There is a growing division among libertarians regarding the relationship between our fervent commitment to anti-statism and other principles we might hold regarding social and cultural issues. This distinction is a false dichotomy, though. Put simply, libertarians are for one overriding principle: liberty. This principle applies to situations involving the state and situations that don’t. Being concerned about non-state injustices in addition to state created ones strengthens our commitment to liberty. It means libertarianism is about more than anti-statism.
Recently, accomplished libertarian author and editor, Lew Rockwell, wrote an article on his blog titled “What Libertarian Is, and Isn’t.” Mr. Rockwell argues, “Libertarianism is concerned with the use of violence in society. That is all. It is not anything else.” He supports a view of libertarianism that is concerned solely with property rights and the defense thereof. Rockwell envisions the libertarian philosophy as being the non-aggression principle, Lockean property rights, and nothing more.
Any concern for social and cultural issues beyond this is merely a person’s preferences that have nothing to do with their libertarianism. “Libertarians are of course free to concern themselves with issues like feminism and egalitarianism. But their interest in those issues has nothing to do with, and is not required by or a necessary feature of, their libertarianism.” I don’t believe this is the case. My aligning myself with the ideas of feminism, anti-racism, gay and trans liberation, and worker empowerment is an outgrowth of my libertarianism. I am committed to those principles for the same reasons that I am committed to anti-statism.
The reason I concern myself with violations of peoples’ liberty that don’t owe their origin to the state is explained by Rockwell when he writes, “Our position is not merely that the state is a moral evil, but that human liberty is a tremendous moral good.” Exactly! I am against authoritarianism, domination, and believe in equality of authority. That is why I am opposed to statism. But it’s also why I am for a world free of institutional oppression in the form of patriarchy, racism, gay and trans shaming, and autonomy-destroying, hierarchical workplaces.
My belief in equality of authority applies to more than just the relationship between a statesman and the average person. It applies to all human relationships. Whether it be in the capitol building, or in the workplace, or the dinner table, or the lunch counter, I want to maximize human freedom. My desire for human liberation on all these fronts is directly tied to my libertarian philosophy. These commitments are not merely the interchangeable toppings on the pizza of libertarianism, they are the cheese.
Rockwell quotes Mr. Libertarian himself, Murray Rothbard, to support his undecorated libertarian position. Rothbard writes, “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.” I believe the true implications of what Rothbard is saying here supports the idea of a broad view of libertarianism, as opposed to Rockwell’s view. Libertarianism is, in fact, not about a certain lifestyle, other than how you interact with fellow human beings. Therefore, as a philosophy about proper social interactions, libertarianism is about the avoidance and disavowal of authoritarian relationships.
Rothbard’s argument shows how liberty is needed for each person to find their own purpose and achieve their own good. This goes beyond the actions of the state. Repressive cultural norms and domineering social customs also prevent people from flourishing. They, too, lessen people’s liberty. A black person can’t flourish if he lives in a staunchly racist community with employers and businesses who refuse him service. They wouldn’t be violating his rights, but they would certainly be diminishing his ability to achieve his own good. He would hardly be considered free in such an oppressive society.
Rothbard continues, “Libertarians agree with Lord Acton that “liberty is the highest political end” – not necessarily the highest end on everyone’s personal scale of values.” While this is an excellent quote by Lord Action, it doesn’t go far enough. Why would liberty only be relevant in the political sphere? It is certainly affected by various other factors. There is no reason to end our concern for human freedom at the doorstep of the capitol building. In order to remain consistent, we ought to extend that concern to all human interactions.
Rockwell concludes, “It need not and should not be fused with any extraneous ideology. This can lead only to confusion, and to watering down the central moral claims, and the overall appeal, of the message of liberty.” But there is no such fusion. Showing concern for authoritarian social relationships outside the purview of the state is merely fully fleshing out our core principles of autonomy and freedom. It doesn’t water down the message. It strengthens it. It makes it more internally coherent and makes concern for liberty the primary focus, rather than just vacuous anti-statism.
We support self-sovereignty, individual autonomy, and personal freedom. These are the bedrocks of our philosophical ideas: the pizza crust. Opposing statism, political tyranny, and centralized force and supporting civil liberties, free markets, and non-interventionism are one set of conclusions we must embrace: the tomato sauce. But this hardly the whole story. Our foundations also mean opposing cultural repression, societal intolerance, and authoritarian relationships and supporting feminism, gay and trans liberation, anti-racism, and worker empowerment, which are the other set of conclusions we must embrace: the cheese. Combined, all these things make up a large, delicious, beautiful pizza known as libertarianism.
Translations for this article:
- Portuguese, O libertarianismo é mais que o anti-estatismo.