Passing the Libertarian Purity Test

The Libertarian Party is trademarked as “The Party of Principle”. The Libertarian Party Statement of Principles has been unchanged since 1974, 3 years after the party’s founding. The Statement of Principles (which I recommend people read in its entirety) is clearly based on the NAP (Non-Aggression Principle). The NAP can be summarized as a moral opposition to initiating/threatening force, theft, or fraud against fellow human beings. While the NAP opposes the initiation of force it allows for force to be used defensively. Some examples from the Statement of Principles are:

  1. We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.
  2. We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives…
  3. …accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others…
  4. …accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property…

When someone signs up for both the National Libertarian Party and the Libertarian Party of Iowa, he or she takes a pledge based on the NAP, “I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.” That pledge has been with the party since its founding in 1971. It should be obvious by this point that the NAP is central to libertarianism and its principles. Adherence to the NAP is what I would describe as respecting the inalienable rights of your fellow human beings. It should be pointed out that there can be vigorous discussion amongst Libertarians about whether or not certain controversial cases adhere to the NAP.

Next let’s talk about how libertarian principles apply to the government. The government is violence or the threat thereof. It can only ever be a mechanism for violence. Even the things that appear to be peaceful, like funding public works, are done with violence. If the government just made suggestions it wouldn’t be the government.

To be clear, every law both passed and enforced by people with political power is done explicitly with the threat of violence. Violation of ANY law that the government passes and enforces carries with it the penalty of property confiscation, imprisonment, or death. Even the most minor law carries with it the possibility of death to anyone who resists the government’s attempts at property confiscation or imprisonment. Therefore everything the government does should be evaluated against the NAP since the only thing the government does is initiate force against people. It is for this reason that libertarians engage in politics and attempt to bring government policies in line with Libertarian principles and the NAP.

At this point we have covered that NAP is concerned with everything the government does along with force, theft, and fraud more generally. It would also be good to discuss what the NAP doesn’t care about and is therefore outside the purview of libertarianism. The answer is essentially, everything else. Everything that adheres to the NAP is voluntary human interaction. Libertarianism has no say on how people should take risks with their own lives, earn property, spend property, or organize their personal relationships with others. The infinite possibilities with how people could make decisions make it literally impossible to list everything that’s allowed.

This isn’t to say that people can’t have opinions on the decisions of others or even voice those opinions. There are many different opinions on what constitutes a life well lived. For one person it may be pursuing wealth and luxury above all else. For another person it may be living a rural self-sufficient lifestyle in a close knit community. Yet another person may pursue their own libertine and cosmopolitan lifestyle. Still another person might want to form a voluntary communal group where the fruits of the group’s labors are shared equally. While an individual may have an opinion on these lifestyles, libertarianism does not. Libertarianism allows all lifestyles that adhere to the NAP.

There is a more extreme, real world example, of a group not just acknowledging, but actually defending the rights of others they disagreed with. The ACLU once defended the rights of white supremacists to march through the streets of Skokie IL on free speech grounds. While these two groups may be diametrically opposed in their cultural values, this was a principled defense of speech rights which is lauded by libertarians. According to Libertarian principles the thoughts and non-fraudulent speech (speech which the speaker honestly believes to be true) of the marchers doesn’t violate the NAP. Therefore that speech shouldn’t be stopped with violence. A libertarian might say, “I don’t approve of what you do or say, but you have the right to peacefully do so.” That is what makes libertarianism the only real multicultural approach to the world that allows us all to live in peace. A libertarian is someone who pursues these peaceful ends.

And there you have it, the secrets of passing the “Libertarian Purity Test”.  It has nothing to do with blind adherence to any particular policy prescriptions, but rather an understanding of our core principles, and a good-faith attempt to logically deduce the implications.

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