This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.

By Insula Qui

A fundamental fixture of Christian values is the inherent sanctity of life. Christian values are at the basis of all modern Western philosophy, and as such this also applies to libertarianism, as it is fundamentally born out of thinkers and theories from Christian Europe. Although the contemporary libertarian movement owes much to Jewish thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, it still has the Western Christian roots with which it began.

It is important to note that Christian values are somewhat divorced from the Christian faith. One can still agree with the basic values of Christianity without adhering to the religious practice, as evidenced by the idea of cultural Christianity, which regards Christian teachings as useful even if they are not necessarily true. Because of this influence, libertarians often assume at the basis of their ethics that any living human can be considered a person, and thus every living human can be held to the same moral standard. But this is demonstrably not the case, as there exist humans who are unwilling or unable to be moral actors.

We must consider these humans under a different set of ethics, and we must recognize that there are humans to whom we cannot apply our notions of personhood. There exist humans who reject the idea of a right to life. In order to effectively deal with their performative contradiction, we must exclude humans who reject the right to life from the protected status of having a right to life. If one assumes that life is valuable, then one must take one of two positions: either that life is valuable even if it goes against life, thus contradicting the main principle; or that life can cease to be valuable. With the second assumption, one can still hold that life is valuable. However, it has a clause that it loses its value when it goes against life. From this, we can formulate a theory that allows for killing in limited circumstances when this would preserve life rather than destroy life.

The Edge Of Personhood

At this point, we are introduced to both a fascinating and a potentially terrifying concept. There is a possibility that some humans are fundamentally incapable of mutual respect for life, and thus they are not persons in the ethical sense. If this is true, then libertarian theory needs to exclude certain humans entirely. After all, one cannot expect to achieve a libertarian world if it is populated by humans who do not respect life, liberty, or property, and respecting the latter two is meaningless if one does not respect life, as there is no liberty or property without life.[1] Due to this, there can be no cohesive libertarian social order without the exclusion of this subsection of humans who cannot be properly considered persons. These humans are incompatible with life, liberty, and property, and accepting them as people will create a theory and practice that cannot result in a libertarian social order.[2]

It is necessary to classify humans into two groups: those who have the capacity to observe ethics based on the preservation of life and those who do not. The first group are ethically and morally persons, the second are savages. One cannot conflate persons and savages without contradiction, moral relativism, or outright nihilism. In order to make such a classification, it is necessary to establish a set of criteria that would exclude someone from the classification of person and make one a savage. This may be done by observing that rejecting certain principles will make someone incapable of respecting the lives of others.

There are humans who cannot understand the ethical reasons for preserving the life of other humans even when it may be inconvenient to them. These humans value their own lives and will protest if anything is done against them. However, these protests are empty because they will not afford the same courtesy to others. To them, the idea of a right to life is not an inherent right for everyone, but a political weapon that they can use for their own benefit. They will defend their own lives at the expense of everyone else in their society. These humans will be a minority of any non-primitive society, but they are still a significant theoretical and practical concern, especially when one considers the rise of some groups who show increased tendencies to be opposed to the life, liberty, and property of others.

It would also be meaningless to introduce the notion of savages without defining the traits in humans that are capable of creating respect for life, liberty, and property. Since all action starts in the mind, there must be psychological reasons to explain why some humans are able to respect rights and others are not. One can attempt to rationalize why some humans are savages and try to use it as an excuse for savagery, but this ignores the main issue, which is that some humans are pathologically incapable of respecting life. The reasons for this are irrelevant in ethical considerations, and are only important insofar as one cares to prevent more humans from becoming savages in future. On an interpersonal level, we must show compassion for these humans, but compassion alone cannot dictate our philosophy.

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  1. It is important to note that some people violate the rights of others in certain moments of criminal passion, and that this is a separate concern from what is being discussed here. We are concerned here with those who are pathologically opposed to fundamental ethical norms.
  2. Note that the need to create an exception for those who are pathologically incapable of ethics both defeats and makes possible the common notion of universalist ethics. It is vital to create two classes of humans; however, one may argue that if these two classes exist, then ethics cannot be universal.