The Strong Republican Argument Against Libertarianism

April 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

In another post I argue that Pettit’s argument against Libertarians is better than Vallier makes it out to be. Here I want to provide what I take to be the strongest and clearest republican argument against libertarianism.

  1. Freedom is nondomination. You are free only so long as you are independent from the power or control of others. It is not enough that no one is in fact interfering with you. The absence of interference has to be made secure through public enforcement.
  2. The purpose of the common law rules of property and contract is to prevent domination (i.e., the purpose of the common law is freedom). If you cannot rely on keeping what is yours, you are subject to the domination of someone more powerful than you who can take it away. In a contract, if a promisor doesn’t have to keep his promise, the promisee is subject to the domination of the promisor.
  3. However, if you allow the rules of property rights and contract to play out on their own without any additional public regulation, the result will be vast inequality. Over time, the markets will inevitably result in some people having far more than others. There is nothing in itself wrong about inequality from the republican point of view, but when inequality reaches a certain point, domination starts to arise. Employers dominate employees, companies dominate consumers, and the wealthy dominate other citizens by taking over the political institutions.
  4. There needs to be public regulation of the markets. We need employment law, consumer protection law, and electoral laws. And we need taxation to setup institutions to monitor the market to ensure that players abide by these rules. We also need redistributive taxation, not to ensure equality, but to prevent the domination that arises when certain citizens have so much that they can control the political actors.
  5. Since we need redistributive taxation, we will be violating the rules of property and contract. This is fine because the purpose of these common law rules was to prevent domination. When the state breaks these rules via the mechanism of the rule of law it does not dominate its citizens. Moreover, it is breaking the rules for the purpose of preventing domination.
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