The Libertarian Argument For Vaccination
A fairly popular position in libertarian circles is that vaccinations should be up to the discretion of the parents. This is a position many libertarians are committed to due to the Non Aggression Principle (NAP). I’m not convinced that the principle is one I ought accept; however, for the sake of argument, I will accept it here. Further, I will also accept that the NAP delegitimizes government entities. To review, the NAP claims that we are not allowed to initiate force, fraud or theft upon others, nor their private property.
I will begin with a simple premise: preventable diseases, when knowingly carried, risks harming my well being. This applies to many things out of our control as well, like hurricanes, and other forces of nature out of our control. Yet, I don’t have a right over natural disasters because they’re not rational agents. However, a person carrying diseases is a rational agent capable of engaging in discourse, and knowing the harm they could cause as potential carriers.
When I decide to refrain from taking due diligence, I take risk with not just my own person, but the lives and property of others. If we were living under private legal firms that agreed to protect our person and property, and I ended up exposed to radiation through secondhand exposure by a neighbor keeping plutonium, the legal firm’s arbitration system would have to honor the contract and restore damages. Even if the contract does not explicitly list plutonium damages, such a protection is derivative through the promise of mandating that citizens respect the person and property of one another.
This is usually the case in many legal systems (which private firms would need to base themselves on in part, even if they are statist). The Ninth Amendment to the American Constitution reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”. This is because there are possible rights to which remain innumerable, and we should not expect to explain all of them, so the Ninth Amendment leaves open additional perspectives as to protect individual liberties from a strict, or “latitudinarian,” as Randy E. Barnett puts it, interpretation of a text.
Likewise, if a contract protects property, than we need not expect a list of all things property is in need to be protected from, and a rational extension would include the risky behaviors of others.
To take a risk with my life or property is reckless behavior. If you’re playing bomb diffusion for fun, be my guest. If that explosion can end up hurting me, or what I own, that becomes my business. I have every right not to be exposed to such potential and preventable dangers. Even if a contract with an anarcho-capitalist arbitration firm does not mention every risk specifically, it would still have to make sure my life and property are protected from other people’s reckless choices.
To formulate the argument in more deductive terms:
P1 — All people are entities which have a right not to be exposed to aggression against their person or property.
P2 — Entities which have a right not to be exposed to aggression against their person or property are entities you would aggress against by putting themselves or property in risk of danger.
P3 — Entities you would aggress against by putting themselves or property in risk of danger are entities you risk placing in danger when you or those you care for are not vaccinated.
P4 — Entities you risk placing in danger when you or those you care for are not vaccinated are entities you owe the vaccination of yourself and those you care for in order to avoid reckless behavior, unless those you place in risk also consent to your risk taking.
C — All people are entities you owe the vaccination of yourself and those you care for in order to avoid reckless behavior, unless those you place in risk also consent to your risk taking.
The first premise is true given the NAP. The second premise is one we’re committed to based on the fact no one should be able to place us at risks we did not consent to. If you place yourself at risk, that’s fine, but if there is a legal or arbitration firm that disregards vaccine use, it should be made explicit based on what we know are the inherent risks of going unvaccinated. The third premise is where we might get dissent from those who buy into anti-vaccination pseudoscience. However, this post is not meant to address such concerns. For those interested, I would point to this excellent read provided by the World Health Organization. For a more libertarian source, I would point to Ronald Bailey’s 2013 article on the matter, which you can read here. The fourth premise is entailed by the NAP, since at this point we are under the presumption that by not vaccinating we put risk to the lives and property of others. The only exception is if we agree to be around the unvaccinated, but that requires all parties consenting to be in on that agreement. Hence we end with our conclusion that we are committed to the vaccination of ourselves and others if we are alongside nonconsenting parties.
* Edouard Karam is a Lebanese-Canadian Catholic, aspiring philosopher, and libertarian (following in the political tradition of John Locke). He has a bachelor of arts, and a master’s degree in religious studies; currently looking to contribute those academic skills to the libertarian movement.
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