Libertarianism

Two Interesting Takes On The Political Spectrum

Back in February I compared an assortment of political spectrums and questionnaires. Here are two more I had not seen:

The Thomas Knapp Political Spectrum

This is Thomas L. Knapp’s political bell curve. You can read what he has to say about it at the Center for a Stateless Society. I think that this is one of the better conceptions of a political spectrum in that it accounts for anarchism and movements such as anarcho-capitalism or right-libertarianism. It is also correct in distinguishing classical anarchists, classical liberals, and market anarchists from modern right-libertarians such as Ron Paul or anarcho-capitalists such as Murray Rothbard:

On the far Left (market anarchism) and the far Right (anarcho-capitalism), appetite for political government trails off to zero (which is why “Left” and “Right” libertarians have so much in common).

As we move toward the political center, that appetite grows. The “Left” and “Right” disagree on ends, but closer to that center, both see government as an acceptable means to their desired ends. And the center is a corrupting influence. As you get closer to it, you grow less willing to give up the means and more willing to give up the ends.

It is also spot-on in that it accounts for the similarity between left-wing authoritarian ideologies, such as those of Stalin and Mao, and right-wing authoritarian ideologies such as the fascism of Mussolini. Rothbard and Thoreau are questionable placements on this chart; arguably Rothbard should be further to the right, squarely within the anarcho-capitalists instead of the Paul/Rand libertarians, while Thoreau should be further to the left on the very fringes of classical liberalism.

Here is a chart by Jesus Huerta de Soto that plots political ideologies on an axis of pro-state/anti-state and pro-private property/anti-private property:

The Political Chart of Jesus Huerta de Soto

This bucks typical the right-left paradigm, which is good. The left-right paradigm is relevant only in the context of the internal party politics of any given state. It has never been an accurate way to contrast ideologies and regimes across history. This, like Knapp’s bell curve, helps to explain the similarities in the authoritarian left (e.g. Stalinists) and the authoritarian right (e.g. Nazis, fascists). It may show too much sympathy to classical liberals, some of whom placed limits on private property (Locke’s provisos) and most of whom believed in states and social contracts. That is, it is questionable if “classical liberals” should be almost straddling the line between statists and anti-statists.

The Strange Case Of The Libertarian Policeman

The Libertarian Horse of Troy

The Procession Of The Trojan Horse In Troy

We all know some version of the story. In Virgil’s Aeneid the Achaeans construct a giant wooden horse. The Achaeans place the horse outside the gates of Troy. The inhabitants of Troy are confused and ask the bearer of the horse, a boy named Sinon, just what exactly is going on. Sinon tells the Trojans that the Achaeans have left him behind and that the wooden horse is an offering to Minerva. The horse, Sinon says, will bring good fortune to the people of Troy if they bring it inside the gates. If they destroy the horse, however, Minerva will destroy Troy.

The Trojans bring the horse inside the gates. Then that evening, after dark, the Achaeans spill out of the belly of the wooden horse and start killing people.

The Trojan horse is an apt political metaphor. “Libertarian” politicians, too, are no exception. The crony capitalist Koch brothers may be the epitome of the Trojan horse, dangling the lure of free markets with one hand held out while rigging the corporatist state with the other hand behind their backs. Rand Paul, a GOP politician, also whispers words of liberty while simultaneously engaging in authoritarian party politics. But is a lesser known politician, a man named David Patterson, also a Trojan horse?

You see, David Patterson is a police officer in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. In 1995 Patterson finished a B.S. in Police Administration. Patterson has worked for six different police departments in Kentucky. And Patterson has specialized in apprehending people for victimless crimes: according to his own campaign website he has “multiple awards for impaired driving apprehension.”

The Campaign Platform
Officer David Patterson

Officer David Patterson

Patterson’s own platform, which you should read, is vague and nonspecific. Most political platforms are phrased in such a way that they espouse goals most people agree with. No bailouts and tax reform – issues now embraced by Republican and Democratic politicians alike. Immigration reform, similarly, is a bipartisan issue. And at this point allowing farmers to grow hemp is not a controversial position.

When I visited Patterson’s campaign website it felt like the empty, bland promises of a party politician. In short, it did little to inspire trust. If a politician says, “I would end the drug war,” for example, this can mean anything. Does he mean the full legalization of all drugs, or the gradual transition of “soft” drugs such as marijuana to a highly regulated and taxed market? Or does it mean keeping certain drugs illegal, yet simply ending the current policies of enforcement? Politicians have said they wanted to “end the drug war” before. Few have stuck by that position when pressed. Many mean something very different by that phrase. Ron Paul, to his credit, famously said that he would favor the legalization of vices such as heroin and prostitution. Rand Paul, despite having said he opposed the drug war in the past, backtracked and reassured evangelicals that he would not end the drug war.

The Facebook Platform

I decided to have a look at Patterson’s Facebook. I was surprised. I expected more intangible political obfuscations. That is, I expected it to resemble the heavily sanitized Facebook of party politicians or Patterson’s own campaign website. Instead, Patterson seemed to be fairly candid. And despite his long career as a police officer Patterson seemed to have a genuine anti-authoritarian streak.

Patterson’s Facebook was full of libertarian memes and images. Many had strong anti-state, even anarchist, implications. He was calling for the full abolition of the NSA. He said taxation is theft. He quoted Murray Rothbard. That alone put him outside of the Koch and Rand Paul category.

Patterson NSA Abolition

 

And then it hit me. Patterson was either lying, another political Trojan horse attempting to court anti-authoritarians, or the words he was reading meant something very different to him than they did to me. This was the only way I could reconcile his behavior — his career as a police enforcer — with his political sentiments.

For example, take this image that Patterson shared:

David Patterson Democracy Meme

I don’t know how Patterson interprets this, but, “if John told you that you had to obey him or he would violate you” describes the role of law enforcement. It is only through illegitimate threats of force that individuals are made to comply with unjust laws. And yet Patterson is one of the agents of enforcement. How, in his mind, does he reconcile his own career with this type of rhetoric? Does Patterson not see that he is John in this image? His choice of career makes him John every single day.

Patterson, however, is not unaware of this contradiction. If you’ve already asked yourself just how a libertarian can be a cop, well, he has an answer for you (sort of):

David Patterson on Being A Libertarian Cop

You may have noticed two things: he did not answer the question and he has only been a libertarian a very short period of time. Neither “I have been a ‘cop’ for almost eighteen years” nor his statement on the “many different duties” of a police officer get at the heart of the issue. This may be because it is impossible to reconcile a career that mandates acts of aggression with adherence to the nonaggression principle.

It all breaks down here. I do believe that Patterson believes some version of the things that he says. I believe that he agrees with his interpretation of the memes that make his Facebook look like Reddit’s /r/LibertarianMeme. He is not being intentionally dishonest. Patterson is stuck in the position of an individual who halfway knows that his behavior is wrong, but is not willing or able to change it. This is the precariously defensive position shared by both police officers and politicians. This position creates cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance breeds rationalization.

Here’s a rationalization that may be familiar to anybody who has spent time with law enforcement:

David Patterson On CopBlock

This might have been a great opportunity for Patterson to distinguish himself from mainstream law enforcement and politicians. Instead of playing the “cop hate” card, oft used to by police officers to gloss over why people dislike the police, Patterson might have used his unique experience as a law enforcement officer to address the issue. The individuals who were the topic of this story, Jared and Amanda Miller, were both libertarians who had libertarian rationales for what they did. This makes the event a particularly relevant issue for a politician who is also a police officer, who also claims to be a libertarian, to address. And by address I mean explain with more than a hand-wave and dismissive utterance of “anti-cop” or “hate” to describe the thousands of people who commented on the CopBlock article in question.

Patterson also seems self-unaware in some moments. While he thanks Americans on Veterans Day he overlooks that this holiday is one form of American propaganda that perpetuates a culture of warrior worship and support for foreign intervention. Many libertarians are tired of such prostrations and see them as culturally harmful. Patterson’s campaign boast of awards in “impaired driving apprehension” seems a faux pas that ignores the the libertarian rejection of victimless crimes as well as Kentucky’s own draconian DUI policies, including mandatory minimum sentences, multi-year sentences, felony DUIs, and sobriety checkpoints.

Should You Vote For David Patterson?

Patterson wants you to vote. All politicians want you to vote for them. Patterson’s Facebook is full of testimonials by and anecdotes of people who say they will vote for him. One image macro calls non-voting “surrender” and another depicts the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant throwing feces at one another. There is no critical analysis of voting itself, which also adds to the sense of self-unawareness surrounding Patterson.

That said, if you live in Kentucky and you plan to vote then Patterson is as good as anyone. That is as far as I can endorse him, because that also means that he is as bad as anyone. The trimmings of the Libertarian Party don’t turn an individual who seeks an authoritarian position of power — particularly not one who is already in an authoritarian role using violence to enforce unjust laws — into a libertarian. Anyone who expects liberty to spring forth from a police officer elected to the United States Senate is more misled than the Trojans were when they accepted the Achaean offering inside the walls.

As a final thought, I leave you with this from Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.

There’s No Such Thing as a Closed-Borders Libertarian

There’s No Such Thing as a Closed-Borders Libertarian

If preventing an increase in the consumption of state-provided benefits justifies restricting freedom in immigration, then it also justifies restricting freedom in, well, anything.

Borders are an issue that can be used to determine what type of “libertarian” you are dealing with. Borders in and of themselves necessitate coercive violence. They are indefensible even if we take great liberty with what aggression means in the context of the nonaggression principle. If individuals have rights, said rights are natural or human rights and all individuals have equal rights then they either do or do not have a right to be free from aggression.

Many “libertarians” profess to adhere to the NAP as an ethical code or deontological rule. Yet in the context of immigration they switch to a discussion on the *consequences* of immigration. Well, peep this:

If individuals have a right to move freely without being aggressed upon then they have that right regardless of what economic or political consequences arise. Even if we assumed immigration would be a disaster, even if we assume a worst case scenario, it would not matter. Even if it meant that the United States or any other state would fail, it still would not matter. This is an indictment not of the immigrant, but of the state they immigrate into. This tells us that a state or its economy is not truly viable in the absence of coercive force used to restrict movement.

In fact, this is also an indictment of anyone who claims to be “free market” and supports closed borders. It lets you see exactly up to what limit that market will be “free.” You can measure that freedom in latitude and longitude.

Five Isms That Are Not Libertarianism

1. Libertarianism is not constitutionalism.
the constitution is not libertarian

This is not a libertarian document.

To relegate libertarianism to the constitution of any state is to limit it. Despite what may appear to be a libertarian influence, no constitution that exists today is a libertarian document. To link libertarianism with any constitution is to link libertarianism with the political ideology of the state that produced it. We can not point to any country in the world and say, “That is a libertarian state.” We should therefore be able to say of constitutions; “That is not a libertarian document.”

In fact, libertarianism has no forward relationship to constitutions at all. It is because no constitution is libertarian that we can not arrive at a more libertarian environment by relying upon one. If we can not attain additional liberty by relying upon a constitution we are already in a condition of maximum liberty – a premise most would rightly reject – or the constitution stands in our way. The abolition of constitutions, then, is a necessary step in the attainment of additional liberty.

We should also avoid a glamorization of historical constitutions. Many wish a return to an imagined past with alternative constitutional interpretations. Yet, at no point in the past have constitutional societies been libertarian. Not even in the wildest revision of their histories. We can not attain additional liberty by regressing to the 18th or 19th century.

And no libertarian discussion of constitutions is complete without a tip to Lysander Spooner:

“The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them.”

2. Libertarianism is not authoritarianism.

Libertarianism is, in fact, the polar opposite of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is an antonym of libertarianism. It is important to understand, then, that individual liberty or libertarianism can be measured by its opposition to authoritarianism. The more a position drifts toward authority the further it drifts from liberty.

A rejection of authoritarianism should not be confused with a rejection of authority:

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.”

3. Libertarianism is not conservatism.

Conservatism is little more than a dedication to the existing status quo or the status quo of the recent past. Unless the current state of affairs or the recent past were libertarian then there is no relationship between libertarianism and conservatism.

While many libertarians call themselves socially liberal and economically conservative this is imprecise. The economic state of affairs in its current form, full of taxation and market restriction, is not libertarian. Nor has it been any different in the past of any person alive today. We can not point to a past state of affairs and say, “That was a truly free market.” Instead, a free market is a future ideal. It is the goal of a new, free market, not the conservation of a past market, that is the epitome of the libertarian economic ideal.

4. Libertarianism is not legalism.
The opinion of the person in the robe is not libertarianism.

The opinion of the person in the robe is not libertarianism.

Libertarianism does not use legislation as an ethical standard. The status of an act is morally independent of its status as a law. Any given law is only valid insofar as it respects individual rights and maximizes individual liberty. The law is subordinated to the good.

A law that does not respect individual rights, or a law that does not maximize individual liberty, can not be said to be libertarian. In fact we can not accept such a law in the first place. A law of this character can not be said to have any authority at all.

This is not to say a law can not be enforced upon us. Laws can be coercively enforced, but enforcement is not a characteristic of justice or libertarian ethics. All bad laws have been enforced, from slavery to the modern drug war. But the authority by which they are enforced is the might of the state, the rule of a brute, not a legitimate authority derived from consent, nature or the individual.

This gives the libertarian ethical license to avoid or even break bad laws. It also puts ethical responsibility upon the libertarian: following a law is not an excuse for committing evil acts. The libertarian categorically rejects variations of “following orders” or “doing my job.” The individual is held to account for the orders he or she follows, the job he or she does, be it legal or illegal.

5. Libertarianism is not nationalism.
These are not the borders of libertarianism.

These are not the borders of libertarianism.

Nationalism would confine libertarianism to the borders of a state. Like constitutionalism, nationalism reduces libertarianism to the status quo of an already-existing political body. This places the loyalty of the individual not to him or herself, not to his or her fellow individual, but to the political illusion of the nation-state. Devotion to the nation-state usurps a devotion to liberty.

The love of a country, the love of a state, is not a libertarian characteristic. Unless the state can be said to maximize human liberty rather than impede it – and unless it is impossible to conceive of a superior state or social order – the love of a state has no place in a libertarian world view. The state is good only insofar as it maximizes liberty. It is evil as far as it infringes upon liberty. And the latter case, the state as evil, is more common than the former.

This is not a call to anarchism, but it could be. It is a statement on the political and social reality of existing states. The libertarian could hypothetically support a nation-state. But the libertarian could not support any of the non-libertarian nation-states that exist today.

The question to ask of the nationalist: would you destroy your own country if it maximized human liberty? The libertarian does not hesitate. The state would become the sacrificial lamb. The nationalist falters because they love the state in and of itself irrespective of the state’s relationship to liberty.

What Are Borders: Measuring Freedom in Latitude and Longitude

Two libertarian values: individual liberty and free markets. Yet, borders transgress both.

What is a border? Webster’s defines a border as, “the line that separates one country, state, province, etc., from another.” The border and the state go hand-in-hand. Here we must distinguish a border from a property line. The term does not demarcate an area that has been homesteaded in this usage. A border is not a function of ownership, but a function of control.

Borders Violate The Individual Rights of the Immigrant and the Emigrant

An initiation of aggression guards every frontier. It is the threat of force, as well as its occasional use, that prevents individuals from crossing. This not only applies to the immigrant, but also to the emigrant. In the West we largely focus on the immigrants who desire to enter a state. We overlook that borders also infringe upon the liberties of individuals who are natives within a given state.

The threat of force, the initiation of aggression, is thus used not only upon those who would immigrate to your area. It is also used to prevent your emigration. The border dictates under what circumstances you will or will not be allowed to leave. Every border crossing involves two coercive acts: a threat of aggression from the emigrant state upon leaving and a threat of aggression from the immigrant state upon entering.

It should be reiterated that the threat used to enforce borders is an initial act of aggression. It is not defensive. This act of aggression is portrayed as defensive in nature in order to legitimize and justify it. However, it is always in the context of a general defense of “society,” “community,” “economy” or state.

The border is never in defense of the individual; the mere act of travel is not an act of aggression in and of itself. The individual has not delegated third parties to protect their property, despite the facade of democracy. Even then the individual would have no authority to make such a delegation unless the border were also his or her personal property line.

Border Rationalizations for Partially Free Markets

We can not justify borders as the defensive responses of individuals. Borders can only be justified in the context of the collective. And even then it is a collective acting coercively. How, then, are immigration restrictions by libertarians justified?

Justifications for borders always take consequentialist, utilitarian or pragmatist forms. They rarely address rights. Consequentialism, utilitarianism and pragmatism are largely absent theories on rights. And we have seen that borders by nature infringe upon individual rights.

While there are consequentialist, utilitarian and pragmatist libertarians it is accurate to call them libertarians only insofar as they are adopt libertarianism because they believe it will produce desirable results or political policy. If liberty no longer produced desirable results, if it no longer held the greatest utility or was no longer practical, then it would have to be rejected. The individual is thus a consequentialist, utilitarian or pragmatist first and a libertarian second. Libertarianism is the vehicle that moves toward the desired goal or maximum utility.

Nonetheless, many self-styled libertarians reject rights but embrace a free market. A free market is desirable because of the results it produces, they say. And this line of argumentation is fine. Yet it would be more accurate if they told us they embrace partially free markets. An inherent feature of borders is a limitation to trade. Borders always create limits on the market by limiting trade.

If a free market did not produce desirable results the libertarians in this camp would have to reject it. And in a sense many do. Their libertarianism stops where their stance on borders begins. The belief in negative economic consequences of open borders is a tacit rejection of free markets. If open borders have negative results (they don’t, but those who oppose open borders believe they do) the free market is no longer a suitable vehicle for consequentialist goals. It must be limited, restrained, infringed upon and held back by the state.

With borders markets still exist. Individuals still have liberty. But they are not free markets, nor is individual liberty maximized. Instead, the freedom of the market and the freedom of the individual can be measured in latitude and longitude.

Libertarians As “The New Communists”

Nick Hanauer & Eric Liu co-authored an article on Bloomberg: Libertarians Are The New Communists. This is not an economic comparison, of course. It is not a claim that Libertarian Party-style libertarianism endorses communist economics. Instead, libertarianism and communism are “mirror images” of one another that “attempt to answer the same questions.” And they are mirror images because they are “extremist” or “radical.”

This may be a fair point. (And this is as generous as I will be with the authors.) Insofar as libertarianism or communism challenge the status quo they are radical. This is true for any political philosophy that challenges the status quo. Fascism would be called radical. Theocracy or a monarchy would be extremist in an American environment. Although the comparison of American libertarians with communists is a great way to create a provocative headline (gasp, libertarianism and communism in the same sentence) it misleads the reader. This isn’t a comparison of libertarianism and communism. It is a comparison of pro-state, pro-status quo politics with any opposing radical movements. Hanauer & Liu say as much:

“And there are plenty of self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance. These social libertarians aren’t the problem.”

Yet, to the radical libertarian those “libertarians” are the problem. They are but another facet of the political status quo. And here is where Hanauer & Liu make a big mistake. Even bigger than the Somalia argument. (Yes, Hanauer & Liu actually make the Somalia argument.) They conflate the “social libertarians” as they describe them — not to be confused with libertarian socialists — with radical libertarianism so-called.

“Radical libertarians would be great at destroying. They would have little concept of creating or governing. It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression.”

Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and the Koch brothers are accused of being in the extreme category. These are “radical” libertarians. Hanauer & Liu do not include Paul, Cruz and the Koch in the “self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance” category. Paul, Cruz & Koch are accused of being “nihilist” and “anti-state.” The authors are serious here.

“It is the nihilist anti-state libertarians of the Koch-Cruz-Norquist-Paul (Ron and Rand alike) school who should worry us.”

Tongue-in-cheek, I must say: how offensive to those libertarians who are real nihilists or anti-state!

The Pauls, Ted Cruz and the Koch family simply represent alternative forms of statism to the radical libertarian. The radical libertarian now having a definition: those who are anti-state or nihilist. The Pauls are mainstream party politicians. Rand Paul is formally represented as a Republican. The Koch brothers are the epitome of crony capitalism; many Koch economic ventures (e.g. pipelines) derive from the state.

In short, Hanauer & Liu confuse the statists with the libertarians.

This may be intentional. Where the article fails as a critique of anti-state libertarianism — move to Somalia is its intellectual peak — it is a nice hit job on the politicians named. They are associated with a political philosophy that is not their own. The intended audience are those disaffected to American two-party politics, but still see hope in any party politician even remotely related to libertarianism. These are people who still believe voting works. It is not an audience that overlaps with anti-state libertarians who have already grappled with the question of who will build the roads.

I don’t mind being called a communist even if I am not a communist. This is a Cold War spectre designed to shock. But I do hope that no one ever conflates my anti-statism with party politicians like Rand Paul or crony capitalists like the Koch family. Although Hanauer & Liu intended to malign a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz, it is the Cruz and Pauls who malign libertarianism proper.

A Fair Libertarian Perspective on Hobby Lobby

A Conflationist Trap: Both Right and Left are Wrong on Hobby Lobby

This write up by C. Harrison Myers is one of the better articles I have come across in respect to the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby. While many who identify as “libertarian” focus on what the ideal voluntary or free market response is, the fact is that the United States is fully absent of markets that are free, just as it is fully free of capitalism absent of corporatism.

In many countries, birth control does not require a prescription from a physician. In these countries, women who want birth control can “deal with it” themselves. The United States, however, is not one of these countries. Despite the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ recommendation that birth control be available over-the-counter, the Food and Drug Administration has been stuck in consideration for over two decades, despite how safe the drug is. Laws requiring women to pay out of pocket to visit a physician, undergo a pap smear and a pelvic exam, and acquire a prescription before they can deal with it themselves as Walsh suggests indicate that we do not live in the free market on which Walsh’s argument depends.

And this is the fundamental issue. If you are an American woman then your sexual health is governed by the state. It is the state that determines if your employer must provide birth control and what type. And it is the state that prevents you from seeking realistic alternatives on your own. You are confined to the state corporatist rules that dictate how birth control is related to your employment and you are confined to the state’s legal rules that limit ease of access to contraception.

As Myers put it:

The argument that people can acquire birth control privately on the free market if they do not like their employer’s coverage assumes that there exists a free market. But that is clearly not the case.