What is Libertarianism?
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
The word Libertarianism has been used to cover a range of political philosophies ranging from support for somewhat smaller or minimalist government to support for no government or state at all.
The word Libertarianism has been used to cover a range of political philosophies ranging from support for somewhat smaller or minimalist government to support for no government or state at all. I am going with no-state and I should explain what this Rothbardian (After the writer Murray Rothbard) or Property Rights Libertarianism is and is not.
The former, smaller state people, are really Classical Liberals harping back, quite understandably, to the healthier largely free societies that used to exist in Classical Liberal Britain and America. Now I would much prefer to be living in the incredibly rich and vibrant society that Britain would now be if we hadn’t had a century of democratic socialism and warmongering. The problem is that those functions governments did carry out in Classical Liberal society, especially so called defence (all too often aggression) were still dreadful.
Classical Liberalism is like saying the tumour in your head should be smaller. A good idea certainly, but how do you stop it growing back? Surely no tumour at all would be better? So I am writing from a no-state standpoint.
The term libertarianism can be problematic, not least in the United States. When I worked there admirable, solid, social conservatives would react angrily to it. That was because it had been associated with 1960s radical counter culture behaviours and values, in fact with libertines. Libertines are people who are unrestrained by convention or morality, especially sexual morality.
In principle libertines can be libertarians, if they subscribe to the key Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). But Libertarianism is based on not deceiving, exploiting or stealing from your fellow man or woman (that is government’s job), which libertines frequently do. As a first approximation, a properly free society is likely to be full of pretty traditional people who want a prosperous productive life based on family, friends and work, (and frequently faith) without being bullied. It sounds good to me.
For similar reasons we can’t call ourselves anarchists, even though anarchy as a Greek word meaning no ruler would seem to fit.
The first problem is that a century or more ago ‘left wing’ anarchists were not trying to get rid of the government. They wanted to destroy bourgeois institutions such as sound money, marriage and private property, capitalism etc. Sound familiar? Yes, Marxism is a hybrid anarchist creed. It is also a mass murderer’s ultimate fantasy and, most importantly, a handbook for power grabbers everywhere. After the Dictatorship of the Proletariat phase during which power grabbers, sociopaths and psychopaths (but I repeat myself) get to rape, rob and murder many millions of ‘class enemies’, Marx said the state would fade away of its own accord. There would then be a paradise for libertines with a sexual free for all and of course material abundance, with no family, money, property, religion etc.
So we Rothbardian Libertarians are not anarchists. We want to get rid of the state so we can live in structures of our own choice and making. And we want to protect ourselves.
By the way, Marx was writing in Classical Liberal Britain. Britain was amongst the first large scale societies in history where almost all transactions between people were now voluntary and so mutually beneficial. Agrarian society, where elites live well by deploying violence to steal from the peasant 90% of the population - real exploitation – was a thing of the past.
Marx was wrong about virtually everything, and another dreadful economist like Keynes. But the Marxist power grabbing handbook has been a boon to sociopaths and psychopaths ever since. Here it is:
1) Label everyone as a member of a group, thus dehumanising individuals in each one.
2) Label one group, ideally a better off, useful group, ‘Oppressor!’ - Capitalists, savers and investors, competent farmers and kulaks, landlords, Caucasian men, Christians, hydrocarbon companies.
3) Run power seeking campaigns with sympathisers in the main stream media (MSM) on behalf of alleged ‘victims’; employees, debtors, tenants, women, non-western ethnic groups’, the planet.
4) Achieve power and abuse and steal from members of the ‘oppressor’ group. Once done with them, turn on your supporters. They have served their purpose, and you are going to need to control them when the money runs out.
Libertarianism is the antidote to the Marxist poison. You need never worry that an election or change in government will bring in people who don’t wish you well. There won’t be any government, at least not as now understood. In a Libertarian world, sociopaths and psychopaths have to get useful work as best they can. They can’t go into politics or government work, especially the military, as many do now.
By the way some people use the expression ‘Anarcho-capitalist’. But, like it or not, anarchy in everyday English means chaos, which we are dead against, and ‘capitalist’, like ‘capitalism’, ‘ideology’ and ‘bourgeoisie’, is a Marxist smear word to be avoided.
Enough of what we are not. The Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) is the gateway to proper Property Rights or Rothbardian Libertarianism. Every adult owns his or her body and justly acquired goods absolutely. People are entitled to use their persons or property as they see fit, only providing they do not directly attack or threaten to attack anyone else’s person or property. Another way of explaining the NAP is that it justifies violence only to prevent an attack or threat of attack on anyone’s person or property, or to secure restitution for such an attack, intentional or otherwise.
So far so good in a typical dinner party conversation. It is pretty much ‘do as you would be done by’. All agree that they would never, never, use violence, or the threat of it, on another human being. After all we are nice people here, and we really are, truly.
Here’s the rub. A robber comes up to you in the street and says, in effect, give me your money or I will attack you. Clearly that is inconsistent with the NAP and indeed current legal systems – though the robber’s treatment in a libertarian society would be quite different.
Shaken after your attack, you return home to find a letter from the taxman. It says, in effect, give me your money or I will attack you. There is no moral difference between these two attacks, and the taxman generally takes more. If you think people should be put on trial if accused of extortion and coercion, except in the case of individuals constituting ‘the state’ and their non-state cronies, you have a double standard. There can be no coercive state as we know it in a properly free country.
At this point confusion sets in, and often upset. Rackets and hitherto unchallenged beliefs start to emerge. How could the world live without government? What would it look like? Are many prosperous citizens benefiting from what amounts to a criminal association? What happens to the less fortunate in a free society? What about people who like current state arrangements? Who builds the infrastructure? There are lots of questions to be answered. Over time, in writing posts and answering questions, I hope to develop a picture of how some of the better places on a future earth could work.
By the way, even if no wholly free societies emerge at the end of the day, there is still great merit in exploring non-state approaches to human arrangements from the ground up rather than lazily concluding ‘we’ll get the government to sort it out.’