I’m not one to shy away from political discourse. I have no problem with people who make rational arguments or attack the merits of a political policy. We can even disagree amicably on entire political philosophies. However, there are just certain arguments that keep coming up time and again within the libertarian community and elsewhere, which really ought to die a quick and painful death. Such as …
- You’re Not a Real Libertarian
Libertarians are people first and foremost; and, as with anything else, people have a diverse and nuanced range of perspectives, and different practical implementations of their ideas. The main thread that ties us all together is a general love of liberty and reduction of State power. We believe in the primacy of the individual before the primacy of the group.
Unfortunately, our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. In valuing individuality, we become fragmented and have a hard time uniting in common purpose against our real enemies: collectivists. Often, it feels like we spend as much time fighting amongst ourselves as we do against Big Brother. So it should come as no surprise that our cause is not as far advanced as we would like it to be.
Different sects of libertarianism arise, from the Big-L Libertarians who are basically Republicans, to small-l libertarians and minarchists (like yours truly), to voluntaryists like Ron Paul, to anarcho-capitalists, to the … rather confused libertarian-socialists and anarcho-communists.
Ok, this isn’t helping.
Point is, we should focus more on the things that unite us and help us achieve political victories instead of fighting amongst ourselves. So when people like Adam Kokesh make a claim that some of the gurus within the libertarian community aren’t really libertarians because they back particular candidates or just use the political process at all, we can confidently say they don’t know what they’re talking about and are in fact doing more harm than good.
I guess this is Adam Kokesh’s way of confessing he’s not really a libertarian either?
Of course, we understand this is a no true Scotsman fallacy. There are a lot of different ideas about what libertarianism is, and no one group necessarily has a monopoly on what that something is.
A quick look at Wikipedia produces this definition of libertarian:
“Libertarianism is a collection of political philosophies that uphold liberty. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association, and the primacy of individual judgment. Libertarianism has been applied as an umbrella term to a wide range of political ideas through modern history.
Libertarians generally share a skepticism of authority; however, they diverge on the scope of their opposition to existing political and economic systems. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling to restrict or to dissolve coercive social institutions.”
Now, the purists among us claim that a stateless society is maximum freedom. They say things like, “The smaller the government starts out, the larger it grows in the end,” pointing to how the U.S. had arguably the smallest government in history at its inception and one of the largest empires today. Of course, if their logic were sound, wouldn’t that mean a stateless society would inevitably result in global totalitarianism?
It’s ok. Take as much time as you need to process that one.
Funny enough, it’s mostly the anarchists and voluntaryists I see making this no true Scotsman fallacy, and not so much the minarchists and Libertarians. The latter tend to be less alienating as they focus more on policies than ideologies. To them, there are no bad tactics, only bad outcomes. This was ultimately Kokesh’s reasoning in having an “anarchist POTUS” is that the ends justify the means; and it’s the same line of reasoning Tom Woods used in his counterargument to Lysander Spooner when he said that voting could be moral if viewed as a form of self-defense under a coercive system.
While we’re on the subject of voting, most libertarians of all stripes do tend to make another bad argument when they say things like …
- I’m Not Throwing My Vote Away
Sorry to break it to you, but you are. You really, really are. At least, if you’re planning on voting third party and care at all about, oh I don’t know, actually winning.
If there’s one thing The Matrix: Reloaded taught us, it’s that denial is the most predictable of all human responses.
In a previous article, I briefly mentioned the voting system known as first past the post – the one we presently use to determine elected officials – and why this system results in an inevitable two-party system. Perhaps the most insidious thing about it is the spoiler effect and how it hurts the candidate among the main two that most closely reflects your political beliefs.
Those of you who think voting third party is the answer really don’t understand the nature of this system and I’d suggest you go back and look at it, especially in how it compares to other voting systems.
I know that’s a difficult thing to accept for many. People try to come up with counter analogies, such as “Well, if everyone’s getting chocolate or vanilla ice cream, and I get strawberry, does that mean I’m supporting one of the other flavors?”
The problem with analogies like the one above is that, unlike the political system, monopoly isn’t granted to the most popular choice. It’s not a winner-takes-all scenario. People can have competing flavors coexist since they aren’t mutually exclusive, just not in politics.
Think of it like this: Supposing the ice cream parlor said they were only going to serve one flavor of ice cream for the next four years based on popularity (as indicated by sales of flavor between now and November), and you have to eat the ice cream regardless of what you think of the flavor, even if you don’t like ice cream, and even if you’re lactose intolerant.
Now, if most people are picking chocolate and vanilla, then yes, you selecting strawberry hurts whatever flavor you would have chosen as a second option.
If you equally hate chocolate and vanilla and would never pick them anyway, then it doesn’t much matter which you pick, since you’ll be stuck with a flavor you hate regardless.
I should not have written this article in the middle of summer. That image is making me really want to vote Green Party right now.
At that point, it’s about which flavor you can more easily tolerate. And if you’re lactose intolerant, you may as well shoot the clerk for imposing deadly ice cream on you and claim it was a matter of self-defense. (But don’t do that before reading point #2 below!)
We libertarians understand better than anyone that the State is foisted upon us, which is why we’re so disenfranchised by it in general. Unlike an ice cream parlor, though, we don’t have a choice to not be a participant, or to have our choices respected in parallel with each other. The choice is the same for all involved. If it were otherwise, we’d all be moving to Ancapistan or Libertopia by now instead of voting for strawberry. And abstention doesn’t work for much the same reason since, as Rush famously said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” It’s just fewer people to railroad, since it’s not like the powers that be will actually put “no one” in charge if the majority votes for no one.
Just because you’re not interested in politics, doesn’t mean politics isn’t interested in you!
Our only real options then, under the current system, are Democrat chocolate and Republican vanilla, since that’s what most people will foist upon us and it’s a matter of which we hate less.
If you really don’t like either candidate and choose to abstain or vote third party out of principle or because you just can’t stand the humiliation, that’s fine. It’s a free country and you’re free to go along with what everyone else decides; but don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that what you’re doing is somehow strategic. Not while we still have the first past the post system in place, anyway.
If there was a better system in place, I’d be right alongside you saying there’s no drawback to voting your heart. Sadly, that’s not the reality we find ourselves in at the moment. On a similar note …
- The Lesser Evil Is Still Evil
It’s well and good to strive for an objective set of ethics. Murder, by definition, is always wrong because murder is defined as unjustified killing. However, a particular act of killing is not necessarily murder, and thus not necessarily wrong. It depends on the facts of each instance as to whether the particular act could be considered justified or not. This is the main reason our Founding Fathers left us with a common law judiciary.
That said, not everything in law is nearly so black and white.
It’s not like Star Wars where the Jedi are obviously the good guys. Right?
No, unfortunately, sometimes things really are a matter of perspective and context. For instance, is abortion a violation of the non-aggression principle? It depends on who you ask. Personally, I don’t think the law can rule on what science and philosophy cannot answer. Thus, libertarians remain split on that issue.
Another example is the nature of poverty and wealth. These are relative terms, since once everyone has enough food, housing, clothes, healthcare, and education, the new poverty line will simply shift to include those who lack wi-fi, smart phones, and a 3-D printer. A strong argument for why commodities should never be recognized as rights.
So what does this have to do with “the lesser evil is still evil”? Well, it comes down to the fact that good and evil are relative terms. What is good or bad is a matter of perspective. Good or bad compared to what?
I forget where I originally heard this saying, but I find to be true that, “The angel you summon to protect you will appear as a demon to your enemies and vice versa.” In one sense, the lesser evil could also be said to be the greater good, and aren’t we always taught that doing the greatest good is a virtuous goal? It’s just a matter of perspective, really. Glass half empty, or half full? Again, compared to what?
Personally, I don’t see politics as a strictly good vs. bad binary. I think it’s more helpful to view it as a gradient of good, better, best, bad, worse, worst, and then from there you try to make the best possible decision you can.
For instance, I don’t like George Bush. Not at all! I think he’s a war criminal and a traitor, but he’s a veritable saint compared to FDR, who in turn is a saint compared with the likes of Hitler and Stalin. Hence why people come to America from socialist countries, even though things were and still are pretty terrible here; because what viable alternative is there? I emphasize the word “viable” because you can dream up any kind of theoretical utopia you want, that doesn’t make it actionable or practical or real.
So in a more relevant scenario, maybe you view the political lineup as Johnson is good, Rand is better, Peterson is the best, Trump is bad, Bernie’s worse, and Hillary’s the worst (for sake of example, individual results may vary). Obviously, in terms of your own principles, you know which side of the spectrum you want to lean towards, but how likely are you to achieve the best possible outcome? Again, viability matters. Odds of winning matter. At least in the real world outside of your own head.
“So, what? You’re saying I should vote Republican?”
I’m not saying you have to do anything, but consider that most of the politicians with libertarian leanings who actually did well – Ron and Rand Paul, Gary Johnson … even Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders – all cast their lots with a major party and used its power to advance the cause of liberty. Hell, even Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked within the established political parties of their day, and the so-called third-party Lincoln at least had Republicans in Congress by the time he ran, so he wasn’t exactly breaking wholly new ground.
And even if somehow the Libertarian Party managed to grow to prominence, against all odds, it would probably just wind up absorbing one of the other two parties and we’d be right back to a lesser of two evils situation yet again. That, or the main two parties would shift ideologically as different players rose to power, much like what we’re seeing with Trump and Sanders – the two outsiders.
This again harkens back to the difference between strategically advancing your main principles at the cost of lesser ones versus remaining an uncompromising purist who accomplishes little. The best approach, in my opinion, is somewhere in between. It sucks, but it’s the sort of tough decision you have to make when you descend from the realm of political abstraction into the real world.
Speaking of using the very systems you’re fighting against to your benefit …
- We Gotta Get Out of the Matrix
I understand that the Wachowskis themselves used the Matrix franchise as a metaphor for the control mechanism of the State at one point. “What is the Matrix? Control.” A system designed to keep up enslaved, to harvest us for our political and commercial energy.
Seems pretty obvious, right? Many libertarians use this as a ready-made analogy when describing the evils of big government, or of government in general. They point to the two-party system as being like a staged wrestling match – bread and circus – with all the trappings of a good and normal life that really keeps us from reaching our true potential in a world outside of it.
Anarchists and voluntaryists especially like to think of themselves as having become free from the delusion entirely, and who could really object to such an idea?
Besides this pretentious, hedonistic, false-flag actor douchebag, that is.
Well … the creator of Film Theory certainly puts forth a compelling argument.
For those who didn’t click the link and watch the video, Matt lays out how the so-called real world of the Matrix is just another level of illusion created by machines to maintain control over human beings. In our analogy, the Matrix is the State and anarcho-capitalism is the real world.
I know not all libertarians are into conspiracies, but we certainly have a few among our ranks. Some people consider guys like Alex Jones and Peter Joseph to be statist plants and mouthpieces for the New World Order; or at a more mundane level, that guys like Trump are only there to win it for Hillary; or that Rand and Johnson aren’t libertarian enough since they’re not total voluntaryists (see point #5 above).
Even though I consider myself a minarchist, if it came down to a choice between communist dictatorship and total anarchy, I’d take my chances with a stateless society. That said, I present Matt’s theory here simply as caution. If we’re quick to analogize the political system as a series of false-flags and red herrings, then maybe the powers that be have considered hijacking anarchy as well.
I mean, can you think of a better way to usher in a totalitarian regime than to drive a bunch of people towards violent rebellion against an institution that most people believe to be legitimate?
Some of you reading this are screaming, “Anarchy means lack of rulers, not lack of rules, you fucking moron!” But you’d be wrong, since it can refer to both, and people often do use the word in both connotations, because words only mean what we agree they mean. Just like how not everyone uses “libertarian” the same way.
That’s yet another way people epitomize the now famous dictum: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
While we’re discussing movie themes as analogies for politics, people need to stop bringing up The Lord of the Rings as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard political power referred to as the Ring of Power. Everyone’s quick to say that no one can or should wield it, and how it must be destroyed; but I guess everyone conveniently forgot one of the most major plot points of the trilogy, which is the sheer number of times that Frodo actually used the One Ring in the course of his quest to destroy it, often to avoid something far worse.
That said, some people are certainly more qualified than others for the job. Maybe we need extreme vetting for politicians to confirm their value systems.
Continuing on the subject of unwittingly agreeing to enslave yourself …
- I Didn’t Sign a Social Contract
Here we have something of an intelligence test – one that separates those who understand legal philosophy from those that don’t. Again, it revolves around the misunderstanding and misapplication of words.
For anyone unfamiliar with the term “social contract,” it basically refers to the idea that, at some point, individuals expressly or tacitly agreed to surrender a portion of their freedoms to some entity (usually the State) in exchange for certain protections.
Nah, bro, those chains are just part of your rap person.
Whether or not such a relationship between individuals and the State exists is not the issue here, so much as the childish way in which people (again, usually anarchists and voluntaryists) attempt to rebut it. The fallacy is in thinking that the social contract is some sort of physical piece of paper with wet-ink signatures – what in law is known as an indenture.
A contract is not a mere piece of paper, though, as any lawyer will tell you. It is the legal relationship between two parties. A contract is defined in law by the presence of four elements: an offer, an acceptance of said offer, valuable consideration (i.e. the thing that induces one to enter into agreement), and a time element that sets the duration of the agreement.
Until death do us part … or the statute of limitations expires, whichever comes first.
The acceptance part can be express or implied, which is what makes contracts such a tricky thing. Often times, this is recognized with an overt act, such as signing a document that provides evidence of the existence of a contract (to hedge against fraud), but it is not the only means of proving a contractual relationship exists.
We enter into contracts all the time, often without even realizing it. If I go up to you and say, “Hey, I’ll give you a dollar if you shove this pencil up your nose,” and you agree, we’ve just created a verbal contract. One that I am morally permitted to enforce, that is, to initiate force to compel performance. No paper and ink was necessary.
Whether anyone ever agreed to be subject to a social contract is a topic for another time, but the point is that we can’t even have that discussion unless people understand that there’s more than one way to get entangled in legal obligations.