Is libertarianism too pure?

Whatever principle guides you as a libertarian, whether the non-aggression, the silver rule, or some other general pronouncement, its pretty much always an absolutist position. Exceptions are not allowed. Thinking about immigration and open borders (something I only began to support, not after becoming a libertarian, but after also having a horrifying experience while reentering the United States), Ive wondered if libertarianism is so pure it could lead to its own demise.

I once posed a question on the Facebook page asking if it was libertarian to allow a million socialists into the country, where they would soon be able to vote. The post actually received a lot of response. Of the 14 responses I can evaluate as having taken a side, 5 or 6 took the principled stand and said yes, allow them. 8 cited pragmatism, and said they should not be allowed in. This is one of the issues that is heavily debated by libertarians, and I think both sides are largely consistent with liberty. Obviously, the absolute pure position is to have open borders, but almost all respondents agreed this may be suicidal.

You come home to your roommate passed out on the floor with a half-drank bottle of whiskey in his hand, some pills on the floor, and bloody cuts on his arms. He really wanted to go. He clearly wanted to dispose of his life. To interfere with this, even just by calling paramedics and leaving the decision to them, is almost certainly a violation of nonaggression. You are restricting his liberty. What would you do in that situation? Personally, I think you would be an almost evil and horrible individual to not try to stop it.

I actually have been in a situation similar to this, after becoming a libertarian. I went to a bar with some friends (I dont drink, but they do). One of my friends seemed to be drinking excessively and had a near-death episode earlier that year. At one point, she asked me to hold her wallet and I refused to give it back until we got home. I endured massive social shaming from her, her friends, the looks of those nearby, but stood firm. I did think at the time about whether it was a libertarian thing to do, and decided no, but I will do it anyway. I was concerned about my friend. Later on, others said I did do the right thing and respected me for that.

One might also say that libertarianism is a good idea in theory, but we need government for the army, courts, police. Some would even say its a good idea, but we need a little welfare program to care for the truly disadvantaged. I am willing to consider this argument, however it can at least be demonstrated to be logically invalid: welfare does not work. Additionally, you can say how the good of helping someone is offset by the bad of stealing from someone else.

Is the purity and absolutist nature of libertarianism a fatal flaw? Is that why some people just cannot come to “accept” it? We all understand the logic of a free society, but even those who agree with it might be a little hesitant to jump right into that. Furthermore, rolling back the State is almost certainly going to be a lengthy process. In the meantime, we have scarce resources to fight for freedom. This leads to a “hierarchy of wants” as to what law should be repealed first. For example, while I think drugs should be legal, but I think its more important to cut spending and taxes, than it is to stop locking idiots in cages because they want to destroy their bodies.

Its a question that is important to think about. Is there any libertarian out there who is perfect? Self-proclaimed “asshole” Chris Cantwell has scolded Murray Rothbard and others for the inhumanity of saying that parents should be able to discard young children. Technically, child abandonment is not aggression, however it is nothing short of evil. There may be a case for a moral libertarianism, at least as a thought experiment.

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5 thoughts on “Is libertarianism too pure?

  1. Pingback: Circumcision | Jewish Libertarians

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