Pity the American Libertarian

From the “Letters” section of the March 13, 2010 issue of The Economist comes this quip, with emphasis added:

Moreover, your use of the term “radical libertarianism” was disturbing. While I would not join the mobs at a tea party, I do know there is nothing inherently “radical” about libertarianism. Why cast the philosophy in such a bad light? Free trade, limited government, personal responsibility, the rule of law and free markets are fantastic aspects of Western civilisation. Pity the American libertarian.
Dennis Colasurdo
San Diego

Libertarianism is often thought of as radical – case in point being the blog, The Radical Libertarian, the tag line of which reads “we reject all forms of government.”
That position is not shared by many Libertarians, who believe that limited government has a role in society, and that freedom does not require (or equal) anarchy.
That being said, such a position is not without challenge, as posed by The UK Libertarian, who write in their post, “Limited Government (minarchism) is not ethically consistent”:

[L]imited government, of the kind argued for by many libertarians, is a dead end. I’m talking about the people who argue that a government’s sole functions should be to provide national defence, policing, and the courts.

The problem with the argument posed by our friends across the pond is their repetition of the mantra, “The government uses its guns to take money from people by force and then redistribute that money…” If government truly exists at the will of the people, it does not have the right to force the people to do (or give up) anything. If the government does that nonetheless, it is not a government, it is a tyranny.
The Libertarian challenge is in creating a government that can have necessary powers to protect personal and economic freedoms without sliding down the slope of tyranny. No one says such an effort is easy, but it is also not impossible.
Don’t pity the American Libertarian for trying; rather, support his cause.

3 thoughts on “Pity the American Libertarian”

  1. Hi there. I noticed your link to The UK Libertarian blog entry on limited government and I thought I would chime in here 🙂
    “If government truly exists at the will of the people, it does not have the right to force the people to do (or give up) anything.”
    This would make it a voluntary institution, which would also make it not a government but a business (or charity). So it sounds like we actually agree?
    A government by my definition is a group of individuals who claim the moral right to initiate violence (and a monopoly of it) in a particular geographical area. The justification for this is supposedly in order to solve social problems that could not otherwise by solved by means of freedom and voluntaryism. Democratic governments supposedly have this authority granted to them by the people, but there is a problem with that reasoning.
    The will of people cannot be used to grant powers to the government that the people do not possess themselves. So if I don’t have the power to tax others than I logically can’t defer that power to a politician; not by voting or by any other means. So in reality the power to tax comes from no legitimate authority; it is just straight up theft by any other terms. Indeed, whether it is the will of the majority of people or not, sometimes a spade is just a spade 🙂
    In addition, we tend not to agree that a group with a monopoly on the use of violence is necessary in order to solve the supposed problems. Indeed, historically this was not why governments were ever created. No government was born from a majority anarchic population who all mutually decided one day that a government was necessary. Governments were born from overwhelming violent rulership of the serf population, might means right, religion, the divine rights of kings, etc.
    We understand those types of ideas are archaic now, so they are not primarily the reason why governments survive today. Today governments are primarily dependent on the popular myths instilled by rulers throughout time that government is actually necessary in order to secure freedom, and that it is not just a form of slavery and abuse.

  2. Thanks for tracking back to us, and I do enjoy your blog, even though I disagree with some points. 🙂
    You mention this: “The will of people cannot be used to grant powers to the government that the people do not possess themselves.”
    I can’t force you to borrow money from me so I can charge you interest; but I can lend you money and charge you interest if you agree. In the case of taxes, people have agreed to pay a stipend to government in order for government services. Maybe I didn’t agree, but I was born here, so my forefathers must have agreed to this, at least via proxy (i.e. via their elected representatives).
    I don’t know how much government is enough, but I do know that what we have today is too much. If we keep scaling back, little by little, we’ll eventually figure out where the sweet spot is. Maybe it’s no government; maybe it’s very limited government; maybe it’s just a bunch of people arm-wrestling over who buys the next pint. Whatever it is, we’re past that point today and we have to start the process of reduction.

  3. If our forefathers did agree to pay a tax of some sort, what is the statute of limitation on that? There should be a definite end date on any tax proposal, to address a stated and upfront need. At that rate, there is still no mandate that should allow 51% of people to vote away the other 49%’s money. I may lean over the pond a bit on taxation.

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