Since a website devoted to Progressive criticisms of libertarianism cites Robert Locke’s article “Marxism of the Right” as an exemplary critique of libertarianism, I’m focusing on that article for a bit.
The fallacy I attack in this blog is that libertarianism seeks to impose a certain kind of society on everyone. We will see clearly by the end of this blog that it is Progressivism that seeks to impose a certain government and society on everyone and that refuses to allow dissident groups to opt out.
Locke in 2005 put it this way: “[Libertarianism] entails imposing a certain kind of society, with all its attendant pluses and minuses, which the inhabitants thereof will not be free to opt out of except by leaving.”
Libertarianism logically does not entail imposing a certain kind of government and society, however. If individuals possess their rights of association, as libertarianism aims for, they can consent to be governed in any number of ways and in any number of groupings. There can be many kinds of societies with many kinds of relations, one with another. The assumption that Locke was making was that the same kind of one territory-one society-one government arrangement and thinking that now predominate will also occur in a libertarian world. Such is not logically the case because people can opt out of a territorial government while not leaving. Libertarians can achieve a libertarian society for themselves merely by being “let go” by the ruling society and state. “Let my people go” need not entail a physical departure from the land of one’s father and forefathers. It means ending a status as citizen with all that’s implied by such a status. Those who wish to continue to be ruled by an existing government can do so, even with libertarians in their midst who have opted out. A great many laws, controls, and actions of such a government can remain in place for those who wish to be so ruled. Such a government could still collect taxes, regulate its companies, issue fiat money, maintain a large military force, maintain an empire, stop its citizens from using drugs, redistribute wealth, etc. But its jurisdiction and control would not reach to those persons who chose to opt out of that government. This separate treatment is entirely feasible. Governments already have numerous laws that discriminate among all sorts of occupations, religious institutions, charitable institutions, tribes, persons, nations, diplomats, visitors, guests, states, industries, wealth levels, etc.
The Libertarian Party platform appears to be close to the view that Locke describes, that is, putting in place a certain kind of government that all inhabitants of a territory would have to accept. But this is under the presumption that the government has a territorial monopoly. I say “close to the view” because the platform’s language actually leaves considerable wiggle room for competing non-territorial governments or panarchy, even though these are not mentioned.
In the preamble to the platform are broad statements that allow all kinds of scope for panarchy, such as “As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” And “The world we seek to build is one where individuals are free to follow their own dreams in their own ways, without interference from government or any authoritarian power.” And “Consequently, we defend each person’s right to engage in any activity that is peaceful and honest, and welcome the diversity that freedom brings.”
However, where the platform fuzzes this up and supports Locke’s allegation are where it implicitly assumes territorial government and makes broad statements about what government would do or should do or not do if libertarians were in power.
Even in 2005, in analyzing the state’s territoriality, it was clear that separating from the state, as opposed to abolishing it or taking it over, was a clear implication of libertarianism:
“When States suppress or fight separatist movements, they act as if they ‘own’ their claimed territory and that no one else does. Even if the breakaway individuals own land, the State acts as if the land is not really theirs but the State’s. The same goes for the individuals trying to separate. They are not allowed to. They must pay tribute to the State and accept the State’s impositions, protections, and regulations such as they are. They cannot organize their own community or non-community. This means that the State has a claim on them and their property that they cannot escape. This means that the State has an ownership claim on them and their property, at least a partial claim.”
It is only one more step to realize that applying the Non-Aggression Principle to choice of government has to mean that individuals can separate from the territorial state without necessarily leaving their country, their land, their property, their families and their relations with others.
Whatever merit that Locke’s criticism had in 2005, and I think it did have some substance in locating an ambivalent, ambiguous or even contradictory element among some libertarians and in the libertarian approach to reform, it no longer holds in libertarian theory as I see it. In fact, panarchy puts the shoe on the other foot. We now see that philosophies like Progressivism assume one central government over one people on one territory. These are the philosophies that do not allow people to opt out of the government of a territory without leaving the country. These are the philosophies that do not allow consent of the governed and that force one government on everyone.1:35 pm on May 22, 2014