The Libertarian Republic That Wasn’t

I’ve criticized the publisher of the Libertarian Republic previously for running a site titled as such, only to describe himself as a minarchist or constitutionalist. He has now articulated his vision of what a “libertarian republic” would look like.

If it was written to relieve the apprehensions of libertarians as to the site’s objectives, it didn’t serve this purpose well (somehow I doubt libertarians were the intended audience).

To be fair and give credit where credit is due, his foreign policy stance is commendable – indeed, half the problems of the state are caused by in one area – but as the name of his site should suggest, this “manifesto” or “vision” is intellectually appalling no matter what your political beliefs are.

Let us begin.

Libertarianism Versus Federalism

The publisher starts by describing his vision of a “libertarian republic.”

A “Libertarian Republic” is a concept that attempts to describe an ideal form of governance for a nation devoted to classical liberal ideas. It reflects a desire for the power of governance to be situated as near to the citizens being governed as possible. It is to invoke the ideas of Federalism and to imply that a government of limited powers, bound by constitutional restraints, with institutions of balanced power and citizen participation is best for a peaceful, humble republic. (emphasis added)

The statement makes no sense. A government based on federalism is not libertarian. It is, shockingly, federalist (Perhaps Federalist Republic would have been a more accurate name for the site).

And how is this “government of limited powers, bound by constitutional restraints” any different from the one created by the U.S. Constitution in 1789? The federalists argued that it would be a strictly limited government with specific powers, no more.

As Madison wrote in Federalist 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.

Needless to say, this is not an accurate reflection of the current federal government. Not much else needs to be said on that.

All Taxation is Theft

The publisher has another problem: A government relies on taxes. A “libertarian” society forbids taxes because they are theft. How does he get around this? By inventing a tax that doesn’t exist.

Taxation in a libertarian republic would ideally be limited to only those forms of taxation that are strictly voluntary. Examples of a voluntary taxes are sales taxes and lotteries. Involuntary taxes are income taxes, tariffs, user fees, fines and duties. If a libertarian republic were to enact a system of involuntary taxation, that republic ceases to exist the moment those taxes are collected by force..Involuntary taxation which requires force to collect must be regarded as a form of theft and resisted by an alert and responsible citizenry by any means necessary in order to preserve individual liberty from collectivist persecution (emphasis added).

There is simply too much to unravel here, but let’s start with the obvious fact that is no such thing as a voluntary tax. Taxes are, by their very definition, involuntary.

A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions.

Sales taxes are still taxes, which are all compulsory. All taxes, no matter what description goes before them, are coercive. Once they cease to be compulsory, but are freely given in exchange for a good or service, then it is no longer a tax but a fee or charge for a service rendered. Consent is the fundamental difference between a business charging its customers and a government taxing its citizens.

What makes this so baffling is that he then goes to quote, at length, Lysander Spooner on how taxation is theft.

I am going to repost the entire quote and highlight the areas where the publisher seems to obtain this concept of voluntary taxes. Why he chose to quote this without further explanation on what makes his “voluntary taxes” actually voluntary is simply bewildering.

Lysander Spooner states, “It is true that the theory of our Constitution is, that all taxes are paid voluntarily; that our government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily entered into by the people with each other; that each man makes a free and purely voluntary contract with all others who are parties to the Constitution, to pay so much money for so much protection, the same as he does with any other insurance company; and that he is just as free not to be protected, and not to pay tax, as he is to pay a tax, and be protected. But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact. The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. ”

The problem with this statement isn’t that Spooner is saying most taxes are compulsory and some are not, but that most taxes are collected specifically under “that threat” of
“your money or your life.” Some taxes are collected under less lethal threats, but they are threats nonetheless.

We know this is what he meant, because Spooner also wrote that any taxation without consent is theft.

If…taxation without consent is robbery, it necessarily follows that every man who has not consented to be taxed, has the same natural right to defend his property against a taxgatherer, that he has to defend it against a highwayman.

This led Spooner to the conclusion that all taxation is theft.

If taxation without consent is robbery, the United States government has never had, has not now, and is never likely to have, a single honest dollar in its treasury.

The publisher even concurs with this.

Involuntary taxation which requires force to collect must be regarded as a form of theft and resisted by an alert and responsible citizenry by any means necessary in order to preserve individual liberty from collectivist persecution.

This voluntary socialist setup creates a classic Prisoner Dilemma: What person would “consent” to a voluntary tax when others can reap the benefits but not pay? Does anyone honestly believe such a system would last a day?

Taxes must be compulsory, because no one would consent to them. People may consent to others paying it, they may “consent” in theory, but if given the choice they will not pay, if for no other reasons then because they know others will take advantage of them for doing so.

The very nature of libertarianism teaches that “taxation is theft,” as Murray Rothbard remarked:

The first great lesson to learn about taxation is that taxation is simply robbery. No more and no less. For what is “robbery”? Robbery is the taking of a man’s property by the use of violence or the threat thereof, and therefore without the victim’s consent. And yet what else is taxation?

No Government Can Be “Libertarian,” No Matter How “Limited” It Is

I’m not attacking the publisher for not being a “purist,” as so many claim about libertarians. The politics of the Libertarian Republic are infinitely better than a neocon or progressive site. The government he describes is, obviously, vastly preferable to our current one.

The entire issue I have is his use of the word “libertarian” while arguing for a limited government and “voluntary taxes,” which smacks of anti-intellectualism and outright contradictions. It is impossible to overlook.

These complaints may seem trivial and nit-picky, but they are significant because the publisher is running a site that purports to be libertarian and thus is perceived to be a representative of the movement. For him to write with such philosophical laziness not only perpetuates the destruction of our language but creates confusion over what libertarianism is.

Calling a government “libertarian” is like describing a Christian denomination as “atheistic” (The punchline of this joke). Just as atheism rejects the idea of God, libertarianism rejects the idea of the state because it is based on aggression.

Let us suppose that this “libertarian” republic were financed through a voluntary lottery, using money obtained without coercion. This still leaves us with the use of aggression and coercion that is an inherent aspect of government. A privately-funded group that coerces people into complying with their demands is just a crime syndicate.

This is why Gerard Casey describes the state in the very first sentence of his book Libertarian Anarchy Against the State as a criminal entity, which is defined as:

That group of people or that organization which wields a monopoly on allegedly legitimate force over the inhabitants of a determined territory financed by a compulsory levy imposed on those inhabitants.

Written Constitutions Can Never Be Considered Legitimate Contracts

Ironically, though he quoted Spooner on taxes, the publisher choose not to use any of his statements on written constitutions from his work “No Treason” in which he attacks the idea that written constitutions can be seen as legitimate or legally binding contracts.

The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing.

Therefore, no one under the alleged authority of a libertarian republic is bound to obey its laws or rules. What happens to those who do not consent when it attempts to enforce laws, no matter how “limited” it is? In trying to act as the arbitrator between two parties, even laws pertaining only to private property, the government would have to use coercion, and if it does not, and it is not funded through coercion, then it is not a government.

If this libertarian republic does not use coercion or aggression, then it is no longer a republic but a private security company and et voila, you have a libertarian society.

But that isn’t how the publisher describes it. This libertarian republic is a “limited government,” a subjective and vague term that differs from person to person. In this sense, he uses the word “republic” correctly, but not “libertarian.”

As to why he uses “libertarian” at all, one can only speculate, but the idea of limited government, restrained by a written constitution, is a political theory that has proven to not work in the long run, as Murray writes in For a New Liberty:

The idea of a strictly limited constitutional State was a noble experiment that failed, even under the most favorable and propitious circumstances. If it failed then, why should a similar experiment fare any better now?”

With this in mind, if you describe yourself as a constitutionalist or minarchist and advocate for a limited a government under a written constitution as the ideal vision, then you are not a libertarian. Consequently you should stop using the word to describe the type of government you are advocating because no government was, is, or can ever be libertarian.

The very first sentence of the article makes it clear that what the publisher is describing is the preferred model, not a practical short-term solution in the march towards a stateless society. This is the desired outcome.

A “Libertarian Republic” is a concept that attempts to describe an ideal form of governance.

Adding to the confusion is his failure to explain what libertarianism is and isn’t. Ideology is critical to determining what views you are going to hold and what actions you will advocate, support, or condemn.

Libertarians Can Still Advocate for “Limited Government” Solutions

However, this does not mean you cannot look for practical solutions for reducing the state as much as possible and still remain a libertarian ideologically, because you are not legitimizing the state by doing so anymore than a prisoner legitimizes his incarceration by bribing officers to get better treatment.

One has to wonder why he didn’t simply take the next step and describe a libertarian society.

Well, he explains why, sort of.

There are no commandments that can be uttered that would create a perfect utopian society. Indeed the very definition of the word “utopia” means literally “no place”. So there are no ways to perfectly describe a system of laws that would create a truly perfect classical liberal society.

So if we’re not trying to conjure up the ideal situation, i.e. a stateless society, why describe a limited government under a written constitution as…the ideal situation? It’s the sort of statement that belongs at the beginning of the article to prefix his vision, but it almost seems like he placed it there at the end to avoid calling attention to the fact that what he is proposing is very similar to the federalist republic created in 1789, but instead he’s calling it a “libertarian” one.

It’s much like what Voltaire said about the Holy Roman Empire; that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

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10 Responses to The Libertarian Republic That Wasn’t

  1. Pingback: The Libertarian Republic That Wasn’t | Freedom's Floodgates

  2. D says:

    Personally i agree with everything you wrote, i myself am an anarchist. But my understanding is that a majority of the libertarians in the US are minarchists. I was a minarchist libertarian at one point; I wasnt even aware of the concept of libertarian anarchy. The Libertarian Party is obviously a proponent of small government and I would guess it is the leading ‘libertarian movement’ currently in existance. I guess my point is that Im surprised at your surprise and I myself always drew a line between libertarians and libertarian anarchists as being two seperate things. Thoughts?

    Like

    • One area people get confused is the difference between a person’s political philosophy and the practical ways they seek to apply it in the real world. Most of the time, they differ. I am a anarchist, for example, but practically I believe in doing whatever is ultimately effective in promoting freedom, which includes using nullification or anti-commandeering legislation. The publisher of the Libertarian Republic has stated that his philosophy is limited government, i.e. he considers government to be a legitimate entity. Practically, this is not a problem, but philosophically its troubling to run a site with the word “libertarian” and then refer to yourself as a constitutionalist.

      As for the Libertarian Party, I don’t believe it has done the greatest job articulating libertarian philosophy.

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  3. Great post and happy to find you by the way! Always nice to find another well read principled libertarian willing to speak out. I have a blog too but have not completed any posts just yet. So far I’ve really enjoyed reading yours.

    I would add that according to Rothbard’s “Power and Market” no tax is a consumption tax, since all “consumption” taxes wind up being an income tax imposed on original producers. The shortage of producers able to profit under the newly imposed “sales tax,” leading to the artificial lack of supply, is the reason for the rise in prices. I tend to agree with him on this, because if the sales tax really did add to the price, why wasn’t the price of the item in question already this high before the tax was imposed? Was the business providing the item charitably keeping prices low? Probably not. With this in mind, the collection of “sales” taxes would have to be forcibly collected from the producers and not voluntarily paid for by the consumers.

    A voluntary tax is just as ridiculous as a peaceful government.

    Having said that, libertarianism is only a word, and throughout history, as I’m sure you’re aware, words have been commandeered to mean different things. FDR’s four freedoms speech tried to redefine freedom through the eyes of a statist. The Federalist’s claim over the term to dupe people into accepting their nationalist vision for America, left the opposition with the unfavorable “Anti-Federalist” designation. The statist hijacking of the term liberal in the late 19th and early 20th century left the laissez faire movement without a political party. Libertarianism is next on the list of statist conscription. I still use it in the same way you do (no gov; not limited gov), and I also get a bit miffed when people use the term and have no idea what it means. For instance, I know someone who claims to be a libertarian in my personal life, but is really just your typical Democrat who expects free healthcare and education. It can be frustrating to say the least.

    I use the small “l” libertarian to distinguish my views from that of the limited government Libertarian Party and prefer using Rothbard’s “anarcho-capitalism” to specify my position when asked. I’m not giving up on the word, but I do take it with a grain of salt when someone claims to be libertarian. I think it is important to work with the limited government sort where we agree with them, while keeping the end goal of a completely stateless society in mind. Sorry for the long post.

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    • Glad to have you here! We need all the libertarian writers we can get.

      You’re correct that words are just words and what really matters is what people are actually saying – libertarian used to refer to communist anarchist. Of course, I would have no problem putting “liberal notebook” as the name of this website, and I would be more historically accurate. But what I write would remain the same. It’s all about whether you’re trying to enlighten people about what you believe or trick them.

      When people have different meanings for words it can cause a great deal of harm to either ideologies or actual people. It also allows people to intentionally deceive by using words in ambiguous ways. I call myself a libertarian but I also define what that means.

      Many people use terms but do not provide definitions or articulate what they mean when they use them, because the ambiguity allows them to operate within the realm of plausible deniability if and when someone tries to criticize their argument (I didn’t mean that….you’re twisting my words).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent article. I myself do not necessary consider constitutionalists or minarchists to be “unlibertarian”, but it does depend on their philosophy. In my opinion there are two types of philosophy a limited government advocate can have.
    1) Such an advocate believes a small government is a “necessary evil” because he doesn’t think a stateless society can work. But necessary or not he believes government is evil.
    2) Such an advocate believes a small government is “ideal” or a “good” thing and can be morally legitimized.
    To put it simple, Murray Rothbard once asked the all important question: “Do you hate the state?”
    A lack of creative, inventive or thorough reasoning can lead a minarchist to belong to the first category, but one belonging to the second category is simply too full of internal contradictions and hypocrisies to ever properly understand libertarianism, and thus can not logically call himself one.
    Also, constitutions can only ever be valid when agreed upon unanimously, and even then only to those who agreed upon it at the time, which excludes every newly born individual. Good luck getting unanimous approval of over 300 million people.

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  5. Pingback: Are there Such Things as Limited-Government Libertarians? | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

  6. Pingback: The Man Behind the Curtain | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

  7. Pingback: Libertarian Republic Goes Full Retard | The Anarchist Notebook

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