Murray Rothbard’s obscure case for the obvious

Libertarians are not doing themselves a favor by taking on the burden of proof to argue for something that most people take for granted. Bryan Caplan makes a similar point about Murray Rothbard’s defense of “libertarian rights:”

I object that anything that people do is ipso facto “natural,” so there’s no way you’re going to get moral precepts out of this.  But in any case, all this talk violates the fundamental rule of philosophical reasoning (indeed, all reasoning): You don’t use the obscure to argue for the obvious.  It’s silly to say, “Murder violates man’s nature, so murder is wrong,” when you can just say, “Murder is wrong.”

As Caplan rightly observes, Rothbard is on much firmer ground when he points out that “government habitually perform actions which almost everyone would admit were wrong if they were committed by a private individual.” The strength of such an argument is that it just confines itself to demonstrating that most people hold incoherent views. This position is even available to people who do not believe in human rights at all.

A persuasive case against libertarian “natural rights” philosophy has been made by L.A. Rollins in his book The Myth of Natural Rights (review here). The social philosopher Anthony de Jasay uses the framework of critical rationalism to argue for the presumption of liberty.

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