Not a Libertarian Manifesto

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Review of Matt Kibbe, Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto (William Morrow, 2014), ix + 262 pgs..

“Don’t hurt people” and “Don’t take their stuff” are actually the first two of six “rules for liberty” found in the first chapter of Matt Kibbe’s new book Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto. The others are “Take responsibility,” “Work for it,” “Mind your own business,” and “Fight the Power.” Chapter 1 is indeed somewhat of a libertarian manifesto, but the rest of the book is standard conservative fare—just as I predicted.

I was made aware of Kibbe’s new book in a mass e-mail I received from Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation, an individual and an organization that I have often criticized. In the e-mail, DeMint recommended Kibbe’s book, although he failed to mention the last part of the title about the book being “a libertarian manifesto.” I then wondered in a blog post why the president of a conservative think tank would be recommending what was apparently a libertarian book. DeMint is no libertarian, and Heritage is not known for its libertarianism. My initial reaction to all this was to “question the extent and depth of the libertarianism presented in the book.” And although I expressed hope that my initial reaction would prove to be wrong, I suspected “that the book’s flaw” would “be in what it doesn’t say, rather than in what it says.”

The extent and depth of the libertarianism presented in the book are limited and disappointing. From the standpoint of libertarianism, the book doesn’t say a whole lot. And some of what the book says is flawed as well.

Matt Kibbe is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks, “a grassroots service center to a community of over 6 million activists who believe in individual liberty and Constitutionally-limited government.” The FreedomWorks website also says:

We are over 6 million americans who are passionate about promoting free markets and individual liberty. Our members all share three common traits: a desire for less government, lower taxes, and more economic freedom.

For over a quarter century, FreedomWorks has identified, educated, and actuated citizens who are enthused about showing up to support free enterprise and constitutionally limited government.

This is standard conservative boilerplate. I don’t see anything distinctively libertarian on the website. I do, however, see endorsements of Republican candidates.

The FreedomWorks PAC is endorsing Doug Lamborn (R-CO) for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a “true conservative” and “the clear choice for Coloradans looking to preserve individual freedom and rein in Washington’s out-of-control spending.” Comments Kibbe: “Doug Lamborn is a principled leader with a proven record of supporting individual freedoms and opposing big government spending.”

But is this so? Lamborn was one of the 219 out of 231 House Republicans who recently voted for the rotten Ryan Republican budget. This bloated, unbalanced budget is filled with unconstitutional spending. It allows for a federal debt of $18.304 trillion in fiscal year 2015 that increases to $21.089 trillion in fiscal year 2024. And Lamborn opposes big government spending?

Okay, back to the book.

Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto contains nine chapters followed by acknowledgments, notes, and an index. Surprisingly, there is no preface or introduction. The book is a quick read since it is small in size (262 pages, 5 x 8) and printed in a large font with plenty of leading.

As mentioned above, chapter 1 can be considered somewhat of a libertarian manifesto. Under his first rule, “Don’t Hurt People,” Kibbe quotes Murray Rothbard on the non-aggression principle. He also quotes in this first chapter Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Adam Smith, and Lord Acton. And says Kibbe:

Everyone should be free to live their lives as they think best, free from meddling by politicians and government bureaucrats, as long as they don’t hurt other people, or take other people’s stuff.

Government is, by definition, a monopoly on force. Governments often hurt people and take their stuff.

Unlimited governments always hurt people and always take their stuff, often in horrific and absolutely unintended ways.

Free people live and let live. Free people don’t have any great designs on the freedoms of other people, and we expect them to return the favor.

I would like other people, and the government, to stay out of my personal business. I plan to return the favor.

Sounds good, but right away I see two problems.

First of all, after mentioning the libertarian non-aggression principle, but before quoting Rothbard, Kibbe says: “Don’t start a fight, but always be prepared, if absolutely necessary, to finish a fight unjustly instigated by someone else.” This is not what the non-aggression principle says or even implies.

And second, Kibbe provides no real-world examples of the non-aggression principle in action. For instance, the drug war. Should the government stop hurting drug users and taking their stuff? It does it all the time. Should individuals not want to lock other individuals in cages for possessing any or too much of some arbitrary amount of drugs? Most conservatives think so.

Unfortunately, the book goes downhill from there. The libertarianism introduced in the first chapter is confined to just the first chapter. This doesn’t mean that the book is bad or false. But it does mean that the book doesn’t say a whole lot about libertarianism. It does talk about the evils of Obama and Obamacare, the failings of the Republican Party, and especially John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the problem with government bailouts, the complexity of the tax code, the IRS targeting of conservatives, and the growing regulatory state.

But just because a book criticizes the Patriot Act and the NSA, warns against entangling alliances, refers several times to Ayn Rand, and quotes Judge Napolitano on the FISA court doesn’t mean that it is a libertarian book.

It is good that Kibbe says we need to scrap the tax code and abolish the IRS, but it is not so good that he wants to “start over with a simple, low, flat tax.” And neither is it so good that he has nothing but praise for Martin Luther King Jr., advocates tax dollars for educational vouchers under the guise of “school choice,” and promotes Republican politicians, two of whom (Justin Amash and David Schweikert) just joined Doug Lamborn in voting for the rotten Ryan Republican budget, and one of whom (Ted Cruz) is one of the biggest defenders of Social Security and Medicare.

I see two factual errors of note. The quote Kibbe attributes to George Washington, “Government is not reason” (p. 55) is highly disputed. And it is not true that Rosa Parks “famously refused to sit in the ‘blacks only’ section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama” (p. 141).

Outside of the first chapter, there is nothing distinctly libertarian about Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto. From a libertarian standpoint, it is a big disappointment. I think the book will wrongly assure some conservatives that they are libertarians and rightly point some conservatives toward libertarianism. Although the book does contain some things that conservatives would do well to pay attention to, it is decidedly not a libertarian manifesto.

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