Rethinking Libertarianism: A Review/Essay on Elizabeth Anderson's Private Government

21 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2017

Date Written: November 12, 2017


In her recent book Private Government, Elizabeth Anderson makes a powerful but pragmatic case against the abuses experienced by employees in conventional corporations. The purpose of this review-essay is to contrast Anderson’s pragmatic critique of many abuses in the employment relation with a principled critique of the employment relationship itself. This principled critique is based on the theory of inalienable rights that descends from the Reformation doctrine of the inalienability of conscience down through the Enlightenment in the abolitionist, democratic, and feminist movements. That theory was the basis for the abolition of the voluntary slavery or self-sale contract, the voluntary non-democratic constitution (pactum subjectionis), and the voluntary coverture marriage contract in today’s democratic countries. When understood in modern terms, that same theory applies as well against the voluntary self-rental or employment contract that is the basis for our current economic system.

Keywords: employment contract, democratic firm, inalienable rights

JEL Classification: P13, K12, L23

Suggested Citation

Ellerman, David, Rethinking Libertarianism: A Review/Essay on Elizabeth Anderson's Private Government (November 12, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

David Ellerman (Contact Author)

University of Ljubljana ( email )

School of Social Science
Ljubljana, CA


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