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The fundamental problem of libertarianism… ?

Frequent samizdata commenter ‘Jaded Libertarian’ wants to ask a question:

After a number of years dwelling on the matter I think I have just about got what I personally believe straight. The guide I have used to get there is what I believe to be both moral and just. I am not particularly well read in this area, but have thought myself to a fairly classical liberalism – nothing that has not been said before. No man has the right to transgress another’s liberty unless he is causing physical harm to another’s person or property – that kind of thing. I now know what I believe and that is great. I never tread on another person’s autonomy if I can help it. So how do I get the rest of society to extend me the same courtesy?

Here’s where I have run up against a wall.

To effect political change that would enshrine the rights of the individual would require imposing this system on a great many people who do not want increased personal autonomy – and what is more they do not want me to have it either. It scares them. Much as I disagree with them, it is not for me to seek to impose upon them a life they do not want, even if they do not extend me the same courtesy. To do so would be most illiberal.

The only way in which some good could come of such thinking would be if someone was willing to degenerate the rights of naysayers in order to enshrine the rights of everyone else. This seems to have been what (partially) happened in the USA, and many still reap the benefits. But it would be unwise to try and repeat the process. First of all it seems morally dubious at best. Secondly, history has shown us that political revolutions almost always result in dictatorships and tyranny. America was an aberration never to be repeated.

My own thinking thus far is that knowing what I believe and how I will act is, for now, enough. Society is after all made up of individuals. If by some bizarre chance every single person resolved to respect one another’s liberty, we would find ourselves in utopia overnight. Of course that is not going to happen, but then everyone else’s motivations are none of my business and it is not for me to criticise.

I try to live by the words of Burns:

Then let your schemes alone, Adore the rising sun, And leave a man undone. To his fate

Sadly although it eases my own heart, it does not get me away from the fundamental flaw in libertarianism. I am compelled to live under collectivist tyranny, something which I would never wish upon another.

How can libertarianism ever be anything more than a nice intellectual exercise to put yourself through if it cannot be acted upon by its very nature?

59 comments to The fundamental problem of libertarianism… ?

  • Much as I disagree with them, it is not for me to seek to impose upon them a life they do not want, even if they do not extend me the same courtesy. To do so would be most illiberal.

    You are far too tolerant and tolerance is ill advised unless it is reciprocal… and if someone else refuses to tolerate your desire for self-directed autonomy independent of them, you owe them neither courtesy nor tolerance. Indeed to tolerate a person working to use a political system to deny you autonomy is crazy. Such people deserve your animosity and implacable opposition, not your indulgence of their self-presumed right to live at your expense.

    There is nothing ‘illiberal’ about forcing people to stop forcing other people to fund their preferred life style choices. Frankly I am all for the idea of liberty-at-gunpoint when need be because like all political debates, what we are discussing is how the collective means of coercion are going to get used. In fact that is pretty much the definition of politics and Mao nailed that one perfectly.

    If I could wave a magic wand …or AK-47 for that matter… and get a system in place in which people get locked up as organised criminals for even trying to impose state regulation over whole swathes of daily life where regulations currently exist, well that would be just fine by me. If people can be locked up for refusing to comply with the state’s more grossly illiberal edicts, I have no problem locking people up for trying to impose them in the first place.

    So if someone wants to live in what is in effect an open prison, I do not give a damn what I have to do or who I have to do it to in order to prevent myself either having to live there too or to resist having to fund their life behind self-imposed bars because they think it makes them ‘safer’.

    Anything more than the minimum of state action needed to prevent plagues, put out fires and keep barbarians hordes at bay is where the measurement starts for the continuum of tyranny … and when politics becomes more than deciding where that minimum is, it becomes the very essence of the problem rather than a search for solutions to genuine collective threats.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    All political movements state “We will respect the liberty of the people, except those people over there who are wrong!”. I appreciate that this may in fact be reasonable in the case of libertarianism, but seems disturbingly similar to what everyone else is saying.

    Forcing people to be free doesn’t sit well with me. For many, true freedom would be like to dropping a domesticated house cat into the rainforest – akin to murder and certainly likely to result in suffering. Nonetheless if I wish to be free, and some other people do not wish me to be free, then I guess there is no way for our positions to be reconciled.

    Even if I am resigned to ignoring the desires of a large part of the population, political movements that rely on ideologically motivated subsets of the population usually need people who are “sort of in charge”. It is very difficult to stop such a hierarchical structure running away from you, and then you end up with the very government you tried to avoid.

    I struggle to see how any attempt to enact political revolution is not taking a massive risk. And even if well meaning, the notion of imposing my perception of liberty on millions of people who disagree with me feels rather….. well, dictatorial.

    I’m not looking to create a utopia where legally mandated individual liberty flows from the legal system and the barrel of a gun. I’m looking to find away to get governmental systems to leave me alone entirely.

    I just don’t see how any meaningful change is possible with a) massive violence b) ignoring the will of the majority of citizens c) huge risk of creating a worse political system and d) being remembered by history as tyrants.

  • “To effect political change that would enshrine the rights of the individual would require imposing this system on a great many people who do not want increased personal autonomy”

    Not so. If people still want to be controlled or delegate decisions to someone selected by a group, they can always join a commune, a mutual or some other VOLUNTARY social group.

    That is fine.

    The issue for me as a Libertarian is one of monopoly, and from that the erosion of Freedom of (dis)Association, of coercion instead of consent.

  • Forcing people to be free doesn’t sit well with me

    Not how I see it… I am very happy to use force against people who want to use force to make *me* unfree because that is what they prefer for themselves.

    If they want to join a commune or gated community and appoint people to order them around, well that is fine by me. I regard the idea of living in a kibbutz as being close to hell on earth but I have no problem if other want to do that… because *I* do not have to foot the bill. The same logic scales quite well :-)

  • HappyAcres

    There is no “imposition”

    Who quipped?:
    Eeek! The libertarians want to take charge and leave us alone!

    Or?:
    The difference between socialists and libertarians is, the libertarians would let the socialists voluntarily conduct their experiment.

  • Jaded Libertarian


    Not so. If people still want to be controlled or delegate decisions to someone selected by a group, they can always join a commune, a mutual or some other VOLUNTARY social group.

    In principle I agree with you. But how could we possibly get from where we are right now to what you describe without massive spilling of blood?

    Perhaps it would be better to start the other way round. The libertarians buy some land and form a commune of their own.

    Consuming nothing of the states, they would refuse to pay taxes. If this group were fundamentally peaceable, would the state have the guts to move against them and strike the first blow? Even if they did, it might be the trigger that would awaken the populace at large and allow a bloodless revolution to take place.

  • If this group were fundamentally peaceable, would the state have the guts to move against them and strike the first blow?

    Of course they would. Firstly articles in the media would start likening the group to the crazy Branch Davidians in Waco or whatever other group of non-conformists strikes a chord… and we all know how that ended up.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    Of course they would. Firstly articles in the media would start likening the group to the crazy Branch Davidians in Waco or whatever other group of non-conformists strikes a chord… and we all know how that ended up.

    So what is the alternative. Campaigning for the introduction of small freedoms and small reductions in the state in the face of a generally unwilling populace in the hope of moving the state toward greater personal liberty?

    Because it doesn’t seem to be working. The state is getting bigger and I’m getting less free.

    As much as I long for a life free from government oversight, I really do not see how it could be accomplished without a lot of blood being spilled. It seems to me that is too high a price to pay.

  • walt moffett

    As a counter example, consider the case of the various Amish/Mennonite, etc communities here in the states. They are generally peaceful, inoffensive, keep to themselves, follow their own law in dealing with each other, impose minimal demands on the rest of the world and only when forced follow outside law.

    A pacifist community, that keeps the guns under wraps except for sport, seen as peaceable and contributing to the whole might do well and in time, even accrue some of the exemptions these groups have gotten form various laws.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Philosophical issues aside, the fundamental problem of libertarianism is that libertarians aren’t joiners. Makes a political movement kind of iffy.

  • F0ul

    I totally agree with JL – the concept of Libertarianism doesn’t work in real life – it can’t because it allows the opposite the grace of doing what it wants to do – which sort of defeats the Libertarian cause! Anything else isn’t libertarianism!

    I have also come to the realization that the economics of libertarianism doesn’t work either.

    For instance, what about the bureaucrats, the enforcers and all the rest of the non jobs in the public sector – who would employ them? With prices lower because there is no need to pay for this extra costs, where would the cash flow come from to employ these people?

    Obviously, there would be a private sector to soak up the useful services, but the rest of it – the excessive weights and measures costs, there would be no requirement for it because it is an enforced market place.

    However, what a lot of libertarians don’t understand is that this enforced market isn’t at the cost of the individual businesses, but just increased the cash flow of the economy to pay for these other people – without it, there would be no employment prospects for them (percentage wise rather than individuals)

    Realizing a lot of these things over the past few years has worried me, but rather than get depressed, I just accept that reality is not based on ideology, just concepts that sort of work – and there is no room in there for pure Libertarianism – sorry for pointing at the elephant!

  • just concepts that sort of work – and there is no room in there for pure Libertarianism – sorry for pointing at the elephant!

    And what is this “pure libertarianism” of which you speak? I certainly have no fucking idea :-)

    And as for allowing the other side to do what they want, I think you might have mistaken me for a pacifist. Frankly the only reason I am not urging people to start shooting a whole lot of other people is due to my entirely utilitarian analysis that it would be counter productive… at least at the moment. Anyone who thinks that even the most benign political order can survive without having some bayonets at its disposal is kidding themselves.

    I have no philosophical objection to using violence to get what I want from from other people who are quite happy to use violence to get what they want from me… and laws and regulations are backed by the threat of actually violence.

    I really do not see how it could be accomplished without a lot of blood being spilled. It seems to me that is too high a price to pay.

    I do not agree…If that is what it takes, then that is what it takes. That said, it might not be as necessary as some think as in time the system cannot help but choke on its own increasingly obvious contradictions.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    [violence] might not be as necessary as some think as in time the system cannot help but choke on its own increasingly obvious contradictions.

    The weight of history does not agree with you. The lot of the people varies over time, going up and down in varying amounts. In thousands of years though, there has always been a ruling class of some sort who exercised unassailable power over other’s lives.

    “The system” has always survived revolutions.

  • The weight of history does not agree with you.

    Actually no. I think there are a great many trends which point in very favourable directions right now.

    In thousands of years though, there has always been a ruling class of some sort who exercised unassailable power over other’s lives.

    Sure and in a more libertarian political order that will also be true as for it to survive it will need entrenched institutions and a willingness to use force to protect the liberty friendly political order. How else do you think it would survive in a world that will always be filled with a goodly number of wicked people?

    “The system” has always survived revolutions.

    Then I think you and I must be talking at cross purposes because political systems come and go all the time.

    The current regulatory “soft fascist” social-democratic orthodoxy (the specific “system” of which I speak) that pertains to varying degrees across all the Post-Westphalian states of the First World, will in time give way to something else. I would like that “something else” to be a more libertarian order of things and I think a confluence of economics absurdities and pervasive technology may indeed make that happen.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    Then I think you and I must be talking at cross purposes because political systems come and go all the time.

    Not in Britain, which has probably the most entrenched political system in the world. We’ve not had a major shake-up since the Union of Parliaments. Increasing liberty was the last thing that achieved.

    Indeed, whenever a political system has been replaced in its replacement is almost always so similar as to be functionally identical. Increasing individual liberty almost never factors in these political shifts.

    That is why the American wars of independence are so odd. They were a revolution that more or less did what it said on the tin.

    For the most part though political change is a matter of replacing system 1.0 with system 1.1, rather than system Z, if you will.

    Very little changes, and the power nearly always flows to the same groups of people – or at least to groups of people who will act much the same as those they replaced.

  • Mr Black

    For instance, what about the bureaucrats, the enforcers and all the rest of the non jobs in the public sector – who would employ them?

    I think you’re making a basic error here in assuming that just because you can’t think of the answer it must mean there is no answer.

    Of course the answer is rather simple.

    If the 50 billion pounds (for example) used to pay the salaries of these parasites is not longer needed because they are all fired then the community is going to keep 50 billion more pounds in their pockets as taxes go down. And there you have it, a “spare” 50 billion pounds to employ these people in the private economy.

    Remember, the government doesn’t have its own money nor can it create a single job. It simply confiscates money from one sector of the economy and uses it in another. The money doesn’t go missing if the government stops spending it, it stays with its owners.

  • William B

    You might of already seen this but Leonard Read gave a lecture around 1978 titled, How to Advance Liberty. It can be found on youtube and fee.org. It’s one of my favorite videos to watch and you might find it relevant.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UE3JeowaaE

  • frak

    Jaded Libertarian,

    So what is the alternative. Campaigning for the introduction of small freedoms and small reductions in the state in the face of a generally unwilling populace in the hope of moving the state toward greater personal liberty?

    The system is broken. Democracy is a flawed system of government.

    In democracy, whenever the state begins doing something, it is virtually impossible to get it to stop doing that. This is because a constituency is built around the thing it does – everything from education (teachers) to causing wars (defense manufacturers) to violating personal liberties (FBI, CIA, advanced technology firms, lawyers) and the constituency lobbies for more goodies, favorable laws, and beneficial regulations. And it grows. And grows.

    Also, new politicians must promise a new bag of goodies to get elected in order to contend with the other politician running. If you don’t promise this new bag of goodies, then you don’t have a new constituency to fund your campaign and vote you into office.

    The costs to most government goody bags are dispersed across virtually every adult, while the benefits are concentrated in a small segment of the adult population. Thus, on any given issue, such as education, defense spending, agricultural subsides, environmental regulations, etc. over 50% of the lobbying pressure on politicians is to continue doing stuff and increasing the amount their doing, which generally means more laws and higher spending.

    This is why democracy sucks ass.

    We need a government that has a vested interest in seeing us prosper and succeed in the long term. The hereditary monarchy is the best form of government.

    The next pro-liberty American revolution will happen when:
    1. There is a widespread, severe, and prolonged economic depression.
    2. A majority of the population is tolerant of subversive action.
    3. 20%+ of the people believe in generally the same pro-liberty philosophy and are willing to risk death to abolish the current federal government.

    When this happens, as it very well might in the next century or so, let us opt for the wise course of action by appointing a King and his family as the Royal Family to rule us according to the original meaning of the Constitution of the United States.

    Perhaps the Pauls should be the Royal Family. One of Rand Paul’s sons might be a good first King.

    http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2008/01/how-i-stopped-believing-in-democracy.html

  • frak

    Perry,

    I think there are a great many trends which point in very favourable directions right now.

    Care to share what those might be?

    1. Massive and growing debt in Western nations.
    2. Expanding violations of civil liberties.
    3. An extraordinarily powerful worldwide network of Central Banks.
    4. The ideas, writings, and evidence behind Austrian Economics, Libertarian theory, small government conservatism, Burkean conservatism, hereditary monarchies, classical liberalism, and public choice theory are not taught in any public schools, virtually zero private schools, and none of the elite universities at undergraduate or graduate levels where the real power brokers of tomorrow in finance, government, law, public policy, media, and academics are groomed/brainwashed.
    5. 80% of the general populace in the U.S.A. and U.K. is completely incompetent and/or incapable of comprehending Austrian Economics and Public Choice Theory and/or extremely lazy and/or reliant upon government spending for their jobs directly and indirectly.
    6. Birth rates in the West versus birth rates in Islamic nations.
    7. Americans and English are not adequately armed to rebel. Even machine guns cannot contend with the tanks, helicopters, armor, and artillery of martial law. Oh, yeah, martial law will come when people start rioting, which is probably some time after cap-and-trade and VAT get implemented in the land of the “free” and home of the “brave”.

    http://www.amazon.com/Are-Doomed-Reclaiming-Conservative-Pessimism/dp/0307409589/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278211936&sr=1-1

  • veryretired

    I will assume that the confused naivete’ of some of the participants in this thread is well-intentioned, but to have one self described libertarian state that freedom doesn’t work socially or economically, and that it would be an oppressive imposition on one’s fellow citizens, while another calls for “imperial libertarianism”, is disheartening at best, and might cause a less generous person to assume deliberate trollery.

    A couple of the most fundamental errors:

    There seems to be an underlying assumption that the only way freedom might be enhanced is by some type of catastrophic event, either societal collapse or armed revolution. This is unnecessary, and, as I have said on other occasions, more likely to result in repression than increased liberty.

    The current state of affairs did not spring full blown from the head of FDR. It is the accumulated burden of decades of political theories based on inverted values and imaginary assumptions about the role of the individual in society, and his proper relationship to the state.

    We are approaching a major decision point, to be sure, but it is not an all-or-nothing choice, but rather a period in which the failed collectivist policies of the last few generations can no longer hide behind the wealth produced by the creative members of society.

    One way or another we were going to run out of “others people’s money”, and face the fact that we have been living off the inherited wealth and productivity of men and women who worked for a living, creating real value as they did so.

    Our society is bankrupt in just about every conceivable way—intellectually, morally, economically, and culturally.

    We have behaved as the 2nd generation in the old adage about “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”, and our younger people will be faced with enormous challenges as they attempt to recover from the folly of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

    Rather than throwing up our hands and crying that it can’t be done, or that dismantling the oppressive state is an oppressive crime in and of itself, (a position I find grotesque and irrational), we must accept the responsibiltiy of undertaking the long and difficult process of correcting the erroneous theories of the past, and carefully dismantling the many social, political, and economic obstructions that have been constructed to limit the liberties and freedoms of the ordinary citizen.

    None of this can happen overnight, or in one election, or by some spontaneous mass conversion of the populace to non-statist beliefs.

    As with all that is desirable and necessary, liberty is gained and enhanced by the hard, dirty, exhausting, and sometimes bloody, work of committed men and women who have ordered their minds and spirits to freedom, and who will settle for nothing less than continuous and significant progress towards that goal.

    We in the US are celebrating the 4th of July this weekend, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and so much more.

    Read these magnificent documents, and the commentaries that discussed the ideas they contain. The authors of our freedom had no illusions as to the venal nature of men, and the frailty of liberty.

    They did not claim perfection, as the lunatic utopians do, nor that they would achieve some eternal stasis without problems or challenges.

    There are no such things on this earth. Those that proclaim Shangri-la yearn for the unearthly, and it is no surprise that they inevitably achieve the inhuman.

    There is no escaping the work which must be done, in all its grim, slogging, unending drudgery.

    The rights and liberties of humanity are not some ethereal state suitable only for angels. These values are as real, and as necessary, as oxygen, sunlight, water, and the food we eat every day.

    My family were farmers untill my parents generation. All who seek liberty must now return to the fundamentals of freedom, not by running off to a farm and digging in the dirt, but by rolling up their sleeves and plowing the deep, rich loam of the intellectual and moral case for allowing men and women to live their lives in peace, free from the interference and coercion of the collectivist theories running rampant across the globe.

    As it is said, who among you, if you lost a precious pearl, would not light a lamp and sweep the house until it was found; and then call your neighbors saying, “Come and rejoice with me, for that which was lost is found, that which was hidden has been revealed.”

    Happy 4th to all free men and women anywhere.

  • Frederick Davies

    In principle I agree with you. But how could we possibly get from where we are right now to what you describe without massive spilling of blood?

    And the problem with that is…? In the current environment, Libertarianism is revolutionary, and revolutions are always bloody. It is about time libertarians stopped believing that Libertarianism and Pacifism are compatible.

    The American War of Independence (or as they like to call it now, their Revolutionary War) did produce lots of casualties, and not everything that was printed on the tin actually came to happen (slavery); your contention that it is unique is not supportable.

  • John B

    By definition, Indeed, you can only look after your own liberty and present the facts you see to other people.
    Libertarian movements and individuals do seem to be beset by a problem that might be summed up in the slogan:

    Freedom Rules. OK!

  • PeterT

    The original question is pretty deep – but was not since discussed. It goes back to the original concept of ‘liberty’. You will need to read Nozick and Rawles for some more information to help you with this question. My own view is that libertarianism is essentially pacifist – except when it comes to self defense – in which case Perry’s AK 47 may come in handy.

    One advantage libertarianism has is that its policy prescriptions would actually work to make life better for 90% of the population (assuming that the populace don’t derive much utility from living in a society that they perceive as ordered, no matter how futile and ineffective its laws are). Its problem is that libertarianism (or the economics of anarcho capitalism) is difficult to understand both before and after implementation. It is therefore a struggle to get to and maintain.

    The American revolution was a success (from a libertarian perspective) because its leaders essentially had libertarian view points (they were deist – which means they would be atheists today, generally anti-government – having fled from it in Europe, and independent minded), except for Hamilton and his friends, and the fact that the population at large acquiesced to their decisions. If America had been a perfect democracy at the time, then its not impossible that some sort of settlement with Britain would have been preferred.

    Libertarian revolutions will always have an uphill struggle, and struggle to stay uphill. The American constitution is a reasonably good document (although it does grant the government a surprisingly wide range of power – although not the power to provide healthcare and education and space travel). You would think that a phrase such as article X of the bill of rights “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States are reserves to the States respectively, or to the people.” And yet….

    Many fears were voiced at the time of the framing of the constitution that it was a bad document that would lead to totalitarian government. These have turned out to be well founded.

    We need frequent revolutions, made sticky by constitutional documents, and a balance of powers (these have been undermined in the US. Originally the vice president was the runner up in the election. Senators were appointed by the states, not elected directly). Ultimately these will be undermined by the populace and the use of newspeak to reinterpret the old rules.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    The American revolution was a success (from a libertarian perspective) because its leaders essentially had libertarian view points (they were deist – which means they would be atheists today, generally anti-government

    I’m reluctant to derail this excellent discussion, but I must take issue with this. I always dislike it when people try and appropriate historical figures to their own ideology by second guessing what they themselves have said. If most of the founding fathers claimed they believed a supreme being created the universe, then it is reasonable to conclude that is what they believed.

    ~~

    On the topic at hand perhaps the original statement should have read “Pacifist libertarianism can never be more than a nice intellectual exercise”. I made the mistake of assuming libertarianism to be fundamentally pacifist, except, as others pointed out, in cases of self defence.

    The consensus thus far seems to be that for society to become more libertarian, libertarians must be at least willing to spill blood.

    I’m not convinced by the gradualist arguments. Such approaches only work for Fabians because they want to collect more power. They can’t work for libertarians since as soon as they lob off a bit of the state, someone else will come along and claim it as their own and you’re right back where you started. I don’t think the state can be pruned, but only uprooted. And revolution seems to be the only way to achieve this.

    Which is unfortunate for me since I have an aversion to killing people.

  • I made the mistake of assuming libertarianism to be fundamentally pacifist, except, as others pointed out, in cases of self defence.

    But a revolution of the kind being discussed here is a classic case of self-defense, just as Perry showed in his comments above.

  • JadedLibertarian

    But a revolution of the kind being discussed here is a classic case of self-defense, just as Perry showed in his comments above.

    I don’t think revolutionary violence can be as clear cut as actual self defence.

    It is one thing to kill a man who comes at you with a knife.

    But what about the policeman, who stands looking nervous outside of the parliament building you and the libertarian revolutionaries want to storm? What has he ever done to you? Even assuming the government which he protects is completely evil, what has Mr. Policeman done that is worthy of death? His greatest crime may just be not being very interested in politics, and may be an otherwise excellent human being who loves his wife and children.

    What if his death was required for the revolution to proceed?

    No, I don’t think the two things are equivalent.

    I think it is morally murky to say the least. It isn’t long before you’d find your self making Stalin’s-Omelette type compromises.

  • Jaded, when the crowd (libertarian or otherwise) with forks and torches descends upon the parliament, the lone policeman is likely to simply step aside. To your larger point, a revolution is a form of civil war. In a war, most people have no choice but to takes sides, and so the policeman in question has that option left to him.

    As to the self-defense point, say you had a neighbor who kept raiding your and your neighbors’ properties/collected protection money from the entire neighborhood. Say you and your neighbors finally got fed up, got together and descended upon that guys’ property. What about the muscle-for-hire at his front door?

    Of course, as in any war, not everyone acting on the good-guys side will actually be a good guy, and one of those not-so-good guys might actually shoot the poor policeman anyway, just in case or just for fun. But innocent people are being harmed under any circumstances all the time, and there is a physical limit to how much we can prevent that.

    Violence is part of life, there is no way around it. You can choose to abstain from it to a point of the loss of your own life, but there is no way you can eliminate it, no matter how many concessions you make to whomever.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Violence is part of life, there is no way around it. You can choose to abstain from it to a point of the loss of your own life, but there is no way you can eliminate it, no matter how many concessions you make to whomever.

    Posted by Alisa at July 4, 2010 01:08 PM

    Indeed: as a Nineteenth Century French anarchist once said, “You cannot give up violence, you can only choose to be the victim.”

    Sorry I can’t give a source – if anyone else can, I’d appreciate it.

  • BTW, I would like to make clear that I don’t necessarily speak from the libertarian point of view, as I don’t really have a clear idea what that POV is (still haven’t gotten the answer from that herd of cats I last asked). My position is one of support for individualism, freedom and preservation of life.

  • Craig J. Bolton

    This is a comment on the lead post by Guest Writer . After reading a half dozen of the comments, I stopped wasting my time.

    Guest Writer, you are, of course, correct in your analysis, but not in your conclusion. The problem with the present situation is that many of those who call themselves classical liberal or libertarian are nothing of the sort. Further, they are lazy. Classical liberalism/libertarianism is about tolerance. One “has a right” to protect oneself. One has no right to impose one’s conclusions on others or to make use of their existence for one’s own benefit. To do so is to make use of the rationale of the slave owner for holding his slave – “well, it is for his own good, regardless of what he may think”.

    A free society would be more prosperous, a place of less violent conflict, more just, etc. It will not, therefore, be chosen by all persons. Most of those who reject it are ignornant. Some are, by our lights, evil. It doesn’t matter. If we don’t want to ourselves become evil we cannot [even if we had the power, WHICH WE DO NOT] impose our views on them.

    So what can one do legitimately? Well, one can learn more and more, and more still, about liberty and why it is a superior way to organize human affairs. One can discuss these arguments and reasonings with other, one can speak, one can write. “But that takes so long,” one can hear the collectivist in libertarian clothing shouting into his megaphone. Yes it does. Maybe you should get going? It is that or civil war, and, believe me, there is no chance at all that libertarians are going to win or civil war or that they would achieve liberty through such means.

  • Observer

    “The libertarian is rather a millenarian than an utopian. He does not look forward to a future state of things which he tries to bring about by suspect means; but he draws now, so far as he can,on the natural force in him that is no different in kind from what it will be in a free society, except that there it will have more scope
    and be immeasurably reinforced by mutual aid and fraternal conflict. Merely by continuing to exist and act in nature and freedom, the libertarian wins the victory, establishes the society; it is not necessary for him to be the victor over any one. When he creates, he wins; when he corrects his prejudices and habits he wins; when he resists and suffers, he wins. I say it this way in order to teach honest persons not to despond when it seems that their earnest and honest work is without “influence.” The libertarian does not seek to influence groups but to act in the natural groups essential to him.”

    Paul Goodman (1911-72). More at http://web.hamline.edu/personal/jgeorge/drawing.pdf

  • I stopped wasting my time

    And yet you thought nothing of wasting everyone else’s time with your own comment.

  • frak

    Jaded Libertarian,

    I don’t think revolutionary violence can be as clear cut as actual self defence.

    It is one thing to kill a man who comes at you with a knife.

    But what about the policeman, who stands looking nervous outside of the parliament building you and the libertarian revolutionaries want to storm?

    1. The policeman would have the freedom to choose his side even after he has sworn loyalty to the state. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_Keepers
    2. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good/sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.
    3. The policeman has been living off of stolen money and enforcing some moral and some immoral laws at the point of a gun, but given his skill-set would be a welcome addition to any armed revolution.
    4. Anyway, if you feel only comfortable killing x type of people, then you at least don’t need to act against your co-revolutionaries who are more…flexible. It takes all types and all that.

  • frak

    Dearest Craig J. Bolton,

    It is that or civil war, and, believe me, there is no chance at all that libertarians are going to win or civil war or that they would achieve liberty through such means.

    A civil war by the productive class and real conservatives and jaded independents and libertarians and conspiracy theorists and perpetually poor who don’t vote would suffice. You only really need about 20% of the people roughly ideologically similar (lower taxes! less government spending and printing!) and in the right conditions (economic depression) things can snowball from there with the right spark and leaders (preferably the Joint Chief of Staffs in the USA). A small portion of the Tea Party (I’ve seen signs that say things like “we’ve come without guns…this time”) is probably willing right now and this proportion will probably grow gradually overtime.

    Classical liberalism/libertarianism is about tolerance. One “has a right” to protect oneself. One has no right to impose one’s conclusions on others or to make use of their existence for one’s own benefit.

    Is this serious?
    1. Libertarianism intellectually means that it is immoral to violate the life, liberty, and property of any other human being. You can defend these natural rights if yourself or others are being attacked, but that’s it.
    2. It has nothing to do with tolerance. You can be an anti-semitic, racist, sexist, ageist, angry fool and still act according to libertarian philosophy by not violating the natural rights of others except when those people are threatening others’ natural rights.
    3. Somewhere between the quite libertarian state of affairs at America’s founding and the Holocaust, revolution goes from being unjustifiable to justifiable, or do you think that had thew Jews banded together with other peoples to fight the Nazis they could not claim to be libertarians because, strictly speaking, they would have been “making use of their [Nazis] existence for their own benefit” by defending their lives and families and property? As a pacifist observer, you would have the been the paragon of virtue compared to those who feebly fought back! hahahah
    4. Come to think of it, the WHOLE FREE MARKET SYSTEM WORKS BECAUSE EVERYONE USES OTHER PEOPLE FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT – IT’S CALLED MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL TRADING. Wow, you really seem foolish at this point, no? Well, I guess the revolution would need a tame pamphleteer, but please get your facts straight before you start writing.

    “If we don’t want to ourselves become evil we cannot [even if we had the power, WHICH WE DO NOT] impose our views on them.”

    Maybe the IRS thugs shouldn’t be imposing their views on us? Have you considered that libertarians want to be left alone – they’re not imposing anything, but trying to take the fucking shackles off?

    After reading a half dozen of the comments, I stopped wasting my time.

    This caught my eye. I thought maybe you’d skipped over our mere logical thought and struck the nail on the head. Ironically, the most arrogant commentator is also the most ignorant, misguided, and foolish. Go crack a book open.

  • John B

    Mr Bolton is correct, though, Alisa. (Maybe not the timewaste bit, okay.)
    The best way is to back off, stop telling everyone what to do or how to think, and just present facts.
    Being bossy runs quiet and deep in the institutions that traditionally trained our ruling classes!

  • John: sure this is the best way, but if everyone agreed to it, there would be no need for this blog, let alone a revolution. And what do I or anyone else here have to do with these institutions or the ruling classes? Mr. Bolton seems to be accusing me and others like me of being bossy. And Jaded is worried that telling someone to bugger off means bossing them. This is some twisted logic (no offense to Jaded who is nothing but cordial and honest in this discussion).

    Anyway, just to clarify: motives for a revolution do matter. If I have to support a revolution, it will not be in order to impose a certain kind of political order on anyone – even though this may be the ultimate outcome in the event of the revolution being successful, it will be in order to get other people off my back. And yes, there will be collateral damage, in the form of loss of innocent life. It happens in one-on-one self-defense situations as well. This world is not perfect.

  • Old Fart

    Wake up, the lot of you! Stop driveling and intellectually posturing and observe the way it is…

    …Sharia Law, cunningly relabelled ‘Arbitration’, is now a legal reality and our County and High Courts enforce its judgements. Fact.

    So, when you view this debacle in the context of the butcher’s bill so far exacted by the vanguard of atavism try to understand that any rational mind would have to accept that dialectic has been shackled by disinformation and category error enshrined in law.

    Thus have you have been deprived of our ancestral right to openly engage the reverse colonisers so deviously encouraged by our ruling classes. To do so, or to demand of them that they cease their pursuit of our ethnic cleansing, is to invite the immediate attention of the ludicrously labelled ‘Race Relations’ industry.

    They, the shock troops of our deconstruction, have taken exclusive grasp of a moral whip with which they flay any opposition with ad hominem monotony; either disseminated by scattergun, or focused in the form of its legal incarnations ‘The Race and Religious Hatred Acts’, the Pavlovian epithets ‘Racist’ and ‘Racism’ undermine all protest against the cultural atrocity being inflicted upon us.

    Indeed this clever piece of reverse social engineering has succeeded so well in inducing a terminal osteoporosis of the conceptual skeleton to which the sinews of our once strong, functional society were anchored that for many both the will and the means to resist have been sapped.

    Thats it.

    Sincerely,

    ‘An old fart from middle England, and a plague on all of your gutless houses.’

    Unless you choose to be otherwise, that is – united we could stand, and sorry if I have been offensive. Old, tired and angry is my only pathetic excuse.

  • Nuke Gray

    Jaded, an option often discussed here at the Australian Libertarian Blog is to settle in a sparcely-peopled area, like the Kimberley Ranges in Australia’s Northwest, and then declare ourselves a libertarian nation, by a unilateral act of secession. Such a society would be justly founded, would not be imposing itself on anyone, and should be viable (plenty of water and lots of natural resources). We also choose the Kimberleys for geopolitical reasons- if we quickly formed a defence pact with our other neighbour (Indonesia), that would also confound the powers that dictate, from Canberra.
    So long as the first settlers were armed, and not averse to defending their new home, it could be a goer! Then we would let in select immigrants, libertarians and mercenaries, etc. You would then be able to move to a libertopia, instead of fretting about the lack of one.

  • Tedd

    Veryretired:

    I started but did not post several replies in this thread, never being quite sure exactly what I wanted to say or how to say it. Having just read your post now I see that I need not have bothered. You said all I wanted to say and more, and better than I would have.

    Thank you, and I hope you have enjoyed your well-deserved Independence Day.

  • I don’t have time to address this interesting post as fully as it deserves, but it touches on some things that bug me too. This, from Alisa, is part of it:

    If I have to support a revolution, it will not be in order to impose a certain kind of political order on anyone – even though this may be the ultimate outcome in the event of the revolution being successful, it will be in order to get other people off my back.

    Yes, and it goes further. Any successful revolution in a modern industrial state would need to be wildly popular in order to have any hope of succeeding. It is easy to imagine a regime so repressive and unpopular that a large majority of the population would take grave risks to get rid of it. It is equally easy to imagine libertarian-minded people at the front of it. But what next?

    At any time in the foreseeable, the sequel would certainly not be a libertarian government – except, with luck, relative to what preceded it.

    We are all, in a purely statistical sense of the term, extremists. I’d be surprised if as many as 5% of the population would presently back genuinely libertarian policies or constitutions. If allowed free choice, the population would certainly establish a more moderate and less intrusive statist regime than the one it just overthrew. The Bolshevik alternative – crushing the citizenry under a dictatorship of the libertariat until the survivors display appropriate respect for scientifically objective libertarian norms (Randist-Paulist) – makes sense morally even less than it does logically.

    It is conceivable that in some places and times a revolution may be necessary, and that out of the horror something better than before may emerge. It is beyond all reason to assume that people like us will come out on top.

    Consent for liberty has to be built, by art and argument and example and by bluffing the enemy into doing dumb things. These are sufficiently dangerous, and may sometimes require self-defence, especially in the third case. But we don’t have much consent now. It is our job to get it. You cannot, by definition, coerce people into espousing freedom.

    If I thought that most people were permanently and incurably sheep, I would not be a libertarian. As it is, I just have a hard row to hoe. Well: some jobs are hard, and some jobs one may not live to see the fruit of, because there is no hurrying them without spoiling.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    If I thought that most people were permanently and incurably sheep, I would not be a libertarian. As it is, I just have a hard row to hoe. Well: some jobs are hard, and some jobs one may not live to see the fruit of, because there is no hurrying them without spoiling.

    I find this a very admirable sentiment. However, I wonder if it can actually be applied.

    America has had people working very hard and pushing forward individual liberties for a very long time, but still the nation has been getting systematically less free since the Civil War. It seems to be no coincidence that the curtailing of states rights of cessation that war brought, and the subsequent expansion of the federal government has presided over ongoing reductions in liberty.

    I am less clear over the libertarian history of my own nation, but suffice to say individual liberties in the late 19th century far outstripped what we currently possess.

    As long as power-mongers are patient and willing to use the boiling frog principle of power grabbing, the populace generally cannot and will not do anything about it. I am pessimistic about the possibility of reversing this trend. Certainly what has been done up till now does not appear to be working.

  • James Waterton

    Do I detect the malodorous whiff of BNP a few posts above?

  • Gray: there is nothing in your comment with which I disagree, and note that the part of my comment which you quoted begins with an ‘if’. That’s a rather big ‘if’, as far as I’m concerned.

    Jaded: I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic. Rather, I try to be as realistic as I possibly can. And so, realistically I don’t think that throwing my arms in the air and giving up is more constructive than trying to reverse the trend by any means at my disposal. Also note that, in the long run, acquiescing to the status quo is certain to end up in much more misery and loss of life than any action we might take to change it.

  • Alisa: I meant to convey that your sentiment was part of my reaction to the things that bugged me, but not the whole of it. Instead, the actual sentence I wrote implies that it was one of the things which bugged me – which is the reverse of the case. Rather, it was the point among the comments which came closest to what I wanted to say. Bad keyboard!

    Jaded: I am not as convinced as you are about the inexorable downward slope of individual liberties for most people. In several important ways they have been increasing until quite recently. What disturbs me is that society has been growing, through governmental creep and consent thereto, structurally more unfriendly towards liberty at large – until there is danger now of losing not only all that we have won over the last couple of centuries, but even much of what we had before.

    But there are also more possibilities for pushback the other way, in my opinion. Interesting times, to be sure.

    If I had to offer one general principle for libertarians to work by, I would say it is to play to our strengths. The Tooting Popular Front and all the million other Marxist sects are ridiculous and doomed, largely because each needs to be on top of the pile to implement its particular version of collectivism. Every statist group shares this need.

    Libertarian and anarchist groups do not. It is a win for us just not to be crapped on from a height. Thus, minarchists can run for office and challenge the lazy consensus; bloggers can put out inconvenient truths and embarrassing evidence; secessionists and agorists can look for ways to opt out of the nonsense; entrepreneurs can get disobediently rich, creative-commoners can disobediently drive down costs, mutualists and churches and kith-kin networks can strengthen civil bonds against the authorities; and of course artists of all kinds can thumb their noses, mess with people’s minds, or set stars in Lady Liberty’s crown to the limit of their liking and talent.

    It is all good. The state and its grimly progressive minions have a central plan, and factions warring over who gets to set it. We have a free market of competition, co-operation, and mutual profit – because we don’t have a final goal, a plan to which all life must tend at its finish. We have various visions of a peaceable way of life, and small reasonable pretext to impose them on each other. The approaches that don’t work will fade without assistance.

    Every person or group among us can work on the approach that fits them best, and the opposition must fight them all, and for the most part we don’t have to fight our rivals. In many cases, we’re not even rivalrous, any more than the ironfounder is rivalrous to the swordsmith or the ploughwright.

    We are indeed a herd of cats, and that is exactly what we ought to be. That is what the marching minions cannot match, and that is one of the chief wells from which I draw my hope.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    Gray: Thank you for that last post, I found it most uplifting. It is a good model you present indeed whereby you pay governments only so much heed as you must and strive to live an individualist life in an otherwise collectivist society. Sadly, I’d still get thrown in the pokey if I went out and bought a handgun tomorrow, but I guess you can’t have everything. One thing at a time I suppose.

    Thank you to everyone who made this such an interesting discussion. Food for thought most certainly.

    I’m still feeling a tad jaded though ;)

  • Gray, words fail. Thank you.

  • Craig J. Bolton

    John: sure this is the best way, but if everyone agreed to it, there would be no need for this blog, let alone a revolution. And what do I or anyone else here have to do with these institutions or the ruling classes? Mr. Bolton seems to be accusing me and others like me of being bossy. And Jaded is worried that telling someone to bugger off means bossing them. This is some twisted logic (no offense to Jaded who is nothing but cordial and honest in this discussion).
    ===========================

    Wrong. I am accusing you, and most of the others posting in this thread, of (1) being lazy and (2) being impositional – just as are most fundamentalist and enthusiasts. The lazy part has to do with the obvious attitudes displayed by those who have FOUND THE TRUTH is simple slogans. This is really little different from the motivation or psychological syndrome of those who know the secrets of the universe by virtue of having FOUND JESUS.

    If that wasn’t you, then you would realize that freedom is a position with pluses and minuses, and it isn’t crystal clear and intuitively obvious that it is always the best choice. The alternatively are arguably worse most of the time, but only arguably. Until you have more than slogans swimming in your head, you can’t make or appreciate the arguments.
    ==================

    Anyway, just to clarify: motives for a revolution do matter. If I have to support a revolution, it will not be in order to impose a certain kind of political order on anyone – even though this may be the ultimate outcome in the event of the revolution being successful, it will be in order to get other people off my back. And yes, there will be collateral damage, in the form of loss of innocent life. It happens in one-on-one self-defense situations as well. This world is not perfect.
    ====================

    Nor is the world one where libertarians have the ghost of a chance for the foreseeable future in pulling off a successful revolution. Adam Smith once advised the British government to take a good hard look at the “true mediocrity of its circumstances” with regard to its control over the American colonies. You, and many other weekend warrior libertarians need to take a good hard look at the true mediocrity of the circumstances of libertarianism today. You obviously aren’t paying attention if you believe that that the masses are going to rise up if you just raise the banner of freedom or that, if they did, you and they could stand up against the robocop armed forces at the disposal of any Western government. “The right to bear arms” that Americans are so proud about, for instance, means the right to own, at best, a small caliber semi-automatic weapon which fires something considerably less than armor piercing bullets. No automatic weapons, no body armor, no anything that will stop a small town SWAT squad.

    Get a clue.

  • n005

    How can libertarianism ever be anything more than a nice intellectual exercise to put yourself through if it cannot be acted upon by its very nature?

    Libertarianism can be acted upon. If you have a problem with living under tyranny, you should try to thwart the efforts of the tyrants and evade the tyranny. Don’t depend on their cooperation; be free in an unfree world! In fact, it’s better if you are alone in acting upon your libertarianism; don’t stage a big demonstration that will just attract the statists’ attention and ultimately invite the demise of you and your fellow libertarians.

    Also, the intellectual exercise is a most important aspect of libertarianism. That the world may be overtaken with a hopeless morass of human evil is no excuse not to distinguish for yourself between good and evil.

    Just be the change, man.

  • Mike Lorrey

    Jaded Libertarian,
    to answer your question, I merely have to quote:

    “Whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”
    – Right of Revolution, Article 10, New Hampshire Constitution

    It is therefore not illiberal of you to angrily and aggressively oppose arbitrary power and oppression. The main problem we have today is that far too few people are willing to take up arms in defense of liberty against the repression and depradations of expansive and overbearing government. Sunshine liberals and summertime libertarians, the lot of ye.

  • Jaded Libertarian

    The fundamental tenet of libertarianism is the harm principle. That is, only when another person is doing physical harm to another do we have the right to transgress his or her liberty. To take another person’s life is the ultimate transgression of liberty. It is the most fundamental violation of natural law.

    I am troubled by the number of people who seem to think that finding the prospect of violence distasteful is somehow gutlessness.

    I get the impression that some here are champing at the bit for violence on the streets of the UK. I do not find this admirable.

    Attempting to generalise the harm principle to whole groups of people “not on the right side” is fundamentally unjust – and bizarrely hypocritical for those who claim to follow an individualist ideology.

    Eagerness to spill blood is not bravery, and reluctance to kill is not cowardice.

  • Jaded: I am not a libertarian, I do not believe in natural law. I do agree that taking someone’s life is the ultimate violation of their liberty, but nowhere did I say that I am unconditionally committed to any such non-violation. In other words, I do not subscribe to the harm principle wholesale, and being an individualist, I apply that principle, just like all others, individually.

    I do not attribute your views/thoughts to gutlessness or cowardice. I have often had thoughts similar to yours, and I simply came to resolve them in a certain way.

    I truly dread the possibility of bloodshed, revolutionary or otherwise.

  • Mike: There is such a thing as being a summer soldier. But there is also such a thing as invading Russia in the winter.

  • John B

    Craig, I found (some of) the secrets of the universe, scared myself half to death, and that’s when I (fortunately) discovered Jesus.
    But perhaps it was He that did the finding!

    I don’t think “pulling off a revolution” is really necessary nor desirable. That would be more of the same poison.
    Just present facts and to the best one can, live them.

    It is for those reasons I have a large amount of respect for the Mises Institute and their constructive role in honest thought.

  • Nuke Gray

    I was once in an argument with some rabid vegetarian who was demanding to know how we justified farming of animals, and I only won the argument (i.e. he stopped blogging on that site) when I turned the argument around, and pointed out how bad were the lives of animals in the wild- no vets, no protection from the weather, being killed in all sorts of painful ways, etc.
    So let me turn your argument around. Are you prepared to let power-hungry states go on mistreating their citizens? Will you accept the lives currently being lost, or warped, by governments? For instance will you passively let local councils, such as New London, resume private property (New London versus Kelo), so they can sell the ground to a property developer and thus get more taxes, which they call acting for the greater public good? That might seem an extreme example, but it did happen, and it is typical behaviour of politicians.

  • Dishman

    Doing violence upon persons is not preferred.

    For ideas, however, no remorse.

    Freedom is not free. That is a contrapositive to the Christian passage “Whitewashed tombs and dirty mausoleums”. If you lose that which you will not dirty your hands to retain, then it was not truly yours anyway.

    Whether or not you do what must be done is, frankly, not my concern or problem.

    I don’t care any more. I’ve had enough.

    Walk with me (or independently, or not) as I visit violence upon their ideas, tenets, paradigms, and reality.

    Stand on your own, or take your chances on me. I’d recommend the former.

  • Laird

    A couple of books to consider:

    (Link)

    (Link)

  • Paul Marks

    To go back to the basic question……

    It contains at least one basic error.

    Libertarians do NOT seek to “impose” a system on anyone.

    If people wish to continue to give much of their money to the government – fine.

    If people insist on only shopping at stores that obey government regualtions (and have Blue Eagle signs, or whatever, that say they do) then also fine.

    Libertarians only object to people who do NOT want to pay out most of their money to the state and do NOT want to only buy stuff in accordance with government regulations being FORCED to do so.

    If most people want to be sheep – that is up to them.

    As long as people who do not want to be sheep are not forced to be sheep.

    “But how would a minority of people who wished to be free, become free?”

    That is a different question.

  • No Paul, that is not a different question, that is the question that was actually asked and discussed.