Libertarianism and the State of Nature

In Christopher Beam’s interesting piece on libertarianism in New York magazine (h/t an excellent piece by Chait), he reveals a deep yet flawed structure of modern American political argument.  Noting that Ayn Rand’s objectivism is the “gateway drug” for libertarianism, Beam explains that:

The core of the Randian worldview, as absorbed by the modern GOP, is a belief that the natural market distribution of income is inherently moral, and the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.

Italics mine.  I have yet to hear any coherent account of a “natural market distribution.”  Why do we have any property?  Because the state enforces it in court, and if necessary, with force.  Why do millions of business thrive throughout the country?  Because the government has decided to give them patents and copyrights.  Corporations are creatures of the state, designed to protect investors with limited liability.  (And that liability, too, of course, is a creature of the state).

Now, merely because it’s “the state” doesn’t mean that we don’t have rights, or that the state can and should do whatever it wants.  There are lots of very compelling reasons to endorse the institution of private property.  But that’s what it is: an institution.

One good argument for various forms of private property is that they help human beings to flourish, either psychologically, materially, or whatever.  And any defintion of human flourishing rests upon beliefs about human nature and really, the purpose of existence.  But that is very, very far away from the libertarian notion of a “natural market distribution.”  That doesn’t exist.  And we should stop talking about it as if it does.