L. Neil Smith's
Number 355, February 19, 2006

Farewell, Wendy, we will miss you!

How does one distinguish between "real" libertarians... and the nerf variety?
by Linda Cirincione

Exclusive to TLE

L. Neil Smith defined ("real") libertarians essentially as those who act consistently with the Non Aggression Principle (NAP). (See quote at the end.)

The problem: How does one distinguish between "real" libertarians... and the nerf variety who merely wish to impose their own set of rules based upon their own personal preferences? The kind who will not support "real" libertarianism when it gets down to actually implementing it. The kind who masquerade as allies, but would disappear the moment the battle heats up, or worse yet, turn you in for transgressions that go against his own personal tastes. (The ways that I have defined the nerf variety should explain at least a few reasons as to why one would want to differentiate.)

The characteristic of a "real" libertarian, the one thing that makes him different from the "nerf", lib-lite, or pseudo-libertarian variety, is the fact that a "real" libertarian will consistently support the legality of activities that he might personally find distasteful, but which do not violate NAP.

How else would one determine this, other than by discussing some of those "distasteful" activities that only a small minority (perhaps even only one person) might wish to pursue?

Now, it's possible that you don't really care if you ever actually live in a libertarian society. Or that you will be satisfied if the law only gives you a few more freedoms that you personally consider the highest priority. That is fine, but some of us do want to work towards living in a truly libertarian society. Discussing some of the more unusual situations that might be encountered has turned out to be the best way to determine if someone is actually a true ally, another "real" libertarian, as opposed to a well-hidden nerf who might very well sabotage those efforts at a critical point or turn and attack you far more viciously than the statists themselves.

The nerf, of course, will take it as a personal offense that his principles, as evidenced by his own statements, have been impugned and, rather than examining the contradictions inherent in his own stance, will then attempt to derail the discussion via any number of common debate tactics: maligning the other debater as being a "degenerate" for presumably wanting to engage in those activities himself, twisting the other person's words to set up a "straw man" that can be knocked down instead, jumping to unwarranted conclusions or making unsubstantiated assumptions, denouncing the examples as being so "unusual" that they are not worth considering or so disgusting that "no one" would support them, threatening the other debater with potential bodily harm should he choose to ever engage in those activities, refusing to acknowledge and agree to use commonly accepted dictionary definitions of terms so as to facilitate understanding in a discussion, etc.

This totally ignores the fact that even a libertarian court would have to decide "extreme" cases. They WILL come up, sooner or later, and, if that libertarian society is not to devolve into something like what we have now, the participants need to realize that the application of NAP must be consistent, even when distasteful. If one is not willing to apply libertarian principles to all people, in all situations, at the very least as it pertains to the law, then we will never achieve even a small libertarian community.

It is by considering those "extreme" cases that we can examine our values, to determine if we have, in fact, applied them consistently and if we truly believe in what we have professed. It is by preserving the liberty of the smallest minority, no matter how unlike ourselves, that we preserve liberty for all. It is not our business, nor that of the government, to decide what other adults should or should not do with their lives or their bodies because we presume to "know better". Take even one step in that direction and the second becomes all too easy. Isn't that how we got where we are today?

There are libertarians who insist that it is preferable to merely roll back the government in a few key areas, like guns and taxes, and that the other aspects of libertarianism will come "later". But I wouldn't want to count on that nebulous a commitment. There are libertarians who prefer to work on converting the rest of the world one person at a time. That is their prerogative. But some of us believe that this tactic has not done much to advance our cause in the past 30 years that it's been tried, in part because many people actually prefer to live under a paternalistic or maternalistic government. That is their prerogative as well. But some of us would rather work towards finding a location where we can actually put our beliefs into practice, without the necessity of having to convert the majority of the country. We can then determine whether libertarianism will actually work in practice... or not. If not, then libertarianism is merely a mental exercise that we delude ourselves into thinking is a viable concept. And if we never try, it never will be a viable concept.

I often think that those who condemn the ones who actually attempt to find a place to implement "real" libertarianism (a "libertarian homeland" of sorts, be it a town, a county or a state) do not really believe that the concept will work . They therefore try to destroy those real-life efforts (and the people involved) so that they can then continue on with their delusions and pretensions.

The socialists have nothing to worry about, because the nerf libertarians will destroy or marginalize any true efforts to actually implement "real" libertarianism or derail it by diluting the objective to the point where it no longer is "real" libertarianism. Herding cats is a difficult endeavor, made even harder when there are wannabe-wolves, as well as sheep, masquerading in cats clothing within the herd.

Some relevant quotes:

Who is a Libertarian?
"A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim."
—L. Neil Smith
[The Non Aggression Principle, sometimes also called the Zero Aggression Principle, states that no one has the right to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation.]

"As much as 'sunshine soldiers' or 'summer patriots,' beware an ally - more common than you know—whose fear of the uncertainties of success moves him to surrender at the very moment of victory."
— L.Neil Smith, The American Zone

"The best use of our time would be to recognize that we will never change anything by exerting all our efforts to Convert one man in a thousand. It is better to gather those who are ALREADY libertarians into one place where, for the first time in the history of Planet Earth, libertarians actually control the local Government. Not only will this create the most Freedom for those who move, it will also be the single greatest publicity stunt that ever got the attention of large numbers of non-libertarians—thus producing far more Conversions than your approach."
—Zack Bass

"What I object to is hiding the true implications of libertarianism, and I most especially object to the pillorying of True Libertarians who are not afraid to expose the unpopular implications. Don't pander to Statist sentiments at the expense of the good guys."
—Zack Bass

"Reason is man's tool of knowledge, the faculty that enables him to perceive the facts of reality. To act rationally means to act in accordance with the facts of reality. Emotions are not tools of cognition. What you feel tells you nothing about the facts; it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts. Emotions are the result of your value judgments; they are caused by your basic premises, which you may hold consciously or subconsciously, which may be right or wrong."
—Ayn Rand

"Definitions are the guardians of rationality, the first line of defense against the chaos of mental disintegration."
—Ayn Rand


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