The Ethical Notions Of Personhood And Savagery

This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.

A fundamental fixture of Christian values is the inherent sanctity of life. Christian values are at the basis of all modern Western philosophy, and as such this also applies to libertarianism, as it is fundamentally born out of thinkers and theories from Christian Europe. Although the contemporary libertarian movement owes much to Jewish thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, it still has the Western Christian roots with which it began.

It is important to note that Christian values are somewhat divorced from the Christian faith. One can still agree with the basic values of Christianity without adhering to the religious practice, as evidenced by the idea of cultural Christianity, which regards Christian teachings as useful even if they are not necessarily true. Because of this influence, libertarians often assume at the basis of their ethics that any living human can be considered a person, and thus every living human can be held to the same moral standard. But this is demonstrably not the case, as there exist humans who are unwilling or unable to be moral actors.

We must consider these humans under a different set of ethics, and we must recognize that there are humans to whom we cannot apply our notions of personhood. There exist humans who reject the idea of a right to life. In order to effectively deal with their performative contradiction, we must exclude humans who reject the right to life from the protected status of having a right to life. If one assumes that life is valuable, then one must take one of two positions: either that life is valuable even if it goes against life, thus contradicting the main principle; or that life can cease to be valuable. With the second assumption, one can still hold that life is valuable. However, it has a clause that it loses its value when it goes against life. From this, we can formulate a theory that allows for killing in limited circumstances when this would preserve life rather than destroy life.

The Edge Of Personhood

At this point, we are introduced to both a fascinating and a potentially terrifying concept. There is a possibility that some humans are fundamentally incapable of mutual respect for life, and thus they are not persons in the ethical sense. If this is true, then libertarian theory needs to exclude certain humans entirely. After all, one cannot expect to achieve a libertarian world if it is populated by humans who do not respect life, liberty, or property, and respecting the latter two is meaningless if one does not respect life, as there is no liberty or property without life.[1] Due to this, there can be no cohesive libertarian social order without the exclusion of this subsection of humans who cannot be properly considered persons. These humans are incompatible with life, liberty, and property, and accepting them as people will create a theory and practice that cannot result in a libertarian social order.[2]

It is necessary to classify humans into two groups: those who have the capacity to observe ethics based on the preservation of life and those who do not. The first group are ethically and morally persons, the second are savages. One cannot conflate persons and savages without contradiction, moral relativism, or outright nihilism. In order to make such a classification, it is necessary to establish a set of criteria that would exclude someone from the classification of person and make one a savage. This may be done by observing that rejecting certain principles will make someone incapable of respecting the lives of others.

There are humans who cannot understand the ethical reasons for preserving the life of other humans even when it may be inconvenient to them. These humans value their own lives and will protest if anything is done against them. However, these protests are empty because they will not afford the same courtesy to others. To them, the idea of a right to life is not an inherent right for everyone, but a political weapon that they can use for their own benefit. They will defend their own lives at the expense of everyone else in their society. These humans will be a minority of any non-primitive society, but they are still a significant theoretical and practical concern, especially when one considers the rise of some groups who show increased tendencies to be opposed to the life, liberty, and property of others.

It would also be meaningless to introduce the notion of savages without defining the traits in humans that are capable of creating respect for life, liberty, and property. Since all action starts in the mind, there must be psychological reasons to explain why some humans are able to respect rights and others are not. One can attempt to rationalize why some humans are savages and try to use it as an excuse for savagery, but this ignores the main issue, which is that some humans are pathologically incapable of respecting life. The reasons for this are irrelevant in ethical considerations, and are only important insofar as one cares to prevent more humans from becoming savages in future. On an interpersonal level, we must show compassion for these humans, but compassion alone cannot dictate our philosophy.

Forming Morality

There are three conditions that must be met in order to form morality. First, people have to prefer morality over the lack thereof. Second, people have to prefer reason over the lack thereof. Third, people have to be capable of empirical observation. If any one of these conditions is not met, there can be no morality on an individual scale. Most humans are capable of all three. Many are poorly capable in some regard, which creates an inconsistent regard for life, liberty, and property, but it still is a degree of respect which makes humans able to function within a society based on law. A human who does not prefer morality cannot prefer to be moral over being immoral, which means that these humans cannot be moral actors and are therefore in the savage category. If a human is fundamentally incapable of preferring morality, then they can have no place in a society that aims to create virtue and/or wealth.

The most important of the three is the capacity for reason. Whereas rationality is the defining feature that separates humans from other animals and the basis of all morality, there is no personhood without rationality. Without reason, one cannot know what is moral beyond what one can instinctively distinguish or what one can absorb from external sources. This may be enough for some humans, but external conditions are always changing. The need to temper empirical results with logic produces a constant need for reason in morality. Abstract thinking requires well-developed rational faculties, and morality is based in abstractions of virtue. Additionally, even perfect knowledge of morality must be accompanied by the wisdom to properly apply it to real-world circumstances. There are situations in which different moral ideas will collide and without reason, these conflicts cannot be productively and consistently resolved.

Furthermore, there are moral values that are eternal and unchanging, and these too require reason to comprehend. These are values ingrained in the very nature of man which would require many generations of evolution to change, thus placing such contemplations outside of the context at hand. These are the base drives that manage to uphold and sustain society. Without reason, we can lose control over these drives. Humans are easily confused; our urges can be misdirected, and the only way to prevent this is with constant vigilance through reason. Without reason, humans are incapable of fully comprehending the purposes for the existence of morality. If humans lose touch with the purpose of morality, then they will lose touch with morality itself.

Finally, there is the capacity for empirical observation. If a human is incapable of seeing reality as it is, he may act immorally while trying to be moral. Moral theories must be subject to testing in the real world in order to be useful for creating and maintaining civilization. New knowledge and discovery must always be put to use when we discuss morality in the current state of society. Even though some staunch traditionalists will disagree, this is not fundamentally in opposition to tradition. Tradition is cultural knowledge that is both maintained and created, a millennia-long collection of best practices. Tradition is the only starting point which can provide this knowledge, but it should evolve in order to absorb new information. By carefully integrating new knowledge in new conditions into tradition, we are able to maintain morality on a societal scale.

The Nature Of Savagery

If there exist humans who are savages, then we must consider who they are and how they act. There are two groups of humans who are obviously savages; the power-hungry members of society who sacrifice the well-being of others to advance their own status, and members of uncivilized societies who are trying to integrate into civilized societies. In the Western cultural sphere, these manifest as leaders of large corporations, politicians, and immigrants from Islamic and African countries. It is a well-known fact that there is a correlation between sociopathy and other pathologies that make it difficult to care for the well-being of other humans, and the humans who hold high positions of power. In fact, almost every modern institution that controls our societies consists of these immoral humans who are in high positions of power. Their savagery is hard to see for many humans, as they perform most of their immoral actions through proxies and covert pressure, but they are still immoral.

There are obviously humans with the same pathologies who do not manage to reach high positions of power, but due to the current institutional incentives, the institutions of power are built to accommodate their behavior. However, we can elaborate that all humans who are narcissists, psychopaths, or other mentally disturbed individuals do not possess the capacity to value the lives of others. In fact, the only way they can demonstrate that they can value life is if they are actively seeking help. Perhaps more importantly on a cultural level, the rejection of individualism and enlightened self-interest is in large part due to this sort of subnormal behavior. Few would associate self-interest or individualism with evil if it was not portrayed as such by humans who are incapable of respecting others. If those who wish to create a society of self-interest and individualism, which is supposed to be beneficial for those within the society, do not reject anti-social behavior, they will fail on both a philosophical and cultural level.

The obvious examples of the second group are devout Muslims and many third-world immigrants. We may just act as if they lack the capacity for reason, but that is only the truth with certain immigrants from the third world. In parts of Africa and Latin America, the development of societies based on rational laws has not occurred. This has not been improved by the political, economic, and social colonization of Africa by whites. There can be no principled opposition to conquering land if it was previously occupied by savages, but this cannot justify the current affair of near-total control over developing nations. It is not the business of first-worlders to interfere in the workings of others, and it will only result in a worse condition of the world for everyone. However, due to the current institutions of the West, there is an influx of immigration from the third world. Many of these humans are irrational and do not assimilate to rational laws. There are exceptions, but the majority of these migrants will only serve to decivilize more advanced countries.

With devout Muslims, the issue is not that they are unable to understand reason alone, but rather that they are incapable of applying it to the real world. Their religion distorts their worldview to such an extent that they often apply their morality in extremely inconsistent and often reprehensible ways. Even though the extreme social conservatism may appeal to some reactionaries in the form of white sharia, it is important to understand that their beliefs are borne not out of principle, but rather the dominance of their religion. It is also clear that Islam in its current state is a misogynistic religion, as tainted as that word has become, and it is important to protect women in healthy societies. Furthermore, the opposition to homosexuality and other degeneracy in Islam is not the civilized sort that is present in Christianity, but simply violence and often perversion. However, ex-Muslims in general and female ex-Muslims in particular show a capacity to function normally in society.

In the previous group, we also must include Antifa and some other communists. This may seem shocking, as they have been raised in civilized societies and have mostly lived in civilization for their entire lives, but many of them have been decivilized by their college educations. The constant drive to go against morality, “whiteness” (European values and cultural attitudes), and society in these institutions causes some humans to lose their ability to comprehend reason and empirically observe reality. They create their own culture, which is based on a system of analysis that only feeds more into their own culture, resulting in them functionally living in a different reality than the rest of us. As such, they are not acclimated to civilization and we cannot consider this group of young humans to be capable of civilization until they learn how to observe reality and use logic again.

The final group consists of humans who commit such heinous crimes that one must assume that they lack one or more faculties necessary for morality. They are savages because they have demonstrated their savagery, and not because we know how they lack certain attributes. These are the pedophiles, sadists, rapists, and mass murderers. They are humans who are not capable of moral reasoning and are savages due to how they behave. One may not understand the mental deficit of each of these humans, but they must lack something in order to commit crimes of such a depraved degree. Although it may be fashionable to oppose the death penalty, there cannot be an ethically sound argument against the death penalty once one considers that not all humans are in the same category of personhood. Note that this does not mean that the state should hold the power of the sword; only that it is morally possible for someone to do so.


A society can use coercive sociopolitical systems to counteract savage tendencies, but this is unacceptable as a solution from a libertarian perspective. Thus, libertarians must ensure that communities founded on libertarian principles are intolerant of humans who are incapable of being virtuous. Otherwise, there can be no libertarian social order. The notion that everyone should sacrifice their freedoms for the protection of the social class of savages should be thoroughly immoral to all libertarians. Savages will always bite the hand that feeds, so it is only detrimental to feed them. This does not mean an extermination of savages, but rather a systematic exclusion of savages from libertarian societies. While the result may be the same if they cannot survive without parasitism upon civilized people, morality is not dependent upon results.


  1. It is important to note that some people violate the rights of others in certain moments of criminal passion, and that this is a separate concern from what is being discussed here. We are concerned here with those who are pathologically opposed to fundamental ethical norms.
  2. Note that the need to create an exception for those who are pathologically incapable of ethics both defeats and makes possible the common notion of universalist ethics. It is vital to create two classes of humans; however, one may argue that if these two classes exist, then ethics cannot be universal.
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  • geoih

    Nice article. It states many of the positions I’ve long held. For example, that functioning radical libertarianism (e.g., anarcho-capitalism) assumes a unanimous acceptance of the non-aggression principle, and is thus utopian (i.e., fine to think about, but not very likely). Also, that humans exist in a universe of self-interest and social interaction, and the primary factors regulating how they react to this universe are reason and empathy. An individual with well developed reason and empathy reacts to the universe as an adult (a “person”). An individual without reason, but with empathy, reacts to the universe as a child. An individual without reason or empathy, reacts to the universe as an animal (a “savage”). An individual with reason, but without empathy, reacts to the universe as a psychopath. These traits (reason and empathy) are obviously not binary and each person has degrees of each that vary over time and with the situation.
    Keep up the good writing.

    • Insula Qui

      Thank you for the feedback! My point wasn’t to dissuade people from radical libertarianism, but rather tell radical libertarians that we need to exclude the people who aren’t capable of libertarianism from our theory. I also don’t think that empathy is a good gauge, people with low amounts of empathy can still choose not to do harm out of principle. But you make good points, it may indeed be useful to reduce empirical observation and preference for morality with empathy for the sake of brevity and it may be true that libertarianism in a radical form is impossible until everyone has well developed reason.

  • Fhoer

    Here in brazil (and many other countries) “Libertarianism” is the ancaps that follows the Libertarian Ethics, it can be jusnaturalist or jusracionalist.
    Other kinds of ancaps are known as Utilitarians/Freidmanians or Theological Jus”naturalists” (the folks who say gods moral value > ethics)
    Well, what about Minarchists and Classical liberals? They are just “Liberals”.

    Libertarians here in general aren’t “fusionists” with the other ideals, as to ally with Liberals you need to abandon the argumentative ethics and be acceptive towards the state, that is a big mistake, never break your principles.
    You can be tolerant with a liberal while he fights against the status quo, belive me, here in brazil the status quo = softcore socialism, but never be allied, you will be framed by his mistakes and corrupt your movemment at the point you turn in to a political party.

    We have a say on here “It is less disturbing to teach an Ancom that collective property still private property but under a contrat having shares than explaining to an Liberal that there isn’t “half rape”, “half dead”, “half slave”, as ethics is under a binary concept, it is valid or invalid and the results that the state “produces” are always based in invalid actions, as taxation.

    This is the best way as you are true to the nature of your ideas and once you show to someone the truth he will not be mixed in to a mixed pool of softcore statists and pseudo-anarchists to degrade the arguments with logical fallacies and utilitarianist subjectiviness while he’s fresh to his new perspective.