If there is one thing you can grant libertarians it is their dedication to very simple principles, namely one that is called the “Non-Aggression Principle.” This states that an individual is free to act how they see best fits them, as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others around them. This simple principle does, in fact, apply to many diverse topics. Nearly everything, from taxation to war, can be brought back to the Non-Aggression Principle.
Before I get too far into the discussion, I want to establish where I stand on the libertarian spectrum. I am what is called a “Minarchist.” I believe that government should be severely limited in scope so that people can enjoy the maximum amount of freedom possible. A limited amount of government agencies should exist. These include the military and law enforcement. It is law, in nearly all cases, that needs to be changed.
Like other libertarians, I also believe in nonintervention abroad and the maximum amount of freedom to the domestic population to enjoy their lives to the maximum extent. This means you should be able to own an AR-15, ingest marijuana, enjoy the fruits of your labor without excessive taxation, and marry a member of the same sex. Government has no grounds to infringe upon any of these actions.
Where I split with my Anarcho-Capitalist (An-Caps) brethren is where I believe in a strong, yet limited, government, they mostly believe that government is the problem and that all problems in society will be solved by the absence of any government presence in any way.
The problem is that they describe the world as “it should be.” Nearly every argument they give can only exist in an ideal world, which often falls short of reality. Typically, their arguments sounds a lot like, “If everyone would just…” and you can fill in the blank. While whatever follows typically makes sense and, principally I agree, our split is in the recognition of what the world actually looks like.
“For many authors have constructed imaginary republics and principalities that have never existed in practice and never could; for the gap between how people actually behave and how they ought to behave is so great…”
-Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
It is in these constructed imaginary republics in which An-Caps tend to live. In their minds, they have created the perfect society and it baffles them that people “just don’t get it.” To that, I reply, that it would be very nice if that could be reality. Unfortunately, there is evil in this world, there is selfishness in the world, there will always be those who seek to dominate and enslave, and there is no imaginary republic that sounds good enough to me that I am willing to forget this fact.
Much of their animosity is aimed at the military and law enforcement. Now, in an ideal world, we would not need either. In reality, there is a need for a military force strong enough to stand up to any foreign threat and an internal force that can act swiftly when a citizen’s rights are violated by another.
[An AnCap will read that last paragraph and somehow infer that I am in some way a supporter of military adventurism, occupation, and nation building efforts. You can get creative and insert just about any red herring or straw man you wish and I have probably dealt with it in conversations with AnCaps.]
Stopping short of trying to change the mind of an AnCap (which is a task similarly difficult to bench pressing the Empire State Building) or getting lost in anecdotes, I will simply point out the self-evident truth that people do not behave as they would in any ideal setting. Men lie, cheat, steal, and kill. These are done in combination by those vying for power.
With the lack of an established authority, there will always be those who will take advantage of that weakness and use it to enslave and exploit the masses. In short, where there is no government and people are living happy and free…there soon will be one and it will be far less pleasant than one that would have been created by the people themselves.
What we must do to become more effective is take our ideals, which we both have, and apply them to the world as it is. We don’t need to get rid of the system we have in place, we simply need to take advantage of it and use it in our favor.
We can maximize our freedoms without making ourselves vulnerable to enslavement.