Two Views of Libertarianism
by Laurence M. Vance: Murder
Is Still Murder
much confusion in the political sphere about libertarianism. Conservatives
often mischaracterize it as discounting human nature and disdaining
morality at the same time that liberals depict it as grossly naïve
and overly utopian.
One can read
what some opponents of libertarianism say about it and then what
some proponents of libertarianism say about it and conclude that
there is no way that both groups could possibly be talking about
the same thing.
Exhibit A is
Tony Greco, writing for the Daily Kos the essay "Four
Reasons to Reject Libertarianism."
that there are "four broad reasons why progressives should
firmly reject" libertarianism:
values are repellent Ė Libertarianism celebrates greed and selfishness.
is intellectually myopic Ė Libertarians cherish freedom above
all, but their concept of freedom is constricted and myopic.
is utopian Ė An active state is a universal feature of advanced
is politically hopeless Ė You might well agree with me on the
three preceding points but still feel that libertarianism has
to be reckoned with politically.
Exhibit B is
Jacob Hornberger, writing for the Future of Freedom Foundation the
Glory of Libertarianism."
argues that libertarianism is glorious for these four reasons:
it is founded on the principle of genuine freedom ó a society
in which people are free to live their lives the way they want,
so long as their conduct is peaceful. What could be more glorious
is founded on solid moral and religious principles, the protection
of free will being the best example. Another one is its recognition
of the wrongfulness of stealing, even when itís done by people
acting collectively through the government and even when the thief
uses the money to help others in need.
the economic realm, libertarianism is the only system that raises
peopleís standard of living, especially those at the bottom of
the economic ladder. Thatís because many people who are accumulating
wealth inevitably save some of that wealth, which is then available
as capital, which enables business owners to purchase better tools
and equipment, which in turn make their workers more productive,
which then leads to higher real wage rates.
society in which people have the widest possible ambit for free
will and freedom of choice will be one that nurtures, develops,
and encourages such important traits as compassion, caring, and
Greco, libertarians donít care much about the poor. They "are
simply not much bothered by social and economic inequality."
Their "hearts bleed for the rich and successful, not for the
underprivileged." Libertarians "understand freedom almost
exclusively in terms of freedom from government." They donít
recognize that "unfettered capitalism" and the "free
market economy" can be "as great a threat to freedom as
government action." They refuse to recognize that "government
action is necessary to mitigate the oppression inflicted by markets."
The minimal government society that libertarians envision "doesnít
exist anywhere in the industrial or post-industrial world, and never
has." Libertarianism "is as distant from real world possibilities
as traditional socialism, and should be taken no more seriously."
Libertarians can never achieve mass appeal because they are "hobbled
by their principled consistency." Politically, they have "an
elitist economic program plus some sensible proposals"
Hornberger, libertarians "strive to convert our country into
one that Franklin preferred, one where liberty dwells." Liberal
and conservative statists think they live in a free country because
"they define freedom in a totally different way than we libertarians
do." They define freedom as "the extent to which the federal
government takes care of people with welfare" or "the
extent to which the U.S. military and the CIA police the world."
Libertarians think just the opposite. Freedom "is defined by
the absence of government paternalism and the absence of a vast
military empire and national-security state apparatus." Freedom
for libertarians entails the right to "engage in any peaceful
behavior whatsoever, no matter how irresponsible, dangerous, or
self-destructive," to "make choices, for better or for
worse, so long as they donít involve the initiation of force against
someone else," to "engage in any occupation without seeking
permission of the government," to "engage in economic
transactions with anyone anywhere in the world without government
interference, regulation, or control," and to "accumulate
unlimited amounts of wealth and the right to decide what to do with
it." Yes, libertarianism necessarily entails free markets,
but rather than oppression-inflicting, free markets "are nothing
more than sellers and consumers peacefully interacting with each
other for mutual gain."
So, whose view
of libertarianism is correct?
I think someone
has a tremendous misconception of just what libertarianism is, and
it is not Jacob Hornberger.
greatest theorist, Murray
is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic
theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important
subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence
in social life. Political theory deals with what is proper or
improper for government to do, and government is distinguished
from every other group in society as being the institution of
organized violence. Libertarianism holds that the only
proper role of violence is to defend person and property against
violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just
defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism,
therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free
of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except
invade the person or property of another. What a person does
with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant
celebrate greed and selfishness? Some no doubt do. Do libertarians
not care for the poor? Some no doubt do not. Are libertarians not
bothered by social and economic inequality? Some no doubt are not.
Are libertarians not concerned about the underprivileged? Some no
doubt are not. But this has nothing to do with libertarianism. One
can be a liberal, a progressive, a moderate, or a conservative and
celebrate greed and selfishness, not care for the poor, not be bothered
by social and economic inequality, and not be concerned about the
underprivileged. And not caring for the poor, not being bothered
by social and economic inequality, and not being concerned about
the underprivileged does not involve committing violence against
anyone. Grecoís solutions to righting what he perceives as the wrongs
in society all involve aggression against person and property.
celebrates liberty, property, peace, laissez faire, anything thatís
peaceful, individual responsibility, free markets, free thought,
a free society, and the absence of government attempts to do violence
to these things in the name of social justice, correcting inequality,
or promoting fairness.
is glorious indeed.
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, Rethinking
the Good War, and The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. His latest book
War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom. Visit his
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