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Clarifying libertarianism

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Viewpoint column on libertarianism (“Neither left nor right,” Aug. 24) is excellent, and I will be following it throughout the year.

However, the non-aggression principle unnecessarily excludes too many people as libertarian. The boundaries of what makes for a libertarian are softer than the column implies. There is no necessary requirement that we view all initiation of aggression as morally wrong, or as something the state has no abstract right to engage in order to consider ourselves libertarians. We might agree that everyone should get a pumpkin carver, but worry that no institution can make it work. Or we might think that giving any institution the power to give us pumpkin carvers will also lead to that institution doing all kinds of other things that we definitely don’t want, and don’t want more than we want the distribution of pumpkin carvers.

In short, we may agree with the justness of initiating aggression in some cases, but believe that there are too many practical things standing in the way of doing this aggressing just right. What makes for a libertarian is believing that the state should keep its hands to itself on both economic and civil issues. Whether or not us libertarians believe that we can never initiate aggression is interesting, but it is not a requirement.

Peter JaworskiProfessor, Bowling Green State UniversityAugust 24