About Austro-Libertarianism

The goal of this site is to advance the Austro-Libertarian tradition of economic and political thought, especially as it has been articulated by Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. 

The phrase Austro-Libertarian has appeared often in the literature produced especially by those scholars and theorists associated with the indispensable Mises Institute. It is clearly and intentionally an attempt to express commitment to two distinct bodies of thought, both of which conclude that individual liberty based on private property is the key component and foundation for all civilization. They are two distinct bodies of thought because there are two different fields of study at play: the first being economics and the second being political philosophy.

Economics is the value-free study of the implications of human action. Political theory is the value-laden study of the legitimate use of force in society. 

Economics deals with descriptive propositions and does not make ethical statements about what is morally right or wrong for men (and therefore governments) to do. Political theory however, deals with normative propositions and does make judgements about what is right and wrong, but only as it relates to coercion. The boundaries of political theory prevent it from making ethical judgements about ethics in general, but rather, only ethics as it relates to coercion.

Ludwig von Mises

The economics of the Austro-Libertarian is that of the tradition of the Austrian School of Economics. The Austrian School of economics refers to a certain “school of thought” in regards to economic theory that has its roots in the economic theorists who came out of Austria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Austrian School’s methodology of focusing on the implications of human beings acting purposefully to achieve their ends is the foundation of all its other contributions. For example, Mises’ calculation argument against socialism and the Austrian Business Cycle Theory are ultimately built and depend upon the methodology. It is via the methodology that various economic laws are formulated. Economic laws for the Austrians are not discovered by data collection and empirical observation. This is because economic laws are to be built on economic theory. Any empirical testing that is done does not contribute to theory, but rather, to history. For more on the Austrian tradition, see this article.

Murray Rothbard

The political theory of the Austro-Libertarian is, you guessed it, libertarianism. Specifically, libertarianism in the tradition of Murray Rothbard. The definition of Rothbardianism is the legal theory (which has political ramifications) which holds that no man may initiate aggression, or threat to initiate aggression, against the property of another human being, lest he engage in criminal behavior. That is to say, under the libertarian legal theory, a criminal is defined as one who breaches the above described “Non-Aggression Principle.” The logically deduced implications of this principle includes actions such as theft, murder, rape, fraud, breach of contract, trespassing, battery, kidnapping, and so on. For the libertarian, that which is illegal is determined in terms of private property ownership and therefore not all things that may be categorized as immoral, unethical, sinful, and so on are necessarily criminal. For the Rothbardian, this principle of Non-Aggression is to be applied to all men, regardless of social rank– which of course applies to those in the role of social governance. Thus and therefore, the state itself is in systematic breach of this Non-Aggression norm. To the extent that “anarchism” means a lack of a state, Libertarians who take these principles to their logical conclusions are “anarchists.” Or as Rothbard phrased it, “anarcho-capitalists.”

Austro-Libertarianism as a phrase attempts to keep the two disciplines distinct, so as to not to confuse normative and descriptive propositions. But while we are aware that economics is not political theory and political theory is not economics, the defender of liberty uses both. When the Court Intellectual argues in favor of a new government program, the Austro-Libertarian can respond by pointing out the economic effects of such a program– that is, the government’s objectives cannot be accomplished at all; economic law cannot be overcome by state edict. And at the same time, the Austro-Libertarian can argue the unethical nature of the government’s efforts on the basis that someone’s private property rights are being infringed upon. That is, based on the implications of human action (which is studied by economics) and the implications of the moral right to private property, a private property society is the ideal and the state is the great and systematic threat to society. Not only does the state make us poorer and prevent the built up of wealth in general, they also are the most devastating example of criminal behavior in society.

Written by AustroLibertarian.com site creator and editor C.Jay Engel