Libertarianism Vs. Socialism : Some Debates

libertarian-socialism-worldcloudIn two essays, Ashit Srivastava looks at two aspects of the debate revolving around the two schools of thought, Libertarianism and Socialism: Right to Property and the Relevance of Laws in a state.

Right to property

The never ending quest of human beings of assimilating and creating things, has led to this question over and over again; “Is Right to Property a fundamental right?.”

Well, for the matter of discourse, it is an erratic question. Why erratic, you ask? Well, the right to property has been a matter of debate ever since the origin of our species, with much progress and development of human intellect, it became a matter of discourse where one school (socialist) didn’t recognise the right to property, while the other school (libertarian) not only recognised it but also acceded that it is an extension of a human being’s personality.

To further this discussion to a higher level, it would be ideal to imbibe some thoughts of great minds on this issue, starting with Frédéric Bastiat, a great, rather a genius economist of the 19th century in France. He was a staunch supporter of the right to property and he based this right on his axiom of existence, faculty and assimilation which roughly means life, intellect and property. Now as per Bastiat, property is just an extension of human faculty and God, by putting the human being in the midst of natural resources wanted him to accumulate and therefore the right to property is a necessary right.

Keeping this argument alive another Libertarian who advocated for the right to property was Robert Nozick. This celebrated libertarian pursed the other angle of the same topic; he emphasised on the liberty of an individual and sought that, if an individual has accumulated his wealth by voluntary disposition; there should be no law which should deprive him of his wealth. Even John Locke of social contract fame regarded every man has a right to property which he has created, as illustrated below,

“…every man has a property in the own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his.”  – John Locke

Now when we turn our eyes towards socialism, we must understand socialism is a combination of a plethora of conceptions but the most accepted ones are: evolutionary socialism and revolutionary socialism. Both ‘socialisms’ do not recognize the ‘right to property’. There are some exceptions where in evolutionary socialism some space is given to this right while in revolutionary socialism aka communism does not believe in right to property unless it satisfies everyone’s stomach.

Hence, it can be easily concluded that the right to property is an erratic right which more or less depend on the type of government system being run in a particular country.


Creation of law Vs. Need of law

Creation of law versus need of law seems a very frugal topic to ponder upon, but as the depth of an ice berg cannot be gauged by its tip, similarly the proposed conception requires a thorough analysis for a better grasp of its gravity.

Firstly, the concept of ‘creation of law’ simply means what it indicates, the creation of a law. Additionally it also seeks to question why the law came into existence and the reason why we need law in the society.

Here Frédéric Bastiat comes to our rescue; he says law is the creation of life, liberty, and property, and it is because that life, liberty, and property already existed that law was needed. This justification of creation of law bears the hues of a libertarian school of thought, where the life, liberty, and property of an individual are regarded as the basis for creation of law. John Locke was of the view that for the protection of the natural right namely life, liberty, and property, the individual entered into the social contract and subjected himself to the society itself which roughly means law.

This concept was further augmented by Jean Jacques Rousseau who believed that apprehension of infringement of liberty and personal property compelled individuals to enter the social contract.

Thus coming to the conclusion of first discussion, it becomes conspicuous that ‘law’ was an offspring of life, liberty, and property. Furthermore here quoting Frédéric Bastiat will be apt, as he says, “It is not because men have passed laws that life, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because life, liberty, and property already exist that men make laws.”

Now coming to the second aspect of the discussion, i.e. the “need of law”. The need of law hardly needs any explanation as law is needed everywhere, and is argued vehemently for under a socialist view point. In our first discussion about the creation of law, we had taken a libertarian view point for determining the rationale for the ‘creation of law.’ In this discussion we see the need of law under a socialist scheme of things, because it is regarded that in a socialist state just providing liberty and equality to the citizen are not sufficient unless they re-organise the economic structure to provide opportunities to their citizen. This is the very reason that India being a socialist state has denied any fundamental right to property (by 44th amendment) and any property assimilated is subject to state authority (Article 300-A: Person not to be deprived of property save by authority of law). Here we can see the stark contrast of the socialist school of thought and the libertarian school where property was the reason for the creation of law, in contrast to which the socialist does not recognize the right to property as any right, it rather needs the law as a means for depriving its subject of any such rights!

Thus ends our attention to the eternal fray between the libertarian and the socialist, where one school regards itself as the reason for creation of law and the other school regards law as its means (need).


Ashit Srivastava is a law student pursuing his 5th year at University of Lucknow

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