As libertarians, we’re used to a sort of goofy sectional squabbling between self-styled "purists" and "realists," which often manifests itself as an argument about whether to pursue attainable changes now, or to deride that as "selling out" and remain focused on the long-run goal. Murray Rothbard pretty much had this one dead to rights years ago: the libertarian can, in good conscience, support anything that advances the libertarian cause without deviating even one iota from libertarian principle. So it’s fine for libertarians to go to bat for tax cuts or regulatory relief, so long as they aren’t packaged with something evil also.
So there’s lovely. That’s not really what we’re here to talk about today. I’m here to consider whether or not libertarian involvement in politics has been a fool’s game from the get-go; whether or not it’s all been a massive redirection of energy into a solidly negative direction. To put it as provocatively as possible: was Ron Paul a net negative for the liberty movement?
Bumbling Bees was dark all last week due to technical difficulties. Our apologies! Now to get back to business, and business is weird!
The one good thing about Hillary Clinton
She’s old and infirm, and, seventeen years after her humiliating electoral defeat, it is highly unlikely that she’ll still be haunting around trying to destroy human civilization for fun and profit. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Al Gore, whose pet foundation, the Energy Transitions Commission, is hard at work attempting to end energy generation for the sake of global fairness and also oh didn’t you see that picture of the polar bears on the ice floe??
In particular, the group has released a report outlining its plan to save the world from the dread existential terror of possibly being very slightly warmer than it is now, while at the same time also battling global inequality and presumably paying off your student loans too. It’s going to take a bit to build toward the punch line on this one, but it’s worth it.
Contra Reason’s Nick Gillespie, the best thing that happened for the liberty movement in 2016 — indeed, arguably the only good thing in what was otherwise a catastrophic year — was the sudden explosion in popularity of the wonderful libertarian mantra "taxation is theft." In addition to being absolutely true and correct, this is also a powerful slogan that portrays libertarianism at its best, as a philosophy that does not waver and does not compromise with evil for political expediency.
So, naturally, there are libertarishes who hate it.
By fire be purged
There are just so many things we take for granted that we really should remember to thank the government for. After all, without the government, who would build the roads? Without the government, who would remove the snow from the government roads? Without the government, who would put out fires? Without the government, who would block the road when a government snowplow catches fire outside the fire station, and the fire department isn’t equipped to deal with it?
In the climactic scene of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a dying Spock explains to Captain Kirk why he sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise. "The needs of the many," he famously quips, "outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one." Many libertarians hate that scene. Spock, you commie! Don’t you know that interpersonal utility comparisons are impossible? You’re from the future! This, I think, displays a fundamental confusion; Spock is not making an interpersonal utility comparison. Spock is dealing entirely with his own value scale. He is saying that, to him, the lives of his friends and crewmates are more important than his own. As such, he is not behaving "governmentally" at all; it becomes a noble act, not a tyrannical one.
The distinction, of course, is one of ownership. Spock is (at least presumably) a self-owner, who can elect to use or dispose of himself in any way he sees fit. For him to sacrifice himself in this manner is not in any way a violation of anyone’s rights. In contrast, we would view the same scene as monstrous if Spock were to order Chekhov to make the sacrifice instead — well, okay, maybe not if it were Chekhov, but like Scotty or McCoy or somebody we care about. You get it. But what’s the difference, really? In both cases, one man dies, and everybody else lives. Why is one noble and the other vile?
One of the foundational questions libertarians need to have a response to is the ever-popular "who will build the roads?" The question has a sort of superficial plausibility to it; most of the roads we see in our daily lives, after all, were built by, and are allegedly maintained by, some government or other. There is, however, no substance to the idea; the best and most concise explanation of how absurd this question is was given by Tom Woods, who said:
"Who will build the roads?" is the question that belongs at the top of every libertarian drinking game. If we didn’t have forced labor, the argument runs, there would be no roads. There’d be a Sears store over there, and your house over here, and everyone involved would just be standing there scratching their heads.
Clearly roads are a socially desirable good, and, given that it’s rather a challenge for people to get to work or go shopping — which is to say: produce or consume — without them, there’s quite an obvious and powerful incentive to build them. It should go without saying that, even in the absence of coercion, roads would get built. As to the specific question of who would build them, here it’s important for libertarians to be cautious; there’s a natural tendency to push the argument too far and attempt to outline some scheme by which we imagine the roads could be built, but, in reality, the most a libertarian can say in response to "who would build the roads if not the government" is "somebody else."
Dr. Walter Block made waves recently with his claim that stop-and-frisk policing is compatible with libertarianism. On the surface, the claim seems entirely lunatic; surely Judge Napolitano is correct when he labels it the act of "an authoritarian police state." One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is that, while one may not always agree with Dr. Block, it is always and everywhere a mistake to disregard him. If Dr. Block thinks a thing, it should be regarded as a position reasonable people may hold, and this is no exception. So we can stipulate that it’s reasonable, but is it correct?
First, we should dispense with the case of private police. If the police are entirely private, operating on private property, then there is clearly no libertarian case to be made against stop-and-frisk. If it is my property, I can set whatever conditions I desire on its occupancy, and that includes submission to random pat-downs. If you don’t wish to submit to my stop-and-frisky police, then your solution is simple: leave (or do not enter) my property. Is this "authoritarian?" Perhaps, but it should be noted that a proper libertarian society would permit such pockets of authoritarianism as long as the authoritarians restrict themselves to being authoritarian over their own property.
That aside, we turn to the more difficult question: can a libertarian support a stop-and-frisk policy among government police in a non-libertarian world? It seems difficult to see how, but Dr. Block provides the following argument, after "stipulating that the purpose is not to stop victimless crimes like drug selling, but, rather, crimes with victims such as rape, murder, theft, etc.:"
This morning, I opened my inbox to find a press release from the Libertarian Party bearing the headline "Libertarian Party Calls for an End to All Violence." This was promising; an end to all violence is more or less exactly what libertarianism seeks, founded as it is upon the rock of the non-aggression principle. The LP, however, has been at best an inconsistent advocate against violence throughout the years, and, indeed, this particular press release turns out to be entirely about killings of and by police officers, and addresses nothing else whatsoever; certainly a more limited scope than one could expect from a call "for an end to all violence."
The killing needs to stop. All of it. None of these shootings were justified — not the shootings by the police, not the shootings of the police. The Libertarian Party denounces all killing.
That’s not a bad start. Surely, though, it can’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that the LP should consider mentioning the endless wars somewhere in its denunciation of all killing, no? Perhaps the issue here is that the LP’s own presidential ticket doesn’t call for ending the wars, preferring instead the weak-kneed and noncommittal stance of "mov[ing] quickly and decisively to refocus U.S. efforts and resources to attack the real threats we face in a strategic, thoughtful way." Apparently, the Libertarian Party only denounces all killing unless it’s sufficiently "thoughtful."