Why “Former Libertarians” Quit Being Libertarians
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
Most decent people around the world teach their children not to start fights, not to be bullies, and not to tell lies. That, stated in a similar way, is precisely the meaning of the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) against coercion, intimidation and fraud.
Yet a majority of kids grow up to be adults who believe in coercion, intimidation and fraud when it comes to organizing society. And it is coercion, intimidation and fraud that are the three legs upon which every government in history stands.
Jay Hilgartner seems to be typical of people who proudly proclaim to be “No Longer a Libertarian,” as he does on his blog by that name, who do so because they’ve discovered that they just can’t live without at least one of those anti-principles.
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The working theory behind this shift in worldview is that people – knowingly or unknowingly – are either fundamentally individualist or fundamentally collectivist. That’s why some people who seek out libertarian groups frequently reject libertarianism and go searching for a different group. It’s the group experience, not the philosophy, that they’re really looking for.
It’s this groupthink worldview that explains the three basic reasons why non and former libertarians reject libertarianism, and any one or combination of them results in a rejection of individual freedom and personal responsibility:
- They never really understood libertarianism in the first place
- They think libertarianism is ONLY a political party
- They just can’t shake their justifications for violating others.
Hilgartner is a useful poster child for one of these “former libertarians.” He writes that he came to libertarianism in the 1970s via Ayn Rand and joined the Libertarian Party. He describes the foundational concepts of the LP that attracted him to the party as “1) a strong support for civil liberties, 2) a pro-peace, noninterventionist foreign policy, and 3) a passion for radical capitalism.”
As a “reformed liberal” he still advocates 1 and 2 but rejects “radical capitalism” as “dystopian” and in its place supports “strong government.” His reasoning is that a strong government is needed “to protect individual rights, offset extreme inequality in wealth, and provide for the general welfare and common defense” that is “essential for a marketplace to function properly and for freedom and democracy to prosper.”
In his “mea culpa” article titled “Libertarianism's Corrosive Effect on Democracy” posted in January 2016 Hilgartner reveals that he left libertarianism for all three of the now-familiar primary reasons that people reject libertarianism.
Don’t Get Libertarianism
He clearly never quite understood libertarianism in the first place if he thought libertarianism is bad for democracy. Libertarianism should be bad for democracy. Democracy is simply mob rule. No matter how it’s explained or how “nice” and “fair” and “honest” it tries to be the democratic organization of society is simply rule by 51 percent of some over 49 percent of others.
As often as not, in one way or another, that 51 percent always prospers at the expense of the 49 percent. Democracy, whether it’s a Greek city-state, the “soviet democracy” (the dictatorship of the proletariat) or a “socialist democratic republic” is just another coercive authoritarian mob.
The reason is that the 51 percent itself is always and inevitably ruled by a tiny, elitist one percent.
A coercive government cannot make a marketplace function properly, it does the opposite; it cannot make freedom work, it does the opposite; and it cannot cause democracy to prosper since by definition democracy only allows the elitist one percent that controls the majority to prosper.
Hilgartner doesn’t understand libertarianism because he doesn’t understand the nature of government, even America’s own government. For those who know of it the Whiskey Rebellion was a harbinger of the true nature of American “freedom.”
The Newly “approved” Constitution of the United States of America “authorized” politicians to forcibly collect certain taxes from its own citizens. One of the earliest taxes was imposed on whiskey producers. Western whiskey-makers, many of whom were veterans of the War of Independence against Great Britain that began as a protest against “abominable taxation,” predictably protested and rebelled against the United States’ taxation.
In 1792 former war hero, Father of His Country and First President George Washington himself lead an army of some 13,000 militiamen supplied by three state governors – all of whom expected to benefit from the taxes – against these freedom fighters.
As always, this regressive tax benefitted some and harmed others. Small Western farmers had to pay a higher per-gallon tax while big (politically-connected?) Eastern distillers were able to pay a lower flat fee, giving them a competitive advantage.
So much for Hilgartner’s wet dream of a government with “its ability to protect individual rights, offset extreme inequality in wealth, and provide for the general welfare and common defense.”
At one point in his article he lauded “libertarianism’s logical consistency” while rejecting libertarianism’s “more extreme radical capitalist positions.” What he doesn’t get, because he never had the philosophical underpinnings to get it, is that libertarianism’s logical consistency does not force anyone to accept capitalism; it only advocates voluntaryism which translates into free markets.
Yet Hilgartner complains, “Radical free markets for me now present a dystopian vision inviting the rule of the wealthy and most ruthless over the many.”
Perhaps he needs to discover the Post-Statist school of American libertarianism as explained by the Zero Aggression Project (ZAP) in which “coercive governments” are replaced by free and peaceful voluntary “consumer-controlled governance.”
Few people seem to understand or even consider the difference between “governments” and the idea of non-government “governance.”
Even fewer people, including Hilgartner, seem to understand that “government,” not “radical free markets,” is always – always – the first choice of psychopathic power, wealth and ego seekers because government’s monopoly on power invites and rewards the very “rule of the wealthy and most ruthless over the many” that Hilgartner says he’s against.
Everyone should be challenged to show where the powerful and wealthy have ever ruled without some form of government or government-like ruling structure.
Hilgartner, like so many, later betrays his misunderstanding of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” by applying it to individualist libertarian philosophy. Emerson, however, actually aimed his quote at mindless groupthink conformity, which is exactly what progressivism and all other forms of authoritarian collectivism demands. Libertarianism, the opposite of authoritarianism, recognizes that non-foolish rational consistency simply means thinking rationally, individually and creatively.
Emerson’s “hobgoblin” quote comes from his essay, "Self-Reliance," which should have been a dead giveaway against Hilgartner’s use of it as a denunciation of libertarianism since libertarians laud self-reliance.
Libertarianism Isn’t Just Politics
Although he read libertarian philosophy (Rand, Mises, Rothbard) it becomes apparent in his article that Hilgartner’s primary experience with libertarianism came from his involvement with the Libertarian Party. In short, he became not so much a (lower case “L”) philosophical libertarian but primarily a (capital “L”) political Libertarian. Throughout his article he talks about the Libertarian Party as though the sole concept of libertarianism is just a purely political activity.
Maybe if he had read a little more Rand he would have discovered that politics is simply the practical application of philosophy. The philosophy of libertarianism can be applied to the entire existence of the human experience in the social, cultural, spiritual, ethical, creative, moral, emotional, psychological realms and more.
He also excuses his earlier libertarianism for being “young and hopelessly naïve.” But instead of becoming “older and wiser” about libertarianism he simply bailed out. But then Hilgartner admits that he became a Libertarian because of “the times,” which is just another way of saying that it was just “situation ethics” defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “The doctrine of flexibility in the application of moral laws according to circumstances.”
Can’t Give Up Coercion
The overarching reason most non and former would-be libertarians reject libertarianism is that they just can’t relinquish their obsession with coercion. Contrary to the libertarian mantra “Good Ideas Don’t Require Force” authoritarians always insist that their own preferred “good ideas,” whether conservative or liberal, ought to be enforced on everyone.
And for some reason they think that some form of government should do their enforcing for them. They never seem to get that governments don’t give a damn about them or their ideas; at the highest levels governments are run by people who only care about their own “good ideas” and will enforce only such ideas that benefit themselves as long as they can get away with it.
“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” – Attributed to George Washington
In short, libertarian dropouts like Hilgartner never fully embraced the non-aggression principle, and by dismissing it as “the hobgoblin of little minds” instead of following the logic where it naturally leads, The NAP actually opens the door to far more than just laissez-faire free markets. A non-aggressive, voluntary, mutualist society accepts all forms of voluntary associations.
Even those of the political left committed to socialist, communist or other collectivist forms of organizing society are welcome in a libertarian society if only they would genuinely surrender their obsession with coercion.
No, owning property is not “coercion.” No libertarian is coercing anyone to own or not own property. Libertarianism means self-ownership, which means recognizing the reality that each individual is in fact an individual who owns one’s own body, own brain and own mind that generates all thoughts, concepts, impressions, ideas, feelings and so forth that actually makes an individual an individual.
As both sentient and physical beings every individual living human absolutely requires certain property in the form of food, clothing and shelter as a minimum to continue living. There are only three basic ways of obtaining such property: Stealing it, earning it or accepting it as a gift.
Libertarians reject the first but accept the second two. None of this, as so many collectivists claim, prevents people from working together to obtain the necessities of life. The only difference between those of the libertarian philosophies and those of the collectivist philosophies is that libertarians insist on voluntary human interactions while collectivists typically insist on coercive interactions.
In short, there is no reason why some in a libertarian society can’t live in a voluntary commune right next door to a single family residence.
Socialists, communists, progressives and other collectivists of both the political left and right who think they will find social justice and economic equality in a coercively imposed European style Democratic Republic will only get what every form of government has always given them – a deeply entrenched elitist group of psychopaths wielding monopoly power for their own wealth accumulation and ego aggrandizement at the expense of YOU.
People who truly want a free voluntary society must come to understand and embrace the non-aggression principle in the same way that American libertarians understand and embrace it.
Libertarians should accept voluntaryism in all things. Only then will all decent people have a chance to live in peace and harmony. All governments from the beginning of humanity to the present are little more than protection rackets designed to benefit the “protectors.”
So is Hilgartner still a lapsed libertarian? Apparently so. His “No Longer a Libertarian” Facebook page makes him a Poster Boy for Born Again Authoritarians where others of his ilk can gather and tell their tales of disillusionment with the ideas of peace, freedom and humanity and instead throw their lot in with the biggest criminal gang of all; government.
But The Anarchist Notebook tolerates no excuses. An article therein titled “Libertarianism stands or falls on the Non-Aggression Principle” insists that once you’ve been exposed to the NAP you’ve been exposed to right vs wrong, good vs. bad, morality vs. evil. To reject NAP means you not only approve of initiating coercion, intimidation and fraud against others but you tacitly approve of others using coercion, intimidation and fraud against you.
It’s like rejecting The Golden Rule. Like rejecting Live and Let Live. Like rejecting First Do No Harm. If you reject the NAP don’t come whining to libertarians; you’ve brought the malevolence onto yourself and you have no one to blame but yourself.
Everything people want violence to do for them violence can do to them. If you are no longer a libertarian you are an authoritarian. There is no in-between.