THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 745, November 17, 2013
The most common threat to individual liberty in the
United States of America is "local law enforcement."
The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values By Nelson Hultberg
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
I've made it a lifelong practice never to review movies or books that I don't like, preferring to point my readers toward commendable accomplishments, and allowing my silence to speak for itself. I derive no pleasure from hurting people's feelings or denigrating their honest efforts.
Although I have a reputation as a flame-warrior that isn't wholly undeserved, despite what you may have heard of me, I do not go looking for controversy (it does seem to find me with some regularity) and I do not enjoy confrontation for its own sake any more than anyone else. However, unlike most individuals, I do not flinch from it when it's called for. What was it Heinlein said about "willingness to make a scene"?
This review is going to be an exception to my usual policy. It is also an imperfect review in the sense that it only focuses on a couple of points Hultberg tries to make, instead of the entire work. But the points are so important that his failures ruin the book for any real libertarian.
Oops, would you call that a spoiler?
Libertarianism consists of only two ideas: (1) absolute ownership of your life and all the products of your life, and (2) what's been called the "Non-Aggression Principle". Over the years, I've managed to persuade a number of my readers that, for reasons that seem good and sufficient to me, "Zero Aggression Principle" is a better choice of expression.
For those who may have come in late, the Zero Aggression Principle holds that nobody has a right, under any circumstances, to initiate physical force against another human being for any reason. Nor is it morally acceptable to advocate or delegate the initiation of physical force.
This may be the single most important moral, ethical, or political idea that any human being has ever had. Once expressed, it represents the end of kings and commissars, premiers and presidents. It takes us, in a gigantic quantum leap, from slavery and serfdom to freestanding independence.
Once expressed, you have no choice but to conclude that anyone who rejects it is reserving some right that he imagines he has to initiate force against you, should it prove necessary or convenient. In company like that, it's wise to take the thong off your hammer and leave it off.
The Zero Aggression Principle offers us the basis for a rational and benevolent system of justice, as well as for mutually beneficial relations with our fellow human beings. It is the only way, short of state coercion, for killer apes to live together in peace, freedom, progress, prosperity—and privacy. Nobody ever promised that it would solve every problem, but it beats the hell out of what we have today.
It's important to understand that no decent human being stands to lose anything under this unique precept. Although it's possible for people to be unpleasant or even despicable to one another in other ways, an individual's rights can only be suppressed by physical force or the threat of physical force. In the end, it's all about who started it. As Will Smith put it so eloquently, playing a fighter pilot in Independence Day during his "first contact" with a hostile alien invader, "Like my mama said, 'Don't start nothin;, won't be nothin'!'"
It's also possible to practice absolute self-ownership without being a libertarian, the followers of "rational egoist" Max Stirner being a primary example. (The first rule of Max Stirner Club: don't talk about Max Stirner Club.) But take the Zero Aggression Principle away, and whatever you have left doesn't even remotely resemble libertarianism.
I had understood from the beginning that Nelson Hultberg's book The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values contains an assault on the central tenets of genuine libertarianism. ("Here, we'll just carve out that nasty old heart of yours, and we'll all feel a whole lot better.") I knew it had to be confronted. Libertarianism has been my life for 51 years. Libertarianism is also the only hope humanity has left. Take away those central tenets, what you have left is nothing—which explains a great deal about today's Libertarian Party.
To start, Hultberg's subtitle has it exactly the wrong way around. Libertarians are lousy at politics, chiefly because they've always accepted political advice from evil, stupid, and crazy people. And conservatives, despite their constant blather about values, have none, which is why their party has become the shambling wreckage it is today. And despite their anchorage in the Rock of Ages, they drift, ideologically: look closely and you'll catch them defending the very policies and practices their fathers and grandfathers passionately opposed.
They're all Rooseveltians now.
Before conservatives try, not very cleverly, to strip libertarians of their core beliefs—which they correctly view as a dire threat to their own political fortunes—they need to look in the mirror. Folks simply don't trust them. Put them in power and they either start wars or assume ownership and control of wars the Democrats start, gleefully napalming and dropping bombs on pregnant war widows and ten-year-old goatherds. In the name of national security or baby Jesus, they stomp all over the Bill of Rights as happily as Bill Clinton or Barack Obama ever did. The don't understand that gays are human beings whose rights must be respected. They refuse to agree that women own their own bodies. Their Bible-thumpers try to censor TV, movies, and comic books.
Libertarians, thanks to their "flawed" convictions, do none of that.
It's all Ayn Rand's fault, according to Hultberg, who falsely believes that Rand is the fountainhead of the Zero Aggression Principle, when, in fact, it can be found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson. In this, he is not unlike the Stalinoids of the Mises Institute, who would render Rand a non-person and drop her down the Memory Hole, substituting Murray Rothbard's gigantic portrait on the wall.
Any claim Hultberg makes to being an individualist is also false. Like all conservatives, he is, at heart, a collectivist who fancies that there are entities and causes more important than the individual. He feels that Rand's intractable egoism and her insistence on the principle of non-aggression account for all of the Libertarian Party's many failures. He seems hallucinogenically unaware that from its very beginnings (I was there and saw it), the LP was undercut, eaten away from the inside, by organisms just like him insisting on moderation, compromise, and soft-pedaling everything it was supposed to have stood for.
Over and over again, Hultberg refers to adherence to libertarian principles as "absurd", or argues that it is unpragmatic. We've heard all of this before, from cretins like those who gutted and raped the national LP platform. What it yields, if anyone pays it serious attention, is abject, miserable failure. Cases in point: the LP and the GOP. If either of them had ever stayed on ideological point for more than thirty-five seconds, there wouldn't be any Democratic Party today.
In short, Hultberg and his ilk are the reason for the LP's failures.
He also seems unaware of the massive social changes that have been wrought in America by a non-party libertarianism that isn't subject to elbow-joggling. Among those who give a damn, and are not abject statists or Hillary or Obama worshippers, most of the basic assumptions about what government is or ought to be are now inarguably libertarian.
Hultberg's principal failures are simply of imagination and patience. He uses the word "absurd" exactly the same way "experts" did who said heavier-than-air flight or a voyage to the Moon was impossible.
Revolutionary ideas take time to catch on. From the moment that Queen Isabella of Spain, for example, horrified by the sick and bedraggled Indian captives Columbus brought to show her, organized the first anti-slavery society, until the end of the War Between The States, 373 years would pass. To this day, world-wide, slavery is far from being stamped out—especially if you include taxation and conscription. Of all the ideas in history, the Zero Aggression principle is the most revolutionary. It may take the longest to be accepted.
When it is, it will be because of all the stiff-necked sons of bitches who occupy the moral high ground by accepting nothing less than what they know is right. Everybody else must either strive to catch up, or skulk around guiltily, muttering reasonable-sounding excuses, unwilling to look anyone in the eye. Hultberg would agree with Voltaire (and Newt Gingrich) that "The perfect is the enemy of the good", while genuine libertarians point out that if it weren't for those of us who insist upon the perfect, there would never be any good.