I love this article.
One of the accusations against libertarianism’s principles today is the idea that libertarians so often come to the exact or nearly exact same conclusions when they look at an issue. This conformity shows, people argue, that libertarians don’t think for themselves, because how can people agree on so many issues, with the experiences and knowledge we each have as individuals? How can people be so similar to each other in belief? Can Ron Paul really be right about everything?:
It is not fashionable to admit that you agree with anyone “on everything.” To make that admission is to invite accusations of belonging to a personality cult whose members blindly follow their leader no matter what position he takes. Indeed, this criticism is leveled at Paul’s grassroots supporters, who are called “Paulites” by detractors, implying that they have a pseudo-religious devotion to Paul rather than informed positions on the issues.
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So is this some sort of quasi-religious devotion? Are Paul’s followers simply caught up in a mass hysteria over someone who is likeable and has demonstrated his integrity for so long that they abandon their reason to avoid critical examination of his positions? Isn’t it impossible for an intelligent person to agree with someone on everything?
The answer to all three of these questions is “no.” In fact, contrary to what conventional wisdom tells us, it is actually illogical to agree with Paul on some things and not others. As I’ve said before, Paul is simply applying the central libertarian axiom to each issue. As long as he applies the axiom properly and does not make a mistake of logic, he is going to come out with a position that is 100% consistent with his positions on all other issues.
For those in the grip of this “conventional wisdom” that has led us to the brink of societal collapse, Paul’s answers are anything but consistent. On economic policy, he seems like a hardcore conservative, surpassing all other Republicans in his zeal to eliminate regulation and taxes. On foreign policy and social issues, he seems to be some sort of lefty hippie, arguing to legalize all drugs, allow homosexuals to marry if they wish to (he wants government out of marriage even at the state level), and to immediately order home every soldier stationed on a foreign base.
Those just learning about libertarianism might conclude that it is some sort of “compromise” between conservatism and progressivism/liberalism. This is untrue. Libertarianism evaluates political issues from a completely different perspective than either mainstream political philosophy. Sometimes, conservatives happen to agree with libertarians, but for different reasons. Sometimes, the same is true for progressives/liberals. Libertarians care not for who agrees/disagrees. They follow one simple principle and let the chips fall where they may.
Walter Block sums this up best in terms of understanding how libertarians like Paul formulate their positions.
“This is because libertarianism is solely a political philosophy. It asks one and only one question: Under what conditions is the use of violence justified? And it gives one and only one answer: violence can be used only in response, or reaction to, a prior violation of private property rights.”
In order to understand Ron Paul’s platform, there are two conclusions one must reach. The first is that libertarians are correct that violence is only justified in response or reaction to a prior violation of private property rights. Block does not limit the definition of “private property” to land ownership or even physical property in general. Instead, property includes all of one’s life, liberty, and justly acquired possessions. Based upon that definition, any murder, assault, theft, fraud, or coercion would be violation of a private property right. Based upon that understanding, ask anyone if they agree that violence should never be initiated, but instead only used in defense, and you will almost always get agreement. So far, so good.
The second thing that one must conclude in order to understand Ron Paul is that all government action is violent action. This is where it gets difficult for conservatives and liberals alike. While it is easy to see the government’s use of its military as an act of violence, it is harder for people to see that other government activities represent violence. How could providing healthcare, ensuring workplace safety, or licensing barbers be violent acts?
This is the great truth that hides on plain site under every human being’s nose. It is relatively simple to come to this conclusion once dispassionate logic is applied. In order to do so, one must disengage the deep, emotional attachments that almost everyone has developed to some or all government activity. Once you get someone to that point and they are truly ready to reason, they will come to the libertarian conclusion every time. To the genuinely interested and rational person, only one question is necessary:
“What if you do not cooperate?”
I cannot count how many times I have asked this question and received in response not a blank stare, but a thoughtful one. You can see the wheels turning. Sometimes they will begin to speak, then stop themselves while they think some more. They are looking for a hole in the theory. They are unable to find one. They are genuinely interested in either proving or disproving your argument. By that time, you have won.
For those who do not immediately “see the light,” you can pick any government action and walk them through that reasoning process through dialectic:
You: Suppose that I do not wish to participate in Medicare and withhold only that percentage of my payroll taxes that would otherwise go to fund it. In return, I agree not to make use of any of the Medicare benefits. What will happen to me?
Him/Her: You will be charged with income tax evasion.
You: What if I don’t answer the charge?
Him/Her: You will be arrested.
You: What if I do not agree to submit to the arrest?
Him/Her: You will be physically forced to submit.
You: And if I resist further?
Him/Her: (reluctantly) You will be killed.
You: So, you now agree that we are forced to participate in Medicare under the threat of violence, correct?
Him/Her: (Even more reluctantly) Yes.
You: Is there any government tax, law, or regulation that we are not similarly forced to participate in under the threat of violence? Are not even all of these answers the same regarding the least significant government regulation, like a parking ticket?
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Once one has had the epiphany that all government action is violent action, there are only three choices. 1) You come to the same conclusions that Ron Paul does on every issue, 2) You disagree with Walter Block and conclude that it is morally justifiable to initiate violence against other people, or 3) You abandon logic and stop acknowledging reality. This is why Paul told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer that “economic liberty and personal liberty are one and the same and foreign policy that defends America and not police the world [sic] – that’s part of the package as well.”
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Once a reasonable person hears the libertarian message, it is inevitable that they will not only agree, but agree completely and without exception. This is not fanaticism. It is exactly the opposite. It is recognizing the real world for what it truly is and applying logic to those observations. It is the consistent application to separate political issues of one undeniable principle that can only lead to libertarian conclusions. It is actually illogical and fanatical to come to any others.
To be a libertarian, you MUST think. The quick-and-easy lines and phrases from politicians and the media are gobbled up by people on the mainstream Left and Right as true and right, without any analysis or further thought. As a libertarian, you cannot accept anything until you have broken it down, seeking to square it with the consistency that the principles of non-force and non-aggression require…
Who is it really that do not think for themselves?
I also have mentioned in the past few weeks my frustration with the consistency or “principles” of Republicanism/Conservativism today. Do you want a small state or do you want a big military and police force? Do you want the government to stay out of our personal lives and how we raise our kids or do you want intelligent design taught in schools? Do you want freedom or do you want slavery by such programs as Medicare and Social Security? Do you want to abolish the power of the elite over the common man or do you want your politicians to be exempt from the law and morality? Do you want freedom to practice and worship as you will without governmental interference or do you want Muslims to have legally-sanctioned “separate-but-equal” facilities in America?
And so I leave it to you: How can Republicans believe some of these things simultaneously? Where are the lines drawn, if not clearly and consistently? Someone please explain it to me, because for now, the inconsistency seems dishonest…
A final thought before I go: the non-aggression principle is precisely what allows me to square Libertarianism with Catholic morality. We live in a society in which only ends are examined for their moral worth. Unfortunately, a true and just morality requires that the means also be acceptable, or else the action’s end does not matter. We can end foreign terrorism by killing everyone on earth who is not an American, but the means would be unjustified killing. We can give some people access to the wealth of others via redistributive programs, but the means would be theft. These solutions are not acceptable, even though the ends are good in themselves. The constant stop-and-think-about-means mentality that Libertarianism is derived from ensures that the actions we are taking are moral, just, and true. The same cannot be said of perhaps any of the policies of the Republicans or Democrats of today. Therein lies much of the power for me. Morality is necessitated. And there’s that.