Three Types of Sufficientarian Libertarianism

Abstract

Sufficientarian libertarianism is a theory of justice that combines libertarianism’s focus on property rights and non-interference with sufficientarianism’s concern for the poor and needy. Persons are conceived as having stringent rights to direct their lives as they see fit, provided that everyone has enough to live a self-guided life. Yet there are different ways to combine libertarianism and sufficientarianism and hence different types of sufficientarian libertarianism. In the article I present and discuss three types, and I argue that the last one overcomes the problems of the other two. The first type combines libertarianism with a sufficiency principle in what is sometimes called the ‘ethics of distribution’. The second incorporates modest welfare rights into a libertarian theory of justice. The third endorses a sufficientarian Lockean proviso for practices of private property within a libertarian theory of justice. I argue that it is superior to the others.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Similarly, Waldron distinguishes general right arguments and special right arguments for private property (1988).

  2. 2.

    In general, a Hohfeldian power is a second-order capacity to change one’s own or other people’s first-order moral status or, in other contexts, legal status.

  3. 3.

    Simmons (1995, p. 224) has suggested combining libertarianism with some patterned principle; Arneson (2010, pp. 192–193) has suggested combining libertarianism with prioritarian consequentialism. These proposals are not dualist libertarian, but at least they come close.

  4. 4.

    Fried (1978, ch. 5) and Maloberti (2009) also endorse some type of welfare rights libertarianism. Locke may count as a precursor (1689, First Treatise §42). Waldron suggests an abstract general right to own property as an alternative to a Lockean right of appropriation (1988, pp. 130–132, 408–422); if combined with self-ownership and a right to the practice of private property, the emerging form of libertarianism would be a welfare rights libertarianism as well.

  5. 5.

    Lomasky’s moral case for equal rights shows that his approach is not contractarian all the way down. Not all moral truths—including truths about basic rights—are constructed out of a contractarian procedure. More generally, it may be worth emphasizing that the project pursuit rationale for libertarianism need not be spelled out in contractarian terms. But space does not allow me to discuss the proper place of contractarian arguments.

  6. 6.

    Locke’s ‘enough and as good’ proviso as well as Nozick’s proviso arguably specify limits on individual acts of property acquisition (Locke 1689, Second Treatise §§27, 33, 36; Nozick 1974, pp. 175–179). Nozick seems to also apply his proviso to practices of private property as a whole (1974, p. 177).

  7. 7.

    Both dualist libertarians and moderate libertarians are well equipped to answer another common objection, namely the objection that the criterion for sufficiency has to be set arbitrarily (Arneson 2000, p. 56; Casal 2007, pp. 312–314). Both dualist and moderate libertarians can point to the project pursuit rationale for sufficientarian libertarianism when determining a non-arbitrary criterion for sufficiency: enabling people to live as project pursuers is the rationale for sufficientarian libertarianism, therefore sufficiency should be understood as ‘sufficiency for living one’s life as a project pursuer’. Admittedly, this is not a very precise threshold—but at least it does not look arbitrary.

  8. 8.

    One may think that there is a more straightforward objection against welfare rights libertarianism: self-ownership and welfare rights are incompatible. But when we do not understand property rights in external resources as an extension of self-ownership (see the first section), then (modest) welfare rights and self-ownership rights actually are compatible. Moreover, libertarians can (and should) endorse stringent self-ownership rights, but not absolute self-ownership rights. For both reasons, I find this objection against welfare rights libertarianism unconvincing.

  9. 9.

    Schmidtz even claims that a Lockean proviso could require appropriation (1990). I would not go that far, because the function of a Lockean proviso is not to generate moral requirements or moral duties, but to specify what appropriations (or practices of private property) are justifiable.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Kasper Ossenblok and several anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Fabian Wendt.

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Wendt, F. Three Types of Sufficientarian Libertarianism. Res Publica 25, 301–318 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11158-018-9400-y

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Keywords

  • Libertarianism
  • Sufficientarianism
  • Lockean proviso
  • Property rights
  • Welfare rights
  • Sufficiency