A Libertarian Cheat Sheet
by Wilton D. Alston
by Wilton D. Alston
dawned on me – actually as I began research for another article
– that some concepts foundational to libertarianism are legitimately
difficult to grasp. (Yes, I am a slow learner.) I attempted to define
Market Anarchism (MA) in my previous articles, "Where
Have All the Black Libertarians Gone?" and "The
Black Libertarian’s FAQ," while providing links for further
information. Despite that, people still asked me what MA was. The
other night, a woman in a bar told me that she could not become
a libertarian because she "didn’t want to carry a gun,"
or words to that effect. Somehow she had concluded that libertarianism
requires gun toting. (I apparently overlooked that rule,
but hopefully somebody will inform me in due time. Hey, if I need
to stock up on ammo, time’s a-wasting!) Then, I got an e-mail that
really took me by surprise. The respondent said, "I know that
libertarians embrace nationalism but under what pretense? Is there
nationalism because of residence or because there is an actual investment
in national identity?" Say what? Okay, now even I am confused.
While I admit
that I am neither the sharpest tool in the shed nor the second coming
of Sam Cleamons, if anyone can find anything in my articles that
in any way suggests that I have swallowed a heaping helping of the
neoconservative "love it or leave it" Kool-Aid, please,
for the love of all that’s holy, help me out of my stupor – break
out the smelling salts! By way of honest admission though, let me
also say: It is unquestionably true that some folks, and
unfortunately even some folks whom I mentioned as examples of black
libertarians, seem tragically mistaken in this regard. There is
a fair amount of unfortunate "us-Americans-against-the-world"
hysteria out there – and erstwhile (or future) black libertarians
are not immune to it. The fact is, a belief in nationalism is without
rational basis and logical support in libertarian law. That is my
story and I am sticking to it.
By the way,
even though my previous articles focused on the relationship of
black folks to libertarianism, the truth of the matter is this:
libertarianism appeals to me because it is race agnostic
– race is (or should be) irrelevant. This is not because
libertarianism benefits, or appeals to, any race in particular,
but because race should not be used as a proxy for anything of relevance
in society. Race is an illusion – truly only skin deep. I
strongly encourage anyone who doubts this fundamental truth to study
the profound PBS series entitled, "RACE
– the Power of an Illusion" for more background and insight.
A section entitled, "Ten
Things Everyone Should Know About Race," found under "Background
Reading - Science," is a good place at which to begin.
compressing the years I have spent formulating these views into
a few minutes of reading might be a little tough, I will
still attempt to provide a series of definitions, concepts, and
related information for those who are still not grasping the lingo,
content, and context of Market Anarchism. Certainly, this
will only be the start of a working list. As is my habit,
I will also call on better authors than myself for help whenever
the opportunity presents itself. But first, maybe we should look
at a few of the more popular misconceptions.
As we hack
our way through the jungle of state propaganda searching for truth,
misunderstandings are bound to crop up. Some of them, however, seem
to have taken on a life of their own. Just a sampling of those is:
it’s "all about the Benjamins." While a free market
approach to society would, I believe, result in widespread increases
in disposable income and corresponding improvements in standards
of living, money is not really the issue. In the triumvirate of
life, liberty, and property, only one item – property – has anything
to do with money. Libertarian law is about choice, not cash.
Allow everyone choice and the economics will take care of itself.
More on this foundational concept – the market – is found
love guns in general and the NRA
in particular. The ownership of firearms is but one item
of choice in the spectrum of personal freedom. And given the non-aggression
principle, explained below, it is not even necessarily one of
ultimate importance, at least not to me. If someone wants to own
a handy Glock .40, a well-maintained AK-47, or even a pocket SCUD,
I do not care. Similarly, if one wants to arm himself with one of
those circus guns that says "Bang!," a cadre of harsh
words, and a rapier-like wit, more power to him. Simply stated,
that is your business, not mine. Libertarianism is about choices
made by people who have both the right and responsibility for doing
so. On the issue of the National Rifle Association specifically,
let me say this. I generally have little interest in supporting
political candidates on any basis. Lobbying them heavily, which
the NRA does with aplomb, is just another way for the few to take
advantage of the many.
do not care about the poor. Now that one hurts! I am working
on a full article that examines some of the fallacies regarding
the state and how much it really "helps" those in need,
but for the time being, let me put this into simple terms. Since
the implementation of the "Great Society," poverty in
the U.S. has gotten worse. (If that’s helping, how does one know
when to stop?) I have seen first-hand how the recipients of rent
money via my local department of social services simply cannot go
from having their rent paid for them to paying it themselves. In
many years of owning and managing rental property I never
saw one person make the change successfully. Not one. (Listen, I
have been self-sufficient for a while, and managing my money is
no walk in the park for me. Thankfully I got to practice.) Giving
a man a fish, no matter well-intended, or how nutritionally satisfying
for that matter, will never impart to him the skills necessary
to catch his own fish. In fact, supply him with fish for long enough
and he will, almost without exception, forget that fishing
was ever a necessity. (And even if he somehow does not forget,
his progeny have no chance of remembering that which they never
had to learn or practice.) This logic is unassailable. With friends
like that, who needs enemies?
think America is the best country around. While oft-repeated
by many across the political spectrum, this sentiment – be it true
or false – is irrelevant. (I mean really, who cares? What difference
does it make?) Regardless of how much I enjoy Wendy’s, the NFL,
and cable TV, the United States is no more immune to or un-needing
of improvement than any country that we invade ostensibly to install
democracy. Count me among those who feel that flying, sailing, or
otherwise traveling the globe to spread democracy – usually through
the barrel of an M-16 – is hegemonic lunacy in the tradition of
Hitler and Stalin. The type of irrational hubris necessary to buy
into such psychosis would hardly be worthy of comment were it not
so widespread. The rhetoric of which I take part here is designed,
more than anything else, to help prevent, in some small way, America
from falling any further into the abyss of fascism, fundamentalism,
and nationalism. More importantly, libertarianism is based upon
the individual not the collective. The very basis of nationalism
is irrational when examined in this light.
do not understand that the state maintains order. The objection
that without the state life will devolve into a constant battle
between rotten-toothed bands of evil men and all us helpless sheep
(like a Capital One commercial gone terribly awry) is based, I believe,
upon a misunderstanding of what anarchy is, combined with an overabundance
of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome-inspired pop culture polluting
mainstream thought. (Hey, I love the whole Mad
Max series, but c’mon, even in the movies it is clear that
the government caused those problems! How can we intelligently
call upon the government to fix them?) One of the best articles
on this misunderstanding was written by Butler
Shaffer and is entitled, "What
Is Anarchy?" Here is a ‘money quote’ from that piece.
am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which
I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression.
How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in
shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle
processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated
to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways
or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work
in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists
on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated.
We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere
to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their
Shaffer is not the only eloquent speaker on behalf of anarchy, he
is a great place at which to start. From that jumping-off point,
I would recommend a piece from Stephan
Kinsella, entitled, "What
It Means to Be an Anarcho-Capitalist." Secondly, I would
recommend a piece from Brad Edmonds, entitled, "Why
Abolishing Government Would Not Bring Chaos," from a series
I link below. Finally, for those who wonder if anarchism has existed
in the U.S., this Murray Rothbard article, entitled, "Pennsylvania’s
Anarchist Experiment" should be quite informative. To continue
the learning process, I now offer a few useful concepts for the
budding market anarchist.
Principles, and Commonly-Used Phrases
While any such
list is bound to be incomplete, I find that the nexus of libertarianism
in general and radical libertarianism in particular – Market
Anarchism – is founded basically upon only a few principles.
Four that immediately come to mind are:
Principle – This is the basis of libertarian law. Fully stated,
it says, "The initiation of force is never justified."
This is a natural extension of the most basic foundations of life,
liberty, and property. It also calls upon the most epistemological
underpinnings of civilization. Killing is wrong. Unwarranted forcible
confinement is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Furthermore, taking any
action that could reasonably be seen as leading – directly or indirectly
– to either of these outcomes is wrong as well. One might, were
he raised with sufficient exposure to organized religion in the
U.S., think that this principle also calls upon that most basic
of Christian spiritual dogma, The Ten Commandments. Not really.
The basis here is not spiritual, it is logical.
non-aggression principle is not intended to provide one with a ticket
to the land of milk and honey or a chance to ride on the streets
paved with gold. Regardless of what may or may not happen in the
afterlife (whether one believes it exists or not) killing, unwarranted
forcible confinement, and stealing – in this life
– would still be wrong. The fact that thousands of years of recorded
history supports this truth notwithstanding, no one, and definitely
no one currently enjoying western civilization, needs to read an
ancient text to understand it. The fact that almost every organized
religion espouses these beliefs is all the more ironic since the
existence of the state absolutely guarantees that at least one practice
prohibited by the non-aggression principle – stealing – and likely
all three, will routinely be practiced on behalf of those the state
ostensibly serves. And yet, many who enjoy and support the power
of government also espouse a belief in religious dogma as well.
The pot and the kettle are lovers!
From Morality – This was originated, as best I can determine,
Molyneux, a libertarian podcaster and fellow LRC contributor.
Based upon the concepts of reciprocity, consistency, and rationality
and conceived out of a passion for the unbiased approach of the
scientific method – this principle can be described simply and fully
as: What is good for you is good for me, and what is good for me
is good for you. Some may detect a bit of that hackneyed expression,
"What’s good for the goose is good for the gander." Well,
that does about sum it up. Others may detect a little bit of The
Golden Rule in there too – "Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you." Again, you are on target. But again, the
basis here is not religious or spiritual. The basis is logical and
If you and
another person are of exactly the same moral nature – of
the same species, enjoying the same corporeal existence, endowed
with the same powers of mind and body, feeling with the same senses,
prone to the same frailties and needs, hampered by the same limitations,
etc. – then your actions toward each other are, as a logical result,
fixed in a moral sense. If they are not fixed, then some objective
moral basis must exist to justify that difference. Furthermore,
no group comprised of similarly endowed individuals, can somehow
have additional rights or different powers or privileges
that you or that other person do not have individually. The existence
of a group of individuals does not automatically endow that group
with powers the individuals do not themselves each have, unless
it is by magic, or sorcery, or the divine right of kings, or some
other irrational belief – or via overt violence – or via megalomaniacal
– This is a supporting thesis of not only my approach to libertarian
law but also to life in general. And it is, in fact, what attracted
me to Market Anarchism most strongly. According to Dictionary.com,
it is defined as:
– the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge,
its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity."
Since I fancy
myself a scientist and an empiricist, I am a willing to be a slave
to facts – actually I require it of others and myself. As a result,
epistemology is the rubric by which I determine what to believe
and what to ignore. A more thorough definition is found at The
Galilean Library, which says, among many other things, that:
then, is concerned with the following:
- The nature
of knowledge: what is knowledge? What do we mean when
we say that we know something?
- The sources
of knowledge: where do we get knowledge from? How do
we know if it's reliable? When are we justified in saying
we know something?
- The scope
of knowledge: what are the limits of knowledge? Are there
any in the first place?
Even if the
reader cannot accept the logic of libertarianism, or the siren call
of Market Anarchism, I cannot strongly enough recommend a
study (and an embrace) of this fundamental philosophical approach.
– This is the resulting condition of a society if (and when) the
principles above are adopted by enough of the population. (Many
of us anarchists use the term anarcho-capitalism interchangeably
with market anarchism.) By the way, I have not the faintest clue
if this term is the best descriptor or even an accurate descriptor
for the societal condition we desire, but I also do not care. I
seek to force neither the description nor the condition onto anyone.
A society wherein everyone decides for himself – with reciprocity
in mind – and thereby drives reactions from everyone else that are,
by definition, self-interested and universal as well, should logically
lead to peace, order, and prosperity.
So, what are
some of the results of applying the concepts defined above, after
clearing away the misconceptions? And what basic nuggets of truth
should one keep in mind as we all struggle in our shared quest?
From my standpoint, just a few of them are:
(i.e., the government) is fundamentally about force. Epistemologically,
this is absolute fact. And once this fact is clear, the necessity
to abolish the state comes into clear focus. I defy anyone to explain
how the state can exist without force as a natural and necessary
component. The first thing any government must do is collect taxes.
Without taxes, the state cannot pay an army – another "must-have"
item for any government seeking to acquire and maintain control.
Furthermore, the collection of taxes itself requires that an enforcement
mechanism exist for those with the impertinence to actually try
to keep their money. Hence, the state equals force – period. Luckily,
one is not stuck with my musings on this subject. Brad
Edmonds has a 6-article series that speaks to this idea and
what it means, in great detail. He also provides some excellent
background information and recommends some other foundational authors.
Start at the bottom with the piece entitled, "Why
Government Must Be Abolished," and read up.
of the Majority is still tyranny. Just because
an ostensible greater number of people – a majority – selects a
certain path forward does not make that path accurate, reasonable,
just, or anything else. Nor does it mean that the minority should
somehow be morally bound by the decision. The first person I heard
use the term "tyranny of the majority" was Lani
Guinier, although the astute readers of LRC will likely know
that this is actually a line from Alexis
de Torqueville’s classic "Democracy
in America." No matter from whence it arose, the concept
meets my logical requirements – if your choice becomes my choice
just because you and another guy made it, then I do not really have
a choice. (And I never did.) That does not sound like freedom to
works just fine without help. This is the one libertarian premise
that often gets the most push-back from those who "know"
that without help, or control, or rules and regulations, some evil
person somewhere will take advantage of the unwashed proletariat,
make a ton of money, and dump the resulting toxic waste into the
nearest aquifer – probably while driving an SUV, twirling his handlebar
mustache, and smoking an unfiltered cigarette. (Snidely Whiplash
lives!) I openly admit that I believed this until I spent just a
few years running my own business. Few endeavors can put misplaced
incentives and ham-handed charity into plain view and perspective
like full-contact entrepreneurship – in my case, owning, rehabbing,
and managing inner city rental property. Rather than spend one more
moment regaling you with my own hard-learned lessons, I recommend
that anyone with any questions in this arena begin by consulting
none other than Murray Rothbard via an article entitled, appropriately
Is the Free Market?" If Rothbard cannot convince you, then
I am, and likely have been, wasting both your time and mine.
begins at home. While railing against the government is a fine
pastime (and I am experiencing intense withdrawal as we speak) the
real battle resides in one’s mind. See my previous
article for a favorite Carter G. Woodson quote, from "The
Mis-Education of the Negro" – powerful truth is contained
therein, and despite the title – for more than black folk alone.
If your personal life is based upon and controlled by slavery to
plans, beliefs, and practices that are not your own, why worry about
the state? He who wants to change the world would be wise to clean
up his bedroom first, no?
all that, are we any closer to Libertopia? Likely we are
not; but if the war was that easy to win we would probably have
won already. We all want freedom – I hope. We all should
understand that imposing our will upon others, no matter how divinely-inspired
we think our will might be, is not freedom. You and I are the best
arbiters of what is good for each of us. You and I have the ultimate
responsibility for obtaining it. You and I are in the best positions
to determine when we each have it. Libertarianism is the embodiment
of these truths. I hope these few points of emphasis will drive
more discussion and maybe, just maybe, result in a few new converts
to libertarianism. I look forward to the challenging, interesting,
and foundational discussion that we will all partake in during our
shared quest for truth.
Alston [send him
mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three
children. When he’s not training for a marathon or furthering his
part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal
research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily
on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.
© 2006 LewRockwell.com