The libertarian tradition has been slowly but steadily growing in the United States since the 1970s. From Rothbard to Gary Johnson and from Ron Paul to John McAfee, the movement has been kept alive. Yet obviously, the libertarian social order doesn’t yet exist. The theoretical foundation is already here. Libertarians know what they want broadly speaking. The pragmatics of libertarianism, though, are in their infantile stage. Chomsky seems to think this is because libertarians believe in a senseless utopia.
Megan Waardenburg from the Realist Review inspired me to create a foreign policy list for classical liberals and libertarians. Finding books on international relations and foreign policy can be challenging for noninterventionists. While there are libertarian works on foreign policy, those books are written by economists or journalists. Although those books are not bad, from an international relations perspective, there appears to be an underappreciation of anarchy and the realpolitik that underly the international order.
Here are some books I recommend for noninterventionists to further enhance anti-war/nonintervention arguments to challenge the idea of global leadership.
Many know Aldous Huxley for his dystopian vision in Brave New World. Others know him from his legendary passage through the lesser known parts of consciousness in Doors of Perception. Without a doubt, Huxley is one of the most influential British writers of the 20th century. His ideas often err on the side of freedom in every form. He stands strongly with free information, free consciousness, and free decision making. Yet, amidst all of his avid support of freedom, could we classify Huxley’s politics as libertarian?
Jack Parkos | United States
When people think of libertarians, they often tend to think “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” or “a Republican who likes weed”. However, neither of these statements are fully true. The libertarian philosophy actually goes very deep; in fact, there are several factions of different libertarian schools of thought. The libertarian ideology is far more intellectually diverse than American conservatives and liberals. Below are some of the different major schools of libertarian thought. Though many more exist, these seven best capture the wide array of beliefs.
Classical liberalism is one of the earliest schools of libertarian thought. Originating in the philosophy of John Locke, classical liberalism holds that all men are born with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property and that the sole purpose of government is to protect those rights. The Declaration of Independence is an echo of classical liberal thought, as many of America’s Founding Father’s were classical liberals. Generally, they place emphasis on natural law, republicanism, and skepticism; many classical liberals are firm believers in the U.S. Constitution.
Key classical liberal figures include:
- John Locke
- Thomas Paine
- Many of America’s Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington
Anarcho-capitalists base their philosophy on the moral principle called the “Non-aggression Principle” (NAP). The basis of the NAP is that people do not have the right to initiate force against others. On the contrary, the only acceptable use of force is in self-defense. They also believe that the mere existence of the state violates the NAP, as it acquires all its income through coercive means (taxation). Thus, they believe that no government should exist. Instead, they believe that voluntary communities and private entities should fill the government’s role.
Key anarcho-capitalist figures include:
- Murray Rothbard
- Hans Hermann Hoppe
- David Friedman
Minarchism basically falls in between anarcho-capitalism and classical liberalism. It holds many similar beliefs to anarcho-capitalism but criticizes the idea of a lack of government. Minarchists believe that the free market can cover almost all government programs. However, they maintain that a minimalist government is necessary for the protection of rights. Minarchists typically believe, with some variation, that government should be limited to a “Night-watchman State” consisting of police, military, and courts. Robert Nozick, author of “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” argued that out of anarcho-capitalism, minarchism would naturally arise, as monopolized private police and courts would form a “state” of sorts.
Key minarchists include:
- Robert Nozick
- Friedrich Hayek
- Ludvig Von Mises
Objectivism is a philosophy that author Ayn Rand outlines in her books “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”. To begin with, objectivism is an extreme Laissez-faire capitalist belief with huge emphasis on individualism. Rand believed that man was best off serving his own self interest and should not need to help out the needy. In addition, it describes the pursuit of one’s own happiness as life’s most important goal. Accordingly, she, like many objectivists, rejected selflessness and altruism as an inefficient direction of resources.
Key figures in the Objectivist movement include:
- Ayn Rand
- Leonard Peikoff
Bleeding Heart Libertarianism
Bleeding Heart Libertarians can be considered more “moderate” libertarians. In some cases, they are associated with the libertarian left. The official site for bleeding heart libertarians says they believe in “free markets and social justice“. Bleeding Heart Libertarians tend to believe in social equality and egalitarianism. They often still believe in social safety nets and a welfare state, and fall on the progressive side on social issues.
Arguably, the most famous bleeding heart libertarian is Gary Johnson. Much of the moderate side of the Libertarian Party also falls under this category.
Libertarian socialism is a form of left libertarianism. Typically, it is a form of Marxist theory that believes in social liberties and limited to no government. However, they also support a voluntary sharing of resources in a communal way. They also tend to oppose the power of strong corporations and hierarchies. Libertarian socialists often believe capitalism to be a tyrannical force and compare the “economic” elite to the state. As a result, they believe in ending authoritarianism and bringing in systems of direct democracy (sometimes unanimous) that distribute wealth more evenly.
This mode of thought draws much criticism from most other branches of libertarianism. Conversely, many libertarian socialists firmly believe themselves to be the only true libertarians. This partly dates back to the origin of anarchism and libertarianism in 19th-century Europe as a term to describe the left.
Key libertarian socialists include:
- Emma Goldman
- Peter Kropotkin
- Noam Chomsky
Paleolibertarians believe that while the state should be limited or abolished, society should still hold culturally conservative views. Paleolibertarians are thus very supportive of Western and American culture and are concerned about threats to it.
The paleolibertarian movement began in the 1990’s as a coalition of paleolibertarians and paleoconservatives that Rothbard (above) and paleoconservative presidential candidate Pat Buchanan formed. Basically, the goal was to stop interventionism, globalism, and social democracy.
Paleolibertarians usually oppose mass immigration and foreign wars. Many more radical paleolibertarians may consider themselves “Hoppeans”, following the anarcho-capitalist philosophy of Hans Hermann Hoppe.
Key paleolibertarians include:
- Murray Rothbard
- Lew Rockwell
- Hans Hermann Hoppe
- Ron Paul
- Tom Woods
The movement, of course, is even more diverse than this. Countless versions of libertarian thought exist within it, and it would take ages to explain them all. Without a doubt, the area of thought is rich with diversity and variation. No two libertarians are alike, but all have one thing in common: a desire to live free.
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By Ryan Lau | @agorisms
Since the founding of America, countless individuals have used the doctrine of classical liberalism to define the American way. More often than not, this leans towards ideas such as limited government and a protection of natural rights. After all, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is one of the most well-known phrases in the Declaration of Independence.
Since 1776, politicians have uttered the words as a call to action for the people. After all, the protection of these three critical rights is what sets the United States apart from the rest of the world, right? In the modern day, the usage has shifted slightly: more advocates of limited government use the phrase as a rallying cry, hoping to return to an age of freer markets and freer people. However, everything about the expression is simply a lie. The very idea of a government that naturally limits itself to these basic functions is simply impossible.
Negative Rights vs Positive Rights
First and foremost, what sets limited government and classical liberalism apart from other modes of government is a belief in negative rights. Basically, this means that the people only have protection against other people harming them. The right to life does not mean that a sick person can demand free medicine. Instead, it merely means that someone else cannot kill him against his will.
The same idea follows for liberty and property. An individual may act freely, as long as his actions do not prevent another person from also acting freely. Driving over the speed limit, for example, is an act of liberty. But, as soon as that driver hits another car, he has damaged the other person’s property. If he inflicts injury or death, he also has, of course, taken away that person’s negative right to life and liberty. To summarize, the idea of negative rights suggests that individuals have rights to their lives, liberties, and property, but only insofar as that right does not prevent another from also owning their own lives, liberties, and property. To each his own.
Positive rights, on the other hand, require the use of force against another person to bring about. So, a positive right to life would create an obligation for others to defend the life of an individual. If someone was sick, for example, he would, under a positive protection of life, be entitled to any medicine that may aid or cure him. In terms of property, a person may be entitled to a house, even if it means someone else must buy and build it.
The Classical Liberal Viewpoint
Of course, the classical liberal viewpoint is one that rejects positive rights. A number of practical reasons exist for such a dismissal. In the event of life, for example, let us imagine that same sick patient. A doctor may be able to find a cure if he labors for a thousand hours and abandons all other work. However, this doctor is also a mother. By fulfilling the positive right to her patient’s life, she may not be able to fulfill her duties as a mother. Moreover, she may have multiple patients with different needs, each requiring full attention. She cannot feasibly fulfill her obligation to every person involved, but cannot realistically be at fault. So, the classical liberal argues, there is an obligation to protect rights negatively, but not positively, as such creates unjust duress on the individuals doing the protecting.
The Fallacy of Negative Rights
Clearly, a government cannot adequately or justifiably protect positive rights. In reality, though, the same is true about negative rights, too, especially in a democracy. What breaks the soundness of the argument? Two things: taxation and voting.
On a surface level, a government can claim to only protect negative rights. Specifically, what comes to mind is the minimalist state. As many limited government advocates have outlined, such a government would only control the police, military, and courts. Yet, it appears that this notion cannot come true without taking from others. All of these organizations require the tax dollar, and this, of course, comes from the people, who may or may not have consented to give up a portion of their income. Regardless, the second that the government forces the money from the people, it becomes a positive right. Thus, a limited government cannot truly protect only negative rights: taxation turns this on its head.
A Vote for Change?
In a functioning democracy or republic, many citizens vote, either for laws or representatives. Yet, it is clear that the vote itself is also an example of a positive right. When a citizen votes in an election, he or she is exercising power, albeit small, over the electorate in order to influence political affairs. In other words, they are telling the government to use its force over other people.
Negative rights do not change. They always include, exclusively, the right to life, liberty, and property. So, if a society was to truly protect only these rights, there would be no need for a figurehead. After all, if nothing is to change, why should someone have the power to make changes? If a society ever was to only guard negative rights, any change in policy or executive order must necessarily be a violation of these rights. The only things a government could justifiably do is determine the salaries of its troops and judges, and carry out other business matters.
Theoretically, we could vote on these matters. But, as long as taxation was the end result to obtain them, the majority is still inflicting its will on the minority. If one person does not consent to the collection, then it becomes unjust. Alternatively, the collection of funds could be entirely voluntary, through donations. But, at this point, it is no longer a state, as it is neither coercive nor compulsory.
A Logical Impossibility
Thus, the notions of classical liberalism and limited government appear to be at odds with the principles they claim to safeguard. The logic works in a bit of a circle. In order to protect these rights, the limited government must become no government at all. But, by becoming no government at all, it no longer has the power to safeguard these negative rights.
Therefore, a government cannot both exist and solely protect negative rights. Every action is ultimately some form of force, whether it comes from voting or taxation. Even in the early days of the United States, citizens voted on which figures could use power over others. Eventually, these figures levied higher and higher taxes, increasing the coercion. The world’s great thought experiment has failed, and it is clear that a government cannot exist to guard negative rights. Only through the absence of government can a society exist without widespread force.
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