June 30, 2016 by Liberty
Most discussions of libertarianism revolve around liberty and the non-aggression principle. I find these discussions are all skirting around the real defining factor of libertarianism in my mind. Libertarianism doesn’t have to be a complex discussion of what is or isn’t defined as aggression. Sure, those conversations can still take place but they’re virtually irrelevant to defining the difference between a libertarian and a statist.
Anarchists and political Libertarians tend to get along quite well despite their varying views on degree of aggression acceptable. This varying is generally around the strictness of adhering to the non-aggression principle. For that reason, small “L” libertarianism shouldn’t be defined by that factor. Anarchists, minarchists, and Libertarians are all libertarians. This is one of the few areas where those groups diverge from one another. To define a term encompassing multiple groups with one of the few things they disagree about seems silly to me.
When it comes to trying to define libertarianism through liberty it becomes an even more complex mess. You won’t find a single agreed upon definition of liberty anywhere. It’s just another issue that kind of relates to the subject but isn’t helpful at all at defining it to the average person. Even if there were some specific way to define libertarian in those terms, virtually no one would understand it.
Libertarianism can be defined in a nutshell but it’s best understood with a contrast.
The Knowledge Of Politics
Political beliefs tend to imply knowledge.
A person has their political beliefs because they believe they have knowledge that can improve the world (or achieve their particular goal.) A republican might support the NSA recording phone calls or intercepting messages because the republican believes the facts suggest it is good for security. A democrat might support increasing the minimum wage because that democrat believes the facts suggest the economy will improve. (I’m getting chills…)
Of course, both political parties believe that taxing citizens to achieve their respective goals is less of a cost than the benefit it provides. They believe the bureaucracy of government is a more efficient means to allocate resources in certain cases. (Sure, government is good for that but government shouldn’t do this.) For example, government is good at social security but shouldn’t do healthcare or government should do healthcare but it shouldn’t distribute the food.
The political belief is (ideally) defined by the facts as understood by that individual. Depending on which facts they interact with, believe, and value, they may come up with different political opinions.
For example, the CATO institute might be definitive proof for a Republican and a biased sh*tshow to Democrats. This can be looked into deeper but we only need to scratch the surface:
Republicans and Democrats believe that they have the knowledge to make these decisions.
Taxation and spying are accepted to be “bad” things in the moment but the political belief suggests there is enough knowledge to properly use that immediate negative consequence to produce a positive long term result.
(Even if that “knowledge” is sometimes as simple as knowing your political party is smarter than the opposing one.)
These discussions only take place in realms where some knowledge exists.
You don’t see people discussing the intricacy of interplanetary politics. That’s because everyone understands that the knowledge to understand interplanetary politics isn’t around. It’s well understood that having those discussions would be silly when we know as little as we do. (We don’t even know if it will be relevant in the future.)
This is where libertarian beliefs tend to separate from political ones. (Libertarian beliefs tend to be apolitical.)
What We Don’t Know
Libertarianism implies a lack of knowledge.
That might sound like an insult but it’s not.
The libertarian political party does, to some extent, imply some knowledge. I, personally, don’t agree with most of those claims. That being said, I’ve never met a libertarian party member that isn’t skeptical of absolutely every aspect of government. (I’m sure the unskeptical ones are out there but they aren’t common.)
Taxing people more and spying on them may be able to make the world a better place. It’s possible that some strange formulation of bad things can add up to something good. (Maybe it’s some kind of a societal vaccine system?) That being said, libertarians believe the evidence suggests we don’t have that formulation.
You (typically) don’t need to force people to do something if it’s in their own best interest.
There is a difference between the libertarians use of their belief and the statists typical use of their belief.
Statists are, unambiguously, doing things that are bad. They are spying as a means to an end or they are taxing as a means to an end or they might even be killing as a means to an end. If the statist is wrong about their formulation then they are unambiguously doing bad things.
Being a libertarian certainly doesn’t imply someone is a good person. It’s morally ambiguous. It implies that they accept their lack of a final answer. It’s morally ambiguous if they’re wrong and there really is some formulation of negatives that can improve the world. If they’re right then it’s a moral good to not support the unambiguously bad.
In comparison to the typical political beliefs: The typical political belief is to hurt people first (taxation, war, etc.) and help people second. The libertarian belief is to not hurt people first (and possibly, or ideally, help people second.)
If a statist is wrong, it’s a negative for the world. If a libertarian is wrong, it’s morally neutral (in the same way a person in a coma can’t be blamed for not saying god bless you.) Of course, if a libertarian is right then the world has at least one more person not supporting bad things.
Libertarianism in a nutshell is the acceptance of three little words:
I Don’t Know
The vast majority of the world is too busy trying to sound smart to actually have any idea what they’re talking about. Look at how the average political commentator discusses their particular views on an issue. Compare that to the average scientist writing a conclusion for their experiment.
The average political commentator will talk with confidence spewing in every direction about issues that have been fought over for all of human history. Many studies have proven both sides of the issues cases “definitively.” You’ll see similar confidence from everyone involved in politics. Even politicians constantly caught in lies speak with such confidence that it’s hard to doubt them for a second.
The average scientist (I’m not even saying a skilled scientist… just the average,) will make their experiment sound completely insignificant in the grand scheme of science. They’ll list the flaws in their thinking. They’ll hand over ammunition for all of their opponents to use against them. In fact, scientists that hand the most ammunition to their opponents are often given more respect.
Despite that, or in my opinion because of that, science consistently pushes itself into a more and more important position for our lives. In fact, if that doubt were to go away, it would hardly be defined as science.
The doubt is where science progresses. (Einstein had to accept that Newton could be wrong. Otherwise, he would have never been able to help push science forward.)
Around the world, people are threatening and attacking each other over their political beliefs. They are so confident in those beliefs that they’re ready kill each other for disagreeing. Libertarianism, in a nutshell, is the belief that people shouldn’t be confident enough to kill people over unproven theories.
Libertarians tend to have a defiant streak in them. In spirit of that: don’t follow this blog. Don’t check out the archives. And… don’t you dare wait anxiously in a curled up ball in the corner of your bedroom crying and urinating on yourself until the next post is up… I’m serious… Don’t.