Part of the problem – as regards libertarianism – is that it’s a philosophy or moral code rather than a political movement. Which it probably can never be – because the libertarian moral system is foundationally anti-political. It does not seek office anymore than a fish seeks the desert.
But that doesn’t mean – should not mean – that libertarians ought to retire from politics. That would be like a fish retiring from water.
We live in an imperfect – a political – world. People are going to vote. If libertarians abstain from voting on the moral principle that it is wrong to participate in a morally imperfect (even a deeply flawed) system, then the votes of people who are not libertarians will count more.
If libertarians abstain from putting themselves – and libertarian ideas – forward as alternatives to ideas (and people seeking office) who are not libertarians, they have helped to ensure that libertarian ideas will not be heard (and possibly listened to) and that people who are decidedly not libertarians – or even “small government conservatives” – will end up holding the political offices that will determine whose ideas guide and determine policy.
The libertarian’s moral dilemma is a thing of his own construction. It is the false dilemma presented in the form of refusing to have anything to do with the imperfect (politically) for the sake of the perfect (which will never be) and which necessarily results in the worse-than-imperfect.
It drapes an unearned moral sanction on the libertarian who votes for the office-seeker who is less-worse than the alternative – who is assured of winning the office if enough people refuse to vote for the less-worse alternative. Their refusal stems from an understandable distaste arising from what they consider to be sanctioning the evil and thereby both enabling and perpetuating it.
But the hard fact is the evil isn’t going to lessen – much less go away – by not seeking less of it. And if one can vote to cause the mugger who is holding a gun on you and demanding money to lessen his demands, is that not preferable to being forced to hand over all of your money? Does voting for the former amount to sanctioning the mugging?
Naturally, we who are libertarians would rather not be mugged at all. And would prefer no one else gets mugged, either. Libertarian moral philosophy is the only secular philosophy that says thou shall not steal. It makes no exception for stealing when it is called “taxes.” Every human being has a natural right to that which is theirs, which no other human being has any “right” to take the smallest portion of. Libertarians hold that the ultimate form of property is that which we possess in ourselves. That to assert the smallest degree of ownership over another person’s person is to assert a master-slave relationship, irrespective of whatever relative freedom the slave is permitted by the master. The existence of the relationship is established by the fact of the relationship.
Libertarians support all that flows from the above, including the right to be let alone – no matter how much someone else might not like whatever it is you are doing – or not doing. So long as whatever you are doing (and not doing) cannot be shown to have caused material harm to another person, libertarians say the right to do as you like is a moral absolute. It does not mean anyone else is obliged to like it – much less support it.
Libertarians like the idea of voluntaryism – which means just that. People should be free, by right, to deal with one another (or not) on a purely (and mutually) voluntary basis. That it is morally wrong to force anyone to have to deal with anyone else he’d otherwise prefer to avoid dealing with – for whatever reason. Avoiding someone is not harming that someone. To say otherwise is to say the person who is avoiding somehow owes the person he wishes to avoid a positive good of some kind, such as in the context of being compelled to do business with him.
This is morally absurd – unless you believe in slavery. We are each owed nothing more (or less) than that our rights be equally respected. Persuasion and freely-given cooperation are the only moral basis for human interactions – not coercion. You are responsible for your actions. No one is responsible for the actions of others.
These are all excellent ideas.
But how will such ideas be propagated by refusing to participate? Is it immoral to make common cause with people who agree with many of the things libertarians agree on, if they do not agree with everything libertarians insist on?
Principles are important – and should always be defended as principles. Stealing is always wrong, as a moral principle. We each have an absolute and inviolable right to our property, including our physical bodies. And the corollary – which is the principle that no one has any right to assert ownership to the smallest degree over anyone else’s body. These are appealing principles because they respect and benefit everyone to the same degree.
Do we who esteem such principles compromise them by establishing common cause with people who do not share them entirely? There is an almost religious aspect to such an insistence in that it is an insistence upon moral perfection. That may apply in heaven, but we live in this imperfect world where the best that can be hoped for is the better rather than the worse.
Arguably – ironically – we strengthen the much-worse by refusing to find common cause with the better, wherever such is possible. This does not mean we endorse the less-than-perfect. Especially if we continue to defend the principles. Theft is theft, no matter what it is called. No matter how many vote for it. No one owns anyone else and – thus – no one has any right to tell anyone else how to live their life.
So long as these principles aren’t compromised, libertarians are not compromised by finding common cause with people who are not entirely libertarian where they can.
Ronald Reagan – who wasn’t a libertarian – said a wise thing once about “the man who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally, not a 20 percent traitor.” This is wise politics without compromising one’s moral philosophy.
And the more “80 percenters” we libertarians find common cause with, the closer we may get to 100 percent.
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