Philosophy and Practicality

A discussion between myself and MattWilson32 in a recent post brought up something I see too often in libertarian circles.

I can’t count how many times I’ve watched a debate ensue on Facebook or Twitter or other online forums, when the entire matter could be settled simply by clearing up a misunderstanding.

Libertarian anarchy is a political philosophy concerning the use of aggression and coercion. The philosophy provides a set of ethics, but what it does not do is prescribe a detailed manual or how-to guide in how to effect those principles. Libertarian is not tailored for any particular time in history or geopolitical location.

In other words, there is no “Great Commission” for libertarians – that they must go out and not just convert, but create a stateless society – so we are not failures when we are unable to convince others to cease their support of the state. This thus follows that the common observation that “a stateless society is impossible,” however true it may or may not prove to be, ignores that libertarian philosophy concerns itself with when the use of aggression and coercion is acceptable.

A stateless society is the ideal outcome of such a philosophy, but it is not the purpose of the philosophy itself. Even if no stateless society were ever to be formed, this wouldn’t negate the ethical principles of libertarianism. We do not have to eradicate slavery in order for slavery to be wrong.

To put it one way, might does not make right. The winner writes the history, but that doesn’t make them right.

Libertarian philosophy, for example, offers the ethics surrounding the taking of life and what constitutes murder. But it doesn’t describe how one goes about enforcing it because it is not constrained to circumstance. Some methods of enforcing this aspect of the NAP may be more effective than others. One has to take into account the social norms, culture, as well as the prevalence of government.

Libertarian philosophy also helps explain natural phenomenons as well as inherent flaws in political systems that are based on the concept of government or the state. For example, from a libertarian perspective, the root cause of police brutality is not racism or having the wrong men in charge; the system itself is flawed because it grants authority to one group of people over another who do not consent to being ruled. If you permit a person to rule over another without their consent, in violation of the NAP, there are consequences.

Philosophy helps determine what is practical and what is not when crafting solutions, though its role is limited in scope to general concepts.

This is why I believe libertarians can advocate for minarchism as a practical solution – I myself am personally involved in such efforts – but one has to acknowledge that this is a limited step in pursuit of a much larger objective. Practically speaking, it would be an incredible achievement to get the federal government to simply adhere to the limitations placed on it by the Constitution. But as we strive towards that, we have to understand that we are in this situation today precisely because of inherent flaws in written constitutions when it comes to restraining government, flaws that are explained by libertarian philosophy.

This is why having the correct underlying philosophy is critical when determining practical solutions. The NAP acts as an anchor to prevent misdirection. Once you abandon it as the guiding principle, as many quasi-libertarian organizations have done, it erodes solutions down to the point where they cease to have any practicality, at least in regards to implementing the philosophy.

There is much, much more to be said on the matter, and this certainly isn’t an exhaustive examination of it, but that is all I have for now.

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One Response to Philosophy and Practicality

  1. Pingback: Philosophy and Practicality - Freedom's Floodgates

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