You Libertarian Enough?
by Anthony Gregory: An
Anti-Hagiography for Celebrated Mass Murderers
compromise is upheld as a high virtue. To be an ideologue is a great
vice. The old mantra that the problem in American politics is everyone
is an extremist and no one is willing to meet halfway persists,
despite its transparent inapplicability in the real world. The distance
between the two political parties is small enough to smother a gnat.
For many libertarians
there is no worse a sin than to stick stubbornly to purity of principle,
to make the perfect the enemy of the good. We never get anywhere
because we refuse to budge. We want the whole loaf. This is an old
I wish to address
those who fancy themselves libertarians of one kind or another.
For these purposes I will define the term broadly. Whatever kind
of libertarian you are, I contend that there is a question you should
be asking yourself every day: "Am I libertarian enough?"
This is obviously
something that moderate libertarians – pragmatics and the mere libertarian-leaning
– should consider. For this group, the danger of straying too far
toward statism is obviously present, since moderation is built into
their self-identity. And it should be a concern to these folks no
less than to others by virtue of the fact that they consider themselves
libertarian-leaning at all. If you find liberty worthy enough to
endorse much or most of the time, how do you know you’ve struck
the right balance? You obviously think statism is a problem and
libertarianism is a proper orientation, even if in moderation. If
this is the case, you are well aware of the danger of sliding toward
the statist extreme, and thus you should be asking yourself constantly
if you’re libertarian enough. Even a moderate libertarian thinks
the government is too big, presumably, and so he wishes for society
as a whole to question its own dedication to libertarian principle.
It would be unfair to expect others to consider moving toward libertarianism
without constantly being willing to consider it for oneself.
someone has for leaning libertarian – economic, practical arguments,
moral attitudes toward personal freedom and the state – they certainly
at least potentially apply to situations and issues previously unconsidered.
A soft libertarian might recognize that drug laws don’t work, but
will still hold out for ID checks to buy marijuana. But why? All
the arguments against the one apply to the other.
group does not always ask itself whether it is libertarian enough
– radicals. To be a radical libertarian is to be in a small minority.
And when someone finds himself in this company, it is all too easy
to become complacent, to assume that one’s radicalism relative to
others, including other libertarians, is perfectly sufficient. The
attitude becomes: "I have paid my dues; my radicalism is beyond
reproach." Yet again the same arguments apply: If the economic
and moral principles that brought you this far are valid, at what
arbitrary point do they no longer apply?
is a virtue, or if it is correct, or however you want to put it,
then how could there be too much of a good thing? I suppose one
could respond with the tired Emerson quote – "a foolish consistency
is the hobgoblin of little minds" – yet this could easily be
leveled against moderate libertarianism as well, in service of national
health care, gun control, or the war on terrorism.
For a practical
consideration, I’d like to point out that our rulers are constantly
asking themselves – or appear to be acting as though they are –
the opposing question: "Am I statist enough? Is there any remaining
avenue of human life I haven’t worked to subjugate under the authority
of my central plan?"
libertarians live in a time when the U.S. is at perpetual war, the
airports have become dystopian, the prison system is the most populated
on earth, the president claims the authority to kill anyone, torture
persists, surveillance is unrestrained by the Fourth Amendment,
Keynesianism has its grip on the entire establishment, and both
political parties push an agenda worse than the one pushed last
election cycle. People are jailed for selling milk. Nothing is off
In this time,
as the statists are continually asking themselves if they are statist
enough, we must keep asking ourselves the opposite: Are we radically
libertarian enough so as to mount the proper intellectual resistance
to the statist ideology on which the growing state thrives?
terms, this means asking oneself such questions as:
- Is there
any war – in all of history – that I have a romantic attachment
to, and is it possible that this war was nothing but a murderous
and fraudulent escapade, like all the rest? Perhaps I have been
right about which state was the greater aggressor in this war
– am I being too soft on the other state?
- Is there
any state action I defend that is morally indefensible? Anyone’s
rights I’m ignoring?
- Is there
any gradualist position I take, on maintaining the police, or
the military, or the welfare state, that lacks moral legitimacy
or is otherwise an equivocation with evil?
- Do I put
way too much hope in electoral politics yielding a good result,
when hundreds of years of U.S. history provide virtually no examples
of it doing so?
- Are there
areas of political theory – national borders, militarism, police
powers, parental and children’s rights, public schooling and compulsory
attendance, regulation, Social Security, monetary affairs, sexual
liberties, drug freedom, intellectual property – that I have been
lazy in considering deeply in light of the radical implications
- Is there
any political structure or figure in human history that I am too
soft on – Thomas Jefferson, English common law, the Constitution,
and so forth?
- Just because
something would be OK for the private sector to do, does it mean
we can countenance the state doing so in the meantime? (To this
question, I break with the implicit reasoning of the minarchists.
I find the more violent expressions of state power – policing
and militarism – to be more important to abolish instantly than
many "illegitimate" functions such as roads and parks.)
- Which state
services is it permissible to exploit, and which is it immoral
don’t always have easy answers, but we should always be seeking
them. Sometimes it is difficult to find the proper application of
libertarianism to tough situations. But if your impulse is to take
the libertarian position, then whatever the correct answer is will
probably be consistent with libertarianism, rather than inimical
It is true
that always questioning one’s own radicalism will likely yield the
conclusion that the state itself is an unnecessary evil that ought
to be abolished immediately. Of course this is true. But even taking
that position does not ensure you are libertarian enough.
believe I am sitting atop a high horse, viewing myself holier than
all the world, I beg that you reconsider this appraisal. I myself
worry about my tendencies to adopt moderate, conservative, and socialistic
positions all the time. Am I libertarian enough? Perhaps not. I
always welcome corrections and arguments as to how I have failed
to take the right position.
Gregory [send him mail]
is research editor at the Independent
lives in Oakland, California. See his
webpage for more articles and personal information.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
Best of Anthony Gregory