The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Does libertarianism exclude any governmental assistance to the destitute? Right-Libertarianism and the Destitution Objection—an interesting dissertation on this topic by Peter Bornschein—is now available online. Here is an excerpt from its conclusion:
Many people believe that we possess enforceable obligations of provision toward the impoverished and the disadvantaged. This is a popular belief, regardless of what theory of justice it rests on, if any. Because right-libertarianism appears at odds with this belief, many people reject it as a plausible theory of justice. This reason for rejecting right-libertarianism I have referred to as the destitution objection.
The destitution objection to right-libertarianism rests on two claims. The first claim is that any theory of justice which has the implication that government assistance for the poor is unjust, is, for that reason, implausible. The second claim is that right-libertarianism has the implication that government assistance for the poor is unjust.
The destitution objection is probably the most common reason why most people are not right-libertarians. Because of this, it is important for right-libertarians to respond to it. Right-libertarians have the option of either challenging the first claim that the destitution objection rests on (any plausible theory of justice must countenance government assistance for the poor) or challenging the second claim (right-libertarianism implies that government assistance for the poor is unjust).