I’m not exactly sure why libertarians are hated so much. I hear so many strawman arguments about our position: the position that says that other people are not your property.
Take the photo, for example. “All cats are libertarians. Completely dependent on others but fully convinced of their own independence.” This is a strawman of our position, of course. Libertarians understand that we are all interdependent. No man is an island, so to speak, so we all must work together in the division of labor. The difference between the statist and the libertarian is that latter has no sense of entitlement to the labor of others, whereas the former demands it due to birthright. The “independence” that we desire is freedom from arbitrary rule.
I remember once someone commented in front of me, “libertarians just don’t like being told what to do.” And he said it with such disdain.
Richard Fields is fond of saying, “in the bedroom, everyone is a libertarian.” Who wants a bureaucrat telling them who you can and cannot make love to, and the correct positions and the acceptable and unacceptable sex acts? What business is it of theirs anyway? So long as we are talking about two (or more…!) consenting adults, it is no one else’s business what they do with each other in the privacy of their bedrooms.
Really, I think the disdain for being “told what to do” comes from our distaste for arbitrary authority. Libertarians by and large subscribe to the Non-Aggression Principle (or NAP for short). It is a very simple creed: no one has the right to initiate aggression.
What does it mean to “initiate aggression?” Quite simply it means to use violence against someone who has harmed no one else. So the NAP tells us that aggression in response to unwarranted aggression is perfectly acceptable, e.g. the use of force for self-defense, defense of others, or for defense of property. No other use of aggression is acceptable to a libertarian. It’s like the Wiccan creed: if it harm none, do ye.
If you really analyze your daily behavior, you will likely come to the conclusion that you conduct your life in accordance with the NAP. It is probably unlikely that you use a gun on people in your day to day life. You likely ask people politely to cooperate with you at the office for example, I’m sure that you don’t threaten people with violence if they don’t comply. You respect the property of your neighbor and would never enter her house without consent. You wouldn’t dream of just absconding with your neighbor’s lawnmower without asking first. You keep to your side of the fence, your neighbor keeps to his. When you go to the supermarket, you voluntarily exchange money for products. You don’t walk into the store with a gun and demand service, right? You probably even hold the door open for the person behind you.
The NAP is a set of first principles that peaceful people employ in order to get along and facilitate trade and other institutions of mutual cooperation. So I submit that in your daily life, you indeed are a libertarian.
It’s when we get to issues of politics is when the NAP is violated and people turn on each other in nasty ways. The government is an institution of force, founded on violence against those who disobey. Under every law is a gun, as we say, which really means that agents of the government are literally willing to use deadly force to back up their laws. The libertarians says, “HOLD ON!” to this, “let’s just take a step back shall we, and think about what we are doing here!”
The libertarian says that individual rights come first. We stand up for the smallest minority in the world: the individual. I remember one of my statist friends ranting once about how the individual cannot be trusted. My response was, if the individual cannot be trusted, then who can be trusted? Government officials are individuals–are they made of “finer stuff” than us, to quote Bastiat? If people are bad, how can we expect that only good people will enter into government service and craft laws out of the goodness of their hearts? How can we expect that those laws will only be founded on virtue?
There is a good video on the Youtube where Milton Friedman is a guest on the Phil Donahue show. Phil asks him, “capitalism seems to reward those who game the system, not reward virtue,” and Friedman quipped, “and what society rewards virtue? Are bureaucrats chosen on the basis of virtue? Does the US president choose his cabinet and Supreme Court appointees on the basis of virtue?” Donahue had no answer for him.
As Benjamin Franklin noted, “those who sacrifice essential liberty for security deserve neither.” It’s really hard to “stick to your guns” and hold steadfast to your rights. Individual liberty is the first to go when a crisis comes up–it’s sadly a natural reaction, even though it’s wholly irrational. When a mass shooting happens, guns must go, or we must regulate them harder, or we must ban certain types of weapons, etc.. Yet there is no evidence at all that any of this improves society in any way. It does not reduce violent crime, it does not reduce suicides, it does not make anyone safer. When we see the devastating effects of certain recreational drugs, the natural tenancy is to ban it from store shelves, usually with the attached alarm bell, “just think of the children!!!” Of course there is no evidence at all that drug prohibition stops drug abuse, and lots of evidence that the war on drugs, in fact, makes cities less safe due to the violence of the drug gangs who spring up in the absence of a white market in drugs. When racists, homophobes, misogynists and xenophobes belch out their hate speech, the first instinct is to ban their speech. Even though there is no evidence that violently punishing hate-speakers stops hatred and makes a nicer society.
It makes life difficult for libertarians, who cherish rights above all. Why is this? Because we know first of all that the ends don’t justify the means. We understand that taking rights away through prohibition and regulation is punishing the wrong people. An analogy I often refer to in order to help others understand this position is chewing gun in class. As a child, we public school students were forbidden from chewing gum in class. The rationale I heard was that some students chew gum, then they stick it under their seat, get it in other people’s hair, throw it on the ground, etc.. Rather than investigating who actually did the misdeed, and punishing the people who caused the problems, all students were equally punished through prohibition.
From the teacher’s perspective, this makes life easier for them. They don’t have time to police, investigate nor adjudicate, so a broad, blanket, one-size-fits-all solution is applied. This solves the problem from their point of view. But from the children’s perspective, this is entirely unfair. Those who were responsible about gum chewing, making sure to dispose of their gum in the original wrapper and wastebasket are punished along side the miscreants. Children are no longer given the opportunity to be responsible–they are all shoved into the same big bin, with a neon sign above them flashing, “we cannot be trusted.”
Politicians and bureaucrats take this approach to any problem the public demands they fix. There are miscreants, therefore, for the “greater good,” freedoms must be taken away from everyone. Even though the bad actors of society make up a tiny percentage of the population. And flying in the face of the fact that there is usually very minimal science to back it all up.
The libertarian says, “no!” to the authority figures who maintain that freedoms must be first to go, so that the police have an easier time enforcing the law. We say, that if you wish to solve a problem in society, you have to work within the framework of society, not trounce on top of it in a heavy handed way. The libertarian asks, “is there a way we can solve this with more freedom and not less?” We maintain that all problems are addressable within the framework of strong property, economic and individual rights. That it is a false dichotomy that is presented by the authoritarian that we either solve the problem or keep our rights.
So yes, we don’t like being told what to do. My question for those who accuse libertarians of this: why do you like being told what to do? Why do you want to be indexed, numbered, and treated like a commodity? Why do you want rulers telling you how to live your life?