Against Libertarian Infighting
By Robert Higgs • Sunday February 9, 2014 3:55 PM PST •
Like any ideology that has attracted a substantial following, libertarianism has splintered into a variety of sects. Thus, there are hard-core and soft-core libertarians; plumb-line and big-tent libertarians; Rothbard-loving and Rothbard-hating libertarians; pro-political and anti-political libertarians; academic and movement libertarians; thick and thin libertarians; socially conventional and libertine libertarians; pro-war and anti-war libertarians; bleeding-heart and bleeding-ulcer libertarians; beltway and backwoods libertarians; uptight and party-animal libertarians; among others. Unfortunately, many libertarians devote substantial energy to quarreling with other libertarians. To some extent, such quarreling helps to refine people’s thinking, but for the most part it is a waste of time and does nothing to move us closer to the goal that all libertarians share—the shrinkage of the state as it now exists.
My view is that libertarianism is best regarded as an ideology focused on moving from the current state toward a smaller state—for some of us, a state so much smaller that it ultimately disappears completely and gives way to governance via individual, explicit, voluntary contracting between protection agencies and every adult subject to an agency’s protection of its subscribers’ natural rights. Some libertarians want their ideology to be much more encompassing, but the more encompassing one insists that it be, the more margins there are on which libertarians will disagree and hence will fight one another.
In favoring a narrow view of libertarianism, I am not saying that protection of one’s natural rights to life, liberty, and property is the only valuable thing in life—far from it. But many aspects of how one conducts one’s life outside the realm, if any, in which the state plays a role ought to remain open to each individual’s choice and free of any governing agency’s involvement. People and their values are almost infinitely diverse, and people will never agree on many elements of social arrangements that might be subjected to uniform rules of governance. Hence, the greater the scope of strictly individual self-determination, the lesser the scope of governance, and the greater the tolerance with which people live and let live among their fellows, the more peaceful and flourishing society will be. The current social and political worlds are rife with conflict of all sorts about which one-size-fits-all rule the rulers ought to impose on us. This situation is bad enough without the libertarians adding to it their own intramural conflicts.