Misconceptions of the Last Week


For the first time in quite a while, the coronavirus is no longer the primary topic of discussion. Unfortunately, instead of phasing out over time as people return to normal life, it was overshadowed by news of a terrible case of police brutality, leading to the death of George Floyd.

For a moment, people seemed (mostly) united on this one issue. Even many hardcore ThinBlueLine supporters and mainstream conservatives were in agreement that this was a clear example of police brutality that deserved condemnation. But then riots followed.

Since then, people are once again as divided as usual, arguing about police brutality and the riots, stuck in false dichotomies. Many of the right are wrongly grouping the rioters in with the peaceful protesters, with Charlie Kirk calling for the arrest of not just rioters, but “EVERY single” protester in Minneapolis protesting police brutality. Peaceful protesters deserve credit for doing their part to thwart potential rioters. Many on the left are grouping them together as well, defending the violent rioters as merely airing their grievances against an unjust system. Property can be replaced, they say, and it’s unfair to compare the destruction of that small business owner’s livelihood property to the unjust loss of life.

Libertarians and Riots

A criticism from some libertarians is that other libertarians are focusing too much on the riots, when they should be talking about police brutality. After all, libertarians are anti-state, so they should primarily focus on the state.

But this line of thinking is mistaken.

The core principle of libertarianism is not anti-statism, but opposition to the unjust initiation of force. A primary conclusion from this core principle is that libertarians are anti-state, since this institution with a monopoly on violence tends to unjustly initiate force the most. But despite the tendency to see the police and the rioters as the two sides of this fight, the rioters are, as numerous videos online will show, initiating violence against innocent people not just through the destruction of property and looting, but through brutal beings resulting in terrible injuries (some fatalities reported as well). Since libertarians are unusually loud critics of police brutality, perhaps it might be fine to spend a bit of time criticizing other aggressors beyond the state.

The Failure of the Police

A mere week ago, the average person was concerned about police brutality, and may have even taken action to support a cause that aimed to reduce police brutality. But since the riots, many of them would now gladly support an increased police presence, perhaps even increased militarization of police, if it meant they would be safe from the rioters. People are afraid, and one can hardly blame them. Abstract police statistics aren’t as heart-wrenching as watching the victims of the rioters. After this is all over, it’s unlikely that there will be much in terms of genuine police reform in any positive direction.

Everyone, especially libertarians, should be suspicious. If the riots continue, this is a perfect opportunity for politicians to put forth legislation granting emergency powers to police agencies. Scared citizens will gladly support anything that claims to put a stop to the riots, no matter the long-term consequences.

That being said, it cannot be ignored that stopping senseless violence and destruction of property is arguably the only proper role for a police force. After decades of using an increasingly militarized police force to arrest people for possession of weed and other nonviolent crimes, they are incapable of protecting people’s property and guaranteeing people’s safety from a mob fueled by anger towards their own actions.

The Coronavirus is Cured!

A month ago, the mainstream insisted that protesting was deeply immoral. It spread the coronavirus, putting people’s lives at risk. Beacons of Verified Opinion insisted that we will see a spike in COVID-19-related deaths that could be attributed to protests and eased lockdown restrictions. They tossed the “denier” label at anyone who thought the lockdowns might be at least slightly excessive.

In the last week, however, that seems to have disappeared. No doubt there are at least a few that have remained consistent. But nearly all of Verified Opinion seems to have completely forgotten that the coronavirus exists. Now, marching through the streets in large crowds (the more, the merrier!) seems to be not only tolerated, but wholeheartedly endorsed. Not that this view is necessarily wrong, but the blatant and sudden change is suspicious, though not surprising. Either the mainstream has developed mass amnesia, or they never really believed the coronavirus paranoia they insisted on.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]