Political Atheism vs. Libertarianism

I think it’s accurate to say that all libertarians are, of necessity, political atheists, but that not all political atheists are libertarians. In fact, I think the vast majority of political atheists are not libertarians.  More and more people all the time are becoming disenchanted with and disillusioned by government – but without embracing the Non-Aggression Principle.

Suffice it to say that these non-libertarian disbelievers have – quite correctly — come to see the political system as hopelessly corrupt, oversized, unresponsive, expensive, dysfunctional, and tyrannical. That said, they also grudgingly see it as still better than any other alternative.  They see it as an inevitable offshoot of human nature (which, in spite of a long history of traditional libertarian objections to the contrary, may well be so), similar to street crime, pollution, or poverty.  Some of them even still bother to vote.

The question I suppose libertarians should ask is: Which is the more pragmatic viewpoint?  Not which one is more principled – we already know the answer to that – but which one is more realistic… both now, and in the long term?

Let’s reflect that modern libertarianism has been around since the mid-nineteenth century – right about the same time Karl Marx wrote his infamous Manifesto.  I don’t even need to point out which philosophical ideology has had by far the greatest appeal and impact…even in spite of all the destruction and horror it caused last century, and continues to do in the present one.  People seem determined to cling to the idea of government “safety-nets” at any and all costs.  Even those of destitution and genocide.  So long as someone in power promises them something.

That reality may well already long-since be the final word on whether or not liberty will ever prevail. As discussed in a prior essay, I think if it comes, it will occur as an inadvertent result of crossing certain technological thresholds – not via ideological conversion.  Government will only dissolve once (if) it becomes an impracticable concept.  Not because people decide en masse that they no longer want it around.

We might well then regard libertarian principles as a priori to actual human existence – where a mere non-aligned political atheism is the more practical position. This doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t necessarily, exercise the NAP in our day to day interactions with others.  It’s just that we shouldn’t ever expect reciprocation from most other people, even as we might strive to set an example.  It’s simply lost on most people.  They’re accustomed to getting what they want by force, and like it that way.  Even as they bitch about it.

Increasingly, I see myself as a kind of lapsed libertarian, and veering into political atheism.  Call it environmental conditioning, if you want. I just see it as the way things are.

As an aside, I am not a theological atheist – only a political one.

God help us.

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Alex R. Knight III is originally from Groveland, Massachusetts, where he grew up listening to rock and roll, reading J.R.R. Tolkien, and the comic books of the 1970s.  He today lives in rural southern Vermont where he welds, plays guitar, paints abstracts, reads avidly, and writes.  He is the author of the short fiction collection, Tales From Dark 7in addition to the novels The Morris Roomand Empty World.  And, he is a Voluntaryist. Visit his MeWe group here.