A Primer on Libertarianism

Democrats: The people in power can't be trusted.  You need to remove them and put our guys in charge

Republicans: The people in power can't be trusted.  You need to remove them and put our guys in charge

libertarians: People in power can't be trusted.  You need to remove their power and be in charge of your own damn self


  1. NormD:

    Libertarians: What Hitler does with his Jews is none of our business and we should not get involved. What the Japanese do to the people of Nanking does not affect our vital interests and we should not get involved. What the Hutus do to the Tutsis is not an attack upon us and we should not get involved.

  2. spiro:

    So NormD, are you implying that Obama is a Libertarian?

  3. Paul:

    NormD, you make a very pretty strawman.

  4. filbert:

    I feel the need to pile on to NormD a bit more:

    NormD, nobody's stopping you from going off to take up whatever cause you want to take up. Who knows? I might even agree with you that something needs to be done in any particular case. Helping others to become more capable of self-defense and self-improvement is a noble endeavor, IMHO.

    But the point is that you're in no position to DEMAND my service to your pet causes. Just as I am in no position to DEMAND your service to mine.

    Ask nicely. I might agree. The point is that it's MY choice.

  5. Josh:

    ".......: What Hitler does with his Jews is none of our business and we should not get involved."

    I'm sad to admit that some libertarians might feel this way.

    ... along with every other government type of the 20th century. Nobody invaded Europe to prevent Hitler from killing Jews. Nobody rose up against Japan to save the Chinese.

    NormD, do you hate every type of government that failed to lift a finger for these unfortunates? Are you, in fact, an anarchist?

  6. NormD:

    So going to war is a "pet cause" that I have to ask you to pretty please to participate in??? We should have just "helped" the Jews in Europe to defend themselves. Of course there is that old silly problem that there is no way to help them without confronting their oppressor. Oh damn. Can't do that unless we talk to everyone to get their agreement. Well I guess that they will have to die then.

    How can a party that is soooooo right about so many things (economics, environmentalism, personal liberty) be sooooooo wrong when it comes foreign affairs. If Libertarians had run the US for the last 200 years, the South would have succeeded and be a separate country (with slavery?), the Southwest states would still be part of Mexico, and communist USSR would dominate the entire world (assume the USSR beats the Nazis and develops nuclear weapons before us) perhaps Japan wouldn't even have attacked us, after all we wouldn't have embargoed anything to them.

    Unless Libertarians confront their foreign affairs problem they will never amount anything more than a party of cranks. If they run for office and their opponent asks them how they would react to some moral outrage and their answer is we should do nothing they will never get more that 1-2% of the vote. Its such a damn waste.

  7. NormD:

    A prime reason Japan went to war with the US is because we embargoed critical materials to Japan because of their bad behavior in China.

    While no one went to war with Germany specifically to save the Jews, we and our allies did go to war to stop aggression.

    Personally I want my country to take a moral stand against certain obvious wrongs, for example, mass slaughter and aggressive warfare. And furthermore I want my country to do something to stop such wrongs to whatever extent is practicable, including going to war.

  8. EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy:

    People can take moral stances with or without an overarching government telling them what to do. Groups of people of like mind can get together to implement their moral decisions with or without a government telling them what to do.

    These facts are invariant.

    But if a government takes an amoral stand (as with, to choose you example, post WWI Germany and Imperial Japan) then by virtue of having a monopoly on the use of force, that government can dragoon the whole population into its evil designs.

    This is just as easy and at least as common as governments dragooning their populations into doing The Right Thing (tm). You don't get to argue the "government made it possible to fight evil in WWII" side without having take on board the "government made is possible to commit evil in WWII side".

    Take that for what it is worth.

  9. nom de guerre:

    i believe we "went to war with germany" because *they* declared war on *us*, after we declared war on japan due to that whole unpleasant 'pearl harbor' misunderstanding of cultural differences.

    still, though, norm - that's a VERY pretty strawman. i especially liked the way you built him out of incorrect "facts". lemme guess: you're a fairly recent graduate of the public schools? you were taught that feelings matter just as much as facts do?

  10. Will H:

    nom de querre

    Japan declared war on the US first and that left us with two choices, sue for peace and give the western Pacific to Japan or to fight back and defend our interests.

    Pearl Harbor was not a "cultural misunderstanding" both side knew what was at stake, control of the western pacific.

    BTW, Pearl Harbor attack was a failure in that it did not achieve its goal of stopping the US from interfering with Japan. They only permanently sunk two of the battleships, the rest was re-floated and re-entered the war and had their revenge on the Japanese Southern Force at Leyte Gulf.

    They did not get the carriers, oil dumps and the dry docks; all more important then the battleships.

    Also the embargo was not the reason for war. Even without the embargo, Japan was an expansionist empire, willing to use force to secure what it believe it needed, i.e. the resources of the South West Asia. The embargo was a response to the aggression of Japan, not the cause. If they wanted the embargo lifted, and bombing the US wasn't way, all they had to do was stop their aggression

  11. Brian Dunbar:

    Well I guess that they will have to die then.

    Which is pretty much what happened, nu?. We didn't go to war with Germany to save the Jews, we went to war with Germany because they were acting like butt-heads.

  12. Jeff:

    Just saw the comments on this post. wow, first comment invokes "Goodwin's law", that's really a new record.

  13. Tim:

    NormD, that's an impressive string of strawmen and outright false rewrites of history you've put together there. You really need to state some facts and not just some beliefs you have about the way things might have happened.

    Most significantly, I'd like to see how exactly you can stop mass slaughter and aggressive warfare by having our armies use aggressive warfare to mass slaughter the citizens of another nation. Seems to me you suffer from the "us not them" delusion, the idea that when we do it, it's good and not evil. Unfortunately, in our desire to "do good" we've overthrown democratically elected leaders of foreign nations to implant our own appointed leadership. We've murdered innocent people. Things we believe are "good" often have misunderstood consequences. And in order to reach our goals, aggression is the primary tool (same here in America with our police forces).

    Your desire stems from a belief that government is right and good, and therefore it's actions are right and good. History proves otherwise.

  14. filbert:

    Ah, yes. People should "just help." They should "just help" because NormD really, really, really thinks they should. His moral judgment is quite obviously superior to anyone else's.

    I'm glad you cleared that up, NormD.

    I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  15. mwright:

    Oh, NormD - you'd better watch out. You're playing in the major leagues now.

  16. Joseph Hertzlinger:

    Libertarians: What Hitler does with his Jews is none of our business and we should not get involved.

    Non-libertarians: We sympathize with the Jews ... but shut the door in their faces both in the United States and the Middle East.

    There is a difference between the libertarians of the first sentence and the non-libertarians of the second. The non-libertarians were real.

  17. Eric Hammer:

    "Libertarians: What Hitler does with his Jews is none of our business and we should not get involved"

    Not many libertarians would refer to a group of people as belonging to someone else, much less a government official. The whole point is that government has no claim to the lives of its people.

  18. ian:

    so then, how do libertarians prevent genocide?

  19. filbert:

    How do collectivists prevent genocide?

    In a collectivist world, genocide is not a bug, it's a feature.

  20. Brian Dunbar:

    so then, how do libertarians prevent genocide?

    A pretty good question, I think.

    My answer would be 'by being well armed and not inclined to listen to authority'.

    I am neither a upper nor lower-case libertarian - but I have a lot of sympathy for the ideology. My answer may not be doctrine.

  21. nom de guerre:

    will h - for a guy who acts as if he knows history, you seem oddly unable to detect sarcasm when you see it. thank you *so much* for helping me to learn that pearl harbor wasn't a cultural misunderstanding! here i am, having gone all through school and life not knowing that! (that was sarcasm, too, will. did you get that?)

    before you go all historypedia on me next time, kindly take a second to ascertain the context of what was written. was i responding to someone else's halfwit notions, built on and defended by a strawman? is it *possible* i was using an intentionally p.c. misinterpretation of well-known historical fact to point that out? things like that. someone who knows grade-school history - as you seem so desperate to prove, (the attack on pearl was a strategic failure?? really???), ought to know that. what's the word i want here? "pompous"? "pedantic"? something....

  22. Freemonty:

    Government isn't evil, its a means to an end. Please learn what the other positions actually are before you blurb.

  23. Helmut:

    Libertarians: Let's pretend that removing people from power and protecting individual liberty isn't itself an exercise of power.

    Libertarians: Let's pretend that our government is the only power standing in the way of success and progress, so that we don't have to analyze complex situations with any more thought than rigid idealism.

    Libertarians: Let's smugly discuss fantasy politics so we don't have to participate in political reality, absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the world's problems.

    Democrats: America ain't so bad, but it could be even better. We think we can help.

    Republicans: America ain't so bad, but it could be even better. We think we can help.

  24. Ish:

    I'm going to buy stock in Agri-Business... enough straw is being piled up here to cause a major price hike due to the shortage elsewhere.

  25. Helmut:

    Wasn't that the point of the original post? To offer up a stupid strawman to be sacrificed in the name of making libertarianism look great? As long as we're coming up with dumb arguments, why not just directly mock people you disagree with? Cuts out the middle man, and it's fun to boot.

  26. Gil:

    "What of genocide in Libertopia?"

    Not much. The victims would have to defend themselves as best they can and if they aren't strong enough then they perish as a group. Besides one group that Europeans must have thought were a group most deserving to be extinguished by the Nazis were the Gypsies. Sixty years later and Gypsies still get no respect and are generally despised.

  27. Freemonty:

    See, that's something I don't get about the libertarian mindset. They want to be self sufficient and fear being stepped on by the government, but they never seem to stop and think about what other organized forces out there might be able to step on them as well (like corporations). How exactly do they expect to be able to resist such forces on their own and no Government of the People to help? By inflating their ego and stocking up on ammunition? That doesn't sound like very good survival strategy to me.

  28. Colin:

    It's all fun and freedom until you're a 75 year old, too old or disabled to care for yourself, paying protection rackets for every civil service you want provided. Thank god for platitudes like this that make cheerleaders and the simple-minded think absolutist economic and government systems can actually work. The CCCP called!

    Let me add another cute one for your next post: Libertarianism: it's when you go your way, and I go mine, and if we happen to meet, we will respect each others space! Isn't that just precious?

  29. filbert:

    Colin's first sentence neatly describes government today. If you can't provide your own defense, why shouldn't you pay somebody else to do it for you?

    I know of no reason why some kind of common defense would be contrary to libertarian philosophy, generally. The moral dilemma comes in when the common defense becomes involuntary--i.e. a protection racket, whether or not you call the protection racket a goverment or a gang.

    Now, as a matter of practical political philosophy, many libertarians (if I may say so) would concede that some form of government for the purpose of common defense and common enforcement of law is an acceptable intrusion upon the general liberty that all people possess. The difference is that libertarians don't forget that even that IS an intrusion upon liberty, and seek to minimize that intrusion as much as is possible and practical. What we see is that others seek to maximize that intrusion, and extend it into every conceivable area of human life beyond insuring the physical safety of life, limb, and property.

  30. Helmut:

    "The difference is that libertarians don’t forget that even that IS an intrusion upon liberty, and seek to minimize that intrusion as much as is possible and practical. What we see is that others seek to maximize that intrusion, and extend it into every conceivable area of human life beyond insuring the physical safety of life, limb, and property."

    Horseshit. Libertarians simply disagree about what constitutes the "minimum possible and practical intrusion." The devil's in the details, not the platitudes.

  31. Freemonty:

    Far be it from me to defend the draft, but there is no "protection racket": there is only the social contract. Fortunately, its a flexible contract, and its made to serve everyone.

    Frankly, there is no way anyone can have the kind of absolute freedom libertarian philosophy seems to insist upon. Do you want the freedom to kill yourself by mistake? I'm being serious. Among those "intrusions" of government are health and safety codes. By any standard they restrict freedom, but it would be insane and dangerous NOT to have them! Its not that people have no sense of survival, but if drunk driving rates are anything to go by then it seems people are quite prone to stupidity. It only takes one person's absent minded mistake to kill five.

    And then there is corporate greed: where you fear government, I see them as the REAL threat, and for much the same reasons. (yes, even the fears of coercion: google the "Pinkertons" for a history lesson) Difference is, democratic government is lead by the people and is intended to serve their interests (whether or not they succeed). By their very nature, corporations serve only themselves and whomever owns them.

    Like I said, government is a means to an end. Large groups of people have more influence on the world than the individual, if for no other reason than because they can pool their resources and make collective efforts. Organizations of some kind WILL form if there is a power vacuum, some malevolent some benevolent. Its a free for all, and the only way the benevolent one's can survive is if the people, the ultimate source of ALL power, enact some kind of overreaching organization, i.e. government. You give up some of your freedom (be honest, you weren't really taking advantage of it, were you?), but in the process we get more ability to actually influence the world within the rules you've agreed to through influencing the government.

    And all that is derived from the concept of competition libertarians love so much.

    You're complaining about Totalitarianism as if that is the only form of government that exists. Therein lies the problem.

    (whew, long comment...)

  32. Freemonty:

    Um, just a note. I mention the draft because that's the only thing I can think of that government has ever done that is comparable to a protection racket (at least, in the sense that the last time it was used it was to "protect our capitalist society" when arguably we were the aggressors). Just thought I would make it clear what the connection is to the rest of the conversation.

  33. Freemonty:

    "It’s all fun and freedom until you’re a 75 year old, too old or disabled to care for yourself, paying protection rackets for every civil service you want provided."
    I'm sorry, I'm confused by this post; are you trying to argue for libertarianism, or socialism?

  34. perlhaqr:

    Jesus meow. Hay fever attack.

  35. Xorox:

    The libertarian philosophy will only a a footnote in history.