Libertarian Part 1: Socially Liberal

Government is immoral because it violates self-ownership

Exploring Finance

3 Key Takeaways

  1. Self ownership is the most fundamental human right
  2. Self ownership is achieved through universal application of the non-aggression principal
  3. The universal application of non-aggression requires a stateless society


I will never forget Bush vs Kerry in 2004, my first Presidential election as a voter. It was sophomore year of college and I was diving deep into politics. I uncovered an inner passion to understand the biggest problems facing our country like wealth inequality, poverty, health care, global warming, and education. I thought the Democrats had the answer. The more I researched, the more confused I became: How could anyone be a Republican? I concluded the Republican party was made up of two types of people:

  1. Social conservatives: religious people who opposed things like gay marriage and abortion
  2. Fiscal conservatives: selfish rich people with no concept of social justice who hate taxes

When Bush won, it was very painful and alarming to realize that half of the US fell into one of these two buckets. How were there so many “bad” people in this country? In response to the election, I embarked upon a personal project to write a book where I mathematically proved why it was always in someones best interest to be kind and help others. Having just read The Prince, I wanted to write an anti-Machiavellian book to address the ails facing our society. Unfortunately, I was ill prepared for such a task and felt completely consumed. I eventually gave up.

This essay is a second attempt, but from a more mature and coherent standpoint. Not only had most of the work already been done by philosophers centuries earlier, but I realized that part of my struggle was the inconsistency between socially liberal and fiscally liberal ideology. This four part essay reflects the philosophical journey I took from democratic socialism to pure free market capitalism.

The Journey to Libertarianism

Two months after the election, I took macro-economics. Seeing how well it explained the world, I declared economics as my major and immediately starting drifting towards fiscal conservatism while maintaining firm beliefs in socially liberal policy. Even at 23, I had never heard of the Libertarian Party, so I voted for Obama in 2008. I struggled with some of his fiscal policies, but I felt the social policies were more important and the Republican party was out of touch with reality. I was also incredibly proud that America had elected its first black president. Regardless of the outcome, I felt that neither party aligned to my core beliefs and this frustration caused me to put politics out of mind.

My journey to Libertarianism started a year later when a good friend handed me the passage Money is the Root of All Evil from Atlas Shrugged. The passage resonated so clearly with me and reignited a passion to understand how the world works. It was my first introduction to the core principles of Libertarian ideology. Over the course of a year, I went further and eventually arrived at anarcho-capitalism, which espouses no government in a fully capitalist and peaceful society built on the foundation of the non-aggression principal and self-ownership.

This four part essay discusses the lessons learned and demonstrates why government is unnecessary from a moral and economic perspective. My journey began with fiscal conservatism, but concluded with social liberalism, coming full circle to my original book writing project. Part 1 unpacks the moral argument by examining the core principal of socially liberal ideology. I explain how self-ownership is the single most fundamental right we have as humans. Self-ownership is achieved through the universal application of the non-aggression principal. The logical conclusion and consistent application of the non-aggression principal proves that government is immoral because government can only exist through the initiation of force.

In part 2, I address the economic argument, showing how free markets could address core societal needs such as education, health care, and climate change. I argue that government increases poverty and inequality, and propose free market solutions to government services. In part 3, I conduct a brief review of the US history and explain its foundation in Libertarian principles. Using a free market lens and the Austrian Business Cycle to review history, I show how government intervention and the Federal Reserve have led to the inequality and economic decline we see today. From this vantage point, everything from the Great Depression to the Great Recession make far more sense. Part 4 concludes with practical applications of a new mindset and a free market approach to a social safety net.

The material presented across these four articles doesn’t even scratch the surface of the core ideas. I have provided links where possible, but the depth of ideas presented is nearly limitless. I leave it to the reader to determine how far down the rabbit hole to go.

Defining Self-Ownership

As defined on Wikipedia, Self-ownership, also known as sovereignty of the individual or individual sovereignty, is the concept of property in one’s own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one’s own body and life.

In plain English, self-ownership means we own our bodies and our actions. Self-ownership is the first and most natural human right because everything else stems from this simple fact. If I do not own myself first, then I am incapable of owning anything else nor would I be responsible for my actions. I am responsible for my actions because I own my body. Although this is such a simple concept, it is often overlooked. In this article, I focus in on the critical importance of this first and primary right.

Because my body belongs to me first, no one else has the right to inflict violence or even threaten me with violence as this would violate the ownership of my own body. This can be seen when looking at the rules governing every society throughout human history. The worst crimes are those which most directly violate another persons self-ownership such as murder, rape, and theft. This right also sits at the core of most socially liberal ideas such as gay marriage, pro-choice, anti-war, and no military draft. My body, my choice!

Self-ownership is ultimately achieved through the absolute implementation of the non-aggression principal. The principal states that no one may initiate the use of force against you, but that you maintain the right to defend yourself. This leads to the most fundamental question: when is it acceptable to violate another persons self-ownership? Below, I argue the only acceptable answer is never.

Achieving Self-Ownership

When trying to prove a hypothesis, one must have a standard unit of measurement that is agreed upon by all so that others can validate and replicate the results. The standard measurement is critical because it creates the foundation upon which every aspect of the proof is built. If I hypothesize that with enough training, I can run a mile in under 6 minutes, then I have set a goal that others can recognize: the distance of 1 mile and the time of 6 minutes. If people disagree on the length of a mile or the time of 6 minutes then the parties will never reach consensus on the proper goal to set.

Similarly in a debate, two or more parties must agree on a goal or objective and then have a way to measure for success with universal standards. For example, if we agree on an objective to increase education, then we would need some measure such as better test scores, lower dropout rates, etc. In this article, my objective is to demonstrate that self-ownership can only be fully realized by eliminating the use of aggression and violence. My measurement is the number of acceptable aggressive actions performed against an individual, which must be zero.

Aggression is defined as someone initiating or threatening to initiate the use of force against another individual (not including self-defense). For the purposes of this argument, fraud, slander, and other verbal offenses will not be considered. While certainly very important, this argument focuses on physical aggression or the threat of physical aggression because it is a more direct violation of self-ownership.

To achieve success, the number of acceptable aggressive acts someone should experience must be zero. Anything above zero indicates that some amount of violence and aggression is acceptable, which would invalidate self-ownership. If we invalidate self-ownership then our body and life are no longer our own. Some might argue that some aggression is acceptable if it serves a greater good; however, this turns an objective black and white issue (initiating violence is always wrong) to a subjective and gray issue (initiating violence is acceptable under certain circumstances).

While I hope anyone reading would agree upon the goal of self-ownership, I can understand why a goal of zero may seem impractical at first. Below, I hope to demonstrate why zero acts of aggression is the only objective that can be used to validate the success of self-ownership. Obviously throughout a persons life, they will experience acts of aggression, so this focuses on whether those aggressive acts should be considered acceptable by society (e.g. murder is unacceptable in every case). Note: this excludes activities like boxing or football where both parties mutually agree to a set of rules.

To determine what constitutes an act of aggression, property rights must be clearly defined. Self-ownership can be more universally applied and easily understood in the context of property rights. Because our bodies belong to us, they are our property as are the things we produce with our body. The next section discussed the importance of property rights and how it ties into self-ownership.

Property rights and the right to non-aggression

When establishing property rights there must be a hierarchy that can be universally applied. The first piece of property that we own is ourselves and thus the primary right that supersedes all other rights, is the right to self-ownership. The right to self-ownership must supersede all other rights such as the right to water, the right to food, etc. Without the basic and primary right of self-ownership, nothing else matters because our bodies and life would no longer be our own. This idea is expanded upon in Universally Preferable Behavior.

The third right that is intertwined with the right to self-ownership and non-aggression is the right to self-defense. This is a simple concept, anyone attempting to violate my right to self-ownership through violence should expect that I will defend myself, with equivalent force if possible. I also have the right to request the help of another in my defense, and thus they have the right to come to my defense.

The right to self-ownership does not end with just my physical body but also extends to the things I create with my body. This is where property rights becomes critical to protect me against theft. I will not go into the entire concept of homesteading, but the simple version is that objects I create belong to me, so long as I did not violate anyone else’s property rights to create said object.

Establishing clear and consistent property rights are critical to the foundation of any society. For example, in the absence of property rights, if I build a farm, there is nothing preventing anyone from taking the farm or its output. I would have no ownership over the land or the output of my labor. Without this basic foundation of property rights, no one would have any incentive to build or construct anything and instead humans would fall into a constant state of chaos and plundering.

This is why property rights are essential. If I spend three months building a farm, cultivating the land, and growing food, then this food belongs to me. To steal it or take it by force would be a direct violation of the non-aggression principal because someone took something that belonged to me and also stole three months of my labor.

Taxation IS theft

No matter how cliché the phrase may sound, taxation is theft. In our modern society it becomes harder to see, but when you peel back the layers, it becomes extremely obvious. We no longer live in a world where land is homesteaded, and everyone builds their own farms and tools. Due to the compounding effects of capitalism, we now specialize in areas that allow us to extract the most value from our labor in exchange for money.

In modern society, our labor is compensated with money which allows us to exchange our labor for goods. Therefore taking someone’s money equates to theft of their labor. Taxation, by definition, is the forced extraction of someone’s labor under the threat of imprisonment. Imprisonment is enforced under the threat of violence or death if resistance is followed to its ultimate conclusion. If you disagree, try not paying your taxes like Irwin Schiff! He was sentenced to prison for refusing to pay taxes despite demonstrating the income tax as unconstitutional.

For the government to exist, it must collect taxes. Thus, anything that the government does must first violate the right to self-ownership. The government has a monopoly on violence because it cannot exist without taxation. It requires violence, or in most cases the threat of violence to ensure tax collection occurs.

Even a 1% tax rate, while low by today’s standards, is a violation of the first and ultimate principal, the right to self-ownership. In order to build a consistent framework, then the right to self-ownership must supersede all other rights. One might argue that food, shelter, and water are rights that must be given to everyone, but if it requires aggression against another individual then it immediately violates that persons’ right to self-ownership.

Take an example where we walk past a homeless man on the street. You tell me that we should buy him a meal. I do not agree. You encourage me to assist you. Again, I decline and state that I would not like to participate. My reason is irrelevant (e.g. I might be in financial hardship, I might be very late for something, or maybe I just don’t think the homeless man deserves a free meal). You can use your words to convince me, but if instead you pull out a weapon, thus forcing me to comply, you have just violated the non-aggression principal using the threat of force. Your intentions, no matter how noble, do not justify turning to violence and forcing me to help you.

This example illustrates the immorality of government. The only difference is that between you and I sits a government that is voted on to perform the aggression (taxation). Voting is essentially deciding what to do with a basket of stolen goods. The government forcibly extracts my dollars (i.e. time and labor) to satisfy your desires to feed the homeless man. Whether the government forces compliance on your behalf, or you force me to comply on your own, the outcome is the same: my right to self-ownership has been violated through aggression. It has also been demonstrated that my right to self-ownership is not as important as the homeless man’s right to food and water.

While on the surface this may seem like a small price to pay (e.g. you forced me to pay $10 so that a man could live) it has much larger consequences. The problem is that before any aggression occurs, the issue is black and white. Aggression is wrong because self-ownership supersedes all other rights. The very instant another right is prioritized over the right to self-ownership and non-aggression, then this very simple black and white issue becomes immediately arbitrary, subjective, and gray.

Once the right to self-ownership has been violated by another “right”, anyone can make the case to prioritize one right over another. Someone might say the right to water is critical because we cannot live without water. Another might say that rain satisfies the need for water and therefore food is the most important right. Someone might state healthcare is the most important right because without it then mothers and children would die during childbirth at much higher rates. Another example would be that the right to health care should come before the right to public transportation; however, one could quickly counter that without public transportation, the right to health care becomes meaningless. As these examples illustrate, instead of having a consistent moral principal, the argument becomes subjective to the priorities of each individual.

In the same way that everyone must recognize a mile must be 5,280 feet to measure success, there must be universal principals that can be applied in any situation. The right I prioritize above all others is the right to self-ownership and my measurement for success is zero acts of aggression because it is fully consistent. Anything above zero is arbitrary and does not meet the ultimate objective of achieving self-ownership.

Once someone initiates the use of force against you, self-ownership has been violated. Those who disagree with this goal of zero acts of aggression must then also accept that acts of violence and aggression can be committed against them to satisfy the “rights” that other people have deemed most important. By accepting government, people mutually agree that self-ownership is no longer their first and primary human right. So if not self-ownership, then what right can be applied universally and consistently ahead of any other right?

By supporting government, we are left in a situation where we both have conceded that the initiation of violence is acceptable and thus de-prioritized the right to self-ownership. We then accept that some violence can be committed against both of us in order to have our certain desires met. Not only will this result in endless debate about which of our ideas is more important, it also introduces hypocrisy at the very core. If I am arguing that the right to water is paramount, I am by default arguing in your right to own and obtain water. But in order to enforce this right, you must forcibly take it from someone else indicating that they do not own the water. So, if water can be forcibly taken how do you determine who actually has ownership over the water? If property rights can be violated arbitrarily, then the water that is given can also immediately be taken if someone else deems another right to be more important or someone else in greater need of water. To eliminate this hypocrisy, both parties must agree on a universal right! This right must be the right to self-ownership through non-aggression.

In this argument, consistency is critical. What right can be applied consistently and universally in every case? If you have not secured your right to self-ownership then rights like marriage, abortion, home-ownership, water, etc. are irrelevant because they can all be arbitrarily violated.


The two most common arguments against the proposal that taxes are immoral and violate self-ownership are the Social Contract and “if you don’t like it then just leave the country”.

The Social Contract postulates that we give up some of our freedoms for the protection of a governing body. There are several issues:

  1. As explained above, the violation of self-ownership to preserve other rights is by default hypocritical. What is the clear and universal process for violating self-ownership? When is it acceptable and will everyone agree?
  2. The contract is not entered into voluntarily. We are born into a society where a government has already been constructed. Thus we either abide by the rules to avoid prison or “get out”.
  3. Finally, when giving a governing body this type of authority and power, one must have absolute trust they will hold true to their side of the contract. If not, there is little action the individual can take. Punishment on the individual for violating the contract is imprisonment (or worse), but for the governing body who maintains a monopoly on violence, there is no consequence for failing to adhere to the contract. This is not a fair contract.

Telling someone “if you don’t like it, then get out”, is an argument without substance. First, it assumes there is a capitalist country somewhere without taxation (there isn’t). Second, it does not attempt to reconcile the moral hypocrisy or counter any of the points made above. Third, it assumes we shouldn’t strive to improve, that we have reached the pinnacle of human civilization (we haven’t).

“Getting out” also means leaving your family, friends, home, comforts, and livelihood which is a very difficult decision. Currently, America is one of the best countries for preserving self-ownership and enjoying capitalism. America is far from perfect, but to go anywhere else would be a step in the opposite direction.

People will argue that taxes are the price you pay for living in this country. This statement basically concedes that to live anywhere you must give up your right to self-ownership. The follow up response is, “vote for the change you want”! Putting aside the fact that a persons vote carries zero statistical significance, it also leads to a contentious system.

The coercion that underlies government creates discord between the two groups vying for power (Republicans and Democrats). Essentially, both parties have agreed to be in an abusive relationship as long as they take turns being the abuser. They take turns wielding the monopoly on violence to force the other party to comply. Maybe both parties should agree that an abusive and violent relationship is wrong.

Essentially Republicans will vote for people who, when elected, will force Democrats to pay for a bunch of things they don’t support (bigger military, war on drugs, etc). When Democrats come to power, they will force Republicans to pay for a bunch of programs they don’t support (universal health care, subsidized housing, free college, etc). Maybe we should take a step back and stop voting to force other people to pay for things they don’t support! Perhaps then our country wouldn’t be so divided and mistrustful.

Wrapping up

To conclude, governments require taxation to exist. Taxation is the confiscation of money under the threat of violence, aggression, and imprisonment. Money is the product of one’s labor, therefore this threat of aggression is a direct violation of the non-aggression principal and the right to self-ownership. Consequently, anyone who supports the government, no matter the reason, is asking the government to violate your self-ownership. This implies that whenever speaking to someone who says “I think the government should do x”. This can logically be translated to: I think you should pay for x. If you disagree, the government will threaten you with prison. If you refuse to go to prison then you will be forced to go. If you refuse firmly enough, you will be killed. While this may seem very dramatic, it is also logically consistent and accurate.

In this article, I explained how the right to self-ownership is the most important and natural right we have as humans. I showed how taxation is a direct violation of the right to self-ownership through a violation of the non-aggression principal. Regardless of the reason, a violation of the right to self-ownership is not acceptable.

It’s hard to imagine anyone making the leap from Democrat/Republican straight to anarcho-capitalism. For this reason, I was hesitant to make the moral argument before discussing the primary Libertarian platform of free market economics. However, once I fully understood the immorality of government, the economic arguments became irrelevant. This is not to say the economic argument is not very compelling as detailed in part 2 and part 3, but it would be similar to arguing the economic case for ending slavery. Let’s first agree the obvious point: slavery is absolutely reprehensible and then we talk about how an economy works once slavery has been abolished.

Because self-ownership is very logically consistent, it actually becomes quite hard to argue against. Almost everyone agrees that violence is wrong! The struggle most people have is trying to understand how so many things would be done without the government. The first arguments people make are: who will build roads, how will under privileged children be educated, won’t garbage pile up in the street, who provides protection from domestic/foreign threats, etc. All great points! While I don’t address all of these in part 2, I do provide sources that take on the more complicated arguments of a stateless society. Instead, part 2 makes the more general case that the private sector is always better at meeting our needs (which includes caring for the underprivileged).

This four part essay can be summarized in one question: When is it acceptable to initiate force or the threat of force against another individual? This essay argues the answer is never, which implies that government should not exist because taxation is the extraction of a persons labor under the threat of force. Continue on to part 2 for an examination of the economic argument.

One final thought to further demonstrate the argument laid out above. Reflect on modern society judging the founders of the US. Washington and Jefferson are no longer seen as great men that pushed society forward and championed individual liberty. Instead they are being judged as slave owners and racists. People are not holding historical figures to the cultural norms of their time, but the morality of the present. This is not entirely unfair. But consider this, what norms of our culture today will be judged in the future (e.g. eating meat)? If you were born 200 years ago in the South, what moral principles would have led you to emphatically reject slavery, pushing back on everyone else in society? Would you have been different and argued for freedom? Wouldn’t this have seemed radical and impossible at the time? The universal application of the non aggression principal and self-ownership makes slavery as morally reprehensible 200 years ago as it is today. I am confident the non aggression principal will stand the test of time. So, what is your universal moral principal that can transcend time and ignore cultural norms to guide your actions and beliefs consistently?

Disclosure: The content herein is my own opinion and should not be considered financial
advice or recommendations. I am not receiving compensation for any materials produced. 
I have no business relationship with any companies mentioned.