This article is from the Libertarian FAQ, by Joe Dehn email@example.com, Robert Bickford rab.AT.daft.com, Mike Huben firstname.lastname@example.org and Advocates for Self-Government http://www.self-gov.org/ with numerous contributions by others.
21. We lived in a fairly libertarian society in the US 150 years ago.
A classic libertarian roll-back-the-clock argument, that sounds good at
first because none of us directly remembers it. Libertarians do usually
remember and criticize some of the more prominent non-libertarian
features of that period, such as unequal protection under the law for
blacks and women. However, they seem to overlook a lot of other
Yes, the Federal government had a much lighter hand then. However,
state and local governments had a much greater influence. There is not
one class of positive duty or obligation in the US today that did not
exist 200 years ago at state or federal level.
All the biggies were there except income tax. The equivalent of income
tax was property tax (on all possessions) or head tax by many states.
There was involuntary conscription, eminent domain, etc. As a matter of
fact, things got much better when powers of states were interpreted to
be restricted by the US constitution (much later.) Powers such as state
Also, society was organized quite differently before the industrial
revolution spread to the US. Our "nation of shopkeepers" was actually a
nation of farmers. The means of production were controlled primarily by
the workers (who were the owners of the farms and shops.) Government of
that era would be as out-of-place today as the tarriffs and scientific
knowledge of that era.
22. "Might Makes Right" is the principle behind statism.
No, "Might makes ability to make something", Right or Wrong. You can't
even try for Right until you have Might to back it up in the real
world. That's the reason that some real governments have survived and
all utopian governments that have tried to abolish force have failed.
However, government is not alone in requiring might. All property is
based on might as well. Nobody is beholden to your notions of what
constitutes your property. Property is just as "involuntary" as the
social contract. There is no moral obligation for anyone to respect
your property: only a practical one.
Recognition that the fundamental nature of property is based on force
is essential to recognition that there are costs and benefits to the
principle of property. It is not as negative a "right" as libertarians
like to portray it.
23. I want self-government, not other-government.
"Self government" is libertarian newspeak for "everybody ought to be
able to live as if they are the only human in the universe, if only
they believe in the power of libertarianism." It's a utopian ideal like
those of some Marxists and born-agains that would essentially require
some sort of human perfection to work.
More explicitly, "self government" is the peculiar notion that other
people ought not to be able to regulate your behavior. Much as we would
like to be free of such regulation, most people also want to be able to
regulate the behavior of others for practical reasons. Some
libertarians claim that they want the first so much, that they will be
willing to forgo the second. Most other people feel that both are
necessary (and that it would be hypocritical or stupid to want just
24. Why shouldn't we adopt libertarian government now?
Because there are no working examples of libertarian cities, states, or
Innumerable other ideologies have put their money where their mouths
are, if not their lives. Examples include most nations that have had
Marxist revolutions, Israel, many of the American colonies, a huge
number of religious and utopian communities, etc.
Yet libertarians want us to risk what many of them consider the best
nation in the world with their untested beliefs. It's not even sensible
to convert here first for the claimed economic benefits of
libertarianism: there would be less marginal benefit to converting the
USA to a libertarian system than most other nations. Let libertarians
bear the risk and cost of their own experiment.
Let libertarians point to successful libertarian programs to seek our
endorsement. For example, narcotic decriminalization in Holland has
been a success. So has legalized prostitution in Nevada and Germany
(and probably other places.) Privatization of some municipal services
has been successful in some communities. But these are extremely small
scale compared to the total libertarian agenda, and do not rule out
emergent problems and instabilities of a full scale libertarian system.
25. There's a conspiracy to prevent a working libertarian experiment.
Right. Uh huh. [Read: sarcasm.]
Libertarians sometimes cite the Minerva project (armed squatting on a
Tongan island) and an attempted overthrow of the government of
Suriname. If libertarians are too inept to compete internationally
through diplomacy, politics, bribery, or force of arms, it hardly takes
a conspiracy to explain that they lost. That's what sovereignty takes.
A working libertarian experiment could be easily county sized. A tiny
religious sect was able to buy control of Antelope, Oregon and relocate
there a few years ago: the vastly more numerous libertarians could do
much more. Privatize the roads, schools, libraries, police. Abolish
property taxes, zoning, anything not required by the state. Then show
the benefits. Yes, the state will prevent you from achieving some
libertarian goals: do what you can to show how you can improve things.
You shouldn't have to go 100% libertarian to show marked benefits
according to most libertarian claims.
26. An event is explained by the issue at hand.
This is really a class of argument, "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", that
is made all too often by arguers of all stripes. The claims made with
this sort of argument by libertarians are innumerable. Counter examples
and other issues that plainly had influence are usually extremely easy
to find. Here are some real claims actually made in a.p.l.
For example: "The automotive recession started in October 1989, which
was the start of the requirement that some cars of each manufacturer be
fitted with air bags... Perhaps the reason that car sales have gone
down is that many consumers are not willing to pay for a car with air
For example: "There are as many military reasons why the draft is bad
as there are moral ones. Witness our success using a volunteer army
versus a conscripted one."
It would be possible to collect libertarian examples of the other
classes of fallacies of argument, but this frequent one can serve as
the exemplar. This particular one comes up a lot because of the lure of
testing theory with reality.
27. Haven't you read "Libertarianism in One Lesson"?
Every belief system has its evangelistic writings, designed to help
convince or draw in new members. The Campus Crusade for Christ uses
"Evidence That Demands A Verdict", Scientology uses "Dianetics", and
libertarians use "Libertarianism in One Lesson".
All of these books are very convincing-- in the absence of
counterargument. However, they are easily rebutted by skeptics because
they MUST omit the exceptions to their point of view to be convincing.
If I may cite a convert: "Libertarians like me believe in a simple
morality-- everyone should be free to do what they like, so long as
they don't initiate use of force... If you're not familiar with this
morality, I urge you to read "Libertarianism in One Lesson", by David
Bergland. I was personally shocked to find that things could be so
neatly axiomatized, and what's even more remarkable is that in the
empirical world, societies seem to me to be punished in an eye for an
eye fashion from their deviation from this simple morality. We are
deviating quite a bit and suffering accordingly... in my view this is
why economic growth is stagnating, the inner cities are dying..."
Any time I read how simple it is to understand the world through system
X, I know I'm dealing with a convert from evangelistic writings. They
blithely assert that their explanations show the true cause of current
problems. And the key to showing them to be wrong, is to show that
there's more complexity to the world than is encompassed by their
28. Have you read "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority"?
"No Treason" is a lengthy rant that doesn't take longer than the first
paragraph to begin its egregious errors.
For example, in the first paragraph: "It [The Constitution] purports,
at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years
ago." Thus he focuses his attention on the Preamble, and evidently
ignores Article VII, which says EXACTLY who contracted for the
"The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient
for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so
ratifying the same. Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the
States present, the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our
Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, and of the
Independence of the United States of America the twelfth. In Witness
whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names."
[signatories FOR STATES omitted.]
He's wrong on this simple matter of fact: the constitution says who
contracted with whom. But then he goes on to make a big deal about the
people of that era being dead, as if contracts between organizations
lapse when their office holders depart.
The rest of his "analysis" is equally shoddy, and consists largely of
calling government a collection of thieves and murderers at least 75
times. David Friedman, in "The Machinery of Freedom", says Spooner
"attacks the contract theory of government like a lawyer arguing a
case": but REAL presentations of cases have to cope with
counterarguments, and can't depend so heavily on invalid presumptions
which are easily shot full of holes.
29. Libertarians oppose the initiation of force.
How noble. And I'm sure that in a real libertarian society, everybody
would hold to this morality as much as Christians turn the other cheek.
[ :-( For the sarcasm-impaired.]
"Initiation of force" is another libertarian newspeak term that does
not mean what the uninitiated might think. Libertarians except defense
of property and prosecution of fraud, and call them retaliatory force.
But retaliation can be the initiation of force: I don't need force to
commit theft or fraud. This is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand that
libs like to play so that they can pretend they are different than
government. You know: break a law (like not paying your taxes) and MEN
WITH GUNS initiate force. Sorry, but you've gotta play fair: it can't
be initiation for government and retaliation for you.
Like most other non-pacifistic belief systems, libertarians want to
initiate force for what they identify as their interests and call it
righteous retaliation, and use the big lie technique to define
everything else as evil "initiation of force". They support the initial
force that has already taken place in the formation of the system of
property, and wish to continue to use force to perpetuate it and make
it more rigid.
The National Libertarian Party membership form has "the pledge" on it:
"I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of
achieving political or social goals." It's quite amusing to hear how
much libertarians disagree over what it means: whether it is or isn't
ok to overthrow the US because it has "initiated force" and they would
Beyond this perceived class interest, libertarian dislike of
"initiation of force" isn't much different than anyone else's. It may
be humanitarian, defensive, etc.