Sunday, May 04, 2014

A Brief Note on Lew Rockwell's "The Future of Libertarianism"

I was looking back over an email discussion today, and decided that something I wrote really merited a blog post. Your mileage on that judgment call may vary, of course.

The topic is Lew Rockwell's latest piece on the "thin" versus "thick" argument that's been taking up so much movement discussion space lately. Specifically, these two parts of that piece:

We have been told by some libertarians in recent months that yes, yes, libertarianism is about nonaggression and private property and all that, but that it is really part of a larger project opposed to all forms of oppression, whether state-imposed or not. This has two implications for the thick libertarian. First, opposing the state is not enough; a real libertarian must oppose various other forms of oppression, even though none of them involve physical aggression. Second, libertarianism should be supported because the reduction or abolition of the state will yield the other kinds of outcomes many thick libertarians support: smaller firms, more worker cooperatives, more economic equality, etc.


The danger is that thick libertarianism will import its other concerns, which by their own admission do not involve the initiation of physical force, into libertarianism itself, thereby transforming it into something quite different from the straightforward and elegant moral and social system we have been defending for generations.

My take on it, with some [bracketed] enhancements/clarifications:

Libertarianism is EITHER a single constraint OR a "moral and social system."

If it is the latter, it's going to have to include elements other than [the Non-Aggression Principle], because the NAP is not sufficient to answer all questions that morality and society raise.

If it's the former, there are going to be multiple "moral and social systems" which answer to the descriptor "libertarian" but may be very different from each other.

My way of dealing with this conundrum is to treat it as a single constraint [said constraint being the Non-Aggression Principle] and conclude that there is no single "libertarian philosophy." It may turn out that there is only one that, looking backward from a distant future, turns out to not have been flawed, but "libertarian" is not the same thing as "correct in every respect" and there are and will continue to be numerous "libertarian philosophies" and "libertarian philosophical systems," most of them in a continuous state of development, discovery, etc.

Lew's way of dealing with this conundrum -- and not just Lew['s], but [that of many] other allegedly "thin libertarians" -- is to try to have his cake and eat it too: Pretend that libertarianism is just a single constraint, while simultaneously constantly introducing claims, arguments and conclusions which do not derive solely and directly from the NAP (which of course makes the claims [recently made by some people] that they are actually "thick libertarians" ring true).

The "thick libertarian" way of dealing with this conundrum is to treat libertarianism as a single "moral and social system" which includes both the NAP and other things (although they may not agree on what those other things are).

Side note: A secondary reason for this post is to test the reverse of Robert Wenzel's theory that libertarian bloggers can boost their traffic by defending Lew. I suspect that attacking -- or at least arguing with -- Lew can produce similar results.

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