Why Libertarians Argue All The Time – Opting Out


An absolute must-read on the current state of the “liberty movement” is CJay Engel’s continued work in the Austro-Libertarian. There you’ll find enlightening articles on what a libertarian actually is in the 2019 context, and why it is that we seem to argue all the time. The answer is that there are vast differences in the way that people interpret “freedom,” so it’s inevitable that we’re going to butt heads.

The “Beltway” strain of libertarianism a la Reason magazine and the US Libertarian Party, broadly speaking, sees the philosophy as part of a larger philosophical mission of liberation from all kinds of external control of human agency, whether that be coercive or non-coercive. Among the non-coercive measures that they also warn against, in addition to their anti-statism, are religious and cultural traditions and social moral pressure on alternative lifestyles. The state is bad, they say, but so are other institutions and mores that might deign to tell us what to do.

The “right-wing” of libertarianism are pro-freedom in a very strict legal sense. They are against coercive restrictions on individual liberty and property. They may however, be supportive of institutions external to the state that might represent a burden or (non-coercive) pressure on one’s freedom in a broader sense.

It’s vital an example is given so that we’re not confused, and so that we don’t give the liars extra ammo for misrepresentation. Take sex work, for example. Both the Reason crowd and the Austro-Libertarian crowd think any legal prohibition on prostitution is immoral and unjustified. Yet the Reason crowd may go further than that, arguing that not only should sex work be legalised, but normalised and destigmatized. The Austro-libertarian merely refrains from taking that extra step.

We’re taking for granted here that both kinds of libertarians understand that, strictly speaking, the legal framework of libertarianism has no say on how society judges sex work, legal or illegal. The Reason types accept that nobody is technically obligated to ethically agree with sex work. Austro-libertarians in turn concede that sex workers will be liberated in a free society insofar as their ability to go about their business unmolested, even if some take moral exception to it. We’re not talking about the “thin” libertarians — those who believe libertarians needn’t hold a specific view on cultural matters absent the state by definition of being libertarian.

The Reason types openly wonder why one would bother supporting the legalisation of sex work if it isn’t part of a deeply-held belief in the complete agency of the individual. Austro-libertarians crowd, generally arriving at libertarianism from a more conservative background, don’t share this idea that all done by an individual is morally as well as legally permitted. Many actively warn against this broad “do as thou wilt” individualism.

Now, if you are a Reason type, it’s fine to disagree with the Austro-libertarian perspective. It would be strange if the two types got along all the time. The smarter Reason types admit that they simply don’t understand them — again, we’re not worried about those. We’re worried about the stupid ones, whose first instinct is to lie about them.

There’s a relatively small but influential group of individuals who hang around in the capital-L Liberty Movement whose sole mission seems to be to defame and lie about the Austro-libertarians. In a relatively short time, these people have perpetuated the idea that the Austro-libertarian wing of the Liberty Movement merely represents right-wing racialist extremism, and that their only motivation for wanting legal freedom is in hope of dominating racial and sexual minorities.

The “Mises Institute is a white supremacist organisation” meme, and others of its type, have taken credence worringly quickly. The fact that many new libertarians take this idea as dogma should be terrifying to anybody associated with the movement. It’s a lie promoted by cynical people seeking office for the sons of gentlemen.

The thing is, the Austro-libertarians are quite open about their agenda. From the eponymous magazine:

“As human beings, not just libertarians, the editors and key team members of this publication also have a bias toward certain cultural elements. While libertarianism itself, being rationalistic and containing true propositions independent of cultural and social context, is neither ‘right nor left,’ the social demeanor that we personally carry tends toward what might be considered an older ‘rightism.’ Libertarianism, technically and purely defined, does not necessitate or obligate this position; but it represents our personal disposition. While there are no doubt healthy and productive disagreement and differences in each of us in this way, we nonetheless do not find attractive or tempting the stirring winds of social leftism…

… We dissent from the obsession surrounding egalitarianism and the rising ‘political correctness’ culture that swoons over diversity for diversity’s sake, that seeks to mandate multiculturalism in the misguided pursuit of homogeneity, and treats various ‘alternative’ lifestyles as causes to be advanced.”

This is candid by anyone’s definition. It’s by no means uncontroversial, and it’s quite natural that the types that see libertarianism as part of a broad historical movement towards liberation will find alien or even distasteful, but this is a far cry from “white supremacism via private property.” If that is your interpretation of those statements, then you’re stupid or lying, especially when you consider this statement (emphasis mine):

“…we find no inherent problem with natural hierarchies based on individual differences and believe some cultural and social norms are more beneficial to civilization than others, though we reject any notion that these norms and hierarchies are by nature denied to, or are the exclusive property of, any single race or ethnicity.

If it were the case that the Austro-libertarians were standning for Nazism and racism, they’re going about it an odd way. One could make the case that this is “cover,” so to speak, for a larger dog-whistle. Nice theory, but is it falsifiable?

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.