Libertarianism and Autonomism: Not The Same!

In a comment on the conservative philosopher blog Right Reason, I finally post my thoughts about something that has been percolating for a long time. This needs to be developed further. It is crucial, in my view, to seriously supporting the claim that libertarianism is neither left nor right.

Lydia McGrew wrote:

My own position is that the intrinsic worth of man is more fundamental than the autonomy of man and, indeed, places limits upon it–an ethical position that is certainly no more intrinsically “controversial” or “religious” than its denial. And that is one of the many reasons why, despite many libertarian sympathies in the economic realm, I am not really a libertarian…but that would be a subject for a different post.

My comment:

The author seems to believe that the libertarian position is the same as the one that holds the autonomy of man as the highest value (the “autonomist” position). The libertarian position is not in fact the same as the autonomist position though, of course, there are some who hold both positions. One may hold to the libertarian position, which is a doctrine about when it is ethically correct to use force, and reject the autonomist position as I myself do. In fact, there is little excuse left for confusing the two positions since the top libertarian website in the world,, generally rejects the autonomist position.

This is a very important point for conservatives. Conservatives generally reject the autonomist position (for good reason in my view), and when they confuse this with libertarianism they assume that they must reject the libertarian position on force as well (which is all libertarianism as a doctrine is). This is tragic in my view since it is quite clear that the libertarian doctrine, properly understood, is deeply rooted (traditional even!) in the Western tradition.


10:35 am on June 7, 2005