Monday, June 10, 2019

Libertarian Movement?

I think we might want to stop thinking in such terms.  Not to give up on libertarian ideas, as these have a proper and meaningful place in any free society.  Instead, to consider that libertarianism – properly defined – is so thin as to not allow any “libertarian” movement to form.

The non-aggression principle (also called the non-aggression axiom, or the anti-coercion or zero aggression principle or non-initiation of force) is an ethical stance which asserts that "aggression" is inherently illegitimate. "Aggression" is defined as the "initiation" of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense. The principle is a deontological (or rule-based) ethical stance.

I simplify this: don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff.  This is the thinnest of thin libertarianism, and I am 100% in accord with it.

Libertarianism has nothing to say about anything beyond this or beyond anything that can be directly inferred from this.  This makes available, for libertarians, a world of possibilities – perhaps, most importantly, regarding moral issues, lifestyle preferences, etc.

Walter Block recently received an email from a father describing his libertarian utopia:

“I imagine a Black Nationalist living on my right, a Born Again behind me, a Bleeding Liberal on the other side, and a couple of lesbians across the street.  We’d wave to each other, help shovel out each other’s driveways after a bad storm, and maybe even have civil conversations about our different opinions, but otherwise we’d just leave each other alone.” 

It reminds me of Isaiah 11:

6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together; and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

When is this time?  The answer is given in Isaiah 9:

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

In verse 6, Isaiah foretells Jesus.  Verse 7 leads to various interpretations of meaning regarding end-times, eschatology, etc.  What we can safely say is that it isn’t yet visible to us on earth.

What is described here in Isaiah is the vision and dream of some (many?) libertarians: the lion, lamb, wolf, goat, leopard and calf all living happily together with child leading the entire parade.

I guess I can call this a perfect analogy: while I fully believe in the prophecy when God decides in His own time to fulfill it, as it applies to libertarians who believe that such a time will come merely by calling on the NAP – well, such libertarianism can only be believed by a child.  It is libertarianism for juveniles.

I should write more clearly: it isn’t libertarianism for juveniles – it is juvenile to believe that “don’t hit me first; don’t take my stuff” is all that is necessary to get lions to live peacefully with lambs.

In other words, libertarianism is not sufficient for liberty.  To the extent writing these words makes me a thick libertarian, I will wear the label proudly.  In response, I will ask: beyond blind faith, on what basis can a thin libertarian disagree with this statement?

I don’t mean high-sounding theory; I don’t mean pointing to dozens of essays also based on nothing but high-sounding theory.  I mean evidence, involving real human beings – imperfect human beings – living in a real, imperfect world.  Because I have written hundreds of thousands of words on exactly this, and have come to conclude that libertarianism is not sufficient for liberty.

Libertarians cannot even agree on applications of the non-aggression principle…and this come to what prompted this post.  It is another email to Walter Block, raising questions about Rozeff’s challenge to Block’s evictionism (and by the time my piece is published, Rozeff might have replied).  From the writer of the email to Walter:

It seems to me that the thickees are simply thin-skinned.  They wish to include some of their own moral preferences into an otherwise simple idea:  the NAP and private property.  They do this because they are simply intolerant people.  Like you, I have no truck with intolerant people; however, I resent their ongoing attempt to justify their intolerance by demanding that the libertarian idea include their preferences.

Now, think about this.  This letter writer – with whom Walter agrees – takes a theory of “don’t hit me first; don’t take my stuff” to justify murdering a human being.  And he calls those who disagree “thin-skinned.”

There is not now and cannot ever be any such thing as a libertarian movement.  The non-aggression principle can inform punishment for acts of aggression, but first one must land firmly on proper law from which one can then derive proper rights.  This is why I began writing on the topic, The Search for Liberty.  We have already moved libertarian theory within a few millimeters of perfection.  Perhaps we should start working on finding liberty.

But what is missing from letter writers such as this – and from Block’s responses: without something that governs everything beyond “don’t hit me first; don’t take my stuff,” liberty is not possible or achievable.  The lion will not lie down with the lamb just by chanting the mantra: NAP, NAP, NAP.

It is a political belief for juveniles.


Many libertarians take Hans Hoppe to task for his statement – which they all take out of context: “They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.”  Many of the same libertarians find it perfectly justifiable to do the same to an unborn child.

Walter replies to his letter writer:

I don’t want to get into a debate with a person who really doesn’t understand what I’m saying. Mike Rozeff is a good libertarian theorist, but, this is his Achilles Heel: he just doesn’t understand evictionism and, yes, he’s a thickster.

I think Rozeff understands perfectly what Walter is saying: while agreeing that the unborn child is human, Walter uses the principle of non-aggression to justify the pre-meditated murder of the unborn child.  And if you disagree, you are the “thickster.” 

Such is the libertarian movement – let alone the non-aggression principle not offering anything beyond “don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff,” libertarians cannot – and I don’t believe ever will – agree on the proper application of even this simple principle in real-world circumstances such as abortion.


I have, in the past, offered a series of exercises designed to examine this idea of a “libertarian movement.”  One can take these seriously and contemplate the issues raised, or one can merely respond with blind faith.

“I just disagree” is not an acceptable answer.  But I have heard it too often.


  1. "NAP, NAP, NAP"

    In the Old Testament there is a reference to the Hebrews saying "the temple of the lord, the temple of the lord, the temple of the lord"

    Jeremiah 7
    This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

    “‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

    9 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,[a] burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.


    1. Wonderful. Thank you, Jaime.

      You know, it is amazing that God actually thought of these issues without our help. Really amazing.


  2. I think you are saying that libertarianism is ineffective in promoting liberty ... So what are you proposing is the way to promote liberty? I'm guessing that you have written solutions in the past, so if you don't mind directing us there, I would appreciate it.

    1. Libertarianism is insufficient for liberty; this is my point.

      I will summarize: I believe liberty will be found in the intersection of natural law, Christian ethics and the non-aggression principle.

      Natural law as grounded in Christian ethics - because there are countless versions of natural law out there, I want to be specific. The non-aggression principle as a guide to when physical punishment or violence is justified. In other words, not all violations of natural law are deserving of physical punishment. But a society that doesn't work hard to uphold natural law will not remain in liberty.

      You might want to stay current with this:

      Spend some time on the links embedded in the first post. No, you don't have to read everything embedded, just get a feel for the journey.

  3. "The lion will not lie down with the lamb just by chanting the mantra: NAP, NAP, NAP... It is a political belief for juveniles." - BM

    Economists, even the Austrians like Mises, have a tendency to view man as 'Homo economicus': a man directed solely by economic motivations whose impact in society can be assessed purely from an economic standpoint. When developing economic theory this is a good practice, but when using this information to inform political policy in the real world, our analysis will have very large blind spots regarding the non-economic (political and sociological) profile of individuals and groups.

    This can lead us into errors like advocating for open immigration from the third world for the economic benefits. We may find ourselves blind sided by the resultant political and sociological consequences which would in turn negatively effect even the strictly economic order, negating any benefits that might have accrued due to increased production and lower prices.

    Libertarians, like Dr. Block, who believe all that is necessary to achieve and maintain liberty is the NAP, similarly must view man as 'Homo politicus': man directed solely by political motivations whose impact on society can be assessed from a purely political standpoint. Here again, there are blind spots, most notably in the sociological realm and how these factors in turn effect the political and economic order of society.

    Walter also recognizes man as Homo economicus, so he's got two legs of the proper foundation of liberty secured (mostly...), but a table with only two legs is a bit prone to collapsing. You need at least a third: 'Homo sociologus'. Not only do we need this third leg concerning culture, but we need to understand that we are not talking about three different individuals, but rather one full person or group of persons. We need to understand how each of the three legs effects the others within the decision making process of the person and within groups of persons.

    Perhaps the fourth and final leg of the platform of freedom is theology?

    1. ATL,

      Perhaps theology is the prerequisite (built-in assumption) rather than a 4th leg. The Godhead ("trinity") is 3 persons in one. We are made in (simplifying greatly) that image, after all...

    2. ATL,

      " directed solely by political motivations whose impact on society can be assessed from a purely political standpoint. ...You need at least a third: 'Homo sociologus."

      Rothbard would write about this. Walter, who claims to be following the Rothbardian tradition, ignores it.

      Not that anyone must buy into Rothbard 100%, but at least address the matter instead of just offering blind faith as justification.

    3. "Rothbard would write about this. Walter, who claims to be following the Rothbardian tradition, ignores it." Do you, I hope, have a reference or a link to find Rothbard's writing on this. Or, I could ask David Gordon. : ) Peg

    4. Peg

  4. Thanks for writing down these doubts I've been having for so long already. The NAP, while correct, must be insufficient as a one-guide-fits-all for the complexities of life.

  5. Can one really talk about a movement when something like 60% of the people associated with it are a flavor of literary mercenary who'll write anything his sponsors dictate, leading to a situation where the fruits of your political activity have either been leftist vanguardism (gay marriage), directly increased not-so-hidden state power (e.g. the muh private company argument) or served as part of the motte and bailey strategy employed by mainstream conservatives.
    Who're statists in worst sense of the word but suddenly develop libertarian vapours when TINY HANDS CHEETO HITLER makes noise about importing insufficient legal and illegal helots or hints at retaliating against predatory trade policies.
    Not to mention that certain libertarians applaud these people too, as if they aren't still supporting global empire or the managerialist moloch at home.

    As for Block: In my uneducated mind the issue is quite simple. A conception of society lacking a internal self-defense mechanism (like NAP-only libertarianism) is completly nonviable.
    How would they defend themselves against explicitly hegemonic worldviews that stop short of violence but are ready to game the system in any way they can?