Saturday, March 03, 2007

What libertarianism ain't.

There are entire books written about what is libertarianism. So I want to spend a few minutes discussing what it ain’t. First, I know that’s bad grammar but it’s for emphasis. And I emphasize it because in the last few years it seems that libertarianism has become infested with people pushing agendas which simply are not libertarian.

I should clarify something. Some of these positions are simply outside of libertarianism. Others are more insidious as they are inherently authoritarian and anti-libertarian. But what they have in common is that they are not libertarianism. So allow me to rattle off some of them.

First off is this tendency from some of the more paranoid and loony to find conspiracies everywhere. I don’t care if you find any of the following under your bed: internationalists, CFR, the Illuminati, the Bankers, the Bilderbergers, the Trilateralists, Masons, Jews, Catholics, ad nauseum. To quote Jack Nicholson from As Good as It Gets: “Go peddle crazy somewhere else. We’re all full up here.”

We also have people smuggling in other agendas. So to be clear: libertarianism is not a defense of the Confederacy. It is not about Southern culture, the Teutonic race, white nationalism, race and IQ, etc. In case you aren’t clued up those are issues that the Klan, the Nazis, and various cockroaches of extremism find interesting and want to push. It is not liberty.

Let us take as one example the issue of IQ. Human rights are not based on IQ. A person with an IQ of 125 doesn’t have more rights than a person with an IQ of 100 or 90. You may debate what families can do to care for people who are severely mentally handicapped but the IQ of groups, or races, is of zero importance to libertarianism.

It is, however, of major importance to bigots, particularly bigots with very authoritarian agendas. Libertarianism is about individual rights. So that knocks the IQ issue out of the debate on two fronts. To debate the average IQ of a collective based is a violation of the methodological individualism of liberty and second it is irrelevant since libertarianism is about respecting rights.

If it were proven that race X has an IQ average 20 points higher than race B it just doesn’t matter one iota. Averages don’t mean anything in libertarianism since we discuss the rights of individuals not the average right of collectives. Race X doesn’t have more rights due to a higher average IQ anymore than Race B has fewer rights. It’s just not libertarianism.

As for religion. Libertarianism is not founded on a belief in God, Jesus, Buddha, the Bible, the Koran or any holy book. Nor is it a system that is inherently opposed to any religion. Libertarianism is about liberty and that includes the liberty to believe or not believe. Yes, it is about separation of church and state. But also separation of economy and state, education and state, property and state, etc. Government exists only to protect rights not to enforce one overriding social agenda.

One need not be an atheist to be a libertarian. Neither need one be a Christian. Libertarianism is a political philosophy and no more.

Libertarianism believes people have a right to self defense from aggression by others. But that doesn’t mean it is pro-gun or antigun. You are free to own or not own guns as you see fit. Libertarianism doesn’t mean you must, should or ought to carry a gun. Libertarianism isn’t into what you must, should or ought to do except for respect the rights of others. It’s your choice. Militias and other such ventures are not libertarian. They are outside libertarianism entirely.

This becomes clearer when you consider the libertarian view of drugs. Libertarianism would legalize drugs. But that doesn’t mean one should, must, or ought to take drugs. Libertarianism doesn’t answer that question. It doesn’t even try to address that question. It is about how individuals interact with one another. It is not about how you personally live outside of how you interact with others.

A libertarian society might be one where most people carry guns. Or it can just as easily be one where no one does. It just leaves those choices up to the individuals and the property owners on whose property you happen to be. If a shopping mall wants to ban guns they are free to do so. If a subdivision unanimously decides to make their streets a gun-free zone they are free to do so -- they just can’t impose it on property owners who disagree.

Private communities can be created with specific rules in mind about how people must interact. And all of them would be libertarians. One could ban guns entirely while another mandate gun ownership. It could be a community of atheists or Muslims, nudists or Baptists, gays or three-toed midgets. In fact they could even be socialistic or communal in nature. They could even have manditory fees imposed on the value of the property of each individual to take care of collective services that they decide they want. This could even include socialised health care or welfare -- if they wish.

Any such arrangement that private communities create, in the pursuit of their own happiness, is their own business. And every such arrangement is libertarian provided it is voluntary.

Libertarianism is about what you do with your life, your liberty and your property. It says your rights are only limited by the equal rights of others. You have the right to prevent me from walking on your property but that is the end of the story. You don’t have the right to prevent me from walking on property that doesn’t belong to you. And it doesn’t matter where my journey started either.

Libertarianism is an inherently positive philosophy which respects the rights of people to make their own choices even when they make choices which we believe, individually, to be wrong. It says that each person is an end in himself and not the means to the ends of others. He is not a cog or cell in a body that can be sacrificed for the good of the whole.

But libertarianism suffers when you have people preaching conspiracies, racialism or other non-libertarian ideas along with a mixture of libertarian ideas. They bundle libertarianism together with these other concepts and that makes libertarianism weaker. I firmly believe that any libertarian espousing racialists ideas harms liberty. I question whether they are really libertarian or just bigots looking for a new way to package their rot.

If you think reptilian aliens from space blew up the World Trade Center best take your meds and keep quiet. If you can't keep quiet do freedom a favor and tell people you;'re a socialist. If you want to push that sort of paranoid conspiracism you are free to do so. If you think you advance liberty by doing so then you are even more insane than I suspected. You drag libertarianism down. And it doesn’t matter if you are sincere either. You are still harming the libertarian cause even if you are so blinded by your own paranoia that you can’t see it.

Libertarianism is about one thing and one thing only. Liberty. Mingle it with other ideas and you weaken the message. And this would be true even if it were non-controversial ideas. You might want to promote health foods and vitamins. But that isn’t libertarianism except to say that you are free to eat what you wish and take whatever supplements you imagine may help you. It could be Amway and soap. But it ain’t libertarianism.

Libertarians have the right to be insane. It is a right that some practice with great enthusiasm. I wish they wouldn’t since they typically do more harm to liberty than the most fervent authoritarian could. The message is important. Don’t dilute it or destroy it by mixing it with other ideas, particularly extremist ideas.

And the messenger is important as well. I remember the story of the night the Berlin Wall came down. A woman was walking down Kurfürstendam when she heard the news. She rushed into a restaurant so excited by the news that she looked a little insane. She started shouting to the diners that the wall had come down. No one believed her and looked at her askance. Her message was true but she appeared so insane that no one was willing to listen. Only when the kitchen staff, who heard the news on the radio, came running into the restaurant yelling the same message did the customers realize the truth of that momentous night. No matter how true your message if you look crazy people won’t listen.

Liberty is such an important message why dilute it with fringe ideas and other issues? I will be honest. I’ve made some of the mistakes I condemn here. I’ve mixed liberty with irrelevant issues. I try not to do so. But others intentionally mix the issues seemingly unconcerned about the damage they do to the cause of liberty. I suspect that for some of them that is because the other issues are what they really consider of prime importance. Liberty is just the marketing tool they use to spread the other ideas. And if that is the case then such people are not just a drag on freedom but a threat to it.

It is critical to explain to people what liberty is about. But is also important for us to remember what it isn’t.