Libertarians believe in negative rights. The foundation of these is the idea that others cannot infringe on your autonomy via the use of physical force: coercion.
Different schools of libertarianism justify this right against coercion in a variety of ways: some believe that it’s a God-given right; others believe it is a natural right; and there are others still who believe that it’s validated by the positive consequences it yields for individuals and society.
Regardless as to the diverse libertarian justifications for negative rights, one is decidedly not a libertarian if they justify coercing someone to act against their will — provided that one does not will to deprive others of their autonomy.
But how do libertarians extend this to less obvious infringements on autonomy such as fraud?
Ordinarily, libertarians reject positive rights, and a right to someone being honest appears, prima facie, to be an entitlement. However, in demonstrating that fraud is morally equivalent to coercion, it is consistent for libertarians to view a right against fraud as a negative right.
Consider this: you come to a mutual agreement to part with your apple for another’s pear. After you forfeit your apple, your trading partner refuses to part with his pear. Clearly, you have been defrauded and the contract has been violated.
If you had known this would occur, you would not have assented to the trade and the other party would have had to use force to part you from your apple. He too knows this but would prefer to not physically coerce you, so he turns to the alternative to force: fraud.
Fraud is simply a sneakier and roundabout way of coercing someone out of their autonomy.
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This article was first published on the Students For Liberty website.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.