The Libertarian Movement

Taken from a comment at the post “Trade Winds”:

Anonymous February 9, 2018 at 5:56 AM

There’s so much fracturing within the libertarian movement for a variety of reasons currently and a host of ill will being generated as a result that seems to be making it difficult for movement towards common goals.

To which I replied:

I have been thinking quite a bit about this recently, the idea of a “libertarian” movement. I am wondering…if the objective is to achieve a move toward liberty, perhaps it isn’t a “libertarian movement” (as the term is generally understood) that will get us there.

Further along in the conversation, I added:

I don’t think there is a meaningful “we” when it comes to libertarians. Where left and right libertarians overlap is minuscule relative to where (and, more importantly, on what issues) we diverge.

Those on the libertarian left hold to more of a “we” with Gramsci and Soros; those on the libertarian right hold to more of a “we” with Pat Buchanan and Walter Williams.

What follows is my attempt to work out my thoughts on this matter; writing (and getting your feedback) is about the only way I know how to do this.  In other words, be kind with your criticism…this is my first attempt to put these thoughts into words.

Let’s start with the basics: in order to address the concept of a “libertarian movement,” we should have some common understanding about what is meant by a political movement:

In the social sciences, a political movement is a social group that operates together to obtain a political goal, on a local, regional, national, or international scope. Political movements develop, coordinate, promulgate, revise, amend, interpret, and produce materials that are intended to address the goals of the base of the movement.

Libertarianism, to the extent it is a political movement, is for one thing and one thing only: to increase liberty.  For libertarians, this means adherence to the non-aggression principle (NAP), and this must be based on inviolate property right.

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Now this simplicity leaves much room in the tent for an almost infinite number of varying “goals of the base of the movement,” as almost any “goal” is acceptable as long as it does not violate the NAP.

I have yet to meet a libertarian who defines himself (as an individual) strictly with the NAP.  Each libertarian has “goals” beyond this – none of the goals in violation of the NAP, yet many of the goals in conflict with the goals of other libertarians.  A simple example might be gay marriage: this need not be a “goal” for every libertarian even though the idea does not violate the NAP.

I will now offer a series of intellectual exercises in order to better allow for (I hope) a proper examination of this topic.

Exercise 1:

Let me know on which of the following social issues all libertarians agree, such that these can be the goals of a political movement.  Now, to be clear, I am not speaking of making any of the following illegal; I am merely asking a question about social / political “goals.”  I will make my life easy and use the chapter titles from Walter Block’s “Defending the Undefendable”:

The Prostitute, The Pimp, The Male Chauvinist Pig, The Drug Pusher, The Drug Addict, The Blackmailer, The Slanderer and Libeler, The Denier of Academic Freedom, The Advertiser, The Person Who Yells “Fire!” in a Crowded Theater, The Gypsy Cab Driver, The Ticket, The Dishonest Cop, The (Nongovernment) Counterfeiter, The Miser, The Inheritor, The Moneylender, The Noncontributor to Charity, The Curmudgeon, The Slumlord, The Ghetto Merchant, The Speculator, The Importer, The Middleman, The Profiteer, The Stripminer, The Litterer, The Wastemakers, The Fat Capitalist-Pig Employer, The Scab, The Rate Buster, The Employer of Child Labor.

I have little doubt that Walter has examined each of these through the lens of thin libertarianism and found each of these to not be a violation of the non-aggression principle.  Of course, this does not mean that Walter believes that these items are wholesome or that practicing any of these will make the world a better place.  Just…these are not violations of the NAP; each libertarian is free to be “pro” or “con,” and also to act accordingly.

Achieving any one of these items may be a goal for some libertarians and may be irrelevant to others.  Frankly, some libertarians may rightly feel “if this is the liberty I am fighting for, you can keep it”; for example, this could be the case if it is felt that achieving some of these goals will ultimately destroy liberty.

Fair enough.  But let me ask you: on your personal subjective value scale, where does adherence to the thinnest of thin libertarian principle rank if placed on a list with the above items (whether you are socially for or against the item)?

Is strict adherence to the non-aggression principle so important to you that you will fight and die for it so that others may be free to practice any of the above?  Is it more important to you than adhering to social values that will make for a world in which you would like your children and grandchildren to live?  Is it your view that in a world that accepted such practices liberty would stand no chance?

Look…I am not advocating for the state; I am not advocating against the NAP.  I’m just asking simple questions.  If you won’t honestly contemplate and answer these, and instead want to attack my libertarian street cred, the problem is yours, not mine.

Exercise 2:

Now, if Walter’s list isn’t enough, what of the following: abortion, open borders and immigration, religion, hierarchical/patriarchal governance?

There are libertarians who believe that one side or the other on each of these issues is the only proper libertarian conclusion.  I have written enough about my opinion on each of these; I need not go into it further now.  I will just suggest: for some libertarians, one side or the other of these is deemed both the proper libertarian answer and necessary if one is ever to have a hope of achieving a libertarian society.

These are not small issues.  For example, abortion.  Since 1980, there have been 1.5 billion abortions worldwide.  Let that number sink in for a minute.

Let’s assume, as many libertarians do, that abortion is not a violation of the NAP (a laughable position for a libertarian to take; imagine, a non-aggression principle that makes it OK to aggress against the most innocent and least able to provide self-defense – 1.5 billion times); is it possible that being against abortion is more important to some libertarians than being for the NAP?

Is it possible that in a world that accepts this level of aggression against its most innocent and vulnerable, that the non-aggression principle doesn’t stand a chance?  Look, I’m just asking.

Exercise 3:

Imagine a Venn diagram with two circles.  The circles overlap for 5% of the area of each circle; 95% of each circle is independent of the other circle.

Let’s call each of the two circles the different views individuals hold on dozens of social topics – a short portion of which I have identified above; you may think of one circle as left (or liberal) and the other circle as right (or conservative) – I merely use this shorthand for convenience.

Let’s call the subset the non-aggression principle – the one thing libertarians both left and right (should, but don’t always) hold in common; the one thing that the “movement” could get behind.

I suggest that left libertarians hold far more positions in common with leftists of all stripes than they do right libertarians; I will suggest right libertarians hold far more positions in common with rightists of all stripes than they do left libertarians.  I certainly know this to be the case from all of the interactions I have had.

Yes, we have a choice: libertarians can focus on the 5%, the common ground – which is basically one thing, the non-aggression principle – and therefore band together on this.  It would make a lot of sense if one believes the non-aggression principle to be the one true faith – that this principle, by itself and without any supporting foundation, will be both sufficient and accepted such that liberty will be greatly increased.

In other words – it would make sense if it is true that as long as libertarians agree on the 5%, the other 95% will have no impact on the future of liberty or will otherwise take care of itself.  It might be so.  Let’s just say that for me to believe this would take the faith of about 10,000 mustard seeds.

Exercise 4:

But that’s just my opinion.  So, let’s try it another way: some believe that the non-aggression principle is sufficient in itself – that a liberty-supporting culture will come forth on any underlying cultural soil; liberty can be built on any set of traditions.

Alternatively, I believe a generally accepted common culture and tradition is necessary as a foundation for a libertarian community to develop and survive, and that this tradition can be found in what is generally understood to be Western Civilization.

In other words, I believe that the 95% that is different will overwhelm the 5%; other libertarians believe the 5% will be enough in common to keep at bay the 95%.

So, shall we play a game?  If these others are right (focus on the NAP, and liberty will follow), we get liberty; if they are wrong, we live in hell (read the above list again; is this a world you want to live in?  Have you known those to hold to leftist views, as the term is used today, ever to call for less government involvement?).

So what happens if we try it my way?  If I am right (focus on the right culture, and liberty will follow), we get liberty; if I am wrong, well…we still get something pretty close to liberty (just check the relative liberty of those living within Western Civilization over the last 2,000 years relative to the liberty to be found anywhere else).

I like the low risk option myself; even if I lose, I pretty much win.  No need for mustard seeds!


The answer?  Decentralization.  You know the problem with this?  Recall how many libertarians hated the idea of Catalunya seceding from Spain.  In other words, libertarians don’t even share this as a goal.  After all, if liberty is for all then we must think universally – there is no such thing as secession from the universe, after all.

Look, if libertarians would do nothing more than focus on decentralization and anti-empire and anti-war, I am all in.  You want to hear something funny?  I find more in common on these points with The Saker – not a libertarian from what I have gathered – than I do with many libertarians.  What does that make me, I wonder?  And what does it say about focusing on a “libertarian movement” as opposed to some other group movement?

Exercise 5:

I really don’t know about this “libertarian movement” and focusing on common ground thing.  Would libertarianism have been better off if Murray Rothbard made peace with Cato and just focused on privatizing municipal garbage service, making the state more efficient, etc.?


I have to ask for you, as I always must when writing along these lines: “Is bionic dumping the NAP?”

No, not at all; it is a wonderful political concept that has a great role to play in a society that deserves it and can keep it.  I am just not expecting more from it than it is capable of delivering.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.