The Irrelevance of the Impossibility of Pure Libertarianism

In “The Impossibility of Pure Libertarianism” Braham and van Hees prove that four conditions on rights—completeness, conclusiveness, non-imposition, and symmetry—cannot be satisfied simultaneously. According to Braham and van Hees, these conditions are characteristic of what they call “pure libertarianism.” Hence the thesis of their paper: Pure libertarianism is impossible.
Braham and van Hees do not define “pure libertarianism” except by claiming that a pure libertarian is one who endorses their four conditions. But presumably, if their proof is to have any relevance, at least some prominent libertarians must endorse their four conditions, and libertarianism as a philosophical position must in some way be committed to all the axioms. In this paper we demonstrate the irrelevance of Braham and van Hees’s proof by showing that some of the most prominent libertarians do not endorse the completeness and conclusive conditions, and that there is nothing about libertarianism as a philosophical position that commits the libertarian to these two axioms. Indeed, we show that, more generally, there are strong reasons for libertarians to reject both conditions. In §I we introduce some key concepts from Braham and van Hees’s argument. In §II we examine the completeness condition. In §III we examine the conclusiveness condition. There is a concluding section.

Published in: Journal of Philosophy