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What Libertarians Must Do: Live Peacefully in Disagreement

Updated on April 16, 2019
Garry Reed profile image

Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.

Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer

Libertarians of all types and stripes, all kinds and minds, all varieties and pieties should never agree totally with one another. Libertarianism is an individualist philosophy. It means individuals think for themselves and then challenge others to think for themselves.

Lockstep groupthink collectivist political and nonpolitical approaches to organizing society are nonstarters for libertarians. That’s why, then, when Author & Journalist Luke Henderson gets it so right in so many ways in his ten-part article series “10 Things Libertarians Must Do” on the Think Libertarian website—and should be read in its entirety—it just begs to be nitpicked by other libertarians, respectfully, as is done below.

It’s that constant picking, poking, prodding, pushing and provoking that sharpens the minds of those who wish to be free from coercive control.

Some people “Agree to disagree” but libertarians “Disagree to agree.”

Below are ten agreeably agreeable disagreements with Henderson's ten-part publication.

Book Break: Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Pick

Igniting Liberty: Voices for Freedom Around the World
Igniting Liberty: Voices for Freedom Around the World

Luke Henderson is one of seven advocates of liberty who contributed original articles to this book. They all offer their own unique perspectives on the issues that matter most to them. The result is an excellent introduction to libertarianism for young people.

In Henderson’s own words, “I did an essay in intellectual property in the music industry, one on the effects of prohibition and other government regulations on the American diet, one on technology and education, and one on creating a set of non-political ethics for libertarians."

Igniting Liberty is published by the popular Being Libertarian media company that promotes free society ideas while developing new libertarian writers.

 

Part 1: Recognize Libertarianism is a Broad Idea

Henderson offers “the rise in prominence of the Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the Libertarian Party” as a broadening of the libertarian idea since the LP can “now claim to be the one truly uniting party containing socialists, capitalists and everything in between.” But he fails to say how that would work. Here’s how:

Step outside the politics of a “libertarian society” and advocate a truly “free society” where all who sincerely reject coercion are welcome. If socialists believe that rent is theft, as Henderson correctly points out, then socialists have every right to be neither renters nor landlords, but they have no more “right” to impose that belief on others any more than capitalists have any “right” to force them to be renters or landlords. Freedom is what people do, not what they think. (It’s called Voluntary Socialism and it’s a real thing.)

Part 2: Stop Giving the Impression of Snobbery

This part begins by saying that libertarians “can have an arrogant air about them and unjustified sense that they are more intelligent.”

Henderson is right but if he spends a little time on social media he’ll see that everybody thinks that way. Democrats, Republicans, socialists, white supremacists, race baiters, hardcore right-wingers and Socialist Alt-Left SJWcrats and everyone else who can access the internet and tap a keyboard.

Stop wallowing in snobbery is good advice for everyone.

Part 3: Libertarianism Isn’t Sexy

What Henderson seems to be saying here is that the basic libertarian message—“Don’t hurt people and don’t steal their stuff”—is a very attractive, exciting, arousing, sexy idea that all decent people should embrace but don’t because it’s just being pushed by people too nerdy geeky unsocial to communicate it properly.

Not much to argue with there. The Modern American Libertarian Movement needs sexier nerds.

Part 4: The NAP Is Flawed

Nap is not “flawed” because:

Prin ci ple /prinsəpəl/noun fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.—Oxford Dictionary

It is the non-aggression PRINCIPLE, not the non-aggression DIKTAT. This is what happens when people jump directly into the politics of Libertarianism without first understanding the fundamental concepts, ideas, values, ethics, and moralities of the philosophy of libertarianism.

The NAP isn’t flawed any more than an ENTRANCE sign on a building is flawed. Standing outside the door and pontificating about what might be inside the building is the actual flaw. Don’t blame the principle; blame your own lack of understanding about it.

People are flawed.

Part 5: Embrace Libertarian History

Many smart people have preceded us. Henderson offers a good overview of the best known freedom advocates and doesn’t shrink from pointing out both their wisdom and warts, raising him above any charge of chauvinistic cheerleading. Individualists come to libertarianism from many beginnings; Randians, Rothbardians, Hoppeans and others are open to criticism but a freethinking individualist will embrace the best they have to offer, reject the rest, and weave their own non-aggressive libertarian worldview.

Part 6: Ditch the Personal Responsibility Angle

A nutshell description of libertarianism is “Individual Freedom and Personal Responsibility.”

But Henderson writes, “Simply put, libertarians need to drop the personal responsibility angle from our rhetoric, or at the very least, better explain what one means by it.”

For chrissake, don’t drop it, explain it! Which Henderson himself proceeds to do quite well. Otherwise why not drop everything else without explaining it? Drop the importance libertarians find in freedom, liberty, individualism, voluntaryism, self-ownership, the non-aggression principle and all of it!

Acceptance of the libertarian non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud is in and of itself the acceptance of personal responsibility.

So some people fear or don’t want or don’t believe in personal responsibility? Without explaining it in a libertarian context along with everything else they’ll never ever comprehend that the non-aggression principle is simultaneously a responsibility to oneself and to others: It means being responsible for yourself while doing no harm to others.

Explain it!

Part 7: Stop Excusing Collectivism

What Henderson is talking about here isn’t coerced political collectivism which every libertarian must reject else they’re simply not libertarian; he’s talking about social collectivism. In other words, libertarians should never excuse bigoted groupthink mistreatment and harassment of some people by other people even as they embrace such concepts as freedom of speech, press, religion, association and all other related concepts that fall under the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud.

Socially that includes rejecting verbal abuse, harassment, bullying, contemptuous attitudes, open resentment, oppressive confrontations, getting all up in someone’s grill and all other forms of social disrespect. In short, the libertarian position should always be based on the concept of “You have a right to be a racist but I will never accept or support you” just as they should be based on “You have a right to be a race-baiter but I will never accept or support you.”

NAP is not the exclusive property of the Libertarian Party; it belongs to everyone who has a heart, a soul, a conscience, a sense of humanity and a commitment to simple common decency.

In short, note the presence of the word “intimidation” in the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud. Everyone should reject groupthink identity politics and groupthink social politics along with groupthink political collectivism.

Part 8: Reading Non Austrian Economists

While Austrian Economists are “placed on a very high pedestal” in libertarian circles Henderson complains this causes too many libertarians to conclude that “any problem in society is because of government regulation.” He then points out that “There are a plethora of economists who explain why free markets are preferable to government interference without aligning with the Austrian dogma.”

That’s good to know but here’s something even better to know: Many people just can’t stomach economics period. Instead they were drawn to libertarianism via politics, philosophy, novels, think tanks, Reason magazine, the Atlas Shrugged movie series and personalities like Ron Paul and Fox News commentators John Stossel and Judge Andrew Napolitano and others, by comic and magician Penn Jillette and by the many online pundits, writers, bloggers, essayists, maybe by a Voluntaryist comic book and possibly even by one little-known Opinionizer.

They may all include varying degrees of economics in their presentations of libertarianism—it’s hard to escape completely—but understanding libertarianism ultimately isn’t dependent on understanding economics. Economics is just one focus for libertarians; other issues are more important to other freedom advocates.

There are two other choices mentioned here also: Either read anti-Austrian economics so as to “know your enemy” or find people who can simplify and effectively communicate economics. Good luck with both.

Part 9: Start Playing Outside the Duopoly

The “duopoly” is, of course, the Democratic-Republican political machine. Henderson thinks “it’s time to consider other methods of getting candidates elected” and he offers examples of what can only be called attention-getting gimmicks that some candidates have used and then redirected the gimmick positions to serious libertarian positions.

These included a campaign to “Arm the Homeless;” the platform for a candidate for Sheriff included “free all the prisoners, arrest all the cops and burn down the jail;” and of course there’s always satirist and perennial LP candidate Vermin Supreme who campaigns with a large boot on his head and a giant toothbrush in his hand.

But that still doesn’t win any elections for one simple reason: The time has not come for Libertarian politics.

To paraphrase Objectivists, “Politics is merely the practical application of philosophy.” The philosophy of libertarianism must be firmly understood, embraced and established in a society before any political success can have any possibility of succeeding.

If Henderson really wants to “Play outside the duopoly” he needs to play completely outside the politics by forgetting about trying to win elections and instead use the LP strictly as an educational platform in the guise of running for office. Stop counting votes and voters and start counting new committed supporters of libertarian philosophy.

Part 10: Compassion vs. Logic

Henderson cites Toastmasters’ Laws of Persuasion that points out “one needs a balance of logic and emotion to sell an idea.”

He’s right. Too many libertarians focus their advocacy almost exclusively on logic while ignoring human emotions. But that’s not the only binary intellectual trap many libertarians fall into.

Too many think in the either/or terms of left versus right libertarianism, Minarchism vs anarchism libertarianism, thick versus thin libertarianism, politics versus philosophy, rationality versus morality, society versus individuality, realism versus idealism, capitalism versus corporatism, governments versus governance and you name it.

Or if you really want to get deep into the weeds: Deontological Libertarianism verses Consequentialist Libertarianism.

If you want to advocate libertarianism you must know your philosophy and know your audience and be prepared to interact with your audience on the issues that most concern them. Otherwise you’re not communicating; you just end up talking past each other.

Don’t choose between either/or, choose all that you can handle.

And for the record: Libertarians are just as compassionate as everyone else; we just want voluntary compassion, not coerced “compassion.” The very act of rejecting coercion, bullying and fraud is the first act of compassion.

Part X: What Libertarians Must Keep Doing

Although he focuses more on political Libertarianism than philosophical libertarianism Luke Henderson has done an excellent job of identifying issues, raising questions, seeking answers and offering solutions.

Libertarianism is an individualist philosophy. We should never allow ourselves to become dogmatic ideologues. What we all need to keep doing is never agreeing to disagree but always disagreeing to agree. It’s the constant disagreeing that ultimately brings agreement by creating a free society that celebrates disagreement.

By rejecting the legitimacy of coercion, bullying and cheating we can all live in peaceful disagreement together.

References and Links

Rick Henderson’s full article in Think Liberty Ten insightful suggestions from a young libertarian voice that focuses primarily on Libertarian Party activism but should be extended to the full scope of the libertarian philosophy.

More about LP infighting The author insists “we must act upon our common interests and not our disagreements” and asks other libertarians for their opinions which are, unsurprisingly, as diverse as embracing everyone and abolishing the LP.

New to libertarianism and the Zero-Aggression Principle? From “The Basics” to “Morality and Law” to many ideas in between you can jump in and learn about the voluntary post-statist concept of “governance” as opposed to coercive “governments.”

How to live peacefully in a free society “Socialism is inherently immoral unless it becomes voluntary” — “Capitalism is potentially dangerous unless it is bound by common law or the Non-Aggression Principle.” Voluntary Socialism by marleyjames.

Video Break: Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Pick

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    • Garry Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Garry Reed 

      4 weeks ago from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas

      RonElFran, thanks for your comments.

      My article was written to “all libertarians,” not to “all people,” and it asks “all libertarians” to “live in peaceful disagreement.” Libertarianism is emphatically not utopian so of course it would be “a wildly unrealistic view of human nature.” That’s specifically why libertarians retain the right to use defensive force against initiated (coercive) force. Saying “the NAP is a dead letter from the start” is a strawman argument because you seem not to understand the simple basics of NAP.

      Making nearly all of your other comments including “It's the failure of libertarianism to recognize the basic, unchangeable facts of human nature” strawman arguments too.

      Saying that libertarianism has failed to build “a truly viable political movement” is absolutely true for reasons I’ve been preaching to LP members for years: The philosophy must first be firmly established in society before any politics can be successful because politics is simply the practical application of philosophy.

      But calling libertarianism a “philosophical hobby” reveals your own incredibly but common myopic worldview.

      Are you totally ignorant of the works of thousands of lesser known libertarians as well as famous ones like Rand, Rothbard, Milton Friedman and whole schools of libertarian economists including Nobel Prize winners F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan?

      Are you unaware of historical libertarians such as John Locke, Ludwig Von Mises, Frédéric Bastiat and Adam Smith?

      How about Thomas Aquinas whose rediscovery of Aristotle’s works helped launch the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment with its Scientific Revolution and its Age of Reason that featured philosophical skepticism over blind faith, religious tolerance, liberty, human progress through self-ownership, rationalism and individualism over collectivism.

      Modern libertarianism is simply the logical continuation of those great traditions.

      Unfortunately, it would take yet another whole article to effectively debunk your threadbare yet very common misconceptions of libertarianism.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 weeks ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I think the major fallacy of libertarianism as a political movement is summed up in your last statement: "By rejecting the legitimacy of coercion, bullying and cheating we can all live in peaceful disagreement together."

      That's based on a wildly unrealistic view of human nature. "All" are never going to reject coercion, etc. - not even most. In terms of how human beings actually think and act, rather than how we might wish them to, the NAP is a dead letter from the start. And no amount of "persuasion" will change that.

      The American Founders recognized this. They understood that most people will find ways to morally justify whatever actions they think are in their best interests. So they gave us a government that's not based on the expectation that people are going to decide to reject unsavory activities because it's the right thing to do.

      Instead, our form of government is designed to encourage opposing selfish interests to counteract the most extreme proclivities of the various factions. So we have a political system based on separation of powers, and a judicial system that functions by adversarial processes.

      Think about it: how much progress has libertarianism made in building a truly viable political movement? Not much. And it won't.

      It's the failure of libertarianism to recognize the basic, unchangeable facts of human nature that will forever keep it from being anything more than a somewhat interesting if irrelevant philosophical hobby.

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