“Don’t tread on me” or “Do unto others?”

dont-tread-on-neighbor300There is a standard criticism of libertarians by Catholic opponents: that we are selfish individualists.

I cannot understand how avoiding the use of violence in dealing with others is painted as individualistic and un-Christian. I am sorely tempted to believe these critics are being deliberately obtuse. The scriptures teach that we should not do to another what we would not want done to ourselves. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t hit. Don’t harm others. Live and let live. Mind your own business.

So here is my plea for charity: Give us libertarians the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume that libertarians are all about “Don’t tread on me.” I don’t control what others do to me, only what I do unto others. That is where my libertarianism hits the road.

I ran across a very well-made video called “The Conversation.” It’s a powerful dramatization of the non-aggression principle, well-reasoned–and not religiously based–so please share it with everyone.

Let’s give a warm libertarian welcome to . . .

Anarcho-Ichthus-favIn may last post, I discussed some labels used by different libertarians. Shortly after writing that post, I was on-line in a Q&A session of Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom (check it out here), and I posted a question for Tom: “What is your take on Left-Libertarianism?” Here is what he had to say:

There are two aspects to [left-libertarianism] that would distinguish it from plain old libertarianism, maybe what you might call right-libertarianism of the sort that you see with somebody like Hans Hoppe . . .

WoodsIn some ways it’s just a matter of emphasis, . . .  They would say that we get so caught up focusing on defending capitalism that we forget that the system we have now is not really capitalism. It’s a crony system; and so half the time we are defending practices that we ought to be condemning or we are not sensitive enough to this; or we spend too much time allegedly talking about programs that benefit the poor and how we’ve got to get rid of those . . .

The left-libertarian will often be critical of corporations, which they believe are being given special privileges by the government, which I don’t actually think is the case . . . or they think that if it weren’t for various government interventions business firms would be a lot smaller . . .

They are trying to appeal to the left by saying . . . if you want to have smaller scale economy and not such an industrial concentration, then in a pure free market that is what you would have. I’m not so sure that is the case. Maybe it is; maybe it’s not. Peter Klein says there is a whole literature on this. It’s not generally referred to by the left-libertarians.

The other thing is they tend to subscribe to what they call “thick” libertarianism, as opposed to thin. Thin libertarianism would be to say that a libertarian believes in the non-aggression principle; that you shouldn’t initiate physical aggression against a peaceful person.

But the “thick” libertarian would say: OK, but that’s not enough though; we have to favor opposition to all types of oppression, so we have to be feminists, have to be anti-racists, we have to be all this laundry list of other things. There may be merits in all those other things. That’s not the point.

The point is: Is that necessary to make you a libertarian? They would say there are other forms of oppression out there in the world and these other forms of oppression feed into statism in one way or the other, so it’s not enough just to go after the state.

I’m a “thin” libertarian. Why should we increase barriers to libertarianism? As long as you believe in the non-aggression axiom, who cares what you believe in otherwise? As long as you are not going to use violence, THAT’S the thing.

C.S. Lewis wrote, in his preface to Mere Christianity, that “mere” Christianity, in contrast to its many varieties, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant:

 . . . is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.

Lewis’s “rooms” are the different Christian churches, but I believe his metaphor works better for libertarianism than it does for Christianity. “Mere” libertarianism (“thin” libertarianism) can be likened to Lewis’s great hallway. In the hallway, the non-aggression principle is accepted as the minimum standard of conduct necessary for a peaceful society. Of course there are many rooms off the hallway, beckoning to anyone who believes there is more to life than simply not-being-a-busybody. That would include just about everybody.

Left-libertarians have many admirable goals. There are people who want to encourage small, local or worker owned-businesses. There are back-to-the-land people, union people, religious people, atheists and socialists, and whatever, all of them wanting to live their lives–as best as they can–by the light that they have, united and limited by a common desire for peace.

In this sense, we are all “thick” libertarians in that we believe we are here for something more than just being ”left alone,” but if we are forced to agree on the “thick” part, then we are doomed before we start.

As Tom Woods says, “Why should we increase barriers to libertarianism? As long as you believe in the non-aggression axiom, who cares what you believe in otherwise? As long as you are not going to use violence, THAT’S the thing.”

Let’s not turn anyone away from the great hallway. And then, as C.S. Lewis appealed: “When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.”

Ama-gi

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

Libertarian does not mean libertine

Why do so many think that libertarians are “anything goes” libertines? Many conservatives believe that libertarians are really just liberals. Many liberals insist that libertarians are really just conservatives. How can it be both? It is wrong to say–as some do–that libertarians are “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” These views stem from confusion about morality and criminality, such that our modern society has lost the ability to distinguish between vice and crime. Even worse, many so-called crimes are not vices at all.

Conservatives and liberals alike want to use government to force everyone to conform to their view of morality. And each would like to hold the whip against the other, and nobody is happy with the way things are.

This is because we have ignored what St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wisely taught: that punishment for crime should be limited to conduct that harms others (i.e., “theft, murder and the like”). Beyond that, neither individuals, nor the government have the right to punish or force people to do whatever the state tells them.

As to what is moral conduct, libertarians are just as variable as the population as a whole. Libertarian Catholics do not dissent from Church teachings. They embrace them. They hope and pray that others do likewise, but they refuse to use force (whether individual or collective) to make others conform to Christian morals. Only defensive force is legitimate.

That does not mean, however, that a free society would be an “anything goes” society. If drug addiction or prostitution were treated as health and moral issues—rather than as criminal issues—most families would still not want to see them on their streets. People will rightly have their preferences as to church, society, friends and the neighborhoods they live and work in. In later posts, we will see that a libertarian society would be more conducive to a moral lifestyle, not less; more supportive in the raising of families according to our beliefs and our purpose in life.