Many readers who write to me call me a libertarian. Sometimes the word is used in admiration, sometimes in derision. Obviously the writer assumes that I understand what he or she believes the word means. I don’t.
The temptation to label people, and human activities, is enormous. Some journalists seem to specialize in it. A nice fuzzy label like "democratic society" can then cover a lot of nice fuzzy territory from democratic republic to democratic socialism to democratic despotism, and subsume any combination that the writer chooses, without spelling it out. This is a favored tool of propagandists, and I guess people just pick up the habit from being exposed to it all the time.
As I have written elsewhere, I never did jump on a libertarian bandwagon, and to be labeled one, whatever it may be, troubles me. I do endorse the non-aggression principle, which I spell out in my own terms to mean the rejection of any initiation of force or fraud in human relations. One should note that by this definition, political government, which is defined as the legal monopoly of force and fraud in human relations, is ruled out.
Maybe I should spell that out a little more. (As my mother-in-law always liked to remark, I commit the sin of assumption too, that is assuming that people know what I’m talking about.) History tells us about all kinds of political governments, also known as states, or countries, or jurisdictions, or empires. In every instance, no matter what it was labeled, monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, theocracy, people’s republic, whatever, it consisted of the rule by a few over the masses, enforced by a monopoly use of weapons, and the threat of death to any individual who wanted to opt out. Don’t take my word for it, read history, and see if you can find an exception. Political government is rule by force and fraud.
So I’m saying that to be what I think is a libertarian, one must necessarily reject political government. Here’s where we get to the fuzzy part, because there appear to be many different kinds of libertarians, espousing many different variations of political government based, I believe, on how they would wield the monopoly on force and fraud if they had the chance. But how can a person who approves of force and fraud be called a libertarian? I think the contradiction is obvious. Maybe we need some new labels.
Note: This article was inspired by my friend, and mentor, Alvin Lowi, Jr.
Robert Klassen [send him mail] retired from a forty-year career in critical-care respiratory therapy. He is the author of five books, including Atlantis: A Novel about Economic Government, and Economic Government, which describe a solution to the problem of political government. Here’s his web site.