Libertarianism does not offer a purpose for life or an explanation for our existence. It only deals with the use of violence or aggression.
An article titled “The Limits of Libertarianism” by William Moyer proves a point I make often – notwithstanding Moyer admits he is not a libertarian anymore. He says he is not a libertarian because it doesn’t have specific morals and beliefs attached to it about what people should think.
Many people think they are libertarians because they smoke weed or don’t like cops or hate having to pay taxes. Or they think libertarianism offers societal values and morals, when all it does it provide an explanation for a person’s right to engage in such behavior, not the morality of it.
But it doesn’t. You can be a fundamentalist Christian or an outspoken freethinking atheist. Doesn’t matter. As long as you respect each other’s rights, you’re a libertarian.
Stephen Kinsella wrote a response to Moyer’s column that makes this point, in addition to the fact that he has much stronger grasp of libertarianism than I do.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy, not a broader “social philosophy.” It is hard to understand why this is a criticism of libertarianism….Libertarians routinely employ knowledge from other and related disciplines in their libertarian reasoning, such as history, the natural sciences, economics, sociology, cultural studies, psychology, and so on…..And this means that only laws aimed at aggression are justified, and laws that use force against people who have not committed aggression are themselves aggression. This in turn implies that someone is libertarian if and to the extent they oppose aggression. No matter what their aesthetics or religion or sexual preference, and even if they are bores are rude or ill-mannered or dishonest or craven.
Likewise, the Austrian School of Economics discusses just that, economics. It is not a religious, moral, or political philosophy. It attempts to explain economic matters, such as the theory of the business cycle.
A while back, a writer fell into this trap when he wrote a critique of libertarianism for the American Thinker. In the article he criticized Human Action by Ludwig Von Mises, a book that deals with economics, not political philosophy. The writer also rejected libertarianism because he said it didn’t offer any values beyond the material world, which is a strange thing to say, since even Mises himself criticized economists who thought this way.
Tom Woods addresses this flawed thinking about both libertarianism and Austrian economics in this video.
People who become libertarians for the right reasons do so because they see it as the best and most logical political philosophy for how people should interact with one another, which is voluntarily. We don’t join because it tells us that our lifestyle choices or morals are acceptable; all it does is tell us that we should be allowed to do it, provided it does not violate other peoples’ rights.
Libertarianism doesn’t provide meaning to our lives anymore than physics or history.
What’s really going on is a search for a religion among these dissidents. That’s why many of them abandon or try to steer away from libertarianism and adopt other beliefs in addition to it and then say that is what all libertarians should believe.
Consider how easy it is for people to accept the role of government as a religion. It has its prayer (the pledge of allegiance) its holy scripture (Supreme Court rulings, executive decisions/orders, legislation and law), its priests and ministers (teachers, professors, scholars, ext.) its archbishops (senators, congressman), its ephors (Supreme Court justices), its zealots (soldiers/ police) and then its high priest (the president). It has its cathedrals, its sacred monuments, its altars, rituals and sacrifices. The State decrees morality and social norms as to how we should behave and interact with one another and uses violence and coercion to enforce those decrees. It provides a purpose to citizens, that they exist to serve the State, from whom all blessings flow and without whom the world would be in chaos and violence.
If you think I exaggerate or misstate when I call it a religion, consider the knee-jerk reaction with which people tend to respond to the mere suggestion of a state-less society. You will hear the immediate “but without government, who would build the roads” and “people would be shooting one another” and “there’d be riots everywhere.” This will also be said while discounting the bloodiest wars and conflicts in human history that comprised much of the 20th Century.