If you have ever argued with a libertarian, there are two things which will immediately strike you as odd: 1) They are the only people who are more smug than liberals 2) They seem to have some deep hatred for government.
However, the libertarian philosophy is deeply flawed in it’s philosophy of rights. Libertarians do not truly hate the state, but only when it is convenient to do so. The easiest way to expose a libertarian’s trust in the state, is to argue for private defense.
I was recently at an IHS seminar in Santa Cruz, and I was stunned by the way I was attacked by these “anti-government” folk. I thought I was going to a conference which was in the tradition of Mises, Rothbard, Etc… After all, both IHS and CATO were founded to advance the radical ideas of Rothbard.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
I realized that I was in the wrong place. It hit me when I discovered that all of the lectures were not idealogical by any means. Instead, every lecture was about how we should work within the system to incrimentally reduce government. While I am not necessarily opposed to gradualism, I can only support it when the ultimate goal is the abolition of the state.
In discussion groups, we would not talk about how we should legalize drugs, get rid of the police state, or remove all regulations in the economy. Instead, we talked about sensible drug policies, making eminent domain used less often, and changing regulations to allow the market to operate more efficiently.
The goal of these institutions (which used to be used for the advancement of Austrian economics and demonstrate why the state is the greatest evil) is no longer the goal held by Rothbard or any radical. Instead, they are just pragmatic people who are no longer dedicated to the abolition of the state, but rather making the state better. The state is no longer the mass murdering thief that it used to be. It is now an obstacle to prosperity, which should be controlled, not abolished. It is no longer immoral, but rather impractical.
So I figured that these seminars were filled with disappointed people like me. Once again, Iwas wrong.
When we would get into our group discussions, I was ridiculed for having “radical” beliefs. I soon discovered that these “libertarians”, don’t hate government, they are simply annoyed with it.
But maybe they aren’t even annoyed with it. These same people who claim that government does more harm than good instantly worship the state whenever topics such as law or defense come into play. When I said that government has no role in society, everyone quickly jumped to those topics. They could not figure out how this could work. Government is absolutely necessary, private companies could not possibly be up to such a task. It would be absolute chaos.
So notice two things here: 1) There is no talk of right or wrong. 2) How come the government always makes things worse and the market is always better, yet when it comes to this, it is the exact opposite?
Every conversation consisted of “how will that work?” rather than “is that right or wrong?”. The morality has been completely removed from their arguments. The discussions had nothing to do with natural rights, but instead were composed of utilitarian claims based on how the government is impractical.
I won’t say that I gained nothing from this experience, but if this is the direction of the libertarian movement, I’m no longer on board. There were a couple bright people there, but most of the students were just repeating what they have read on the CATO blog. They were just looking for opportunities for internships at CATO and other institutions. The knowledge of the students was very shallow, especially that of Austrian economics and natural rights philosophy. If you ask them about trade in Armenia, they can talk for hours. Beyond that, it was weak.
Some students were on fire for hatred of government, but this was all they had. Passion without knowledge is useless. However, I would much rather have passionate libertarians than libertarians with no principles. The only other passion that I saw, was the hatred for Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, and the Mises Institute.
Another random fact, is that I only heard the word “liberty” 3 times at a week long libertarian conference. I think I’ll be looking for a seminar with either the Mises Institute or FEE next summer. No more IHS.