The Libertarian Idea
  • Publication Date: March 5, 2001
  • ISBN: 9781551114217 / 1551114216
  • 386 pages; 5¼" x 8½"

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The Libertarian Idea

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2001
  • ISBN: 9781551114217 / 1551114216
  • 386 pages; 5¼" x 8½"

Libertarianism is both a philosophy and a political view. The key concepts defining Libertarianism are: Individual Rights as inherent to human beings, not granted by government; a Spontaneous Order through which people conduct their daily interactions and through which society is organized independent of central (government) direction; the Rule of Law which dictates that everyone is free to do as they please so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others; a Divided and Limited Government, checked by written constitution; Free Markets in which price and exchange is agreed upon mutually by individuals; Virtue of Production whereby the productive labour of the individual and any translation of that labour into earnings belongs, by right, to the individual who should not have to sacrifice those earnings to taxes; and Peace which has, throughout history, most commonly been disrupted by the interests of the ruling class or centralized government.


“This book is an important examination of both contractarianism and libertarianism. And beyond its intriguing central theses and its pointed applications of libertarian premises to policy issues, it provides an extensive and valuable critical commentary on recent philosophical attacks on libertarian themes.” — Ethics

The Libertarian Idea is the eminently readable book of a man who knows what liberty is, knows what it isn’t, and cares deeply about the difference.” — Reason

“This book is indeed a major contribution to the philosophical controversy over libertarianism. It ranks in importance with Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia and Rawls’s A Theory of Justice.” — Liberty

“An original and well-rounded contribution [that] … should be of considerable general interest among political philosophers … [I]t is a thoroughly challenging and quite engaging book.” — Canadian Journal of Philosophy

“Producers and consumers of theory of justice literature should read this book. It is a major work.” — Journal of Politics

“[In] Narveson’s new, bold, and highly readable book … he aims, quite simply, to provide the secure foundations that libertarianism apparently lacks.” — Canadian Philosophical Review


PART ONE: Is Libertarianism Possible?

Prologue. The Knock at the Door

CHAPTER 1. Liberalism, Conservatism, Libertarianism

  • A Preliminary Definition
    Left, Center, Right
    Liberal Individualism as One Kind of Conservatism

CHAPTER 2. Liberty

  • Another Preliminary Definition
    The Subject of Liberty
    Liberty and Autonomy
    The Nonatomic Individual
    What Is Liberty?
    Liberty: Freedom to Bring About
    Freedom From and Freedom To
    Utter Freedom
    Interferences: Where the Action Is

CHAPTER 3. Liberty: Negative versus Positive

  • Negative and Positive Liberty: Freedom versus Power
    Lack of Desire: A Constraint?
    Lack of Reason: Another Constraint?
    Our Subject: Social Freedom
    A Note on Slavery
    Is “Positive Liberty” Liberty?

CHAPTER 4. Two Conceptions of Liberty as a Social Concern

  • The Two Ideas
    What Constitutes Interference?
    Interference versus Nonassistance

CHAPTER 5. Rights

  • Rights Defined
    Rights and Duties: Definition or Mere Correlation?
    Rights without Duties? So-called “Liberty Rights”
    Duties without Rights? Rights, Duties, and Justice
    Duties to No One in Particular?
    Enforcement and Force
    A Paradox: My Freedom Is Your Unfreedom?
    Rights Prima Facie or Rights Absolute?
    “Side Constraints”
    ‘General’ and ‘Particular’; ‘Natural’ and ‘Conventional’
    Negative versus Positive Rights
    Negative versus Positive Rights to Liberty
    Libertarianism and Negative Rights

CHAPTER 6. Liberty and Property

  • How Liberty and Property Are Related
    Property Rights
    Property in Oneself
    From Liberty to Property in Things
    Property Rights and the “Freedom Entails Unfreedom” Paradox

CHAPTER 7. Initial Acquisition

  • Getting Ownership Started
    Rights to Things Are Rights to Act
    Another “Libertarianism Restricts Liberty” Argument
    “Acquiring” Not an Act
    Arthur’s Argument: Acquisition as Harmful

CHAPTER 8. Property Rights Concluded

  • Transfer
    Capitalist Rights Not to Be Capitalists
    Resources and Generational Considerations

PART TWO: Foundations: Is Libertarianism Rational?

CHAPTER 9. Introduction

  • On “Foundations”
    The Options

CHAPTER 10. Intuitions in Moral Philosophy

  • Two Kinds of Intuitionism
    Metaphysical Intuitionism
    Methodological Intuitionism
    Disagreement, Again
    Reflective Equilibrium
    The Practicality of Morals
    Moral “Science”?

CHAPTER 11. Morality

  • The Need for Clarity about Morality
    ‘Personal’ versus ‘Social’ Morality
    The Compleat Deontologist?
    Conventional versus Critical Morality

CHAPTER 12. Contractarianism

  • The Idea of the “Contract” Approach to Foundations
    The Prisoner’s Dilemma
    The Sovereign
    Is Cooperation Possible? The Prisoner’s Dilemma
    Gauthier’s View
    Morality, the Real World, and Prisoner’s Dilemma
    Being Able to Complain

CHAPTER 13. The Logic of Contractarianism

  • The Basic Appeal
    The “Natural Law”
    A Note on Utilitarianism

CHAPTER 14. Contractarianism to Libertarianism?

  • The Project
    A Challenge
    The Road from Contractarianism to Libertarianism
    A False Start: Autonomy Generalized
    Another False Start: An Argument from “Survival”
    The Central Argument
    The Right to Liberty, Properly Grounded
    The Crucial Question
    Can We Improve on the Libertarian Option?
    Efficiency versus Justice?
    The Gospel According to St. Pareto

PART THREE: Libertarianism and Reality: What Does Libertarianism Imply about Concrete Social Policy?

CHAPTER 15. Society and the Market

  • The Free Market
    Market and Morals
    Two Views about Society and the Market
    Market Morality as a Public Good
    What Is Economic?
    Capitalism and Consumerism
    Perfect Competition
    A Question about Factor Rent

CHAPTER 16. The State

  • The State, Government, Public, Associations, Us
    A Note on Democracy
    The Down Side of Democracy
    Political Authority
    Authority and Coordination
    The Right to Protection
    Protection and Nozick’s Argument for the State
    Enforcement and the Problem of Punishment
    Punishment: The Options
    The Deterrence/Protection Theory

CHAPTER 17. Redistribution

  • Redistribution and the State
    A Tale of Two Scrooges
    Public Goods Arguments
    A Note on the “Minimal State”
    A Tale of Three Rules about Mutual Aid
    A Note on Symphony Orchestras

CHAPTER 18. Insurance Arguments and the Welfare State

  • The Libertarian Reply
    Insurance and Charity
    Overwhelming Majorities and Administrative Overhead
    A Defense of Charity
    Duties of Charity
    The “Social Minimum”

CHAPTER 19. The Problem of Children

  • The Problem
    Nonfundamental Rights
    Children’s Rights
    Abortion and Infanticide

CHAPTER 20. Freedom and Information

  • Education: Should We Sell the Schools?
    The Orwin Thesis
    Freedom of Speech and the Ideological Marketplace
    Pornography, Hate Literature, and the Like
    A Libertarian Postscript

CHAPTER 21. The Public and Its Spaces

  • “Public Property”
    Zoning Laws
    Rules, Regulations, and Bureaucrats
    Sell the Streets?
    On Discrimination in Hiring
    Discrimination, Inefficiency, and the Market
    The Public Sector

CHAPTER 22. Defense and International Relations

  • Libertarianism and War
    Foreign Policy toward Nonliberal States
    The Nonrevolutionist’s Evolutionist Handbook

Epilogue. Reflections on Libertarianism

  • What Has Not Been Proven
    The Lure of Nationalism
    Privatization, Trivialization, and the Eternal Yuppie
    The Secular Problem of Evil
    Advice to Libertarian Political Parties
    Does It Matter?
    Concluding Note


Jan Narveson is Professor of Philosophy at Waterloo University.