What It Means To Be A Libertarian; Who Should Be Included In This Honorific?

This series started out when several readers of this blog questioned whether or no one of our most prestigious libertarian leaders, Judge Andrew Napolitano, was even a libertarian himself.

However, this thread has now at least partially morphed into a discussion of who should be called a libertarian; what are the criteria for inclusion? Murray Rothbard and I are both big tent libertarians. We both include in this honorific many people other than those who espouse the most strict, pure version of libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism. Murray once told me in this regard, “Every dog gets one bite.” I suppose I’m even more of a “big tenter” than Mr. Libertarian in that I allow several bites. Hey, I include Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek in our group of freedom supporters, and they were guilty of far more than one deviation from the straight and narrow of the NAP and private property ultimately based on homesteading.

Here is a series of letters on this topic, along with my responses:

Letter 1:

From: R

Sent: Monday, July 29, 2019 6:29 AM

To: Walter Block

Subject: Are There Any Flaws In The Free Enterprise System? Yes. – LRC Blog

Are There Any Flaws In The Free Enterprise System? Yes.

Dear Walter:

You say this: “some people like pornography, prostitution, sado-masochism, addictive drugs, suicide, heavy gambling, etc. The market will indeed get them that. I happen to personally believe that all these things are problematic (but still should be legal). I regard this as a flaw in the system of laissez faire capitalism.  The market is like a gun or a knife or a hammer: can be used for both good and bad purposes.”

Here is my reaction:

Why do you think that a system that permits activities that you don’t approve of (why you doin’t approve of them is another matter. why is it okay to rent out your body for physical labor except when if labor involves sex?) is flawed? is any system that does not cater to you personally flawed (eg., that does not provide you with a sufficiently high salary for teaching economics)?. that shouldn’t be the basis for judging any system. if it is, then only a system in everything is to your liking is not flawed.

Dear R:

I believe that rap music, very spicy food, soccer, eating eel, physical pain, the ideas of democracy, political correctness, ,the music of Shostakovich, John Cage, are also “flawed.” Why? I don’t like them. Can’t I also speak out as a non-thin libertarian? Qua thin libertarian I am only required to maintain that these activities, ideas, foodstuffs, music, none of which necessarily, per se, violate the NAP, should be legal. I am not required to say that they are not flawed.

Best regards,

Walter

Letter 2

From: G

Sent: Sunday, August 11, 2019 8:25 AM

To: wblock@loyno.edu

Subject: Libertarian?

Good morning Walter,

I had a very prominent and well-known libertarian this past week tell me that taxation is voluntary. This exposes a major problem with the “Big tent” concept and very broad definition of the term libertarian. Freedom and taxation are mortal enemies, as all taxation is nothing more than theft by extreme force, and is anathema to liberty.

My best … G

Dear G:

I’m a big tent libertarian. I include in this honorific more people than most. But, I do draw the line somewhere. I would have great difficulty in including anyone who believes taxes are voluntary as a libertarian.

Best regards,

Walter

Letter 3

—–Original Message—–

From: D

Sent: Friday, August 09, 2019 10:00 PM

To: wblock@loyno edu

Subject: Judge Napolitano

I, along with you, consider Judge Napolitano to be an excellent libertarian, and, moreover, he was perhaps the single most influential voice on my own journey from Reaganite to anarcho-capitalist. His show Freedom Watch is what first exposed me to a great many libertarian thinkers and ideas, and I devoured his books — Constitutional Chaos remains a favorite of mine. That 2010 speech you linked previously was really pivotal for me, and I remember sharing it with everybody I knew.

The Judge has his flaws and failings — as do we all — but I can attest directly to the fact that he has led at least one person to the “one true faith.” And let’s face it: that’s more people than most of us ever truly reach.

Dear D:

Thanks for your support on this. Andrew is one of the most important people in the libertarian movement.

Letter 4

From: M

Sent: Friday, August 09, 2019 9:00 AM

To: wblock@loyno.edu

Subject: The Judge

Dear Professor Block –

For context, I don’t particularly subscribe to any ideology but I do find that the most convenient political labels for my point of view are libertarian bordering on anarchist. In short, I root for the secessionists.

As an almost twenty year reader of lewrockwell.org and, on occasion, mises.org I am familiar with your work and generally sense you’re a smart academic, which is far from redundant.

Given my opinion on your intelligence, I find it hard to believe you entirely missed the point on your ongoing series: “The judge is a really swell guy”. The original letter was really about a guy voicing his disgust with the judge. His tangent on being a “real libertarian” was just his lame way of presenting the fact. But you’re smart. You know that.

You can have  “Judge Andrew Napolitano is an Excellent Libertarian” Part M and it won’t change that most of us “libertarians” can’t stand him. This is the second time I’ve reached about this guy after to watching him post blog after blog of “Russiagate” bullshit. First time was to Lew. I’m a busy guy and it ain’t my business what you guys put on your sites. In fact its only the second time in the twenty years of reading LRC I’ve ever bothered at all. (The first time was about the joyless Laurence Vance – life of the party I’m sure)

Whether the judge is or isn’t a libertarian or “anarcho-capitalist” or whatever big-brain terms you conjure is beside the point. The point is: he’s a XYZ. A former agent of the state who has, along with bat-shit crazy left wingers, corporate media, Glenn Beck, Bill Kristol, et al., signed up for the anti-Trump brigade.

It ain’t hyperbole: there’s a war on. Like it or not (and I don’t fucking like it) you gotta pick sides. Does my side suck? On a lot of things: yes. But it beats the hell out of the alternative. Especially as the rats like Scarborough, Bill Kristol and George Will are shook out. The judge has chosen. He’ll find no quarter or rest with me, libertarian or not. There are more important things than ideology.

Now you know my opinion.

Cheers,

M

Dear M:

You say, “most of us ‘libertarians’ can’t stand” Judge Napolitano. Did you see the reaction of the attendees of the Mises University in a previous iteration of this series on him? He was greeted with a gigantic roar of approval and a standing ovation. If there were a popularity contest conducted on the part of libertarians, he’d rank, certainly, in the top half dozen, probably in the top three.

I only respond to polite letters. Your XYZ was not polite. Don’t do that in future, or, I won’t respond to you. By the way, my friend Laurence Vance is one of my favorite authors on LewRockwell.com. Joyless? No. Passionate? Knowledgeable? Magnificent? Yes!

Letter 5

—–Original Message—–

From: R

Sent: Friday, August 09, 2019 12:15 AM

To: Walter Block

Cc:

Subject: “Judge Andrew Napolitano is an Excellent Libertarian, Part III” by Dr. Walter E. Block (Aug. 7)

Walter,

You’re intriguing discussion about “who is a Libertarian” had me thinking of other prominent people you did not mention. What category (A-D) would you place Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or John F. Kennedy?

My estimation of those three presidents:  Jefferson, B; Madison C; Kennedy D.

I believe Jefferson told Madison he approved of the newfangled Constitution, but I sincerely believe he had some doubts about it being enforced by honest courts and judges, and secretly wanted to continue (with modest tweaks) the Articles of Confederation (Mar. 1, 1781-Mar. 4, 1789), that had allowed States to issue unlimited amounts of fiat money and fight trade wars with other States (ex., NY vs. NJ).

The #1 reason I have to add Kennedy was because he REFUSED to place armies in, or make (a possible nuclear!) war at least FIVE different times, when goaded or repeatedly provoked by the Military (or CIA). They were: Laos (1961), Cuba (Bay of Pigs, 1961), West Berlin (Wall, 1961-63), Cuba (Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962), and S. Vietnam (1963), with his Oct. 11, 1963 National Security Action Memorandum #263, proposing the removal of the first 1,000 (of the 16,500) Army ADVISERS by the end of 1963, with most gone by 1965, and no regular army units or U.S. Marines (as LBJ did on Mar. 8, 1965).

He could be tough when needed (Cuban Missile Crisis) in demanding removal of the missiles, but his diplomatic “back channel” communication with the Soviets, helped avert a nuclear holocaust that would have killed at least 40 million Americans, and almost that many Russians in the first hours of an exchange.

As Randolph Bourne exquisitely stated it: “War is the health of the State.” (1918)

The cherry-on-top was Kennedy’s magnificent “Peace Speech” at American University (June 10, 1963) morally stating the case for peaceful co-existence with the U.S.S.R., and praising their citizens achievements and advancements in many areas of life, and bravery in war, but still condemning their economic and judicial systems with its brutal regressive nature.

“The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. …Confident and unafraid, we must labor on–not towards a strategy of annihilation but towards a strategy of peace.” –President John F. Kennedy (June 10, 1963)

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkamericanuniversityaddress.html

Plus, Kennedy was magnificent in refusing to create a “Great Society” as LBJ later did, with disastrous results.

As a LIFE member of the NRA, Kennedy was never in favor of restricting law-abiding citizens in owning guns, and the crime rates in his years were very low compared to the turbulent and violent decades after.

Kennedy also proposed the wonderful tax cut that was passed after his death (1964, in his honor), that was the key in reviving the economy for the remainder of the 1960s and early 1970s, with strong growth rates that had previously been anemic along with high unemployment. The top rate was reduced from an oppressive 91% to 70%, with corresponding rate cuts in the lower brackets.

It was reported he was worried about the budget spending actually going over–get this, $100 BILLION ($106.8 BILLION; 1962 Fiscal Year on June 30 * ), the last Democratic president to have that mindset! Now, the Government spends over $4.52 TRILLION yearly, an astounding growth in government that was never contemplated by Kennedy, as he believed more in free markets, than most of his socialist or wild-spending contemporaries in both major political parties.

* https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/fed_spending_1962USbn

“The free market is not only a more efficient decision maker than even the wisest central planning body, but even more important, the free market keeps economic power widely dispersed.” –John F. Kennedy (reported by Jacob G. Hornberger)

The only reason that I believe he is not considered a libertarian today, is the wrong-headed view that he favored War in South Vietnam, and was socially considered a “liberal” (civil rights–deploying armies to enforce the court’s orders in Alabama and Mississippi in their schools, as Eisenhower did in Arkansas, 1957), but contrasted with today’s Democrats, he would decidedly be considered very conservative, as he was in economic and his hands-off approach to crime (guns), leaving that to the States, as obeyed by the 10th Amendment–a clear distinction between those who want more centralization vs. decentralization and devolving of political power to the States.

Please let me know how you would categorize Jefferson, Madison, and Kennedy, and why you disagree (if you do), with my reasoning.

Best always,

R

Dear R:

I find it very difficult to consider slave owners as libertarians. This one “bite,” in my view, precludes them from being considered libertarians. Yes, Jefferson, Madison, and also Kennedy did some very good things, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I don’t think Kennedy had a libertarian bone in his body.

Lookit, right now, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard support an excellent Ron Paulian foreign policy. Are they therefore libertarians? To ask this is to answer it. Of course not. If they were, the word “libertarian” would be stretched to the breaking point. Yes, Tulsi and Bernie are libertarian, but only on foreign policy. On nothing else.

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4:03 pm on August 11, 2019