Political philosopher Matt "Bleeding Heart Libertarian" Zwolinski, writing at 3 a.m. Magazine, tells his colleagues in that field that they can't think of themselves as having disposed of libertarianism if they think they've disposed of Robert Nozick's particular arguments for it.
To the likely surprise of some who think of the bleeding-hearts as squishes when it comes to hardcore libertarianism, Zwolinski even had kind words for aspects of the "taxation is theft" argument.
Libertarians recognize that their favored political and economic institutions are social constructs. But to note that an institution is a social contract is not the same as showing that it is arbitrary. As libertarians like John Hasnas have pointed out, institutions of private property and free exchange have evolved repeatedly throughout history as an effective means of resolving social conflict in a world of scarce resources and limited benevolence. Property rights give individuals and groups a kind of jurisdiction in which they can pursue their own goals and values without first seeking the approval of any political superior. Market prices emerge even when state authorities actively attempt to stamp them out because the information and incentives they convey play an essential role in social coordination and cooperation….
…..Actual governments, like actual businesses, are run by human beings with imperfect knowledge, imperfect rationality, and sometimes impure motives. But unlike businesses, who make their mistakes on a decentralized scale with their own money, and who face the constant discipline of a system of profit and loss, government plays its game on a grand scale, and with other people's resources. Rent-seeking and cronyism are thus not temporary problems that we have only because the wrong people, or the wrong party, hold office. They are deep, structural problems with politics….
…..Some libertarians think that morality imposes an absolute prohibition on interfering with the persons or property of others, no matter how minor the infringement, and no matter how great the benefits to be gained from it. I have argued elsewhere that this position is implausible. But even if it is, it does not follow that coercive interference with the persons or possessions of others is morally trivial. Common sense morality supports the belief that coercion is a serious prima facie wrong: one that can sometimes be justified, but only in special circumstances and by very weighty considerations. Why, then, should we be any less critical of the kinds of coercion that governments employ? What governments call "taxation," most of us would call "theft" if it were done by private individuals – even if it were done to support a very good cause like providing for the common defense…..how confident should we be that the coercion government currently employs is truly necessary for the interests of the public, and not the interests of the state itself or its cronies?
The libertarian vision of a society is one of free and responsible individuals, cooperating on their own terms for purposes of mutual benefit. It is a vision that draws its support from a wide variety of moral and empirical beliefs with deep roots in the public political culture. And it is one that contemporary critics of the market would do well to take much more seriously.