James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Libertarian Brand

I tend to avoid debates about "libertarianism." I tend, in that debate, to be a "minarchist" - a believer in limited government - instead of an "anarchist" - one who supports no government at all. There are three reasons for this:

1. I define the State as an organization with de facto control of individuals through the monopolization of land.
2. Where you have the monopolization of land, there you have it: a State. Any "anarcho-capitalist" society in which the private ownership of land is absolute, isn't anarchy so much as it is that those landowners have formed states unto themselves.
3. The monopolization of land is inevitable and a reality, and therefore States are inevitable.

The question thus becomes, what to do about it? It is for this reason that I've become more of a pragmatist rather than an open-border idealist on immigration, and an advocate of a property tax shift to taxing land values (rent) rather than taxing the man-made improvements. These concessions to The State probably discredit me in the eyes of some. Much of my ideology and most of my policy proposals can be described as "libertarian," but that's not the same as promoting a philosophy of "libertarianism." Further, even among libertarians there are numerous disagreements on how to implement change, and I'm reluctant to call a self-described libertarian a fraud just because I don't agree with his position on, say, the flat tax.

I do, however, believe in some protection of the "libertarian" brand. I'm not a Baptist, but I know that a person can't believe in baptizing infants and still be called a Baptist. I would be greatly disturbed if Baptist churches initiated that practice. The change itself may be fine, but they should stop calling themselves Baptist.

What prompts this is some material on e-mail lists I subscribe to. One of these lists, the Libertarian Republican list, has plently of imposters calling themselves "libertarian," and one of these imposters also infects another libertarian list I'm on. Not only is he a promoter of the War on Iraq, Bush's crackdown of civil liberties, and torture, now he's also defending Austria's jailing of the Holocaust denier David Irving. He calls Holocaust denial a form of "fraud," thus crouching his support for censorship in language he thinks may be acceptable to libertarians. What he doesn't understand is that libertarians support outlawing fraud only, and up to the extent, that it violates individual rights - particularly, because fraud is theft. Merely repeating historical untruths isn't fraud, and censoring speech just because of the possible social harm it may cause is not justified. Once Holocaust denial is outlawed, censorship of discussion of, say, the JFK assassination or 9-11 is likely to follow. The power to suppress falsehood is the power to suppress the truth.

But the point here is, supporting censorship is one thing, but supporting censorship and calling yourself a libertarian at the same time really ticks me off. I tend to, and want to be, fairly broad in my definition of "libertarianism." But I can think of four - there may be more, but at least four - issues in which agreement does not necessarily mean one is a libertarian, but where disagreement definitely disqualifies one from using the appellation:

1. A non-inverventionist foreign policy.
2. Against censorship.
3. Against gun control
4. Against the War on Drugs.

Too many self-described libertarians agree with 3 and 4 and probably also 2 (except for the imposter I wrote about above), and therefore think they are libertarians, but support the War on Iraq. To some extent they may be forgiven - perhaps they just never really understood what libertarianism actually is. Nevertheless, they are not libertarians. Again, I'm not invalidating their opinions, just the designation of their opinions as "libertarian." One can not disagree with any of the four points above and be a libertarian.

Again, I'm not a libertarian purist myself, and that's why I stay away from debates over libertarian doctrine. But even were I a communist, I would still expect the word "libertarian" to mean something. Pro-war, pro-Bush "libertarians" are imposters. If they can rightfully be called libertarian, then the word has no meaning at all.

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