The term “vulgar libertarians” was coined by Kevin Carson in his Mutualist Blog to describe libertarians whom he views as cheerleaders for crony capitalism and big business, which exist to the detriment of consumers and workers.
Mutualist Carson is sometimes labeled a thick libertarian, along with other prefixed libertarians: Left-Libertarians, Bleeding Heart Libertarians and others who add to the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) their opposition to all oppression: sexism, racism, wage labor, religious hierarchy and other concerns (both real and imagined).
A new blog–the “VULGAR LIBERTARIANS“–proudly wears Carson’s name tag, apparently embracing the word “vulgar” in its primary dictionary meaning: “generally used, applied, or accepted.” These “vulgar” libertarians proclaim an unhyphenated libertarianism that sticks to the basics, i.e. the non-aggression principle. As this post notes: “The prefixed libertarians may claim that they have gone “beyond” libertarianism, we contend that they haven’t reached it yet.”
Thick and thin are not that far apart
To some extent, the thick and thin libertarians talk past one another. Both harbor suspicions that the other would use force to achieve their own goals. The truth is that thin libertarians really do believe in the NAP and would gladly strip away every vestige of crony capitalism: no more monopoly privileges, government licensing, bailouts or regulations. Such changes would create many opportunities, especially for the poor.
“Thick” libertarians are quite vocal about the importance of such changes, but a substantial portion of those view such changes as the natural results of liberty, not some private agenda they would see tacked on to the NAP.
These are good reasons for a clean unencumbered libertarianism which raises no barriers to those who have differing viewspoints.
Vulgar libertarians and property titles
We vulgar- thin- plain vanilla- libertarians need to keep in mind that the thick or left-libertarians have one issue that cannot be evaded once we achieve liberty. The issue is one of property titles.
If tomorrow there were no government to say who owned what, would we all agree that each person owns that property which he possesses at that moment? Or would it be fair to assume that each person would own whatever the (now-defunct) government would have said she owned the day before it was dissolved? This issue cannot be evaded. Murray Rothbard writes about the mythical kingdom of Ruritania on the eve of its overthrow by libertarian rebels:
The king, seeing the revolt to be imminently successful, now employs a cunning stratagem. He proclaims his government to be dissolved, but just before doing so he arbitrarily parcels out the entire land area of his kingdom to the “ownership” of himself and his relatives. He then goes to the libertarian rebels and says: “all right, I have granted your wish, and have dissolved my rule; there is now no more violent intervention in private property. However, myself and my eleven relatives now each own one-twelfth of Ruritania, and if you disturb us in this ownership in any way, you shall be infringing upon the sanctity of the very fundamental principle that you profess: the inviolability of private property. Therefore, while we shall no longer be imposing ‘taxes,’ you must grant each of us the right to impose any ‘rents’ that we may wish upon our ‘tenants,’ or to regulate the lives of all the people who presume to live on ‘our’ property as we see fit.
~ Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 9
Obviously, property titles will be up for grabs if those titles are known to be the result of theft. There will have to be some consensus regarding who shall own formerly-public property, which–with few exceptions–was acquired by theft.
Shall public schools be owned by the teachers? by the students? Perhaps the streets would be acquired by the adjacent property owners. Public utilities might end up as cooperatives owned by their customers, and so on. These matters can be worked out.
Property titles will always be questionable if they were granted as a government favor. Some commentators suggest that quasi-private institutions–largely or wholly funded by government–such as universities, hospitals or military arms manufacturers should be re-distributed. And it gets trickier.
Far-left-libertarians, looking to further the class struggle, believe that capital goods properly belong to whomever is occupying or using the property. It is difficult to imagine the workers taking ownership of every privately-owned factory; each renter claiming title to every house or apartment he occupies, and not encountering enormous resistance, even bloodshed.
These are issues that some “thick” libertarians present. They are worth thinking over, but they do not define libertarianism and should not limit the movement.