More Thick & Thin / Can prisons be totally abolished?

Anarcho-Ichthus-fav“Thick” libertarians are always talking about things besides liberty. They talk about unions, racism, patriarchy, hierarchy and sexism; and whether land rent, usury, wage labor or inequality of wealth are compatible with the maintenance of a stateless society. These libertarians want to graft their issues onto the tree of liberty because they believe these questions bear on the very viability of liberty. As near as I can tell, the seminal article on thick and thin libertarianism is Charles Johnson’s 2008 article, “Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin: What Kind of Commitment Is Libertarianism?

If “thicks” see any institution as oppressive, they noisily oppose it. Some atheist “thicks” (but not all) want to be rid of organized religion because they believe that church members are hopeless statists, mindlessly following authority. They consider obedience to any authority to be erosive of freedom. Who knows, there may be religious thick libertarians who want to read atheists out of the movement, but I do not know any.

To the extent that the “thick” issues seem to reduce the square footage of the libertarian big tent, “thin” libertarians are wary of mixing these social issues with the political philosophy of libertarianism. There are (at least) a couple reasons for this: 1) “thins” are concerned that these issues can turn off potential converts to libertarianism; and 2) “thins” fear that the “thicks” may place their social issues ahead of libertarianism’s organizing principle: nonaggression. See Lew Rockwell’s The Future of Libertarianism.

We can hope that time will teach us which–if any–of the “thick” issues turn out to be important. To be fair, most “thicks” do not advocate physical aggression to implement their agenda. Instead these “thicks” urge education, advocacy, propaganda, encouragement, ridicule, ostracism, boycotts and all kinds of non-violent persuasion to change the societal consensus on “thick” issues.

gotojailPrisons in a free society

One of the topics all libertarians think about is our unjust criminal justice system. I recently ran across this Jeffrey Tucker interview of Cory Massimino, a writer for the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society.

I have to agree with much that Massimo says. In a free society, prisons will largely become a thing of the past, but perhaps not completely, as Massimo suggests. By the time we eliminate imprisonment for drug-related crime, the prisons will be getting empty; especially as the drug war violence comes to an end. [The idea that proprietors of legal marijuana shops will still be killing one another seems about as likely as the Budweiser and Miller Light drivers shooting it out in the grocery aisle.] A greater emphasis on restitution over retribution will empty more prison cells, but Massimo may underestimate the problem of individuals who are unremittingly violent and dangerous.

As a former prosecutor and now a criminal defense lawyer, I am personally familiar with murderers who CANNOT be dealt with by Massimo’s house-arrest solution, not unless the security is so prison-like that there is no real difference.

jail celljail cell-smThe bleeding hearts need to recognize that realistic options are more limited. The most obvious non-state solutions are: 1) securely imprison incorrigible murderers and make them work for their supper; or 2) execute them.

A possible–but perhaps unrealistic–solution, might be some sort of banishment, like to Mars or Australia. The problem is that there exist certain human beings that no one–not even a thick libertarian–is willing to have around. (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, etc). I am open to other ideas, but I cannot think what they would be.

BeFunky_Grunge_9

What is a libertarian?

Anarcho-Ichthus-favSometimes it makes my head hurt to think about the labels used by libertarians. I am a libertarian. By that, I mean I oppose the initiation of violence by anyone, including the government.

When it comes to achieving this objective, I agree with Jeffrey Tucker, who wrote last spring:

“I’m interested in only one thing: progressive reductions of the role of all government power in people’s lives all the way to zero if possible. Whatever brings that about, in whatever sector it happens, and whether it happens slowly by steps or all in one fell swoop, I’m for it. I really don’t care who or what makes a contribution to this end or how it comes about, so long as it is ethical and it actually achieves the aim of human liberation, the mother of all progress, order, and higher civilization.”

voluntary

Of course, we can make common cause with small-government conservatives, constitutionalists or the many varieties of minarchists (meaning “minimal rule”), but ultimately, their political goals are only pit stops along the way to a free society.

Other libertarians prefer to describe themselves as “voluntaryists,” a perfectly good term used to convey the idea that people’s interactions should be voluntary and free of government force. It’s too bad most people–quite understandably–confuse voluntaryism with with volunteerism.

Anarchism

Other libertarians go all out and proudly embrace the “anarchist” label, ignoring all the negative, socialist and violent associations that have been attached to that name for over a century. If that was the only problem with the term “anarchism” it might be redeemed, but there are other difficulties. Old terms are often worth salvaging, but what makes anarchism particularly prickly are the many socialists, communists and other unredeemed statists that cluster like barnacles to the ship of anarchy. One can readily get a feel for this group at places like Reddit, here and here.

They seem to understand that the word anarchism must connect with the idea of a stateless society, but they have no shame in kicking the state out the front door while leaving the back gate open for it. They want to get rid of the government and its “racist prisons and war,” and its union-busting, crony capitalism, patented GMO crops and whatever else they hate about the state. [See example: here.]

On the other hand, this variety of anarchist wants the state to break up shareholder-owned businesses and then subsidize worker buy-outs; it wants state power to weigh in on the side of labor over employers, and wants the post office to subsidize “journals of opinion.”

We quickly realize that this sort of anarchist is just a statist who hopes that someday he will get to hold the whip. It seems anarchism is a slippery brand. Perhaps it can be redeemed. Gerard Casey makes a close approach in his new book “Libertarian Anarchism: Against the State.

Left-Libertarians

Another group that tries to play nice with the left side of the aisle calls themselves–not inappropriately– “Left Libertarians.” They tend toward distrust of all institutions (not just government), but they vary as to their rejection of using government-like force to achieve their objectives. Some of them are really just looking to hold the whip.

Some of these left-libertarians call themselves “bleeding heart libertarians.” They favor a society that frees the market and empowers the poor by removing all state subsidies, protections and grants of monopoly power that now favor some people over others. The idea is that a level playing field (a “freed” market) will tip the equilibrium back toward the little guy, without using government force to correct the inequities. I find the idea appealing myself. Some left-libertarians of this type would be Gary Chartier and Roderick Long.

Recognizing a libertarian

When it comes to figuring out who is a libertarian, I have found the simplest course is to ask if a person wants to use the government to push me around. Will he or she leave me alone or will they force me to pay for their pet project? A person shows his libertarian chops–not when he want to legalize drugs because he is a dopehead–but when he wants to legalize drugs, even while disapproving of drug use.

Pacifists

peace signThere is one interesting group which libertarians can live with peacefully, despite significant differences. These are the pacifists, by which I mean people who reject all violence, even violence used in self-defense or the defense of others.

Sure, there are some people who call themselves pacifists, but what they mean by their “pacifism” is that they do not like war. Welcome to the club.

Other “pacifists” will not use force in self-defense, but will call on others for their defense. Let us set aside these half-baked pacifists and consider pacifists like Gandhi, Tolstoy, Ammon Hennacy or the Amish. These are perfectly good allies for libertarians.

While a libertarian does not believe that anyone (or any group) may initiate violence against another, the pacifist goes one step further. She not only refuses to aggress against another person, she refuses to use violence to respond to aggression upon herself or others.

For such a person, it follows that if she refuses to support her own government in fighting against an enemy, then surely the pacifist will not lend support to a government that uses–or threatens to use–violence against me, her neighbor. She is going to leave me alone and that is what I want.

And I will leave her alone. I may ask her to join me in protecting our neighborhood from an invader and she will refuse. As a libertarian, I have no right to force her to fight for me; no right to extort money from her for my cause. Each of us respects the other’s right to live in peace.

As I see it, not every libertarian is a pacifist, but every pacifist must be a libertarian.

Ama-gi