What Is Libertarianism?

Many definitions of libertarianism are available online. I like this one for its depth:

Although there is much disagreement about the details, libertarians are generally united by a rough agreement on a cluster of normative principles, empirical generalizations, and policy recommendations. Libertarians are committed to the belief that individuals, and not states or groups of any other kind, are both ontologically and normatively primary; that individuals have rights against certain kinds of forcible interference on the part of others; that liberty, understood as non-interference, is the only thing that can be legitimately demanded of others as a matter of legal or political right; that robust property rights and the economic liberty that follows from their consistent recognition are of central importance in respecting individual liberty; that social order is not at odds with but develops out of individual liberty; that the only proper use of coercion is defensive or to rectify an error; that governments are bound by essentially the same moral principles as individuals; and that most existing and historical governments have acted improperly insofar as they have utilized coercion for plunder, aggression, redistribution, and other purposes beyond the protection of individual liberty. (“Libertarianism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Two aspects of this definition merit closer examination. The first is “that individuals have rights against certain kinds of forcible interference on the part of others.” Whence these rights, and how extensive are they? I say here that

[r]ights, as products of social evolution, are strictures on interpersonal behavior, not “essences” that emanate from individuals. Rights, therefore, are culturally variable in their precise contours, but certain constants of human nature (empathy, self-interest) lead most cultures in the direction of a modus vivendi like the Golden Rule.


There’s a mainstream interpretation of the Golden Rule — one that still holds in many places — which rules out certain kinds of behavior, except in extreme situations, and permits certain other kinds of behavior. There is, in other words, a “core” Golden Rule that comes down to this:

  • Murder is wrong, except in self-defense. (Capital punishment is just that: punishment. It’s also a deterrent to murder. It isn’t “murder,” muddle-headed defenders of baby-murder to the contrary notwithstanding.)
  • Various kinds of unauthorized “taking” are wrong, including theft (outright and through deception). (This explains popular resistance to government “taking,” especially when it’s done on behalf of private parties. The view that it’s all right to borrow money from a bank and not repay it arises from the mistaken beliefs that (a) it’s not tantamount to theft and (b) it harms no one because banks can “afford it.”)
  • Libel and slander are wrong because they are “takings” by word instead of deed.
  • It is wrong to turn spouse against spouse, child against parent, or friend against friend. (And yet, such things are commonly portrayed in books, films, and plays as if they are normal occurrences, often desirable ones. And it seems to me that reality increasingly mimics “art.”)
  • It is right to be pleasant and kind to others, even under provocation, because “a mild answer breaks wrath: but a harsh word stirs up fury” (Proverbs 15:1).
  • Charity is a virtue, but it should begin at home, where the need is most certain and the good deed is most likely to have its intended effect.

Adherence to the Golden Rule is vestigial because in the past century — since the advent of the regulatory-welfare state and the seizure of state power by social “activists” — eons of socially evolved behavioral norms have been distorted and swept aside. Thus the phenomena of broad support for abortion and growing support for same-sex “marriage” — both of which are due to the anti-social combination of “activism” and sponsorship by an anti-religious state.

This leads me to the second aspect of the definition of libertarianism that merits closer attention: “social order is not at odds with but develops out of individual liberty.” The ranks of self-styled libertarians abound with social engineers who would, if they could, override the social order with their own visions of how that order should look. These pseudo-libertarians do not hesitate to prescribe a social order aligned with their effete sensibilities.

To the many examples of pseudo-libertarianism that I have adduced in previous posts (e.g., here and here), I will add two. First comes Charles Johnson, one of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians, points with pride to his article, “The Many Monopolies” (Freeman, September 2011). Regulations, according to Johnson,

fundamentally restructure markets, inventing the class structures of ownership, ratcheted costs, and inhibited competition that produce wage labor, rent, and the corporate economy we face….

A fully freed market means liberating essential command posts in the economy from State control, to be reclaimed for market and social entrepreneurship. The market that would emerge would look profoundly different from anything we have now.

What it would look like — in Johnson’s dreams — is a kind  of leftist Utopia: “Independent contracting, co-ops, and worker-managed shops.” This, of course, is pure guesswork — and wishful thinking — about the effects of abolishing all regulations, whether they superficially favor labor, business, or consumers. (I have more to say about such guesswork in this post.)

The subtitle of Johnson’s analysis should be “Small is beautiful.” It reads like a nostalgic lament for pre-industrial America, as if large corporations are evil per se.

Then there is the reliably leftist libertarian, Will Wilkinson, who says that

there are other legitimate public goods beyond the police protection of property rights. The need to finance the provision of these goods can justifiably limit our property rights, just as a system of property can justifiably limit our right to free movement. The use of official coercion to collect necessary taxes is no more or less problematic than the use of official coercion to enforce claims to legitimate property. Of course, those who suffer most from the absence of adequate public goods are the poor and powerless. (“A Libertarian’s Lament: Why Ron Paul Is an Embarrassment to the Creed,” The New Republic, September 2, 2011)

What are those other “public goods” to which Wilkinson refers? One of them is public schooling. It may seem strange for a so-called libertarian to endorse public schooling, but — in Wilkinson’s view — the cause is just if it benefits “poor kids.” Well, then, why not tax “the rich” to put everyone in the lower half of the income distribution on the dole? Where does one draw the line? Where Wilkinson says to draw the line, I suppose. After all, one mustn’t allow social outcomes that displease Mr. Wilkinson.

The point of these examples is that they illustrate a decided antagonism to a “social order [that] develops out of individual liberty.” They are consistent with “positive liberty,” which — as I have written — is not liberty at all.

Libertarianism — true libertarianism — does not presume to prescribe the outcome of social activity, only its conditions: peaceful and voluntary. It is inevitable and unavoidable that peaceful, voluntary social activity will yield outcomes that are unequal — in terms of income, wealth, and social status — and even distasteful — in terms of inter-group antipathies and discriminatory behavior.  But unequal and distasteful outcomes are rooted in the reality of human nature, which Michael Schermer summarizes quite well in his essay, “Liberty and Science,” at Cato Unbound:

  1. The clear and quantitative physical differences among people in size, strength, speed, agility, coordination, and other physical attributes that translates into some being more successful than others, and that at least half of these differences are inherited.
  2. The clear and quantitative intellectual differences among people in memory, problem solving ability, cognitive speed, mathematical talent, spatial reasoning, verbal skills, emotional intelligence, and other mental attributes that translates into some being more successful than others, and that at least half of these differences are inherited.
  3. The evidence from behavior genetics and twin studies indicating that 40 to 50 percent of the variance among people in temperament, personality, and many political, economic, and social preferences are accounted for by genetics.
  4. The failed communist and socialist experiments around the world throughout the 20th century revealed that top-down draconian controls over economic and political systems do not work.
  5. The failed communes and utopian community experiments tried at various places throughout the world over the past 150 years demonstrated that people by nature do not adhere to the Marxian principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
  6. The power of family ties and the depth of connectedness between blood relatives. Communities have tried and failed to break up the family and have children raised by others; these attempts provide counter evidence to the claim that “it takes a village” to raise a child. As well, the continued practice of nepotism further reinforces the practice that “blood is thicker than water.”
  7. The principle of reciprocal altruism—I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine”—is universal; people do not by nature give generously unless they receive something in return, even if what they receive is social status.
  8. The principle of moralistic punishment—I’ll punish you if you do not scratch my back after I have scratched yours—is universal; people do not long tolerate free riders who continually take but almost never give.
  9. The almost universal nature of hierarchical social structures—egalitarianism only works (barely) among tiny bands of hunter-gatherers in resource-poor environments where there is next to no private property, and when a precious game animal is hunted extensive rituals and religious ceremonies are required to insure equal sharing of the food.
  10. The almost universal nature of aggression, violence, and dominance, particularly on the part of young males seeking resources, women, and especially status, and how status-seeking in particular explains so many heretofore unexplained phenomena, such as high risk taking, costly gifts, excessive generosity beyond one’s means, and especially attention seeking.
  11. The almost universal nature of within-group amity and between-group enmity, wherein the rule-of-thumb heuristic is to trust in-group members until they prove otherwise to be distrustful, and to distrust out-group members until they prove otherwise to be trustful.
  12. The almost universal desire of people to trade with one another, not for the selfless benefit of others or the society, but for the selfish benefit of one’s own kin and kind; it is an unintended consequence that trade establishes trust between strangers and lowers between-group enmity, as well as produces greater wealth for both trading partners and groups.

Efforts to channel human nature in contrary directions — whether those efforts are “liberal” or “libertarian” —  can lead only in one direction: the stifling of liberty:

The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals. (Friedrich A. Hayek, “The Pretence of Knowledge,” Nobel Prize lecture, December 11, 1974)

Related posts:
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Columnist, Heal Thyself
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Enough of “Social Welfare”
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
In Defense of Marriage
Understanding Hayek
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Crimes against Humanity
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
The Arrogance of (Some) Economists

6 thoughts on “What Is Libertarianism?

  1. 1. Thomas: What it [a freed market] would look like — in Johnson’s dreams — is a kind of leftist Utopia: “Independent contracting, co-ops, and worker-managed shops.”

    Actually, if you’ll look at the article, that was a list of some things other than conventionally capitalistic firms that are also examples of the division of labor (“specialization and trade”); it’s part of a brief response to a common argument that anti-corporate positions like Tucker’s somehow run counter to the discoveries of economic science regarding gains from trade or the division of labor. If you think it’s supposed to be an exhaustive list of what I think a freed market would look like, then you are mistaken.

    2. Thomas: This, of course, is pure guesswork — and wishful thinking — about the effects of abolishing all regulations, whether they superficially favor labor, business, or consumers.

    Maybe. But I did give an argument for the position I actually defend — viz., certain forms of commerce are effectively subsidized, and certain other forms of social activity are suppressed, by a network of existing regulations, monopolies, and wealth-transfers (the “Many Monopolies” which are discussed throughout the article). Now, normally it is the case that when a form of activity is subsidized, we can conclude if the subsidy is removed then, ceteris paribus, we will get less of it; and more of the substitute goods at whose expense it was subsidized.

    Now, you could respond in various ways to this kind of ceteris-paribus claim — you could offer some concrete objection to my analysis of the Many Monopolies as effective subsidies to corporate commerce; or you could agree with that analysis, but make an argument that after the removal of the subsidies, ceteris will not be paribus, and that some other economic factor will step in when the subsidies are gone; or you could argue that even though the things I mention may favor particular forms of commerce at the expense of market freedom, there really is no net subsidy in the final analysis, because of the restraints or penalties that are inflicted on the same forms of commerce that I say are subsidized; or…. But to simply wave it off as “guesswork,” rather than the conclusion of a specific argument, seems premature.

    3. Thomas: The subtitle of Johnson’s analysis should be “Small is beautiful.”

    I’ll be sure to notify my editor. But you did catch the bit about not having any problem with large-scale production, etc., yes?

    4. Thomas: It reads like a nostalgic lament for pre-industrial America,

    This is ridiculous. One of the major purposes of the piece is to discuss how much 19th century America sucked, and it simply has nothing to say about “pre-industrial America,” except insofar as it mentions some of the forms of mass violence and dispossession earlier in the 19th century which helped set the stage for developments later in the 19th century (e.g. Indian removal, slavery, the invasion of Mexico, etc.). Of course, I can hardly control what something “reads like” to you, but if you’re reading a “nostalgic lament” I have to insist that that is something you’re bringing to the text, not something the text is offering up to you.

    5. Thomas: as if large corporations are evil per se.

    Well, I didn’t say they’re “evil.” I said that they are subsidized enterprises, and thus not good examples of free market dynamics at work.

    Their ethical status is a separate question, and I think that varies a lot from case to case. Those that push for, and profit most from, coercive monopolies, tax-funded bailouts, etc. are, in my view, much more blameworthy than those that simply happen to benefit from a legal environment that they didn’t create. But the ethical question there is an issue totally separate from the economic question about the effects of a subsidy, and however blameworthy or blameless a subsidized activity may be, when you remove the subsidy, you’re going to tend (ceteris paribus) to get less of it.

    6. Thomas: The ranks of self-styled libertarians abound with social engineers who would, if they could, override the social order with their own visions of how that order should look.

    Lord alive. “Override” here could mean one of two things: either you are accusing me (if I am supposed to be one of these “social engineers”) of (a) being willing to criticize a social order as undesirable even though it arose through the exercise of individual liberty, and recommend that other people choose different ways of conducting their social and economic lives; or else (b) being willing to forcibly suppress a social order that arose through the exercise of individual liberty, and coerce people into putting their persons and property to uses that better aligns with my “effete sensibilities” (really, dude?).

    If the charge is (a), then I plead guilty. But if “true libertarianism” means that one simply has to abandon any possibility of intelligent cultural criticism, and non-violent persuasion by means of education and free association, well, then I’m happy to be a “pseudo-libertarian.” But this sort of “overriding” has nothing to do with violating anyone’s individual liberty or invading anyone’s person or property, so I’m not sure what’s supposed to be so “pseudo” about it.

    If the charge is (b), then I can only say that this is a ridiculous calumny, and certainly not based on anything in the article I wrote, which is strictly concerned with removing government controls, not with adding or preserving them. And if you are going to make it, then I challenge you to back it up — by producing a single example, in “The Many Monopolies” or in any other thing that I have written in the last 8 years or so, in which I advocated using legal force to “override” a social order that emerged from the free exercise of individual liberty.


  2. Thank you for taking the time to post a detailed commentary about my interpretation of your article. I have taken the liberty of numbering your points, so that I can reply substantively without having to repeat a lot of what you say.


  3. After addressing each of your points I will make some general observations.

    Point 1: The thrust of the paragraph in which “Independent contracting, co-ops, and worker-managed shops” appears is that those things (and others) are alternatives (not complements) to what you call “the corporatist economy.” I stand by my characterization of such organizing schemes as leftist Utopianism.

    Point 2: Your response focuses on subsidies, but government policies are not unmitigated blessings for large, incumbent corporations. Government also penalizes them — and thus consumers — by imposing a complex web of restrictions on inputs, processes, and outputs. Take away such restrictions and what do you get? Well, it seems reasonable to suppose that you would in many cases get larger firms, better able to achieve economies of scale. I call your observations “guesswork” because you seem to assume that the net effect of governmental interventions is to enlarge corporations beyond what would be their “natural” size in a wholly freed market. I don’t think you’ve made that case.

    Point 3: I stand corrected. It seems that you have nothing against large-scale production, as long as it doesn’t emanate from a “corporatist economy.” How about “Up against the Wall, Henry Ford” as a subtitle?

    Point 4: Ah, but you didn’t quote the entire sentence: “[Johnson’s article] reads like a nostalgic lament for pre-industrial America, as if large corporations are evil per se.” Given the tenuousness of your anti-”corporatist” case, I could have characterized your article either a nostalgic lament or a case of Utopianism. Having already used “Utopia,” I switched to “nostalgic lament” for variety’s sake. Both are what the text “offers up” to me, inasmuch as they are characterizations suggested by the text (regardless of your intentions), not immaculate perceptions on my part.

    Point 5: Okay, not “evil,” which should be reserved for Stalin, Hitler, al-Qaida, and the like. My bad.

    As for the rest of your comment, see my reply to your point #2.

    Point 6: The answer is (a), modified to read as follows: Assessing a social order as undesirable even though it arose through the exercise of individual liberty, and arguing that people should choose ways of conducting their social and economic lives that better aligns with your sense of rightness.

    As for “effete sensibilities,” I refer you to http://radgeek.com/about/, which includes a litany of your “bêtes noires,” many (perhaps most) of which are the products of a voluntary social order. I will admit, however, that my own sensibilities, though different than yours in many respects, might also be called effete.

    Of course “true libertarianism” does not mean “that one simply has to abandon any possibility of intelligent cultural criticism, and non-violent persuasion by means of education and free association.” Nice try, but that straw man won’t stand. “Psuedo-libertarianism,” as I use the term, is a proneness to argue for social arrangements and outcomes that are aligned with one’s effete sensibilities, even where such arrangements and outcomes run contrary to the peaceful and voluntary exercise of deep-seated human impulses (“human nature,” if you will). I put it this way in an earlier post (https://politicsandprosperity.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/pseudo-libertarian-sophistry-vs-true-libertarianism/):

    “Pseudo-libertarianism … is no better than any other kind of rationalism. It simply posits a sterile, abstract standard of conduct — one that has nothing to do with the workaday world of humanity — and finds wanting everyone but those who pay lip-service to that standard of conduct.

    “That is not libertarianism. It is sophomoric dream-spinning.”

    Two tell-tale signs of pseudo-libertarianism are anarchism and pacifism.

    * * *

    You should not conclude from the preceding replies that I entirely dismiss your article or your particular brand of libertarianism. (Not that it should matter to you or anyone if I did.) But, like you, I have a penchant for stating my views strongly — perhaps (in my case) even overstating them for effect. I believe that our differences — like those between various libertarian camps and between libertarians, Burkean conservatives, yahoo conservatives, “liberals,” and so on — are due as much to differences of temperament as they are to differences in knowledge and intelligence. But temperament is not everything; attempts to persuade and educate can move people. And it is better to move them in the direction of libertarianism (of any variety) than in the direction of statism. So, although I do not agree with everything you say, it is good that you say it.


  4. Thomas,

    Thanks for the replies.

    In re: (1), whether or not you’re right to characterize those sort of economic projects “leftist Utopianism,” again, my point is that I didn’t say (and don’t believe) that those are the only forms of economic activity that are going to be on offer in a free society. What I did say is that a certain kind of argument used to dismiss them apriori is really a non sequitur.

    Maybe you think that there’s another, different argument which shows that anything but a conventionally capitalistic firm would be unsustainable, or overwhelmingly out-competed in a freed market. Certainly, below, in (6), you suggest another, different line of attack — that they are forms of organization which somehow conflict with “deep seated human impulses,” etc. If so, OK, we can talk about that; but it’s a different argument from the argument that I was responding to, and you’ll need to keep in mind that I have more to say on the subject than what you’ll find in a paragraph narrowly concerned with another, different point; that the list you just quoted is intended as suggestive, not exhaustive; and so on.

    In re: (2), the claim about the net effect of government interventions is not an “assumption;” it’s the conclusion of an argument. Part of the argument is contained in the body of the article, and the rest is alluded to insofar as restrictions of space would allow (I mention, e.g., Gabriel Kolko’s work on the historical backgrounds and economic effects of “progressive” regulation; I might also mention the work of David Beito on grassroots mutual aid, Butler Shaffer’s work on antitrust law, etc.). Maybe you think the argument is a weak one, but of course you should keep in mind that there may be more to it than what you could find outlined in one general-audience magazine article (certainly, I’ve written a lot more on the subject, and referred to many people who’ve written much more on it than I have). In any case though, I do sketch the outlines of a response to exactly the worries you raise here: I already specifically responded to the claim about economies of scale in the paragraph you were quoting above, and I give some specific reasons for thinking that the main effects of “the complex web of restrictions” are not actually what their “progressive” sponsors claim them to be, but rather tend to favor monopolization and cartelization, by suppressing start-up competitors. Again, maybe you think that this argument is not strong enough, as presented, to justify the conclusion I draw from it. And maybe it’s not. But if so, it seems like you’d do better to actually reply to the points that I made on the subject, rather than repeating the same objections I already replied to in the article as if I had been too busy dream-spinning to ever hear tell of such a thing as OSHA or an antitrust lawsuit.

    In re: (5), you make fun, but it’s a serious point. My article spends more or less no time at all on any question about the ethical status of corporate commerce. I’ve certainly got something to say about it (and have said so elsewhere), but when I’m being accused of ignoring economic principles in order to suit my own preferences, I really do have to insist that the central point of the article (the purely economic point that the patterns of corporate commerce as we know them are substantially the result of an identifiable set of political interventions, and are — therefore — not good examples of market forces at work) is a point that makes no significant claim at all about the ethical status of any of the people or organizations engaged in it, and it is not refuted by arguing about whether or not big corporations are “evil,” good, noble, base, delightful, unsightly, or utterly humdrum.

    In re: (6), OK. Then I will gladly tell you that I have no problem with so “assessing” or so “arguing.” If “true libertarianism,” as you understand it, means refusing to “assess” any social relationship, or pattern of social interaction, “as undesirable” so long as it “arose through the exercise of individual liberty,” or ever to argue with someone as to whether a choice they freely make is in fact the right choice to make, then “true libertarianism” sounds like a form of voluntary imbecility, and I’m happy to apostasize myself from it.

    You call this a “strawman” of your view, but in what particular respect have I misrepresented you? I asked you if in your view “true libertarianism” is supposed to require no social relationship, or pattern of social interaction, should be subject to criticism, or to attempts to persuade others against it, if it arises consensually. You seem to have answered fairly directly that that is indeed your view, although apparently you prefer the even broader word “assess” to “criticize,” and the word “argue” to “persuade.” But if assessing any voluntary relationship as undesirable is “pseudo-libertarianism,” just what sort of “intelligent cultural criticism and non-violent persuasion” do you intend to leave for the true believer? And, since, again, such criticism and such non-violent persuasion is itself entirely non-coercive, and in no way violates the person, property or individual liberty of anyone who happens to hear it or to be the subject of it, what does this call for a sweeping norm against such talk have to do with the truth or falsity of someone’s libertarianism?

    But in any case this seems like special pleading. On the one hand, you want to rule out arguments against the desirability of capitalistic relationships by appealing to this sort of quietism. And yet when it comes to the arguments against the desirability of non-capitalistic relationships, you seem to think you have a very good idea already of what sorts of social relationships are desirable, and which are not, as reflected in your attempt to justify some of them, and to dismiss others as sterile and utopian, by appeals to “deep seated human impulses.” As for those “deep seated human impulses,” I had already read the previous post, and I’m pretty sure that you and I differ pretty radically about just what those impulses are, and also what it is that “seats” them “deeply” where they occur. But while that’s an interesting psychological or anthropological question to contemplate, I don’t really know what if anything it is supposed to decide about libertarian politics. It’s natural for humans to crap in the woods, but civilization gives us toilets, and it’s natural for women to die in childbirth before they reach middle age, but we’ve generally thought it worth our while to make some deliberate effort to change and improve on our natural capacities and life-cycles.


  5. And thank you for the thoughtful and thorough rejoinders. I will try to respond over the weekend.

    FYI, Akismet, WordPress’s spam cop, dumped this set of comments directly into the “spam” category, whence I rescued it. The designation wasn’t due to any action on my part, nor was it due to your use of links because there aren’t any in your missive. Perhaps it was particular words or phrases that triggered the spam designation. Or perhaps it’s because you are, as you describe yourself, an avid commenter. In any event, I thought you should be aware of Akismet’s action.


  6. Point 1: I don’t know about “a certain kind of argument” that is used to “dismiss” Independent contracting, co-ops, and worker-managed shops a priori. My point was that the statements that I quoted seem to endorse a left-wing alternative to capitalistic free markets. Don’t forget that before I quoted the passage about independent contracting, etc., I quoted a passage that comes after you have clearly endorsed Tucker’s Four Monopolies, and then expanded them to the Many Monopolies. That passage includes the statement that the Many Monopolies “fundamentally restructure markets, inventing the class structures of ownership….” Perhaps, as you say, you don’t believe that Independent contracting, co-ops, and worker-managed shops “are the only forms of economic activity that are going to be on offer in a free society.” But would capitalistic free markets be consistent with the kind of fundamental restructuring that you envision? If not, I stand by “leftist Utopia” as an apt characterization of your preferred economic order. If “leftist” bothers you, change it to “left-libertarian,” which I take to be your political stance (http://radgeek.com/gt/2011/08/29/mmm-for-july-2011-and-august-2011-vices-crimes-corporate-power-privatization-and-mo-problems/). I’m sure that you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but at least one prominent sect of left-libertarianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-libertarianism#Property_and_natural_resources) takes the view that natural resources are owned in common. This is essentially socialistic, and therefore, in common parlance, leftist.

    Point 2: I will stand pat until you can point me to a sound statistical analysis of the effects of various governmental interventions affecting markets. Call me stubborn, but there’s a limit to what one can conclude from partial analyses. The limit, all too often, is set by our preconceptions. I include myself in that charge. If it doesn’t apply to you, then I nominate you for some kind of secular sainthood.

    Point 5: Perhaps you do “spend more or less no time at all on any question about the ethical status of corporate commerce.” But you do spend slightly more than no time at all on what seems to me a strong indictment of corporate ethics: “Today regulatory cartels and political mandates have also captured insurance, alongside credit, savings, and investment, as a Money Monopoly stronghold, forcing workers into rigged markets while shutting out noncorporate, grassroots forms of mutual aid.” I happen to agree with the part about “regulatory cartels” and “political mandates,” though not necessarily with the part about “shutting out noncorporate, grassroots forms of mutual aid.” Some would call regulatory cartels and political mandates “evil.” If you wouldn’t, good for you. “Evil,” like “insane,” is overused (https://politicsandprosperity.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/insane-is-overused/).

    Point 6: Your discussion is so general as to leave me without a handle by which to grasp it, except to reject any implication that I am against toilets and for death by childbirth.

    Let’s start over. A “true” libertarian respects socially evolved norms that foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior because they evidence and build mutual trust and respect. If those norms include the condemnation of abortion (because it involves the murder of a living human being) and the rejection of same-sex “marriage” (because it mocks the institution through which children are born and raised), the “true” libertarian will accept those norms as part and parcel of the larger social order — as long as it is a peaceful, voluntary order. The “pseudo” libertarian — in my observation — will reject those norms because they interfere with the “natural rights” (or some such thing) of the individuals who want to abort fetuses and/or grant same-sex “marriage” the same status as heterosexual marriage. But to reject and reverse norms as fundamental as the condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage” — unless the rejection is voluntary and gradual — is to create strife and distrust, therefore undermining the mutual trust and respect upon which civil society depends. Liberty — willing peaceful, coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior — cannot thrive where strife and distrust are prevalent.

    (You might protest that there is plenty of willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior in the United States, despite some rather fundamental disagreements on matters like abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and other social and economic issues. But how much of that coexistence and cooperation is due to voluntary segregation, the prevalence of arms-length transactions, and — especially — rather prominent police forces? You might agree with me that the United States is far closer to being a police state than a land of liberty. Then there all of those regulations, which amply confirm our virtual imprisonment, regardless of whose oxen they gore.)

    Now, I don’t intend to — and won’t — be drawn into a discussion about abortion, same-sex “marriage,” or any of the other issues about which we probably disagree. If the “pseudo” label, as I define it, applies to you, that’s too bad. I’ll continue to use the label for the reasons I have given, and you can disagree with my definition and give your reasons for rejecting it.

    But you will have to express your views elsewhere. I am through with this conversation, which has advanced to the stage of pointlessness. As I said in my reply to your first set of comments, “I believe that our differences — like those between various libertarian camps and between libertarians, Burkean conservatives, yahoo conservatives, “liberals,” and so on — are due as much to differences of temperament as they are to differences in knowledge and intelligence.” My temperament is pretty much fixed, inasmuch as I am more than twice as old as you. Call me a “conservative” if you want to; my feelings won’t be hurt.

    Good night, and good luck.


Comments are closed.