The Libertarian Contradiction

7 minute read Published:

An excerpt from The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Perhaps the best illustration of how the belief in “authority” warps thinking and gets in the way of achieving freedom is the fact that there is a “Libertarian” political party. The heart and soul of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle: the idea that initiating force or fraud against another is always wrong, and that force is justified only if used in defense against aggression. The principle is perfectly sound, but trying to make it a reality via any political process is completely self-contradictory, because “government” and non-aggression are utterly incompatible. If the organization called “government” stopped using any threats or violence, except to defend against aggressors, it would cease to be “government”. It would have no right to rule, no right to “legislate,” no monopoly on protection, and no right to do anything which any other human being does not have the right to do.

One excuse for libertarian political activism is the claim that society can transform from its current authoritarian arrangement into a truly free society only if it does so slowly and gradually. However, that has never happened, and never will happen, for a very simple reason: either there is such a thing as “authority”, or there is not. Either there is a legitimate ruling class with the right to rule everyone, or each individual owns himself and is beholden only to his own conscience. The two are mutually exclusive paradigms. It is impossible for there to be an in-between, because whenever there is a conflict between what “authority” commands and what one’s individual judgment dictates, it is impossible to obey both. One must outrank the other. If “authority” outranks conscience, then the common folk are all the rightful property of the ruling class, in which case freedom cannot and should not exist. If, on the other hand, conscience outranks “authority”, then each person owns himself, and each must always follow his own judgment of right and wrong, no matter what any self-proclaimed “authority” or “law” may command. There cannot be a “gradual shift” between the two, nor can there be a compromise.

Trying to convert libertarianism into a political movement requires a mangled, perverted hybrid of the two options: the idea that a system of domination (“government”) can be used to achieve individual freedom. Whenever a “libertarian” lobbies for legislation or runs for office, he is, by his own actions, conceding that “authority” and man-made “law” is legitimate. But if one actually believed in the non-aggression principle, he would understand that the commands of politicians (”laws”) cannot trump that principle, and any “law” that is contrary to the principle is illegitimate. This goes for the idea of “unalienable rights” as well. If an individual has an inherent right to do something, then, by definition, he does not need any permission from tyrants to do it. He does not need to lobby for a change in “legislation”, and does not need to try to elect some master who will choose to respect his rights.

Anyone who actually believes in the principle of non-aggression – the underlying premise of libertarianism – must be an anarchist, as it is logically impossible to oppose the initiation of violence while supporting any form of “government”, which is nothing but violence. And libertarians cannot be Constitutionalists, as the Constitution quite plainly (in Article I, Section 8) claims to bestow upon some people the right to initiate violence, via “taxation” and “regulation”, among other things. The principle of libertarianism logically rules out all “government”, even a constitutional republic. (Anyone who tries to describe a “government” which commits no acts of aggression will describe, at best, a private security company.) Nonetheless, so many people have been so thoroughly trained into the authoritarian mindset that even when they can see the obvious moral superiority of living by the non-aggression principle (the basis of libertarianism), they still refuse to give up the absurd notion that the right to rule (”authority”) can be used as a tool for freedom and justice.

There is a fundamental difference between arguing about what the master should do – which is what all “politics” consists of – and declaring that the master has no right to rule at all. To be a Libertarian candidate is to try to do both of these conflicting things. It obviously legitimizes the office the candidate seeks to hold, even while the candidate is claiming to believe in the principles of non-aggression and self-ownership, which completely rule out the possibility of any legitimate “public office”. In short, if the goal is individual freedom, “political action” is not only worthless, it is hugely counter-productive, because the main thing it accomplishes is to legitimize the ruling class’s power. The only way to achieve freedom is to first achieve mental freedom, by realizing that no one has any right to rule another, which means that “government” is never legitimate, it is never moral, it is never even real. Those who have not yet realized that, and continue to try to petition “the system” to make them free, are playing right into the hands of the tyrants. Even petitioning for lower levels of “taxation” or “government” spending, or asking for things to be “legalized” or “deregulated”, or begging for other reductions in “government” control over the people, still do nothing to address the real problem, and in fact add to the real problem, by unwittingly repeating and reinforcing the idea that if the people want freedom, they need to have freedom “legalized.” Political action, by its very nature, always empowers the ruling class and disempowers the people.

If enough people recognize and let go of the “authority” myth, there is no need for any election, any political action, or any revolution. If the people did not imagine themselves to have an obligation to obey the politicians, the politicians would literally be ignored into irrelevance. In fact, the belief in “democracy” dramatically reduces the ability of the people to resist tyranny, by limiting the ways in which they resist it. For example, if 49% of the population wanted lower levels of “taxation”, but maintained their belief in “authority”, they could accomplish exactly nothing via “democracy.” On the other hand, if even 10% of the population wanted no “taxation” at all and had escaped the myth of “authority” (including the “democratic” kind), they could achieve their goal easily by simple non-compliance. Using the U.S. as an example, if twenty million people – less than 10% of American “taxpayers” – openly refused to cooperate with attempts by the IRS to extort them, the ruling class would be powerless to do anything about it, and the infamous Internal Revenue Service, along with the massive extortion racket it administers, would grind to a halt. It would be utterly impossible for 100,000 IRS employees to continually rob millions of Americans who felt no obligation to pay. In fact, it would be impossible for any agency to enforce any “law” which even a fraction of the public could disobey with no feeling of shame or guilt. Brute force alone could not achieve compliance.

Any large population of people that did not perceive obedience, in and of itself, to be a virtue, and felt no inherent duty to obey the commands of those claiming the right to rule, would be utterly impossible to oppress. Wars occur only because people feel obliged to go into battle when “authority” tells them to. (As the saying goes, “What if they had a war, and nobody came?”) As long as the people car be duped into perpetually begging for freedom to be “legalized”, they will be easy to subjugate and control. As long as a person’s perceived duty to obey “authority” outranks his own personal beliefs and individual judgment, his beliefs and opinions are, as a practical matter, irrelevant. Unless and until a freedom advocate is willing to disobey the master – to “break the law” – his supposed love of freedom is a lie, and will accomplish nothing.