The Chief’s Thoughts: Moving Away From Libertarianism?

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Most of us remember the moment we embraced libertarianism and became libertarians. It’s quite unlike ‘becoming’ a progressive or a conservative, as in either of those cases one usually grows up with that value system or adopt it over a period, such as at university. For many libertarians, however, our conversion was when we came to a particular realization about the nature of government, force, or man.

My ‘ah-hah!’ moment was when I read The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard in 2013, and for the first time understood how property rights came to be. Rothbard explained it logically and clearly, starting with the lone Crusoe, adding Friday, and building up to a complex society. He explained how the vesting of property does not change as society becomes more complicated, and that it is in fact the role of property rights to regulate the outcomes of situations in this complex society. Property rights, he explained, would exist and vest whether we explicitly recognize them or not. I was a socialist one day, and a libertarian the next.

From that point onward, how I viewed society changed at a fundamental level. While many of my associates in public policy complain endlessly about ‘inefficient government’ or inconvenient lacunae in law, I see everything as a struggle between the individual and the State. Something as simple as a new guideline issued by the Financial Services Board in South Africa essentially comes down to an organ of state appropriating for itself more say or influence in a given matter, regardless of what the private individual or entity thinks about it. When Stefan Molyneux was still a libertarian in a former life, he said that the law is nothing more than an opinion with a gun, and this was an apt insight which I relied on in my university course on legal philosophy as well as my bachelor’s/honor’s thesis.

The rise of the social justice left, and the consequent rise of the alternative right brought about an interesting phenomenon, however.

Libertarians, myself included, nearly-universally condemn the authoritarianism of the social justice left, however, we do not make our opposition to them the defining feature of the movement. Having worked freelance, and now full-time, in South African public policy for about two years, I can comfortably say that the petulant children masquerading as advocates for social well-being are not our biggest concern. And, from what I’ve seen and heard from my colleagues in Europe and North America, neither are the SJWs the biggest problems there. They are a big problem – but not the biggest one. Government still enjoys that distinction, regardless of whether it’s a conservative or progressive administration. After all, Donald Trump has shown us that it’s going to be more or less business as usual, despite the ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric.

I believe much of the alternative right consists of former libertarians who felt libertarianism was not an adequate answer to leftist Critical Theory. These former libertarians, who have always had a conservative streak, were likely amazed when they realized libertarianism does not mandate that bathrooms be segregated according to sex; indeed, libertarianism is firmly agnostic in this regard. Similarly, these former libertarians could likely not bear the thought that their chosen philosophy did not regard Third World individuals as default “others”. In other words, the revelation that libertarianism does not have a particular country, or an identity, or a volk or nation, proved concerning, giving way to their base instincts.

There used to be a time when I thought once you became a libertarian – and truly understood the concepts and theory of libertarianism – it is impossible to ‘un-know’ your newfound insights and regress away from libertarianism. However, these last two years have proven that it is, indeed, possible for individuals who used to accept economic concepts like value subjectivity to suddenly believe they can dictate the value of certain things from their pedestal. Individuals who used to understand that it is essentially self-defeating to not be an individualist, became collectivists. Imagine my surprise when I saw supposed former libertarians jumping with joy at the thought of import tariffs and a ban on the Muslim burka in some places.

And when you push them, they will turn around and say ‘lolbertarians’ have not succeeded in anything and are ignorant about the importance of culture in public affairs. It is all very convenient: once they’ve left libertarianism, suddenly libertarians become ‘ignorant’, ‘naive’, and ‘idealistic’. As if our collective state of stupidity was metaphysically delayed until these individuals decided that they’ve had enough of being calm and reasonable about public policy. Seemingly out of nowhere, and quite arbitrarily, those insights these former libertarians had about government, force, and man, are gone.

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Martin van Staden is the Editor in Chief of Being Libertarian and RationalStandard.com. He has a law degree from the University of Pretoria. His articles represent his own views and beliefs, and not that of any of the organizations he is involved with.

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