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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Future of Libertarianism - Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

Mises Daily: Monday, May 05, 2014 by Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.
Marxists were notorious for infighting over the most trivial differences. One group would secede from another, reverse the word order of the group it had seceded from, and declare itself the new and pure group.

The first group, the new group would declare to the world, was part of the fascist conspiracy to suppress the coming workers’ triumph, even though the differences between the two groups were completely undetectable even to an expert.

An informal debate taking place among libertarians these days, regarding whether people ought to be “thick” or “thin” libertarians, is of a different character. It strikes at the very heart of what libertarianism is.

The “thin” libertarian believes in the nonaggression principle, that one may not initiate physical force against anyone else. The thin libertarian thinks of himself simply as a libertarian, without labels. Most “thick” libertarians likewise believe in the nonaggression principle, but they believe that for the struggle for liberty to be coherent, libertarians must be committed to a slate of other views as well.

Before I proceed, let me anticipate an objection. Shouldn’t I spend my time attacking the state instead of criticizing other libertarians?

For one thing, look around at this website: it’s a veritable treasure trove of articles on every subject under the sun. Over the years at LRC we have left no stone unturned in exposing the evils and lies of the state, and building up the libertarian alternative. As a matter of fact, I have a new book on the verge of release that continues in that tradition: Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto.

Second, there’s nothing wrong with what some people disparage as “infighting.” A respectful exchange of ideas is how a school of thought develops. And I agree with Tom Woods: it is not true, as many allege, that libertarians are uniquely prone to arguments among themselves. Just observe the Democrats, the Republicans, your homeowners’ association, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims — or, for that matter, just about anyone.

Proponents of a “thick” libertarianism suggest that libertarians are bound to defend something more than the nonaggression principle, and that libertarianism involves commitments beyond just this. One such proponent recently said, “I continue to have trouble believing that the libertarian philosophy is concerned only with the proper and improper uses of force.” But no matter how difficult it may be for that person to believe, that is precisely what libertarianism is, and that is all it is.

As Murray Rothbard, Mr. Libertarian himself, once explained: 

There are libertarians who are indeed hedonists and devotees of alternative lifestyles, and that there are also libertarians who are firm adherents of “bourgeois” conventional or religious morality. There are libertarian libertines and there are libertarians who cleave firmly to the disciplines of natural or religious law. There are other libertarians who have no moral theory at all apart from the imperative of non-violation of rights. That is because libertarianism per se has no general or personal moral theory.

Libertarianism does not offer a way of life; it offers liberty, so that each person is free to adopt and act upon his own values and moral principles. Libertarians agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end” — not necessarily the highest end on everyone’s personal scale of values.

We have been told by some libertarians in recent months that yes, yes, libertarianism is about nonaggression and private property and all that, but that it is really part of a larger project opposed to all forms of oppression, whether state-imposed or not. This has two implications for the thick libertarian. First, opposing the state is not enough; a real libertarian must oppose various other forms of oppression, even though none of them involve physical aggression. 

Second, libertarianism should be supported because the reduction or abolition of the state will yield the other kinds of outcomes many thick libertarians support: smaller firms, more worker cooperatives, more economic equality, etc. 

Let’s evaluate these implications one at a time.  MORE…