Those quiet and discreet violent libertarian thugs!

I've been writing this blog for nearly seven years, and one of the reasons I started it was because I was tired of the "EITHER YOU'RE A LIBERAL OR YOU'RE A CONSERVATIVE" dichotomy. It what has always struck me as a process of collusion, libertarians were simply written out of the equation.

Since the election of Barack Obama, things have gotten worse. I know I've complained about it before, but I am sick and tired of reading otherwise well-thought-out political essays by people I respect which speak only in terms of liberal and conservative -- as if libertarians either do not exist, or else should be quietly subsumed into the massive umbrella called "conservatism," and simply encouraged to simply shut up, or at least be as quiet as possible.

In other words, keep your libertarianism in the closet. I can certainly understand the argument, because I recognize the value of coalitions, and some libertarians have an unfortunate tendency to be loud, outspoken and insulting. But I think the coalition approach might work a little better if the word "conservative" weren't used so hegemonically. It's like, if you want libertarians to be part of a coalition with conservatives, then don't accuse them of not being "true conservatives." The use of the label "conservatism" clearly implies that conservatives are in the dominant position, with libertarians being subordinate. Uncomfortable as that might be to libertarians, to put them in the closet and then criticize them for not being true to "conservative principles" (or betraying them) when they never swore allegiance to conservative principles adds insult to injury. Asking people to be discreet is not the same thing as asking them to be what they are not.

I probably wouldn't have written this post had it not been for yet another incident which made me wonder whether there is a disturbing new anti-libertarian meme. While it seems that it's just fine to keep libertarians in the closet and use the L-word as little as possible, on the other hand, when some psycho on the lunatic fringes of the right acts up, it's suddenly just fine to fire away with the L-word. Without regard to accuracy.

Some of the vandalism appears to have been instigated by an Alabama blogger, Mike Vanderboegh, who encouraged his readers to throw bricks at the windows of Democratic headquarters across the country. Vanderboegh, a former leader of the Alabama Constitutional Militia who is headlining an open-carry gun rally in Northern Virginia next month, issued a call to the modern "Sons of Liberty" on his libertarian political blog to break windows nationwide to display opposition to health-care reform.
Well, not everyone is calling Vanderboegh a libertarian:
Conservative blogger Mike Vanderboegh called for tea party activists to hurl bricks through democrats windows, and some did.
Great. Look, I have never heard of this loon, but if he is advocating violence to achieve political ends, he is no libertarian. Nor is he a conservative -- any more than the Weather Underground were liberals. He's an extremist member of the lunatic fringe.

Regardless of what he or his friends might call themselves, it is not accurate to call him a libertarian. I mean, it is one thing to inaccurately stereotype libertarians as a bunch of selfish hedonists, but saying they're violent crazies simply goes too far. Libertarians disagree with each other over a lot of things, but opposition to the initiation of violence or force is so basic as to be a core definition of the concept.

Here's Murray Rothbard:

Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should he free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another.


In the first place, most libertarians are "subjectivists" in economics, that is, they believe that the utilities and costs of different individuals cannot be added or measured. Hence, the very concept of social costs and benefits is illegitimate. But, more importantly, most libertarians rest their case on moral principles, on a belief in the natural rights of every individual to his person or property. They therefore believe in the absolute immorality of aggressive violence, of invasion of those rights to person or property, regardless of which person or group commits such violence.

From the the ISIL's Philosophy of Liberty by Ken Schoolland and Lux Lucre:
Libertarianism considers as illegitimate the initiation of violence against other individuals.
A similar definition from
"In popular terminology, a libertarian is the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence -- legal or illegal -- to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person. Generally speaking, a libertarian is one who wants to be governed far less than he is today."
-- Dean Russell, Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), 1955
From the Wiki page on the Non-aggression principle:
Libertarians typically believe that the non-aggression principle includes property as a part of the owner; to aggress against someone's property is to aggress against the individual. Thus, the principle leads to the rejection of theft, vandalism, murder and fraud.
And of course, there's the founder of Objectivism, Ayn Rand:
The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.
This is no minor point, and it caused a lot or debate during the Iraq War. Libertarians who saw the war as self defense (as well as some who saw it as a war to rescue Saddam Hussein's victims) were for the war, while libertarians who thought it was a war of aggression were against it. But I know of no libertarian who maintained that a war of aggression initiating force against an innocent country which posed no threat would be OK.

Hurling bricks through windows may be many things, but it is not libertarianism.

I might be able to handle being quiet and discreet about a lot of things, but I cannot sit idly by and watch while libertarians are stereotyped as violent thugs.

It makes it hard to get credit for being quiet and nice.

posted by Eric on 03.25.10 at 11:26 AM


Can the imposition, by law, of a value system that I disagree with be considered as violence?

All I desire is to live my life peacefully, provide for, and protect me and mine. My little rose covered cottage has now become a bunker against what my government seeks to do to me.Do not throw bricks or bullets-work to vote the bums(conservative and liberal) out of office and replace them with those that believe in the Constitution.

gb   ·  March 25, 2010 11:53 AM

I feel the same way about Tea Party people being slimed in the same way.

LYNNDH   ·  March 25, 2010 12:21 PM

LYNNDH, so do I, of course.

As to whether "the imposition, by law, of a value system that I disagree with" could be considered violence, I don't think in the same sense as actual violence directed against a person or property.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 25, 2010 12:51 PM

The key is the initiation of force. The state is, at its core, nothing more than a collection of force. You can't initiate force against something whose entire being is composed of collective force.

And if that's not the case, and libertarianism is the same as rank pacifism, then I guess I'm not a libertarian.

Phelps   ·  March 25, 2010 1:11 PM

And if, contra Phelps, libertarianism must therefore be Anarchism, I guess I'm not one, either.

But since I'm not a Rothbardite, I'm not an Anarchist, and I'm perfectly willing to be a libertarian of a Hayekian variety, with a side of Nozick.

Some state is both inevitable and justifiable, ala Nozick.

Yes, it's a collection of force. No, that doesn't make it automatically bad; the night-watchman and the aggressor-deterring and aggressor-punishing policeman are both users of force, and both justified by any libertarian theorizing that isn't Anarchist.

Libertarianism need neither be pacifist nor anarchist.

Resist the state with force (if you don't mind being killed or thrown in prison, at least... it's much more effective to resist it with words and persuasion of others, until it's totalitarian and that can't work) if it actually attacks you.

The idea that the State (and its agents) can be attacked at will simply because they're a State is untenable.

(EG. imagine a Nozickian minarchy, where the State exists solely to provide courts and enforce contracts, and to punish and deter those who use force on others who are incapable of resisting them directly.

Is THAT state an automatic initiator of force simply because it is necessarily a collection of force?

(And because it must levy some sort of tax - and enforce collection - to pay for those functions, which are unavoidable and necessary, logically, if we wish to avoid anarchy and a following strong-man state, which is a far less liberty-enhancing outcome?)

It's what a state does, not the fact of it being a state, that makes it tyranny or not.)

Sigivald   ·  March 25, 2010 1:47 PM

Phelps, is rank pacifism the kind that doesn't believe in modern hygeine? Or the kind that stands in neat rows?

Er. Seriously, libertarianism can't be the same as pacifism, because the last I heard pacifism eschews violence for any reason including self-defense. Of course, this means there are some awfully over-enthusiastic pacifists out there, who just happen to accidentally bump their fists into people and things.

Eric - no-one ever gets credit for being quiet and nice. All anyone gets for that is the "joy" of cleaning up the mess after those who aren't quiet and nice are finished. Worse, when the quiet and nice people finally have enough and start telling the louts to pick up their own trash and stop ruining it for everyone else, the louts turn on the quiet and nice people and try to claim that the quiet and nice sorts are selfish and heartless and [insert epithet of choice here].


Kate   ·  March 25, 2010 1:50 PM

This is an intresting post, you seem to be a reasonable libertarian, many seem to be preachy anarcists. At any rate I shall stop in from time to time

Adobe Walls   ·  March 25, 2010 6:20 PM

But our Founding Fathers were pretty much Libertarians. Violence between them and the Brits slowly escalated until it exploded in 1775.

Eventually you either fight the force of the state or submit to it. I hope the middle ground of constitutional restraint, debate and honest elections doesn't disappear - but I'm not hopeful right now.

Bram   ·  March 26, 2010 11:36 AM

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