A Means, Not An End

The writer at the Individualist has responded to my response. It is a lengthy post, but I want to focus on his final point, because it really gets to the heart of the disagreement between us (bold emphasis added).

You don’t want libertarianism. Not really. It is no more than a vehicle for you; a means to a conservative end. You don’t cherish liberty. Not really. It is no more than a means to a conservative end. Not an end in itself. Not a value in itself. Would be that the state gave you exactly the conservative society you clamor for, you would worship the state.

Come out of the closet already.

That is a rather strange accusation to make. Of course libertarianism is a means to an end to me, as it should be for anyone. It is a political philosophy concerned with the appropriate use of force, not a religion. Being free for the sake of being free is an incredibly nihilistic way of looking at meaning and purpose in life.

Liberty is the highest political end, but it is not the highest end.

This is precisely what Gerard Casey explained in his book Libertarian Anarchy (bold emphasis added)

It is important to realize that libertarianism is not, nor is it intended to be, a complete moral theory. Much confusion will be prevented and many possible objections can be summarily deflected if this point is appreciated.

A society built solely on libertarian principles would be just but there can be few libertarians who would see the libertarian principle as the end of a complete human life and not just as the minimal preconditions for such a life.

This view of the philosophy was also shared by Murray Rothbard (bold emphasis added):

The fact is that libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that there are libertarians who are indeed hedonists and devotees of alternative lifestyles, and that there are also libertarians who are firm adherents of “bourgeois” conventional or religious morality. There are libertarian libertines and there are libertarians who cleave firmly to the disciplines of natural or religious law. There are other libertarians who have no moral theory at all apart from the imperative of non-violation of rights. That is because libertarianism per se has no general or personal moral theory.

Libertarianism does not offer a way of life; it offers liberty, so that each person is free to adopt and act upon his own values and moral principles. Libertarians agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end” — not necessarily the highest end on everyone’s personal scale of values.

As I said before, libertarians don’t have to champion anything outside of the NAP to be a libertarian, nor do they have to like anything valued by other libertarians. In fact, they can hate and despise beliefs held by other libertarians to their heart’s content, so much so they don’t want to even associate with them.

But that isn’t the debate at hand. The question has to do with political relevancy and, more importantly, what type of society complements libertarianism the best.

Deist observed what should be self-evident – a libertarian society would theoretically “allow” any lifestyle, but practically speaking any society that adopted it would naturally curtail certain behaviors and encourage others – or die out. Those who hold these values will find the most appeal in libertarianism, because it offers the best means to the ends they want.

As Jude Blanchette writes (bold emphasis added)

F.A. Hayek stated that one of the gravest errors of contemporary juridical opinion was to assume that all “laws” arise out of legislation. In fact, proper legislation simply codified laws that were preexistent. Societal laws (be they customs, mores, dress codes, cultural conformity) are the private sector’s method of regulating behavior. They act as voluntary surrogates to state compulsion.

Libertarians like Mises got this—they understood that the voluntary society has a way of weeding out aberrant behavior.  Far from being the playground of licentiousness, the liberal commonwealth breeds an atmosphere in which tolerance and diversity are balanced with values and mores.

The idea that libertarianism should or will be equally as appealing to those who prefer a variety of vice-based lifestyles as much as conservative ones, or that a stateless society would value all lifestyles equally, is the result of thinking strictly within the theoretical realm.

So to return to the Individualist’s final point:

Would be that the state gave you exactly the conservative society you clamor for, you would worship the state.

Come out of the closet already.

Perhaps I best be rehearsing my Butters-style government prayer of exaltation in anticipation of that glorious day.

All joking aside, were a “conservative society” be implemented via the state tomorrow that today has rammed the Progressive agenda down our throats, I’d be as grateful to them as I am for the roads it currently “gives” me as part of its monopoly: They’re full of potholes, costly to maintain, inefficient use of my money, and poorly managed – but since they’re the only ones available and usable, I drive on them.

That doesn’t mean I want the government operating them or that they’re the best one for the job. My use is not an endorsement anymore than paying taxes means I consented to them.

I’d have better roads without the state, and I’d have a better, more conservative society without the state, too. Any “conservative society” it gives me would be substandard to the one created in a stateless environment.

I want libertarianism, but not for it’s own sake. Like most people in the world, I have higher ends I would see achieved both in my own life and in the world around me.

To borrow the “closet” analogy, those who might do well to come out are libertarians content or determined to keep the philosophy and its adherents “in the closet” to collect dust by rendering it powerless to achieve any of its goals, ineffective in reaching the average person who might embrace it, and irrelevant within the discussion of how to achieve legitimate higher ends people seek – for reasons one can only speculate.

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5 Responses to A Means, Not An End

  1. Gunner Q says:

    “Being free for the sake of being free is an incredibly nihilistic way of looking at meaning and purpose in life.”

    Yep. Freedom is like money, it spends well but if you never spend it at all then it’s fancy toilet paper. So long as libertarianism is only a tool for freedom, it’ll be a tool seized and wielded by the actors of society, most of whom will cheerfully hang you with your own rope. If one doesn’t have a “why” for what he does then he’ll be de-icing plane wings in August. In Belize.

    Constitutionalism suffered this fate. America’s founding principles were meant to be a secular implementation of Protestant Christianity. Then people forgot Christ, followed the principles out of habit & magic thinking and the system failed despite being nearly flawless. Example, freedom of religion shifted from “no king but Jesus” to Satanists getting prison shrines.

    Similarly, the NAP in a vacuum is unable to distinguish between “my home, my family” and “I get to sell meth to your kids”.

    Don’t repeat my faction’s mistake. Pick a team, wear the uniform and fight your team’s enemies. “NAP because Blood & Soil” is good, “NAP because muh weed & abortions” is evil but worst of all is “whatever so long as NAP is followed”. That’s Cuckservatism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Question says:

      ” “NAP because Blood & Soil” is good, “NAP because muh weed & abortions” is evil but worst of all is “whatever so long as NAP is followed”. That’s Cuckservatism.”

      Got a post on this coming soon, but well said!

      Like

  2. Very well put. I always appreciate your opinion on matters of culture, especially as it relates to libertarianism.

    “The idea that libertarianism should or will be equally as appealing to those who prefer a variety of vice-based lifestyles as much as conservative ones, or that a stateless society would value all lifestyles equally, is the result of thinking strictly within the theoretical realm.”

    I think it fails even theoretically. I think it was Rothbard who used to say that there is no such thing in the social sciences as a good theory which fails in practice. If it fails in reality, then it is a bad theory.

    The libertine tendency among libertarians cost us a strong ally in the American Conservative movement of the 50s and 60s. I am not endorsing all of Russell Kirk’s views, but he definitely had some intelligent things to say on culture and politics. It’s too bad he and Rothbard could not get along early on.

    “The typical libertine of 1988 delights in eccentricity – in private life as in politics. His is the sort of freedom, or license, that brings on social collapse. Libertarianism and libertinism are near allied. As that staunch Victorian conservative James FitzJames Stephen instructs us, “Eccentricity is far more often a mark of weakness than a mark of strength.” G.K. Chesterton remarks that true genius is not eccentric, but centric.

    With respect to libertarian eccentricity, the dream of an absolute private freedom is one of those visions that issue from between the gates of ivory; and the disorder that they would thrust upon society already is displayed in the moral disorder of their private affairs.” -Russell Kirk

    http://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/dispassionate-assessment-libertarians

    The article I linked to above displays Kirk’s shoddy understanding of libertarianism and of political science in general, but it is still interesting to read his perception of it from a conservative position.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Question says:

      “I think it fails even theoretically. I think it was Rothbard who used to say that there is no such thing in the social sciences as a good theory which fails in practice. If it fails in reality, then it is a bad theory.”

      Which is what I find so puzzling about this particular writer criticizing me. I didn’t quote the exact passage, but they essentially admitted that their preferred way of promoting the philosophy would ensure its powerlessness.

      Then what the hell is the point of a belief if it is doomed to fail? Might does not make right, but the fetish over noble defeat is absolutely toxic and must be purged from any movement if it expects to survive.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Cosmopolitan Libertarianism And The “New Man” | The Anarchist Notebook

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