The Libertarian Manifesto by John Hospers is something that is equated with the ethical problem surrounding the distribution of wealth, amongst other things. Hospers argues that when it comes to the distribution of income, people should fend for themselves. He opposed arguments such as an admonition to feed the hungry because in the libertarian world, hunger simply would not happen. Hospers begins his article by noting the definition of libertarianism, which is that people have a right to make their own decisions and lead their own lives, as long as their decisions do not interfere with anyone else’s life.
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There is a problem as it respects the distribution of wealth, but for the libertarian it is not a problem. The individual has a right to decide what he or she wants to do. Hospers’ ideas, and the ideas of many libertarians, are equated with the concept that every man can fend for himself, and in the end, everyone will get exactly what they want. Hospers believes that the right to private property is basic. On some level, one might equate his ideas to natural rights ethics.
The ethical rule used by Hospers in respect to wealth distribution would be that it is permissible to follow one’s desires and not to worry about others in society. This is because they have their own paths. That is, it is not an obligation for society to take care of everyone in its midst. The duty is for the individual to be accountable to himself. Yet, it is also true that there are interactions between people. Hospers provides examples of situations in respect to how one should act, and certainly, the society is accountable to the individual on some level not to influence things too much. For the libertarian, it is scant government that is the best government. Hospers writes: “Government is the most dangerous institution known to man” (27).
The factual claims made by Hospers are associated with observational and historical facts. Nothing he says can be proven, but anecdotal evidence is used to support the author’s points. One may ask whether or not Hospers’ position meets the fourth criteria for valid theory, which are consistency and coherence, rational justification, plausibility, and usefulness.
First, it should be said that the theory is coherent, and while it is largely consistent, it is difficult to be completely consistent with the notions in libertarianism. There are exceptions however. Hospers writes about freedom where people have a right to do and say as they like, but even freedom of speech has limits. He writes: “Indeed, the right to property may well be considered second only to the right to life. Even the freedom of speech is limited by considerations of property” (25). He goes on to explore other issues and provides examples of when people cannot say what they like. While the theory is consistent, there are exceptions to everything and this makes the position vaguer than is necessary.
One can take things further by examining contemporary examples. For instance, people believe that they have the right to free speech. Hospers says that people cannot shout obscenities in a church because the property is not designated for that purpose. This brings about the issue of property rights. Yet, in society today, people do have a right to their opinions. At the same time, with the political correctness movement, people are not entitled to articulate certain things without their rights being challenged by the law. If someone utters a derogatory racial remark and ends up in a fight, he can be charged with a hate crime. On some level, this is control of peopleââ‚¬â„¢s thoughts. As terrible as one’s thoughts might be, the idea to outlaw certain forms of speech and not others imposes limits, thus challenging some pure libertarian notions. While this idea does not take away from the validity of the position, it certainly challenges its consistency.
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Is the position rational? It is a reasoned argument. In fact, the essay provides much support for the premise, and the support is based on logic. Ethical criteria are included and the author does make sound ethical arguments that are also plausible. While the points are well reasoned, the argument at the end of all of this is whether or not someone can allow poverty to exist in a world where many enjoy excess. The libertarian provides a “what if” argument. In other words, the libertarian claims that if things were a certain way, there would be no poverty, but the world is not completely libertarian so the point is irrelevant. Poverty persists, so while the argument may be sound in this “what if” scenario, it does not address solutions for the status quo. What does one do with the poor today?
Usefulness is another issue. If one is not operating in a libertarian world, the theory is only useful if the world were that way. Theoretically, Hospers provides an excellent paradigm, but it may not be possible to achieve his ideas in reality. In the United States, different ideas are supported and compromises are made. Hospers’ brand of libertarianism could not flourish in this sort of situation. Similarly, in totalitarian regimes, there is much too much force in play to go from such a model to one of complete freedom. Libertarianism is a sound theoretical model, but it is unknown, although probably unlikely, whether or not it could ever be successfully implemented.
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