Sean Parr
April 10, 2014
Shedding some light on the libertarian surge
By Sean Parr

David Boaz's Politico article, "The Libertarian Surge," commented on the uptick in recent years of libertarianism or, rather, of what libertarians are often associated with espousing (an important distinction, this, as one can incidentally support many libertarian positions without actually being a libertarian). The author defined libertarianism as "the political philosophy that says limited government is the best kind of government." Sadly, this definition of his is wanting. I mean, how limited a government constitutes "limited government"? This could mean that libertarians are for whatever half-hearted, bipartisan, bait-and-switch budget compromise that is laughingly said to shrink the State – its size, scope, or expenditures.

Here's more like it.

Libertarianism holds to the non-aggression principle (NAP): it is illicit for any individual (or group of individuals) to initiate, or threaten to initiate, aggression against the person or legitimately held property of any other individual (or group of individuals). Libertarianism, as Llewellyn Rockwell succinctly put it, "is concerned with the use of violence in society. That is all."

Now that this definitional snafu has been cleared up we are able to proceed.

Libertarianism's popularity, the article mentioned, owes mostly to the fact that "government has been expanding in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the financial crisis." Disturbingly, there has long been a correlation between times of national strife and the growth of the State (Robert Higgs' book, Crisis and Leviathan, is solely occupied with this phenomenon). John T. Flynn certainly had the truth of it when he stated of the New Deal what is true of all great strides of government intervention: they are "born in crisis, [live] on crises, and cannot survive the era of crisis."

Among the government's acts of economic warfare that are anathema to libertarians, Boaz brought up "the bailouts, the car company takeovers, the 2009 stimulus bill and the quasi-nationalization of health care." The author did not fail to also mention those things for which libertarians, in his view, vehemently stand: "the movement for gay marriage.... marijuana legalization.... [and] the defense of the right to keep and bear arms."

A few things to mention here.

The principal reason that libertarians defend the right to keep and bear arms is that they are staunch supporters of property rights. As a matter of fact, in many ways libertarianism boils down to property rights. The NAP is simply incoherent if one cannot know what belongs to whom. In this respect, libertarianism holds to the notion of self-ownership – that an individual has a better claim to his own body than any other person whom might wish to aggressively claim title to, or exercise control over, it. Also, the notions of Lockean homesteading which, as Stephan Kinsella noted, concerns "the first use or possession of [a] thing" and transfers of contract allow us to discern in a dispute to whom a given thing belongs.

On marijuana legalization, Boaz is correct to state that this is a libertarian position and that it has been a principled one for some time. However, in the past, respected conservatives who I believe that nobody would confuse for libertarians have endorsed this same policy. To name a few: the Chicago School monetarist Milton Friedman and the esteemed (hear his voice in your head) William F. Buckley, Jr.

Regarding the claim that libertarians are proponents of gay marriage, there is something in need of addressing. To begin with, it's my contention that everyone (including the curiously labeled homophobic) believes that homosexuals have the right to marry – so long as they marry members of the opposite sex. My point here is that gay marriage is not an issue of controversy. Same-sex marriage is an issue of controversy. I've touched on this before and it bears repeating: it is not necessary, in order to be a libertarian, to hold liberal views on social issues. To state that libertarians are for same-sex marriage is simply silly. I'm a libertarian and I'm not for same sex marriage for religious reasons and because the notion is a contradiction in terms. To explain, same sex couples cannot logically avail themselves of something that is only available to opposite sex couples. Marriage is not simply whatever anyone says that it is; it possesses a natural teleology. That being said, libertarians do not support legally banning same sex couples from referring to their union as a marriage for the same reason that they do not support legally banning people from referring to their ashtrays as food: neither of these illogical declarations violate the NAP. And that is all with which libertarianism is concerned.

Boaz went on to state that "we can date the birth of the tea party movement" to the week of the Wall Street bailout and that this movement consisted of "lots of libertarians." He further pointed out that "much of the libertarian energy in the past few years was generated by the presidential campaign of former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas." All of these statements are very true, although when I attended my first tea party protest I did not count myself a subscriber to libertarianism (as I thought libertarians were no more than libertine hippies), and Ron Paul was not my gateway into this satisfying world. That honor, I suppose, goes to Rush Limbaugh who recommended Thomas Sowell's book Basic Economics. Every chapter of that book was introduced by a quote from some obscure economist or historical figure. One quote, whose particulars now escape me, was from nineteenth century French commentator Frédéric Bastiat. It was my emersion into his writings that ultimately led me to libertarianism.

David Boaz's article finely showcased the Great Problem currently being faced in America: "Somehow government failures lead to even more government." Bastiat, in his time, was likewise vexed. He frustratingly declared of the State, "Away with their artificial methods! Away with their social laboratories, their governmental whims, their centralization, their tariffs, their universities, their State religions, their inflationary or monopolizing banks, their limitations, their restrictions, their moralizations, and their equalization by taxation!" He further offered, in a quote that comes fast to my mind, a recommendation to address this Great Problem, one that has some relevance to the libertarian surge we are now witnessing in America: "After having vainly inflicted upon the social body so many systems, let them end where they ought to have begun – reject all systems, and try liberty – liberty, which is an act of faith in God and in His work."

Sean Parr is an enemy of invasion. He can be contacted at Parrfection@bellsouth.net.

© Sean Parr

 

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