I am a former Libertarian. I found Libertarianism persuasive and I believed in the arguments that I made. Unfortunately I later became aware of evasions and omissions at Libertarianism's core.
If by Libertarian you mean someone who advocates a disjoint set of political ideas and you are such a Libertarian, you are missing the advantage that a coherent, consistent, reasoned ethical and philosophical base can give you -- you might as well be a Republican.
Since Libertarianism is not a single consistent system, that is, different Libertarians adhere to different views, I will use the term `libertarian' to mean anyone who holds (or almost holds) the following views:
This chain of reasoning is powerful and useful for only one reason: the average American can usually be made to agree quickly with principle (1) above. Force and fraud have a bad reputation.
In fact, it is libertarianism's dedication to an ethical principle (right or wrong) that distinguishes it from the Republican and Democratic parties which have stopped even pretending to be devoted to any sort of principle. This is the reason that an educated libertarian can argue persuasively on almost any political issue at a moment's notice.
The libertarian argues his case by asking people if they think force and fraud are wrong, obtaining agreement, and then proceeding to show the political consequences of the assent already obtained.
Unfortunately, this argument fails at its root for one simple reason. Until we have a notion of property rights, there is no such thing as force or fraud. If I take an apple and eat it, is it force or fraud? `Yes' if its your apple, `no' if its mine!
The same is true for the absolute sanctity of contracts. I punch someone in the head, is it force? `No' if the recipient of the punch is the willing participant in a boxing match.
I walk across a piece of land, is that force or fraud? `No' if I have rightful title to the land, `Yes' if I don't have the permission of someone who does.
In sum, an injunction against coercion is incomprehensible without a solid basis in property and contract rights. We cannot simply look to see who made physical contact with who or what. Of course, an absolute right to property and an absoulute sanctity of contracts is a hard sell to the average American. Much harder than the `force and fraud' stuff.
Libertarianism smuggles absolute property and contract rights in under the guise of prohibiting force and fraud. Consider the following debate:
Libertarian: Do you believe force and fraud are wrong?
Democrat: Yes, I do.
Libertarian: Well then, you have to accept that using taxation to support universal health care is wrong because taking the money I have earned to give to someone else is an unjustified use of force.
Democrat: Not really. Once the law is passed, the money is no longer yours. The government has every right to use force to get its property from someone else who has custody of it.
Libertarian: But how can passing a law make one person's property another person's?
Democrat: To ask that question is to deny the validity of any and all law. It is to ask for an absolute doctrine of property rights that transcends human written law. Besides, by accepting government services, one has entered into a contract with the government, part of the contract is agreeing to pay taxes. ...
The libertarian's last question is exactly equivalent to asking if property rights are absolute and whether a social contract exists between individuals and their government. Without these points, the libertarian's arguments collapse immediately.
The libertarian appeals to the non-initiation of force and fraud for strategic reasons. They then count on a person to assume property and contract rights. An explicit denial of them collapses the libertarian position.
Libertarianism has no answer to this argument. The libertarian moral doctrine of opposition to force and fraud boils down to a respect for the property of others. This respect can be dropped in an instant if the sanctity of the property rights of others is not the basis for the injunction against force and fraud.
This is the reason that libertarians argue so well against their friends and associates and so poorly against knowledgeable philosophers.
Unfortunately, if libertarianism were to be honest and state its dependence on absolute property rights, it would lose its ability to persuade and any chance of it being taken seriously by Joe Average. Such is the price for honesty and integrity.
Objectivism is a philosophical system with political consequences that are (nearly) identical to Libertarianism's. Objectivism, however, starts with no axioms other than existence, identity, and consciousness. Its system of ethics is derived and proveable.
Many libertarians realize the hidden requirement, implicit in the injunction against force and fraud, that property and contract rights be absolute. This does not bother them because they believe that absolute property rights and sanctity of contracts should be accepted as axioms. This was my belief for some time.
What bothered me is that I could not defend my belief in absolute property and contract rights. My position was denigrated as being selfish, elitist, and inhuman and I had no defense for these accusations. Objectivism provided me with the defenses.
There are some Libertarians who base their defense of freedom on the argument that no one can know what is right and thus no one is justified in forcing their idea of right and wrong on another. This is the most dangerous thing a lover of freedom could ever say. This leaves no defense against the coercer; he will insist that you have no right to tell him that he is wrong to use force -- how can you know what is right for him?
Basing a defense of freedom on the alleged subjectivity of ethics is disastrous. We need to take the high ground and defend our ability to judge others as wrong when they initiate force or fraud.
I still cringe when I hear someone make that argument. If knowledge and truth were not objective , they would be of no value.
Libertarians also must face `philosophical' attacks on their position. They must deal with those who say, ``But you are a person and people are capable of error so you can't know that you are right.'' Only a coherent philosophy can defend certainty.
Intellectual evolution is usually a punctuated equilibrium -- long periods of integration followed by brief instants of massive upheaval. An atheist who was brought up to be religious generally `lost' his religion in a brief interval -- his thinking changed forever. Libertarians raised as Democrats or Republicans often cite similar conversion experiences. Each one leaves you stronger and with a more consistent base from which to reason.
Many who are Libertarians now had a `suspicion' of politics before they became Libertarians. They knew that politics was always about taking something from them and giving nothing in return. When one confronts politics and assimilates it, one can take its power as one's own.
How do you feel about philosophy? If you are willing to be challenged, an intellectual adventure is ahead of you.
Would you like to:
Copyright (C) 1994 by Joel Katz email@example.com
All rights reserved