In Defense of the Worst Libertarians

Search for the "worst types" of conservatives or liberals and you'll find just what you expect, the blue team attacking the red team, and vice versa.  It makes logical sense, likely born out of an instinct to distrust and fight the neighboring tribe.  Rather than look for complex answers to the question of why a world with such technological wonders can be so screwed up, it's easier to blame the other team for not voting the right way.

Alas, libertarians don't have it so easy.  We lack a consistent 49% to 51% voting bloc, creating a constant tug-of-war with friends and family split evenly down the middle.  Libertarians see the rulers, the ones who weld a monopoly of violence, against everyone else.  It's not the left vs. the right; it's all of us vs. the State.

But the State is so abstract, so far way.  Few of us have the opportunity to be in contact with a real "enemy" - a Bush or a Clinton or a Rockefeller.  We need closer, more tangible enemies to explain our own shortcomings.  So maybe that explains articles like this, The Top 10 Worst Kinds of Libertarians, written by a libertarian who purports to examine our faults as a movement so that we can be more successful.  If our enemies are ignoring us, we might as well attack each other.

Full disclosure: I identify with more than half of these categories, so I must be the worst of the worst.  I was hoping for a perfect 10, but I don't consider myself to be a creeper, a jerk, or a bigot - so that knocks me down to 7.  When it comes to smoking pot, I abstain not because "libertarians must point out the negatives of drugs", but because drugs are a trap set by the government to make you a slave, so that puts me at a solid 6.

There are two ways to respond to this article.  The first is by dismissal by pointing out what libertarianism is: a philosophy concerned with the permissible use of violence.  While some believe that social contracts or special costumes grant the ability to initiate violent acts against the innocent, libertarians believe that all such aggressions are illegitimate.  As Lysander Spooner wrote, the government is worse than a highwayman. Rothbard identified the State as a gang of thieves writ large.  So what is the point of calling out those of us that are jerks, pot-smokers, or "anti-science"?  These attributes have nothing to do with our core philosophy.  A libertarian can be a church-going social conservative or a drug addicted atheist philanderer; abide by the Non-Aggression Principle and both are equally libertarian.

However, I find myself in the unique position to relish scoring a 6 out of 10, so rather than dismiss the article, I'll defend the "worst libertarians".  While these are characteristics that have nothing to do with being a libertarian, I wear them like a badge of honor.  Not only that, but it's not often that I find so many of my favorite fallacies contained in a single article, so for that alone I am grateful to the author.

In Defense of Conspiracy Theorists

Starting at the very top, the #1 worst kind of libertarian is the "conspiracy theorist".  We can answer this charge merely by defining our terms.  A conspiracy theory is a hypothesis that two or more people secretly did something illegal.  Unbelievable!  Yes, libertarians may believe that aggressive violence is impermissible, thereby relegating all coercive acts of government as illegitimate, but accuse them of secretly doing something illegal?  What kind of monster are you?

In all seriousness, it's one thing to use the term "conspiracy theory" in a derogatory way when the CIA first "weaponized" the term in the 1960's.  There is no excuse when it is 50 years later and there are dozens of declassified, main line "conspiracy theories", from the Gulf of Tonkin attack that never happened to the NSA's illegal spying which continues to this day.  A person who is awake to libertarianism but brushes off conspiracy theories as preposterous must be pitied; the mental gymnastics required to hold such contradictory views must cause the most painful cognitive dissonance.

With all due sympathy to the author, let's review the patently lame arguments he presents against conspiracies:
"It is truly amazing that the same types of people who believe that the government is far too inept to plan a central economic structure think highly enough of that same bureaucracy to surmise that state actors could orchestrate a full-scale ruse upon the public.  There is a simple line of thought that destroys nearly every conspiracy theory ever to exist: if this were ever to happen, it would necessitate the involvement of hundreds, if not thousands of individuals; for the conspiracy to go unnoticed, not one of those parties involved could ever reveal the slightest hint.  Furthermore, there would be millions, if not billions of dollars in media waiting for someone who would break such a story."
There are three false arguments here, and unfortunately, they are the same ones I've seen countless times before.  The first, however, is unique in that you only hear it from fellow libertarians and fiscal conservatives.  It comes down to this: how can the government be incompetent in one area (central planning), but clever in another area (conspiracies).

However, this question just highlights a subtle but important point in the case against central economic planning.  The problem is not that the individuals attempting to orchestrate the central plan aren't clever - the problem is they are trying to make decisions without the benefit of the pricing system.  No individual, group of individuals, or even a super computer could direct scarce goods and resources to their optimum place in space and time as well as the pricing system, which coordinates all mankind's true preferences as expressed by their choice to buy or not buy in a global marketplace.

This is really the same fallacy that Hayek describes in Chapter 10 of The Road to Serfdom, "Why the Worst Get on Top".  Hayek's point is that whatever the character of the dictator, angelic or demonic, incompetent or clever, the mission of central planning is doomed from the start.  Hayek's great insight is that when the carefully laid plans of the czars inevitably result in shortages and surpluses, shoes without laces and cars without wheels, the economic dictator will come to a decision point: "assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans", such that "the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure".

The reason the government cannot plan a central economic structure also explains why we can expect increasingly immoral and corrupt individuals to be the ones governing.  While those in the market economy are busy specializing in their profession, be it art, athletics, or business, those in government are specializing in how to govern: how to achieve power and stay in power through whatever means necessary.  They specialize in the art of blackmail, bribes, back-room deals, insider trading, and all forms of violence and corruption.  Do not confuse the State's inability to centrally plan the economy with inexperience in orchestrating a "full-scale ruse", several wars founded on lies that have killed millions of innocents and continue to this day should be evidence enough of this fact.

The second fallacy comes straight from talking point number 4 part C of the declassified CIA Dispatch 1035-960: a conspiracy would require too many people, and someone would talk.  But even since the 1960s the answer to this misbelief hasn't changed: it's called compartmentalization and the most obvious example is the Manhattan Project.  It was October 9th of 1941 when President Roosevelt approved the atomic program, and it wasn't until the bombings of 1945 that the 100,000 people involved in the program even knew what they were a part of.  As written in a 1945 Life article, "[p]robably no more than a few dozen men in the entire country knew the full meaning of the Manhattan Project, and perhaps only a thousand others even were aware that work on atoms was involved."

However, compartmentalization only answers the question of how hundreds or thousands of people could work on something "like moles in the dark" and not be aware of the end result, there would still be some people that would know the truth.  The answer to this belief that "someone would talk" is to point out… people have talked!  One doesn't have to look any farther than Sibel Edmonds, the "most gagged person in American history".  But she's just one notable example in the 9/11 Truth Movement.  There are hundreds of professionals in the military, intelligence service, and the government, as well as architects, engineers, and pilots who question the "conspiracy theory" put out by the government in favor of a different conspiracy - and that includes the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission Report!

Ah, but what about the millions and billions of dollars in media just waiting for the right gumshoe reporter to break the story?  Again, maybe this type of argument would work for mainline republicans or democrats who religiously watch MSNBC or Fox News, but is this really supposed to speak to libertarians?  In a world where all major media outlets are owned by 6 corporations with intimate ties to the military industrial complex, does this argument even deserve a response?  Perhaps the author just recently became a libertarian and is unfamiliar with the media's coordinated treatment of a certain libertarian congressman from Texas during his presidential runs of 2008 and 2012.  Ultimately, the best person to respond to this would be Gary Webb, who was a true believer in the media until his exposé of CIA drug running caused his entire profession to turn against him.  He realized his prior success was an illusion, because in all his previous works he "hadn't written anything important enough to suppress".

In Defense of Purists

More horrifying than creepers, jerks and even bigots is the dreaded "purist", coming in as the #2 worst kind of libertarian.  According to the author, the libertarian purist drops a turd in the punch bowl just to ruin the party.  This contrarian by nature compares libertarian credentials as an "artificial contest" simply for the perverse goal of sabotaging the movement.  There is no "perfect libertarian", so the author says we should welcome a broad group of individuals as long as they are "willing to lessen the size and scope of government", "willing to defeat government overreach", "reduce taxes and keep government accountable", or have the correct positions on spending and surveillance.

Interesting that when offering various criteria that could be used to judge one's libertarian credentials the author never speaks the words of the twin pillars supporting our entire philosophy: Self-Ownership and the Non-Aggression Principle.  Reducing taxes and the scope of government may be positions compatible with libertarianism, but they certainly do not define it.  Our philosophy is not a random hodgepodge of political issues that change with the wind.  We have something much stronger, much more beautiful than that.

So what would a "perfect libertarian" be in theory?  Here's an answer: someone who believes in these two foundational principles and uses perfect logic to apply them to every issue pertaining to the use of violence in society.  This person may have unimpeachable libertarian credentials and yet could be a far stretch from being a perfect human being.  This duality of being a perfect libertarian but a flawed person is entirely consistent when libertarianism is defined within its proper scope.  It has nothing to say about whether people should be charitable or stingy, accepting or intolerant, egalitarian or elitist.  This is the heart of why libertarianism can reach such a diversity of people: refrain from initiating violence against the innocent and you can live your life as you see fit.

So there you have it, three cheers for the purists!  It is a title to which we should all aspire.  It is especially important when all kinds of bizarre distinctions are being thrown around which try to expand libertarianism beyond its function.  "Thick vs Thin", "sophists vs brutalists", there are even those who purport to combine libertarianism with goals of social justice and somehow arrive at supporting a government mandated minimum wage!  For those that have such goals, fine, let's form alliances and work together on issues with which we find common agreement, but the purists must ensure those individuals do not abuse the term libertarian and distort our message.  Someone must be the vanguard against those that are hopelessly confused or actively trying to subvert our cause.

In reality, there are very few issues that cause serious disagreement among libertarians.  Every Libertarian Party national convention highlights the two biggest ones: minarchism vs. anarchism and abortion.  The LP's model for handling this difference of opinion is one that should be followed.  Whether one wishes for a night-watchman state limited to purely defensive services or goes bravely forward to a full-blown anarcho-capitalist utopia free from any organization with a monopoly of violence, both sides can agree that we are so radically far from both of those end-states that we might as well work together and settle our differences once we're there.  Hence, the Dallas Accord is a tacit agreement from the LP's founding that all statements in our platform will be sufficiently vague to satisfy both anarchists and minarchists.  For instance, we may say there is a maximum role for government in offering defensive services, which logically allows for a minimum role of government that does not exist.  The LP platform makes the same principled compromise on abortion, simply stating that since libertarians of good faith will forever disagree on this issue, we can at least agree that government should be kept out of the matter and move forward from there.

Stick to the Non-Aggression Principle and keep an open mind to those rare cases where libertarians can make passionate arguments on both sides.  For those that hold positions totally inimical to the N.A.P, then let's enlist them in our "liberty friendly" alliance and make progress towards common goals.  That is a recipe for big-tent libertarianism and success.

In Defense of the Hard Core

Using terminology straight from the lexicon of what Tom Woods would call the gate-keepers of allowable opinion, "Neo-Confederates" are listed as the fourth worst type of libertarian, and "civil disobedience warriors" take the #7 slot.  The author states that there is no libertarian reason to defend the confederacy because the CSA was not itself libertarian.  When it comes to those that "endanger one’s own life and liberty to protest" minor laws that appear to be just, those that are sent to jail are " being in fact not principled, but selfish in their pursuits of liberty and justice".

How could a libertarian defend the wicked "neo-confederates"?  Simple, first unask the leading question and examine what libertarians are really supporting: the right of secession.  After we abandon the convenient myth that the Civil War was fought over slavery and accept that the southerners and northerners were both guilty of many crimes, first of those being slavery, we have a simple decision to make.  Can you defend the right of secession even if you don't agree with the culture of the seceding group, or do you throw your lot in with the invading army?  Put another way, do you have the courage to defend the freedom of speech from a group who has terribly nasty things to say, even if they are racist or sexist? Do you have the conviction to defend the rights of religious fundamentalists not to bake a cake, even if their refusal is based on homophobia?

These are serious questions.  It's easy to talk about standing up for people's rights when everyone agrees with how they are exercised; it's much harder to defend unpopular speech and politically incorrect decisions.  This is the difficult but logical consequence of the Non-Aggression Principle.  We libertarians have plenty of potential responses to vices, but violence isn't one of them.  If the author of the "worst libertarians" list can't even muster the imagination to foresee this argument, then no wonder he takes such a bizarre stance as to call the "civil disobedience warriors" selfish for sacrificing their liberty in defiance of unjust laws, or as he would smugly call it, "rabble-rousing".

Just think of how far we've come, from a nation of rugged individualists who were willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for their cause, to these nervous nellies that are terrified to plainly state their beliefs in the fear of hurting someone's feelings. Lysander Spooner showed the way: he wrote and spoke and used every medium he could to spread a bold and unflinching libertarian message, he engaged in civil disobedience to the point of conspiring in support of slave rebellions, and he was one of the strongest supporters for the south's right to secede.

The fact of the matter is that we need libertarians of all kinds, armchair intellectuals and hard-core activists.  Some people just don't find the same pleasure in debating the exotic cases of libertarian thought as others do, they want to see action, to feel like they are doing something to make a difference.  Someone who is ready to "walk the walk" will do far more to get people out of their comfort zones and motivate the kind of action we need than those that just talk.  After all, our great conclusion is that the State is nothing more than a gang of thieves, so what better way to teach this lesson than to show that all of its dictates, even the most minor infractions, are ultimately backed up by the real threat of kidnapping, imprisonment, and death.  This is the bizarre "social contract" we've signed, and we owe a debt to the "civil disobedience warriors" for reminding us of this unfortunate fact.


Should libertarians be conspiracy theorists, purists, or civil disobedience warriors?  There is a time and place for everything.  When running as a candidate for the Libertarian Party, one is there to represent libertarianism, not to promote 9/11 truth, the benefits of a Paleo Diet, or a love of juggling because libertarianism, as rightly defined, is neither here nor there on these issues.  So while libertarianism has nothing to say as to whether or not you should subscribe to conspiracy theories, question government funded science, or long for a world where the noble right of secession was not cursed with the connection of slavery, I for one think libertarians would benefit from being open to these ideas.

Just as conspiracy theorists that don't have an understanding of libertarianism and Austrian economics could be led down the false path of the Zeitgeist movement, those that are confined within a "range of allowable opinion" that stops thought like a shock collar whenever terms like "conspiracy theory", "anti-science", "neo-confederates", or other derogative terms are used will not appreciate the full scope of the challenge we face.  If you can be scared out of these opinions, you can be scared out of any principled libertarian stance, and we desperately need those brave enough to defend the undefendable.

It comes down to this; people are not the same and will respond to different messages.  For many, an unapologetic and fiery defense of freedom will inspire hearts and minds where a half-measured wet-noodle libertarianism will fail.  Some may first start down the rabbit hole via research into a particular conspiracy theory, and when confronted with a problem without a solution, will then stumble upon the glories of libertarianism.  Thus, we need libertarians well versed in conspiracy research just as we need purists and "civil disobedience warriors" that will energize our movement with the boldness of their words and deeds.  We probably even need those like the author who sit safely in the camp of government-approved libertarians, as people like him may spark a small flame in the minds of those who would otherwise be quickly scared off from a libertarian message revealed too boldly in all its consistency and implications.  But if that flame is to grow, than we must be open to the full expression of the libertarian message, not spending time writing half of us off on "the worst" lists.
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