Bill of Rights Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 382, August 27, 2006

"Government is not the way to get things done."


Unlibertarian Thinking
by Alex McConnell

Credit The Libertarian Enterprise

Trying to explain libertarianism to leftists is often frustrating and complicated. Rightists seem to understand it fine (and strongly disagree of course), but leftists generally fail to grasp the core concepts entirely. Because of this, leftists have a tendency to attack "the ends" of libertarian views without understanding "the why" of those views. This often forces libertarians into justifying their positions based on the ends. Libertarianism isn't about the ends though really, it's about the why.

A standard example of a libertarian "ends" argument would be one libertarians commonly use for ending the minimum wage. Many a libertarian will argue that minimum wages create unemployment and should be abolished because of the damage done to jobs. While this is true, it completely and totally misrepresents libertarianism. If minimum wages didn't actually hurt employment at all and had no other particularly harmful effects, libertarians would still be against them. Libertarians aren't against minimum wage laws due to their harmful effects but because it's morally wrong to try to regulate how people conduct voluntary business. By arguing the ends instead of the why, libertarians undermine their position and confuse the hell out of those nonlibertarians who don't really understand libertarianism. Even worse, this can be seen as a form of rationalization of the libertarian belief, leading some to believe that the person making this argument actually believes the real libertarian position to be wrong and is trying to convince themselves more than the person they're discussing it with.

The Libertarian Party often makes this type of unlibertarian argument for libertarianism. If this weren't bad enough, they also take positions on issues that have no valid libertarian position at all. Animal rights, for instance, is an issue based on an entirely separate moral decision than libertarianism. While most libertarians would probably think that applying the Zero Aggression Principle to dealings with some or most animals is absurd, there's absolutely nothing unlibertarian about doing so and not doing so is most definitely not a libertarian position. (Of course, it's hard to maintain zero aggression vs. microorganisms!) Despite this, will occasionally host an article disparaging animal rights and making it look like this is the libertarian position. It's entirely reasonable for a political party to express an opinion that agrees with the opinions of the vast majority of its members, but in this case doing so alienates libertarians who might otherwise support the LP and further muddles the leftist understanding of libertarian philosophy. When a leftist says, "Libertarians are against animal rights!" and proceeds to throw these sorts of articles in your face, it's hard to explain to them that it isn't necessarily so.

At least the Libertarian Party position on animal rights is an unofficial one. When you have an official position of this nature, it's worse. Take a look at section 1.4 of the Libertarian Party Platform concerning property rights. This whole section is a wishy-washy mess. Just this past week, I had this shown to me as an example of libertarian beliefs. There is nothing about public property existing that involves libertarianism. It's quite uncommon for land to become public property without some form of initiation of force, but there's nothing that says land that is public property must become private. The only legitimate libertarian position here is to ensure that the upkeep of such land is not funded by the taxpayers and to reverse any force that may have happened. If a person were to freely give land to the government, would libertarians rise up and say "no?" Would they actually suggest initiating force to make the person either give their property to someone else or not give it away at all? Would they instead let the person give their property to the public then turn around and sell it to the highest bidder? The inability to deal with this situation actually makes the universal rejection of public property a blatant initiation of force, totally violating libertarian principles. How can I possibly explain libertarian principles to someone who doesn't understand them when what should theoretically be the most legitimate source of libertarian beliefs actually supports a position that violates them?

It's impossible to gain respect for libertarian beliefs when people don't even understand them, and it's difficult for people to understand them when unlibertarian thinking is so often presented to them as libertarian. Some might suggest that this is why the distinction between libertarians and Libertarians exists, but no matter how you try and separate the two, the positions of the Libertarian Party are what most people are going to see as libertarianism. Maybe the corruption of the term "libertarian" is already irreversible, much like the corruption of the term "liberal". If so, supporters of libertarian philosophy should probably consider looking into finding a new term for what they believe. . . again. . .


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