The irrelevancy of the moral Libertarian position
Feb 19, 2011

The irrelevancy of the moral Libertarian position

Libertarian arguments are can be divided into two main classes: moral and utilitarian. The moral argument asserts that involuntary actions done by government force or the threat thereof are inherently immoral. The utilitarian arguments claim that society is worse in some measurable way due to government intervention such as inefficient use of resources, lower standards of living and the like. Most libertarians argue in both senses, but it is illustrative to keep clear which is bring argued at any given moment. The utilitarian arguments require specific analysis in a host of given situations, but the moral argument can be - while not eliminated - made irrelevant.

Consider a person legally immigrating into a new country. This interaction is a voluntary action, both the state and the immigrant agree that this person will be a citizen.  We can thus consider citizenship for immigrants as voluntary contracts. In exchange for citizenship, one agrees to the rules and responsibilities therein. Much like how in a normal contract, one voluntarily submits to the terms and conditions. Even if one later wishes to get out and not be punished for breaking a rule or term, this is still voluntary and as long as one accepts the idea of enforceable contracts (as most libertarians do) this citizenship contract holds and can be enforced.

Of course, one is born as a citizen and this choice is involuntary. However, we must accept for pragmatic reasons the ability of parents to make many choices for their children. The parents are thus the ones subjecting you to citizenship, which if we accept this role of parents to choose for children then becomes entirely voluntary. One is of course free to leave after some age if they do not agree to maintain the voluntary citizenship contract.

Seen in this sense doesn't eliminate the morality argument, but it is irrelevant. Once citizenship is seen as a voluntary contract established either by yourself or your parents, the idea of government a priori being immoral fails. One can maintain that wars are immoral, that refusing emigration as North Korea does is immoral, but not that the government in and of itself is immoral.

Of course, this is all somewhat pedantic for the reason that the anarchocapitalist ideal is nowhere to be found at the level of countries. However, it allows us to move past the purely moral arguments and consider the utilitarian ones which have a lot more potential to inform us of changes we can make in our society. Once we stop saying "all government is a priori immoral" and say "this aspect of government is economically inefficient" then there can be productive conversations between Libertarians and Statists that aim to improve government and make it more effective in accomplishing goals that both sides would agree on such as quality of life improvements. 

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