Moral Egoism and Libertarianism: Initial Findings

Over the past few days, I’ve expanded my knowledge of Moral Egoism as well as libertarianism’s history and core beliefs.

While researching Moral Egoism/ Ethical Egoism, the philosophical foundation of libertarianism, I found that even proponents of self-interest as man’s chief motivation—namely, G. Robert Olson in The Morality of Self-Interest—are quick to distance themselves from the more extreme permutations of ethical egoism and libertarianism. Though their arguments deserve greater attention and explanation, I shall save a closer examination of their objections for my research paper. Furthermore, research has shed greater light on ethical egoism’s philosophical roots. In particular, in Rational Egoism: A Selective and Critical History, Robert Shaver identifies both Immanuel Kant and Jean-Paul Sartre as important contributors to libertarian philosophy. Specifically, Kant’s insistence that rational beings must exist in a state of freedom and reluctance to adopt universal laws affirm the libertarian belief in the inherent dignity and autonomy of an individual. Sartre’s relation to libertarianism proves a bit more complicated. As Stephen Priest puts it in Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings, Sartre’s conception of existentialism “is an individualistic libertarian philosophy of consciousness, subjectivity, and presence” stand diametrically opposed to his Marxist political beliefs (Priest 301). I shall address the apparent conflict between Sartre’s philosophical and political beliefs in my paper; however, it is worth noting the tension between Sartre’s ethical and political beliefs.

Jason Brennan’s Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know has proven a useful starting point for my research on libertarianism in the United States. First, Brennan presents libertarianism as the modern heirs to French liberalism of the 16th century, arguing that American liberals. In contrast, American liberalism is a misnomer, as modern liberals undermine individual liberty by advocating for big government and a larger welfare state.

One point that particularly interested me was Brennan’s characterization of Ayn Rand, commonly referred to as the Mother of Libertarianism, as opposed to the label. Indeed, Brennan notes “Rand…did not want to be associated with libertarianism,” instead deriding the movement, as it failed to fully adopt all her ideas (Brennan20). Furthermore, Brennan attempts to distance libertarianism from Rand by stressing that “most philosophers, including most libertarian philosophers, regard her philosophical work as poor” and characterizing her as a somewhat extreme, “Hard Libertarian” (Brennan 21, 99). By subtly disavowing Rand, Brennan makes libertarianism appear more reasonable and practical. Elsewhere, Brennan also qualifies and clarifies some of libertarianism’s more extreme positions. In spite of this, many libertarian positions, particularly the belief in free immigration, appear difficult to implement and imprudent in practice.

This leads to my next guiding research question, and a central topic of my paper: to what extent may libertarian policies be adopted and adapted in American politics? Additionally, which areas of policy are best suited for libertarianism? How do we reconcile our desire for innovation and individual liberty with our duty to help others? As I continue researching, I hope to develop responses to these questions.