Too clever by half?

Do you know many people who are keen on murder? No? How about rape? Do you know many people that are big fans of rape? What about robbery? Assault? Fraud? Anything aggressive? No, me neither. So why aren’t libertarians in the majority?

Maybe we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by presenting libertarianism as a theory. Or, rather, as a distinct theory, when it is – or at least it can be understood as – simply the consistent application of beliefs almost everybody already holds.

As soon as something is seen as a theory, challenging it becomes a game, a sport. People who in ordinary life would never dream of attempting to justify murder or robbery or whatever, delight in inventing all sorts of elaborate examples to disprove libertarianism.


“What if there was a baby on a desert island, and it’s parents were both in comas, and the baby was diabetic, and the island was owned by an evil genius? What would you libertarians do then, eh?” Should you be unable to immediately provide a compelling answer in a sentence or two – well, this refutes libertarianism.

Even if you can make light work of the diabetic baby/evil genius problem there will be more where that came from. “What if there was a panther in a public library, and the library was full of children, and terrorists had infected the panther with AIDS, and the library was on a private road, etc, etc, etc”. (Incidentally, these sorts of problems apparently prove that libertarianism is an ‘unrealistic’ philosophy).

This is not to say theory is unimportant. But given that most people roughly agree with us about non-aggression already, perhaps the focus – at the outset – should be on getting them to apply their preexisting moral principles to politicians as well as to private individuals. After all, politicians are people too.

  7 comments for “Too clever by half?

  1. Paul Marks
    Mar 28, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Sadly most people do not seem to believe that the government taking money from people by the threat of violence is extortion. Even though that is exactly what it is. Nor are we talking about a little money – government spending and therefore (in the end) taxation in major Western nations tends to be around HALF of all money.

    If many (most?) people do not have a problem with government taking HALF of all money for its spending, then people are a very long way from libertarians.

    However, things are not hopeless – for example the propaganda and disinformation campaign of the “mainstream media” and the education system in the United States has failed to destroy the Tea Party movement – and that will be the backbone of Rand Paul’s campaign to roll back government in the United States in 2016.

    Britain? Things are not so hopeful here.

    • Mar 28, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      In their ‘public’ lives (so to speak), yes most people are a very long way from being libertarians. But in their ‘private’ lives they are very close to being libertarians. (Perhaps directly and indirectly are better terms. Almost no one would steal half your money directly. Indirectly though, via the State, things are different, obviously.)

      Now there are many paths to libertarianism (economics, philosophy, ethics, whatever). My point is that we shouldn’t let our head-start in morality go to waste. Most people have a deep revulsion to robbery from childhood, they don’t need to be convinced that stealing is wrong, so we should capitalise on this. Let’s convince them to be consistent. And, if neccessary, shame them into being consistent.

      • Mar 28, 2014 at 9:16 pm

        Agreed – the key to ask the simple question “why is it right for the state to do what it would be wrong for you to do?”

        Sadly the answer in much of the world (including almost all of Latin America) the answer is “it is right for me to do it as well” (the evil fruit of Liberation Theology “Social Justice” in personal behaviour).

        How does one know one is in area of moral libertarians (if not political libertarians)?

        Easy – when the lights go off, or the police go on strike, the people do NOT loot.

        In area when the people are just no good (when only fear of punishment – not the inner voice of conscience) prevents them robbing, raping and murdering, then talking of libertarianism is a waste of time.

        But where people are basically decent then it is worth talking (and living) with people – regardless of their politics.

      • Ayumi
        Mar 30, 2014 at 11:05 pm

        Private and public – a common misconception is that private morals imposed on the public is a good thing, that because robbery is wrong at the private level, it ought to be enforced at the public level. The blind spot in this way of thinking (and such which tend to Utilitarian ideals), is that when a group of people come together to enforce a common good, the group itself becomes something else, a Gestalt, something more than a group of good-hearted individuals. Socialism seems to be the simplest and surest method to achieve a peaceful world, but what’s difficult to convince is that socialism tend to give rise to fascism, where all individual morals gets ignored and forgotten.

  2. Mar 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    This is a good post. If I’m asked what libertarianism means, I usually start with saying the basic principle is *live and let live*.

    I may go on to say mention that violence should only be used defensively, that the law should protect people and their property but not enforce morality, and that the people in the government and state should be under the same laws as the rest of us. Of course, one tailors the arguments for the particular situation. I was recently talking with a Catholic priest, and brought up the Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity, i.e. that decisions should be devolved down to the lowest possible level, and also the School of Salamanca, the scholars of which were pioneers of sound economic theory and human rights.

    • Mar 29, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Thank you, Richard.

      Similarly, I think, *mind your own business* pretty much sums it up – taken radically, that is.

  3. Ayumi
    Mar 30, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    haha, so she says (I’m trying the third person thing here)
    People are innately afraid of freedom. The Libertarian ideals (whatever degree of anarchy) tend to scare them. Starting off with the moral issue is strong point, after which -she says- we ought to bring up Natural Law. Many people tend to think that Libertarian freedom is lawless. It’s not. she thinks. i feel like yoda.

Comments are closed.