Libertarians Are Nothing Special


Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

Libertarians (and anarchists) like to think of themselves as enlightened beings. I get to see a nice cross-section of them on Facebook, many having something like “voluntaryist” as part of their Facebook name. The strange thing though, is that their behavior is almost indistinguishable from anyone else over there.
Yes, they may have at least a theoretical respect for the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP)--certainly evident in the words they post--but it’s their actions that matter most, don’t you think? How do their actions differ from those of everyone else?
They mostly don’t.
It starts out with some hater making fun of something. Lately it’s been the American flag. Then everybody piles on, and you end up with flag lovers and flag haters talking (yelling) right past each other. All the while, the rulers are in the background, snickering. Puppets, getting their strings jerked . . . .
I have a little theory about things like flags. I get the impression that people generally need some kind of mental landmark to orient themselves to the world. Some examples are: Jesus, flag, Constitution, the Republic, democracy, <a href="">rights</a>, and NAP. For a while, until I looked at it this way, flag-waving made no sense to me. But the people who attach themselves to these mental landmarks have great difficulty questioning them, even though some might be false or misleading. They stubbornly hang on to them, to keep their bearings, and nothing but a great shock is going to get these people to abandon them.
Say my neighbor hangs out a flag on July 4. What do I see when I look at it? Imperialism, the murder of innocents, a fascist-oligarchic form of government, tyranny. What does he see? Great people, free enterprise, freedom, charity, rolling waves of grain, etc. Now, I ask you, what purpose does it serve to bash the flag when this--all that is good--is what he sees in it? He sees it as bashing all that is good! He sees it from his point of view, not mine. Whose purpose would I serve by bashing it?
Certainly not mine.
Look, maybe he came to appreciate that flag when he was in some battle somewhere, and that simple rag was the only thing that kept him from despair. It’s irrelevant to say that that battle shouldn’t even have been taking place. You will simply further alienate him (even though he may already know it). The last thing you are doing is educating him. (I have to laugh at all the so-called “educating” going on, by people who don’t know the first thing about it, people missing even simple empathy.)
“Well,” you may say, “maybe we don’t care about alienating him. He’s just a statist idiot anyway.”
This is extremely short-sighted, and far from the rationality that libertarians claim to embody.
I’m in the middle of reading Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty. I can honestly say it is the most exciting history I’ve read, even with all the innumerable details. What could be better than reading history by someone who actually loved liberty?
Guess what happened when Parliament imposed the Stamp Act? Looks like most Americans put aside their very real differences and pulled together to fight it. And it worked; the Stamp Act was repealed, and in short order too. This cooperation was even more important later on, when the Revolution got going.
You may need that flag-waver’s help some day.
After you’ve got done pissing on religious people, and pissing on flag wavers, and pissing on liberals or conservatives, and pissing on even geolibertarians, who’s going to be left to give you a hand? Another idiot or two just like you, with no common sense. Good luck with that!
Stop doing the state’s bidding. Stop jumping when he pulls your strings. Ease up on the emotional, unthinking attacks.
Think what you are trying to accomplish. Then look at the most effective ways to get to that, and avoid the traps that prevent it happening. It’s a revolutionary act to orient yourself with oppressed others, and against the state.
Some guy who puts a flag up, or who goes to church, or who votes, is not your enemy. This behavior may be wrong in your eyes, but it’s not really your business, is it? And it’s pretty minor anyway--it can’t simultaneously be true that voting doesn’t matter, and that voting is a huge evil. Think of it as a character defect that you’ve decided to put up with.
“Know thine enemy!” Who is it? The ruling class. The only ones with both the power and the motivation to impose on you, and enslave you. The only ones with a continual history of doing so. Keep reminding yourself. Stop doing things that make the rulers happy.
I don’t think there will ever be a libertarian paradise, or some kind of utopia. Humans don’t have it in them; we will always be the same cussed, emotional, confused, inconsistent, self-destructive beings we’ve always been. But I do think there is a lot of room for improvement over what we have now, and we’re being swept along in the current towards revolution or secession in any case. I hope we can set aside our differences with our fellows; it would make the ride a hell of a lot easier.
By the way, this column is a form of mea culpa. I’ve indulged (and when I’m careless, continue to indulge) in these counterproductive behaviors myself.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


John deLaubenfels's picture

Watch out, Paul, or you'll get purists like Per Bylund on your case! But perhaps he's moved on to greener pastures; I haven't seen much from him here lately about how anyone who admits that there MIGHT be justification for a small government should be shunned.

I've wrestled for some time with the issues you raise. On a train trip not long ago I sat at dinner with three other people, all of them pleasantly spouting what I consider to be statist nonsense. For some reason I didn't feel moved to put forth even a mild objection to their assumptions, and afterward I berated myself for not doing so. But more and more I'm coming to believe that people learn only when they're willing to learn, and that it's useless or even counterproductive to try to convince them of something they aren't ready to accept.

Of course we should not be silent at all times, but it's a judgement call, with considerations not easily quantified, as to when it's productive to speak up. And definitely you're right in saying that it's silly to write off people with whom we have philosophical objections: that road leads only to isolation and marginalization.

Samarami's picture


    "...I'm coming to believe that people learn only when they're willing to learn, and that it's useless or even counterproductive to try to convince them of something they aren't ready to accept..."

I'm in full agreement on that score, John. I try to always remember the old childhood jingo-jangle: "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still".


roark1979's picture

Dear Paul, The ruling class does not rule without at least tacit popular support. Your neighbor is at least partially responsible for oppression. As far as the "voluntaryists" are concerned on facebook, what aspect of the non-aggression principle have they failed to respect? Is it their inability to communicate why the NAP should be adhered to? Last that I checked, no violence had occurred. I say make 'em feel guilty for wanting others to steal from you for their government cause of the day.

Samarami's picture

Paul, I always look forward to your essays. You have the capability to calm the h2o even while stirring up the troops.

Flag-wavers, religionists, conservatives, liberals -- none present a threat to us when our own houses are in order. Seems the ambience of libertarianism has to do with presenting our message of liberty without ourselves being rude or unkind or combative.

Plenty of time (we hope) for many of those who fit the above categories to turn around and pursue freedom and liberty and put their hands out to us for help. When that occurs I want the hand of our fellowship to be there for them.


Samarami's picture
    "...until I looked at it this way, flag-waving made no sense to me. But the people who attach themselves to these mental landmarks have great difficulty questioning them, even though some might be false or misleading..."

Today was interesting for me in light of your essay and this particular thought therein. I love my family. I accept every opportunity to be with them and the grandkids (they have nine -- 9!!!). I'm rather of a "lame-duck", since the older children are now capable to ride herd on the little ones, eliminating much of what had been "grandpa duty".

They are caught up in Ron Paul, flags, 4th of July parades and the idea that a good state must be a good thing (now all we need to do is work toward a "good state" -- oxymoron of oxymorons, but whom am I to judge???). They have homeschooling neighbors, the husband of whom is candidate for political office (state senator).

Since I'm a "Korean Vet" they dutifully asked me to march along with them in the float all the homeschoolers had worked so diligently to construct for today's parade.
I discreetly declined.

Dave, my son (6th of my 7 children) knows I oppose the aggrandizement of war and I refuse all endearments bestowed upon "veterans" for the purpose of legitimizing predators of state and their waring agendas. Dave knows that I would never participate in such a spectacle.

But he had to ask, knowing I had to decline. Gently.

I compromised and drove the shuttle bus to meet them at the parade's terminus, returning them to their van. I fueled the bus and busied myself elsewhere during the parade.

Afterward I took them all out for dinner and we enjoyed family time together. I realized, as did my family, that we live in a waring, nationalistic mentality. I can non-caustically side-step involvement. They've been around Dr. Paul enough to know "we" have no business interfering in the internal affairs of foreign political entities.

I let them know in no uncertain terms that the US Military is and has always been a threat -- not a contributor -- to peace in this part of the world. Never insult me by thanking me for serving. I served nobody. Sam

Paul's picture

"The ruling class does not rule without at least tacit popular support."

This is true. I think it is also true that anarchists cannot have liberty without at least tacit popular support. So, we need to find some kind of accommodation with them, isn't that so?

Let's work in our own interests, as consistently as we can figure out how to do that.