Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Libertarian buts

I see a lot of people who claim to be a "libertarian, but". And some who claim to just be "libertarian" while they ignore their big "but" and pretend it is a feature of all "real libertarians".

The biggest "but" is support for the military. Militia, yes. State-controlled military, no. Tax-financed, government military is not "libertarian", no matter how you try to spin it. It doesn't matter if the Constitution says it is OK, or if your family has always been a "military family" and you want to honor their lives.

The second biggest "but", which is related to the first, is belief in national borders. Usually they pretend this "but" is about property rights. If you think national borders are about property rights, just see how much the State that enforces the borders respects your property rights. Nope. It's about violating your property rights. It doesn't matter if the trespasser is an independent migrant from Mexico or an employee of some government agency. Trespassing is trespassing and the backstory doesn't matter. And, if you choose to allow a person on your property, that is your right as a property owner and no one has any say in the matter.

A third "but" is pretending that the US Constitution is a libertarian document. It has some good things in it and it has some horrible things in it. But none of that matters since the US government ignores it all anyway, unless they find a particular part useful to the agenda at the moment. Go ahead and use the Constitution to show that the government is not legitimate since it has unilaterally violated the agreement that bound it, but don't get hung up on this too much. There are better ways to organize a "society" voluntarily.

The last "but" I notice the most is ignoring coercion unless it is committed by The State. Coercion is wrong. The State is wrong because it relies on coercion. Coercion isn't wrong just because it is used by The State.

I'm sure there are lots more "buts" out there. All those who claim to be "libertarian, but without the crazy stuff" have at least one.

As for myself, I try to make sure I have no "but". If my first inclination, when presented with an idea that pushes the envelope of individual liberty, is to pull a "but" out of my... well, you know... then I try to look very hard at why I felt the need to have a "but". What aspect of legitimized (or justified) coercion am I trying to hold on to? And why?



  1. For more musings on the disconnect between constitutional republicanism and libertarianism, see "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority" by Lysander Spooner.
    Great post, Kent. I do tend be be tolerant of the "buts" if people are substantially correct. It seems better to help a baby learn to walk than to beat him down for tripping. Open, civil debate on these subjects is key in educating the ignorant.

  2. I am fairly tolerant of the "buts" myself. I do, however, often point out the inconsistency, but I try to do it in a non-condemning way. It took me a long time to get rid of all the "buts" I have relieved myself of so far.

    It's why I let my dad read my Reason magazines when I am finished. That magazine is filled with "buts" and seems to be more readily accepted by "libertarian, buts" and non-libertarians than a "pure" libertarian perspective would be.

  3. "I'm a libertarian, but fortuntately I have a magic invisible property rights nullification bubble foir when that's inconvenient ..." ;-)

  4. That's one way to look at it.

    The other might be "I'm a libertarian, but I think slavery (etc.) is OK as long as I only do it on my own real estate." Or "I'm a libertarian, but fortuntately I have a magic invisible property rights nullification bubble for when your body is surrounded by my property."
    Now, let's kill The State so that this becomes the biggest issue we face. ;)