Ask any libertarian whether or not freedom is a right and the answer will most assuredly be “yes.” But I would like to challenge that notion. It may be true in one sense and yet in another sense be completely false. This is a shortcoming of the English language that has caused much confusion and conflict. The word “right” has a loaded meaning that has not only led neo-liberals astray, but libertarians as well.
The words “entitlement” and “right” are often used interchangeably in American discourse. In fact, a synonym of the word “entitlement” happens to be the word “right.” So, much to the chagrin of libertarians do neo-liberals consider goods and services, such as health care, to be rights. Free-market economists understand, however, that an individual’s mere existence does not entitle them to goods and services, but instead must be acquired either through self-sufficiency or exchange(ideally voluntarily).
To philosophically-consistent libertarians, or anarchists, any violation of the non-aggression principle is necessarily a restriction of (some)one’s freedom. Morally speaking freedom can be thought of as right. Notice I did not write “a right” but simply “right.” This is because what is right -in this case freedom- is just. What is right is just.
To say that freedom is a right would be equivalent to saying that freedom is an entitlement. But this would be patently false. The universe does not entitle any individual to their freedom. If the definition of freedom is “liberty of the person from slavery, detention, or oppression,” then clearly freedom must be gained through self-sufficiency or in exchange for protection.
Therefore, if one’s freedom is directly proportional to one’s ability to protect one’s self from aggressors, either through self-sufficiency or in exchange, and if an economic good is a “physical object or service that has value to people and can be sold for a non-negative price in the marketplace,” then we can safely say that freedom is an economic-good.
The implications of this are profound. If an individual, or group of individuals, do not value certain economic goods, such as freedom, should libertarians be concerned when they do not receive it? They are not, after all, entitled to it.
Are economic goods generally advertised for their moral probity or their utility? Perhaps libertarians should abandon the non-aggression principle as a selling point for freedom, and instead focus on freedom’s efficiency.
How many modern goods can be acquired through strict self-sufficiency? Can freedom be acquired through self-sufficiency? Is civil-disobedience an attempt at acquiring freedom through self-sufficiency? What sort of tactics would an organization need to engage in to provide the economic good of freedom to its customers?
For too long libertarians have falsely assumed that freedom is a right, or entitlement. It is not a right. Freedom is a good. Understanding this truth opens up a host of new questions for the libertarian activist. Perhaps as individuals we should be less concerned about defending the freedom of those who do not value it and instead work towards acquiring more for ourselves.