Lysander Spooner

Libertarian purity is the stuff of legends. It’s right up there with phoenix tears and virgin blood as far as mythological alchemists are concerned. As part of the purification ritual of ‘true’ libertarianism, the acolytes must not shower for over a year. The justification being that tap water is under the control of the government monopoly. This grave infraction is punishable by having to sew a large red “S” into your clothing. “S” is for Statist.

While I have never been in the presence of a ‘true’ libertarian, this is often the charge leveled against those of us that don’t wish to live as hermits or have no affinity for sea travel. They attempt to use our principles as a cudgel to ridicule our perspective. Along with all the other ‘great’ arguments against Peace, Prosperity and Freedom (read, Roads, Hitler, 9/11, Somalia, China, lack of LP candidates in office, etc.) often these arguments are rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of our position or more likely an attempt to discredit and ridicule libertarians into silence.

By reframing the context of our principles, our political opponents take what is our most potent philosophic weapon and turn it on us. Because who wants to have a genuine debate of the issues when we can mudsling and name call? Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this tactic is not connected to solid reasoning, data points, historic facts or logic, but is instead aligned with humor and a subversive wit. A deadly combination. As such, discrediting it with an overabundance of logic will likely not suffice on its own. We have to meet fire with fire on the intellectual battle field and that means we have to step up our game.

Before jumping into the counter-examples I’ve heard used to combat allegations of ‘impure’ libertarianism, l first want to share a thought that I think can be overlooked with regard to this particular argument against our philosophy. Namely, that the distribution of government services is intended to squelch dissenting opinions about the government’s actions and that by simply trying to participate in society every man, women and child has been deliberately undermined to this end. (This has smacks of the social contract all over it)

Take for example the fact that every child born in America today owes tens of thousands of dollars towards our national debt and when they attend school the State of Minnesota will end up forking over $10k/year to ‘educate’ them. Or consider the massive bailouts given to the largest corporate institutions (and closure of those not as politically adept) just as a reminder to everyone at the company that risky loans/bad investments are not a problem as long as your rich uncle is still around. Or the tremendously inefficient and disingenuous Social Security programs which rob the poor of their savings and contributes to the generational poverty cycle. This is hush money plain and simple, but you are not complicit and debating the percentage of use on some imagined heuristic is tacky and a waste of time.

Now to counter the ghastly claim that libertarianism is an incoherent-hypocritical position because all its members use ____(Insert Government Service)____. To start let’s do a quick thought experiment to highlight the absurdity that outlines this type of argumentation.

Let’s suppose for a minute that your front lawn needed mowing this weekend and I took it upon myself to mow it. We had no prior discussion about it… You’re welcome. Now I’m a busy guy and I did a good job, so clearly I should be compensated. How does $10,000 sound? Obviously no one in their right mind would pay this huge sum, nor should they. But, this the is manner in which government functions. It provides a bunch of services and then seeks payment after the fact, with a steep upcharge. (A big thanks to Carl Watner of the Voluntaryist for this example)

This is a deeply flawed concept known as tacit consent or in everyday terms, “implied agreement,” and you don’t even have to be present (or born for that matter) to be implicated. This makes it ludicrous on its face. Society could not function if tacit consent was a real thing. Every thief caught in the act, would simply claim he had “purchased” the item for $0. “No receipt of sale or contract needed, I’ve got tacit consent (queue wink).” Even the Constitution had to be written and ratified, BEFORE it became the law. (Lysander Spooner say what!?!)

Social change is impossible if substantive criticism could only be leveled by ‘pure’ members of our society. As such, I like to remind people who try and pull the government services card on me, that even American folk heroines like Rosa Parks used the institutions of oppression. That is the nature of civil disobedience and organizing for social change. The fact that Ms. Parks used a segregated bus prior to her disobedience, in NO way makes her complicit in the illegitimate practice of the segregation.

If the arguer at the point has not conceded the point, I lay out my last card. If he/she has ever benefited by doing an odd job for a neighbor or selling something on Craigslist or having work done in your house without the proper permit/inspection, they have rejected the efficacy of government services. Regardless of the manner of compensation, be it for in-kind goods or cash, they have demonstrated both a personal preference for a reduction in governmental authority, but have also grown the non-governmental market by their actions.

If government services are so great and such a boon to society than why are you skirting them with such fervor?

At this point they can either concede that not only are you free to drive on the roads (un-accosted by their nonsense) or you can let them squirm away by saying they think this particular service is unnecessary. Hey a small victory is better than nothing.

Tylor Slinger

LPMN Member