The Evolution of Libertarianism

This Facebook status from a favorite historian of mine, Robert Higgs, inspired my political musing:

Suppose I said, murder is wrong and I advocate that people stop committing murder or supporting those who do commit it. Now, sure enough, along comes someone to tell me how utopian and impractical I am, pointing out that historically murder has always been committed everywhere that humans have lived together. Clearly murder has demonstrated its social superiority as a form of social behavior. Murder has revealed itself as the “fittest” sort of behavior in the evolutionary shakeout.

Do you accept this argument about murder? If not, why do you accept it when we substitute “the state or a similar ruling organization” for “murder”?

Why I support anarchy is really an utterly simply matter: I’m opposed to genuine crime. The state is a criminal organization, and I therefore oppose it. Telling me that states have always existed or that nonstate alternatives would not be viable in competition with states does not dissuade me one bit. I’m still opposed to criminal actions — you know, theft, extortion, murder, kidnapping, and all the other criminal actions the state takes to sustain itself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’ve identified with libertarianism since I got into politics at age 17 and I haven’t wavered on that position. I’m not sure why I had a propensity toward libertarianism and the ideals expressed; I’m not sure what happened or influenced me growing up to have that propensity, but once I stepped into politics, I went to libertarianism.

However, I’ve known ever since I discovered libertarianism its inherent contradiction as a political philosophy. Consider what the libertarian says: We think the government is inherently bad and the market is better able to handle X, Y and Z. But we’re not for disbanding the government. We just want to limit it to its so-called essential functions, the reasons why it exists (mostly per the U.S. Constitution): provide for the defense, provide courts and that’s about it. Does that contradiction not seem apparent? Let me spell it out, then. If the market on principle is better able to do X, Y and Z than the government, then why is the market on principle not also able to provide for the defense and the courts, thus eliminating altogether the “necessary evil” of the government?

Even beyond such an inherent contradiction in the philosophy, consider that the most egregious examples of state abuse are often concentrated in those areas deemed a “necessary evil” by libertarians. The government is perpetually starting war and using that war as an excuse to erode civil liberties at home, spy on all Americans and so on. Not to say anything about killing untold numbers of innocent civilians overseas, which then also, ironically, puts us in danger. As for the courts, looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the U.S. justice system is seriously fucked up. The use of the death penalty, the number of people locked up that are mentally ill, the number of people locked up for nonviolent crimes, the use of solitary confinement, the racial disparity, the over-reliance upon faulty crime labs, the problems involved in the police (which are too numerous to even briefly mention) and so on.

Again, where does the libertarian derive the legitimacy for the government to monopolize defense and courts? So, pertaining to Mr. Higgs’ status, is not the necessary logical and intellectual evolution of the libertarian — the end-game, if you will — anarchism? And again, to that, I think the onus is on the people that believe in the legitimacy of the government to prove why it ought to be considered legitimate in the face of all that it does. I’ve only touched upon those areas libertarians actually think are legitimate, much less the areas beyond that scope.

I oppose the legitimacy of the state in the purest of my ideological manifestation because as an apparatus, I think it does far more harm to individuals than makes it worth keeping around. If we were starting a society from scratch, the very notion of the government seems absurd merely on the face of it: Oh, okay, we’ll give you all the power of the law, the guns to back up the power of that law and here, have some money to fund it all.


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