It has become popular in certain libertarian circles to describe libertarianism as a philosophy designed to reduce conflict over scarce resources. While it is certainly true that libertarianism achieves this, portraying the philosophy in this way absolutely misses the point.
Libertarianism is based upon the central idea that you own yourself. Thus, it is wrong for others to initiate aggression against you.
From this self-ownership comes a theory of just property ownership: the rightful owner of a resource is the first person who mixes their labor with it. This can involve transforming a resource directly (like a farmer tilling the soil) or using a resource to create something entirely new (like a baker collecting berries and using them in a pie).
Decreasing conflict is absolutely a side-effect of this philosophy; there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the positive consequences of its realization. It is well-known that the privatization prescribed by libertarianism eliminates the problem of the “tragedy of the commons,” for example.
But reducing conflict over scarce resources, in and of itself, is not necessarily libertarian. A dictatorship in which there was no public property, and in which the dictator is the final arbiter of all property claims, would certainly lessen such fighting. But a dictatorship violates self-ownership per se; if another is ruling over you without your consent, you cannot rule yourself.
Likewise, the arbitrary whim of a ruler is not a sufficient criterion for establishing legitimate property rights. If it were, taxation would not be considered theft if the ruler approved of it. For these reasons, we must reject this as a libertarian solution.
Similarly, even if it were objectively proven that the legalization of drug use would result in a measurable increase in conflict over scarce resources, legalization would still be the correct libertarian position. This is due to the fact that each person owns themselves and has the right to decide what they put into their bodies, regardless of the externalities involved.
So what, then, besides self-ownership and the rights that stem from it, is libertarianism about? I tend to agree with Murray Rothbard’s observation that “liberty is a moral principle, grounded in the nature of man. In particular, it is a principle of justice, of the abolition of aggressive violence in the affairs of men. Hence, to be grounded and pursued adequately, the libertarian goal must be sought in the spirit of an overriding devotion to justice.”
The above description is what separates us from those who seek to use unjust means to reach their ends. We value freedom and recognize that each person has the same rights as everyone else, no matter their race, gender, or background. The philosophy dictates not that human beings are to be used as a means to an end, but rather that they are to have their liberty be treated as an end in itself.
The minimization of libertarianism to talk of scarce resources is frankly a disservice to an idea that, if implemented, would bring about freedom for the human race. We have so much more to offer; it is time that we act like it.
* John M. Hudak is an anarcho-capitalist writer whose work has been featured at Think Liberty, Antiwar.com, and JohnMHudak.com. He is the Connecticut State Coordinator for Adam Kokesh’s 2020 presidential campaign.