Non-absolute rights and libertarian taxation

Social Philosophy and Policy 23 (2):109-141 (2006)
Rights-oriented libertarian theory asserts the existence of robust individual rights - including robust rights of property. If these property rights are absolute, then it seems that all taxation is theft. However, it also seems that, if an individual is (faultlessly) in dire straits, it is permissible for him to seize or trespass in order to escape from those straits. It does seem that in this sense property rights are non-absolute. This essay examines what contribution this non-absoluteness of rights makes to the justification of taxation for the sake of rescuing individuals from their dire straits. The essay investigates how dire an individual's circumstances have to be for him to have a dispensation from the normal obligation to respect property. It distinguishes among different dispensations that individuals in dire enough circumstances may have. And it emphasizes how precarious is the path from the premise that sometimes individuals possess one or another of these dispensations to the conclusion that taxation to rescue people from dire straits is justified. Footnotesa I thank Ellen Paul, the other contributors to this volume, and Mary Sirridge for their helpful comments.
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