Errors of intervention

October 29, 1999

Alan Ryan makes two crucial mistakes about the supposed "weakness of the libertarian case" ("Counting the cost of feeling free", THES, October 22).

First, he asserts that "property rights require more than non-intervention by others, as they must be transferableI". In libertarian terms, however, "non-intervention by others" means persons other than any involved in some (unimposed) personal or property interaction. There is no "intervention" in the implied impositional sense.

Second, the "idea that government exists to protect negative rather than positive rights has to be given up" - not because of Ryan's error, but because the state exists precisely for "intervention" with persons and their property rights. States make no serious attempt to avoid doing this, and they must immediately cease to be states (ruling and taxing) if they were to avoid it.

J. C. Lester

Centre for Practical Philosophy

Middlesex University

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