Because I’m both a Libertarian and a loudmouth, I’m frequently hit with questions about libertarianism (and the Libertarian Party). Recently this one came up:
“What is the most controversial belief of Libertarians?”
Could it be our support of immigration freedom (and, generally, freedom to travel)?
Or our demand for separation of school and state?
Perhaps our hard-line support for gun rights?
Or our stand for legalization of all drugs?
How about our advocacy for keeping the government out of the sex lives of consenting adults (including marriage, and including sex for pay)?
Or our belief that who you do or don’t do business with — including for healthcare and retirement — is your decision and no one else’s to make?
My answer: It’s all of those, and others. But it really boils down to one issue.
The most controversial belief of libertarians (and partisan Libertarians) is the belief that you’re generally both more entitled and more qualified to run your life than someone else is.
Who considers that belief controversial? “Mainstream” politicians and their supporters.
Why do they consider that belief controversial? Because they consider themselves entitled and qualified to run your life for you, whether you like it or not. And, of course, to bill you for the costs of their supervision.
Politics isn’t persuasion. Politics is force.
Whether the issue is immigration, or education, or self-defense, or drug use, or sex, or commerce, or, heck, what color you paint your house or how long you let the grass on your lawn grow, the political approach is not to present an argument and trust you to make the right decision. It’s to decide “for” you, then beat you down if you disobey (or fail to pay them for their services).
Libertarianism — even the “political” variety — isn’t really very political at all. It’s anti-political. As one fun meme puts it, libertarians are “diligently plotting to take over the world and leave you alone.”
Libertarians only recognize one valid constraint on your actions: A universal, mutual constraint against aggression, also known as initiation of force.
The simple version, courtesy of Matt Kibbe: Don’t hurt people, and don’t take their stuff.
When you throw the first punch, or pick someone’s pocket, or otherwise forcibly interpose yourself between someone else and that someone’s life, liberty, or property, you’re not running your own life. You’re trying to run theirs.
And that’s the only thing libertarians agree you should be stopped from doing or penalized (in a manner consistent with restitution, not “punishment”) for doing. Even if it’s “for their own good.”
If you’re down with that idea, congratulations: You’re a libertarian.
If you’re not down with that idea, I hope you’ll think it through more carefully.
Someone asked me recently if I could wave a magic wand and do one thing to improve American education what would it be. Without hesitation, I replied: Eliminate state compulsory schooling statutes. Stripping the state of its power to define and control education under a legal threat of force is a necessary step in pursuit of education freedom and parental empowerment.
Some argue that compulsory schooling laws are no big deal. After all, they say, private schooling and homeschooling are legal in all 50 states, so state control of education is limited. While it’s true that some parents may have access to government schooling alternatives, many states require private schools to receive authorization in order to operate. Despite ongoing efforts to expand education choice mechanisms, most parents have no choice but to send their child to an assigned district school.Homeschoolers in most states must comply with state or local reporting mandates that in some areas require homeschoolers to take standardized tests or meet state-determined curriculum requirements.
These hoops are for those lucky enough to jump out of compulsory mass schooling. Despite ongoing efforts to expand education choice mechanisms, like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tax-credit scholarship programs, most parents have no choice but to send their child to an assigned district school. Even if their child is being relentlessly bullied, even if they don’t feel that the academic environment is rigorous enough, even if they may personally disagree with some of the district’s ideological underpinnings—these parents are required by law to send their child to the appointed public school.
And what if they don’t?
Truancy and Neglectful Parenting
Truancy laws, which originate from a state’s compulsory schooling statutes, grant the full power of the state to come after parents whose children may have spotty attendance records. An in-depth article in HuffPost recently revealed the damaging impact these laws can have on families and children, with parents being pulled out of their homes in handcuffs and sent to jail.
For Cheree Peoples, one of the parents spotlighted in the article whose daughter misses school frequently due to sickle cell anemia that frequently leaves her hospitalized and in pain, enforcement of these truancy laws has been extreme, adding to the stress of her already difficult life caring for a chronically ill child. Awakened in the early hours by police officers who arrested her for truancy, she told the HuffPost: “You would swear I had killed somebody.”
The HuffPost investigation revealed that Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris was responsible for much of the heightened aggression toward parents regarding truancy. As California’s attorney general, Harris was a crusader against truancy and was instrumental in toughening criminal prosecution of parents whose children missed too much school. According to HuffPost:
Harris’ innovation was that school authorities and the district attorney would work in concert, articulating the threat of prosecution much earlier in the process and keeping school officials involved long after a case was transferred to court.
Harris held firm to her belief that neglectful parenting was the root cause of truancy, ignoring other potential explanations like lack of education choice for parents whose children may be suffering in their assigned district school. Harris’s actions to aggressively prosecute parents for truancy “were cementing the idea that parents always were the ultimate source of the problem.”
This is all so familiar. Harris, who billed herself as a “progressive prosecutor” for California, likely believed she was doing the right thing for children, saving them from their allegedly neglectful parents. Horace Mann, the “father of American public education” who is credited with helping to usher in the country’s first compulsory schooling statute in Massachusetts in 1852, also considered himself a progressive. At the time, Massachusetts was experiencing a massive immigration wave that, some lawmakers believed, threatened the current social fabric.
The History of Compulsory Schooling Laws
Indeed, between 1820 and 1840, Boston’s population more than doubled, and most of these newcomers were poor Irish Catholic immigrants escaping Ireland’s deadly potato famine. They challenged the dominant Anglo-Saxon Protestant norms of the time, prompting many state leaders to lobby for a new compulsory schooling statute that would mandate children’s attendance in state-controlled public schools. It was for the children’s own good, they said. As William Swan, editor of The Massachusetts Teacherwrote in 1851, just before the first compulsory schooling law was passed:
Nothing can operate effectually here but stringent legislation, thoroughly carried out by an efficient police; the children must be gathered up and forced into school, and those who resist or impede this plan, whether parents or priests, must be held accountable and punished.
Prior to the 1852 compulsory schooling law, compulsory education laws were common throughout the country. Massachusetts again led the way, passing its first compulsory education laws in 1642 and 1647, respectively. These education laws differed fundamentally from compulsory schooling laws. The education laws indicated a state interest in an educated citizenry and compelled cities and towns of a certain size to hire a teacher and/or open and operate a grammar school. It was the town that was compelled to offer schooling, not the parents to send their children there.
This is a significant distinction. A state arguably has the authority to require its cities and towns to provide certain services, but compelling parents to partake of these services under a legal threat of force—as the 1852 compulsory schooling law ultimately did—crosses the line. As the HuffPostarticle makes abundantly clear, parents, particularly those who are disadvantaged, continue to bear the brunt of these archaic and deeply flawed compulsory schooling laws.
The first step to restore education freedom and empower parents with choice and opportunity for their children is to eliminate compulsory schooling laws that authorize state control of education. States could still require cities and towns to provide public schools to those who want them, but the power to compel parents to send their children there would disappear. In its place, a decentralized network of educational opportunities (including, but not limited to, various types of schooling) would unfold, fueled by visionary parents, educators, and entrepreneurs.
Parents, not the state, would decide how and where their children are educated. New possibilities for education innovation would emerge as the shadow of forced schooling waned. Education freedom begins when government compulsion ends.
With a nod to Thomas De Quincey, I have had to deal with the consequences of an addiction once again. As a life long University of Kentucky basketball fan, I now must look forward to a long, cold summer. I will have fleeting moments, perhaps in the NBA playoffs, perhaps when they contest the Rugby World Cup to see who can deny the New Zealand All Blacks.
But this all got me thinking about the nature of undying love, freedom, individuality, and consequences, from the POV of a voluntaryist. Nobody got me into this mess, but myself. I know the risks, however, so I suppose I suffer gladly (acknowledging that I would celebrate even more gladly, as I have done countless times in the past). Looking at my nearly 76 earthly years with the Wildcats and the All Blacks, it has been worth it.
The point, however, is that addictions are one of the consequences of voluntarily seeking joy. If you do it in the true spirit of the non-aggression principle (initiate no violence), the golden rule (do to others as you hope they will do to you), studying war no more, and hearty acceptance of ALL the responsibilities conferred with your goals of liberty, you can have joy, even among the heartaches.
This episode features a lecture by author Konrad Graf from 2012 on a number of topics relating to action-based jurisprudence. Topics covered include: rights-violating rights protectors; law and ethics; legal theory; responses to aggression; rights-protecting legal institutions; and misplaced complexity. Purchase books by Konrad Graf on Amazon here.
It’s hard to own every choice and respect others enough to expect the same from them.
It’s easy to lazily slip into appeals to duty, what’s “normal”, guilt, or shame instead of relying entirely on mutual exchange of value.
If I’d like my wife to come on a walk with me, I can change my tone of voice to imply I’ll have hurt feelings if she doesn’t. I can say, “I always come on walks with you!”. I can try to make her feel weird, like other normal people go on walks. I can appeal to the fact that we’re family, and imply that she owes me a walk because of it.
All of these can be effective. But they’re lesser versions of the person I want to be. I don’t want to make choices in my life based on these things. Why should I ask her to? I want to live free and I want to treat her as a free person.
This forces me to get creative. It forces me to create value. It forces me to have a strong sense of self. I’ve got to ask her to join me in a way that makes it in her unmanipulated interest to say yes, but in a way that makes clear she can freely say no.
It doesn’t mean I have to hide my feelings. It’s the opposite. I can’t allow myself to hide my motives and desires under layers of false reason. Living free and treating others as free people forces honesty.
Humans are good at adding layers of justification and passive aggression to our words and actions. Pretty soon, it’s impossible to identify our own desires. Denying yourself the use of manipulative tactics forces you to come to terms with your thoughts and feelings. Why do I want her to go on a walk with me? How much do I value it? Why might she value it? What could make it more valuable than her alternatives?
It sounds cold and mechanical when broken down like this, but in practice it’s clean and true. It’s so much better than vague entreaties layered with ambiguous emotional consequences.
This is just one small part of living free. But it changes everything. Never accepting the role of victim. Never believing anyone owes you anything, or you owe anyone anything (except what you’ve freely agreed to). These force you to treat each interaction as between free people.
It forces you to break the shackles of your own bullshit.
I’ll never understand how the output of the government’s court system passes for “justice.” If you ever find justice in a courtroom it will be a fluke; an accident.
Justice doesn’t require government, or even laws. Those only obstruct justice.
Justice is the attempt to return a victim to their pre-violation condition. Justice is made unnecessary by self-defense, which nips crime in the bud. Justice is mainly restitution, if self-defense fails.
The state is never the victim, and is never owed compensation from a wrongdoer; only the individual human victim or their survivors are owed.
The right to defend yourself against bad guys does not come from laws. Laws are not what creates a debt from an act of aggression or property violation, and they don’t create your right to restitution. You have those rights whether or not laws agree.
Punishment isn’t justice. I understand the desire to see a person suffer when their actions have hurt you. I’ve been there. But that’s not justice, it’s revenge; justice’s polar opposite. Government courts — the misnamed “justice system” — are founded on ritualized revenge.
Maybe you believe revenge is justified and, if so, remember this if you’re ever on the other side. I don’t believe revenge is justifiable, even though I have personally wanted revenge a few times in my life. I was wrong. If you embrace revenge through government courts, you are also wrong.
This doesn’t mean people “just get away with it.” Could you continue to treat someone like a good person, knowing they did wrong and never tried to make it right? Justice is your job. You can’t pawn it off on anyone else.
You have the right to shun unrepentant violators. If not for government’s laws you would be free to shun them to death — to refuse to sell them food, housing, energy, clothing, or any other necessity — and to convince others to join you. Those who intentionally harm people but won’t take full responsibility aren’t worthy of your consideration or help. Leave them to the wolves. You would be well within your rights, and their cold, lonely death would be an acceptable substitute for justice.
If, however, you choose to shun someone who made a tragic mistake, admitted it and tried to make things right, I would probably not join you. Mistakes are human. Without the intent to cause harm they can’t be crimes and shouldn’t be treated as crimes, even though they can hurt just as much.