I keep an eye on these people.
These issues are related but somewhat different. Let me take them one at a time. [click to continue…]