Left-Libertarianism: A Primer

In Peter Vallentyne & Hillel Steiner (eds.), Left Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. Palgrave Publishers (2000)
Left-libertarian theories of justice hold that agents are full self-owners and that natural resources are owned in some egalitarian manner. Unlike most versions of egalitarianism, leftlibertarianism endorses full self-ownership, and thus places specific limits on what others may do to one’s person without one’s permission. Unlike the more familiar right-libertarianism (which also endorses full self-ownership), it holds that natural resources—resources which are not the results of anyone's choices and which are necessary for any form of activity—may be privately appropriated only with the permission of, or with a significant payment to, the members of society. Like right-libertarianism, left-libertarianism holds that the basic rights of individuals are ownership rights. Such rights can endow agents—as liberalism requires—with spheres of personal liberty where they may each pursue their conceptions of “the good life”. Left-libertarianism is promising because it coherently underwrites both some demands of material equality and some limits on the permissible means of promoting this equality. It is promising, that is, because it is a form of liberal egalitarianism. Left-libertarian theories have been propounded for over two centuries. Early exponents of some form of self-ownership combined with some form of egalitarian ownership of natural resources include: Hugo Grotius (1625), Samuel Pufendorf (1672), John Locke (1690), William Ogilvie (1781), Thomas Spence (1793), Thomas Paine (1795), Hippolyte de Colins (1835), François Huet (1853), Patrick E. Dove (1850, 1854), Herbert Spencer (1851), Henry George (1879, 1892), and Léon Walras (1896).1 It is striking how much of the current debate about equality, liberty, and responsibility has already been addressed by these authors.
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