Harvard Lectures On Libertarianism Parts 1 & 2

Introductory basics of libertarianism, a short lecture and discussion with Dr Michael J. Sandel at Harvard University. Each video is around 25 minutes and gives a general overview of libertarian political philosophy, with discussion from attendees/students and some brief criticisms/rebuttals.

Selected highlights of the lecture.

  • Individual human rights serve as the highest value and the basis of justice within the context of libertarianism.
    • In contrast to utilitarianism – the highest form of justice or value being that which provides the greatest utility or benefit for the maximum number of people.
      • The libertarian value of self-ownership, or the self as individual property, versus utilitarianism: May a doctor use a healthy man for his organs if they provide a greater quality of good for more people? The right of the individual, on the basis that he is his own property, is greater than the potential good arising from the sacrifice of that individual to the benefit of others. This is intrinsic to libertarianism. If self-ownership provides the basis for an individual’s right to his body, the same principle of self-ownership applies to the individual in respect to all that he owns.
  • As individual liberty is the fundamental, basic human right what laws or restrictions by the state are illegitimate?
    • Paternalist legislation. This is coercive legislation designed to guide or protect. Seat belt laws are used as an example.
    • Moral legislation. This is coercive legislation designed to enforce moral values. Prohibitions on homosexual marriage are an example.
    • Any form of taxation used to redistribute wealth from those who have earned it legitimately to those who have not.
      • This does not include all forms of taxation.
      • Legitimate income is defined as that which is earned with consent in the context of free trade.
  • Taxation as slavery.
    • Earnings and property are reflected as a product of work and time worked.
      • To take a portion of income is to take a portion of time worked, to be applied elsewhere.
        • This is therefore tantamount to forcing a person to work elsewhere, thus can be expressed as a form of slavery.
          • Taxation = forced labor = slavery.
      • To force an individual to work and/or appropriate a share of that work violates the principle of self-possession or self-ownership.
        • Additionally, as taxation is coerced (under threat of force) it calls into question the fundamental idea that we have liberty and ownership over ourselves.
  • Objections and rebuttals.
    • Those with less have more need.
      • The benefits of taking from those with more in order to give to those with less do not outweigh the benefits, or fundamental right, of liberty within self-ownership.
      • To need something is not to deserve or be entitled to it.
    • Taxation is via consent within a democracy.
      • There is insufficient representation of individuals to demonstrate true consent.
      • There is no obligation to demonstrate or democratize fundamental human rights.
        • “Liberty is not up for a vote.”
    • Those with more have a debt to society.
      • The debt to society has already been paid by the service or value created that resulted in earning more.

A few final thoughts. A young lady named Victoria in the lectures brought into question if individuals, living within a society, truly have self-ownership. That is, that we may in fact not have true ownership over ourselves but are fully or partially owned by the state. Although she was attempting a critique of libertarianism, this reinforces a libertarian premise – state slavery. If we are owned, in full or part, by the state then we are fully or partially slaves of the state. This raises many ethical and political questions, one of which is if we are slaves if we have a right to be free of our chains. The American Revolution centered around the issue of taxation and the role of individuals as subjects – not individuals in a state of self-ownership. This also implies that slavery is permissible today, in the given context of the government owning slaves.


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