The Libertarian Defense League v.

The Libertarian Defense League v. George Will — George Will bizarrely characterizes libertarianism as “faux conservatism.” Have libertarians ever tried to pass off their ideology as conservative? Are gay marriage, legalized heroin, open markets for prostitution and so forth easily confused for conservatism? Someone please explain this to me.

In any case, the libertarian view is not “that freedom exists where government compulsion does not,” as Will puts it. If my next door neighbor puts a gun to my head, dresses me in a latex body suit, and chains me to the pool table in his rec room, my freedom no longer exists, and government compulsion didn’t have anything to do with it. The libertarian view is just that government compulsion is not morally special. If it’s wrong for my neighbor to force me to do things I wouldn’t volunteer to do, then it’s wrong for the government too, and for the same reasons. After all, the government is just a bunch of folks like me and my neighbor.

Will goes on to argue that libertarians make a fetish of freedom in a way that fails to face the reality of conflicting political values, such as freedom, equality and order. Well, these don’t seem to me to conflict. Freedom is about being unconstrained by others to do what you like as long as you don’t use violence to keep others from doing what they like. Order is just the efficient maintenance of the peace that freedom entails. And the only kind of equality that matters morally is equality of violent power over others. We should all be as equal as is possible in having no (or as little as is really necessary) violent power over others. If everyone is equal in violent power such that no one can coerce others, then there is order, and everyone is free. Ta da!

Of course, the trick is how you keep people from coercing others by allowing some people (police) to have special powers to use pre-emptive and retaliatory violence, but without allowing this power to be abused? And how do you defend your borders against agressors without a big expensive military? And how do you pay for it if no one is allowed to just take your money, whether you like it or not? Good questions, all of which have interesting anwers!

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center