Libertarianism, by definition, is the holding of liberty as your highest political value. It espouses that human beings deserve an absence of restraint and servitude from anyone, or anything. Despite this very simple premise, it is willfully misunderstood time and again because most contemporary Americans are, in fact, scared to death of being totally and absolutely responsible for their actions would they have to live in actual freedom.
As can be expected from the book’s subtitle, an examination into what exactly constitutes principled libertarianism becomes warranted. The author introduces the philosophical concepts of nonaggression and self-ownership, defined by him as:
“The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else…[t]he right to self-ownership asserts the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being to ‘own’ his or her own body; that is, to control that body free of coercive interference.”
Alternatively called the Non-Aggression Principle (or more accurately, the Non-Coercion Principle), this philosophical axiom forms the moral basis for the libertarian notion of laissez-faire (the live and let live) attitude. The entire way of life that shouts “HANDS OFF!!!” from the rooftops, is firmly rooted in this key idea. An appreciation for self-determination naturally follows, for without any sort of coercively imposed “plan,” the individual is at liberty to explore the marketplace of values, for without the liberty to be occasionally foolish, there can be no incentives from which to learn and to grow. Coupled with this thought, is the complete respect for private property, as it is fundamentally the product of an individual’s labor, not the sole prerogative of corporations, governments, or any other kind of despotic collective.
Rothbard asserts that the Non-Coercion Principle and the Self-Ownership Axiom form the foundation for philosophical libertarianism, which in turn can be used to judge the current situation we are all suffering under. He postulates that:
“These two axioms, the right of self-ownership and the right to ‘homestead,’ establish the complete set of principles of the libertarian system. The entire libertarian doctrine then becomes the spinning out and the application of all the implications of this central doctrine.”
So, what are the problems? According to Rothbard, they can be listed briefly as:
- High taxes
- Urban fiscal crisis
- Vietnam and other foreign interventions
- Crime in the streets
- Traffic congestion
- The military-industrial complex
- River pollution
- Water shortages
- Air pollution
- Power shortages and blackouts
- Telephone service
- Postal service
- Welfare system
- Urban housing
- Union strikes and restrictions
- Inflation and stagflation
Oh, I guess I should have mentioned earlier this book was written back in 1973, huh? Despite the dated nature of the problems he lists (such as the Vietnam War and Watergate), several of those problems still exist, and have considerably worsened, besides brand new ones added onto the list. Most of the rest of Rothbard’s manifesto is simple a bitch fest about military conscription, wiretapping, censorship, forced government indoctrination, the warfare–welfare state, the monopolization of roads, central banking, corporate subsidies, the monopolization of security and arbitration services, and the licensure of just about any damn human behavior that our enemy, the State, intrinsically despises.
What is a principled libertarian to do about such a house of horrors? Rothbard advises:
“On one point there can scarcely be disagreement: a prime and necessary condition for libertarian victory (or, indeed, for victory for any social movement, from Buddhism to vegetarianism) is education: the persuasion and conversion of large numbers of people to the cause. Education, in turn, has two vital aspects: calling people’s attention to the existence of such a system, and converting people to the libertarian system…[l]ibertarians must, therefore, engage in hard thinking and scholarship, put forth theoretical and systematic books, articles, and journals, and engage in conferences and seminars.”
There you go…Rothbard’s “grand solution” is more proselytizing about the “good faith,” which of course would best be accomplished by the hijacked alternative media that is being strangled to death by the Carousel of Carnivores (to be fair, there was no Carousel or even much of an alternative media back in the 1970s, since there was no easily available Internet, but my point here is that Rothbard’s advice on this point would be counterproductive if performed today, which unfortunately seems to be the current situation). Unfortunately, everything else Rothbard suggests be done to solve those various single issue items are inherently reformist (in much the same way Henry Hazlitt suggested how to stop the welfare state), whether it be decriminalizing narcotics or reinstituting the gold standard. It takes all the power away from the individual to remedy his situation and gives it to the State, particularly that organ of it known officially as the US Congress.
Okay, but what about what Rothbard didn’t say? Well, for someone who was referred to as “Mr. Libertarian” during his lifetime, he was an awfully vocal champion for the validity of popular electoral voting. As a major figure within the Libertarian Party (LP), Rothbard openly advocated the strategy of “gradually withering away the State” (much like how the old-school classical socialists wanted to do); this would seem to contradict Henry Thoreau’s sentiment that, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
In an interview with the New Banner Institute on February 25th of 1972, Rothbard demonized anyone who criticized voting, and he used Lysander Spooner’s position on defensive voting to justify the morality of suffrage (out of respect for Spooner, and considering that not only do I hold that voting does not work in a utilitarian sense but that it is also immoral, I will save examination into Spoon’s position for when I review No Treason); Rothbard also reveals in that same interview that:
“I really don’t care about whether people vote or not. To me the important thing is, who do you support? Who do you hope will win the election? You can be a non-voter and say ‘I don’t want to sanction the state’ and not vote, but on election night who do you hope the rest of the voters, the rest of the suckers out there who are voting, who do you hope they’ll elect? So, I see no reason why we shouldn’t endorse, or support, or attack one candidate more than the other candidate. I really don’t agree at all with the non-voting position in that sense, because the non-voter is not only saying we shouldn’t vote: he is also saying that we shouldn’t endorse anybody. I don’t see how anybody could fail to have a preference, because it will affect all of us.”
Ah, there you have it! After slogging through this 400 page manifesto and its reformist proposals, all that Mr. Libertarian can offer me and you (besides his need for more libertarian propaganda) is voting! How absolutely pathetic, his attempt to make me and you psychologically identify with the State, as if you and I were suffering from a kind of schizophrenic Stockholm syndrome. This is how American political dissidents are to secure their Liberty, by begging the State to “please be nicer to us?” This from the man who wrote Anatomy of the State, which improved upon Albert Nock’s Our Enemy, the State in its ability to precisely describe the parasitical and genocidal nature of statism itself? As per the apropos title of an article by Wendy McElroy, Anarchists Who Vote Are Like Atheists Who Pray, I can only hope that the next “Mr. Libertarian” would be a competent strategist and pragmatic tactician for the cause of liberty, instead of a blowhard theorist whose post-mortem popularity is only sustained by his written literature and deluded fan base.
Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto provides a decent analysis of political problems, as approached from a libertarian perspective (the chapter on education was a whole lot shorter and much more accurate than Dumbing Us Down, especially considering Rothbard was more consistent than John Gatto in that nothing less that a total separation of school and state is going to solve the problem of forced government indoctrination, as opposed to Gatto who wanted to play it both ways). Unfortunately, Rothbard’s manifesto is more on par with The Left, the Right, and the State in terms of its utility for securing our Liberties. Might I suggest The Probability Broach as a better alternative that at least provides you with an entertaining “whodunit” story set against the backdrop of an anarcho-capitalist utopia which exists in an alternate timeline?