Monthly Archives: April 2012

Are you a libertarian?

Are you a libertarian?

Do you believe that all acts of aggressive violence against individuals are immoral?

And if you can’t make such a blanket statement, do you believe that at least the majority of these violent acts are immoral? Are you instead a consequentialist, believing that in some cases, the ends justify the means?

The philosophers of the pasts were generally consequentialist utilitarians. In other words, their philosophy stressed the outcome that would be the “best” for mankind. The hidden assumption was that they were willing to do absolutely anything to make that outcome reality. That is, they were willing to aggressively, violently force other individuals to act accordingly with their utopian desires. And the prevailing mechanism was the State.

In his book The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, Ludwig von Mises states

The “social engineer” is the reformer who is prepared to “liquidate” all those who do not fit into his plan for the arrangement of human affairs. Yet historians and sometimes even victims whom he puts to death are not averse to finding some extenuating circumstances for his massacres or planned massacres by pointing out that he was ultimately motivated by a noble ambition: he wanted to establish the perfect state of mankind. They assign to him a place in the long line of the designers of utopian schemes.

Now it is certainly folly to excuse in this way the mass murders of such sadistic gangsters as Stalin and Hitler. But there is no doubt that many of the most bloody “liquidators” were guided by the ideas that inspired from time immemorial the attempts of philosophers to meditate on a perfect constitution. Having once hatched out the design of such an ideal order, the author is in search of the man who would establish it by suppressing the opposition of all those who disagree. In this vein, Plato was anxious to find a tyrant who would use his power for the realization of the Platonic ideal state. The question whether other people would like or dislike what he himself had in store for them never occurred to Plato. It was an understood thing for him that the king who turned philosopher or the philosopher who became king was alone entitled to act and that all other people had, without a will of their own, to submit to his orders. Seen from the point of view of the philosopher who is firmly convinced of his own infallibility, all dissenters appear merely as stubborn rebels resisting what will benefit them.

The experience provided by history, especially by that of the last 200 years, has not shaken this belief in salvation by tyranny and the liquidation of dissenters. Many of our contemporaries are firmly convinced that what is needed to render all human affairs perfectly satisfactory is brutal suppression of all “bad” people, i.e., of those with whom they disagree. They dream of a perfect system of government that — as they think — would have already long since been realized if these “bad” men, guided by stupidity and selfishness, had not hindered its establishment.

Now let’s take up a more controversial example. While we all agree that dictators like Hitler and Stalin should have no right to violently force others to accommodate their vision, there might be other examples we don’t agree on.

What about forced integration?

I wrote a post about this a few months ago (see here), so if you’re interested in more detailed reasoning about this specific example, feel free to take a look.

As a libertarian, I don’t believe integration should be forced on individuals who voluntary wish to be segregated.

“You’re just using libertarianism to justify segregation”

No. You’re just using segregation to justify aggressive violence.

As Murray N. Rothbard states in his book The Ethics of Liberty, liberty is the “absence of molestation by other persons”. All liberties are tied to property rights. You own your body so no one can make you their slave. You own your voice so no one can prohibit your speech (assuming you’re standing on your own property, i.e. you wouldn’t have freedom of speech in your neighbor’s house unless they gave you that right). You own your house so no one can aggressively enter it without your consent. Of course, if you aggress against someone else’s liberty, yours can be taken away as well, and rightfully so, as the victim has the right to use violence to defend himself or employ someone else to do it for him.

Now, just as in the last example (the house), a restaurant is an individual’s property. Hence, if A aggressively enters without the owner’s consent, he is violating the owner’s liberty. That is to say, he is aggressively using violence against the owner. A third party, the government, creating laws mandating integration is no different. A group of individuals, through the State, are aggressively and violently imposing their will on the owner and violating the owner’s liberty.

“So you think it’s moral for a restaurant owner to say blacks, or any other race, are not allowed to come into restaurant?”

Absolutely not.

I abhor racists and think it’s immoral for them to single out a specific color of people and choose not to serve them. The problem about the previous quote is that it’s a fundamentally incorrect understanding of libertarianism. Libertarianism says morality only exists through voluntary actions; if you force someone to do something, there is no longer any morality in the coerced individual’s action. So when consequentialists, who believe the ends justify the means, hold a gun to others’ heads to force them to do something “good”, are the consequentialists justified in using aggressive violence? Absolutely not. The coerced individuals are not acting voluntarily, and the immoral act is first committed by the consequentialist. Not to mention “good” is ill-defined. What is goodness to one person may not be goodness to another.  The only universal ethic we can possibly agree on is opposition to the use of aggressive violence. Once we do that, then we can peacefully discuss what is good and what is moral.

Does everyone else see the complete hypocrisy of an individual saying they think it’s moral for them to use aggressive violence to impose their beliefs on others but think it’s immoral for others to use aggressive violence to impose their beliefs on them? I certainly hope so. Because I’m going to take it as a given when I say

Are you a libertarian?

Or do you think others should be allowed to use aggressive violence against you?