According to that old aphorism we owe to Thomas Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Well, these are the times that try libertarian’s souls too. Here, I do not refer to Covid, to Black Lives Matter, to the riots, to vast unemployment, to the U.S. imperialistic system, etc. Nor, even, to issues on which libertarians disagree: immigration, abortion, voluntary slavery, anarchism, reparations, etc. Rather I have in mind a series of episodes about which libertarians are, if not indifferent, then at least ambivalent. What is ambivalence? It is, according to the dictionary, “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something…” So which events engender in us this reaction? 1. Strikes by public sector
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According to that old aphorism we owe to Thomas Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Well, these are the times that try libertarian’s souls too. Here, I do not refer to Covid, to Black Lives Matter, to the riots, to vast unemployment, to the U.S. imperialistic system, etc. Nor, even, to issues on which libertarians disagree: immigration, abortion, voluntary slavery, anarchism, reparations, etc. Rather I have in mind a series of episodes about which libertarians are, if not indifferent, then at least ambivalent. What is ambivalence? It is, according to the dictionary, “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something…”
So which events engender in us this reaction?
1. Strikes by public sector unions
Who is in the right when a public sector union strikes against the government? Who do we as libertarians “root for?” The difficulty here is that at least for the anarcho-capitalist division of libertarians, all of government is illegitimate, and, anytime anyone attempts to undermine this institution, we strongly tend to incline in that direction. And, certainly, the teachers union, the civil servants union, the firemen’s union, the post office workers union, the police union, the municipal clerks union, etc. are all in effect destabilizing governments with their gigantic salaries and fringe benefits which lead to bloated budgets and subsequent risks of bankruptcy for statist entities. On the other hand, libertarians naturally look askance at all unions, certainly including these examples, since they do not limit themselves to mass quits. Rather, they engage in threats and actual violence against “scabs,” against anyone else who stands in their way.
One way to resolve our ambivalence about this occurrences is to favor the weaker of the two, on the ground that the stronger is to that extent more of a threat to liberty. This is akin to when the Nazis fight the Communists. We support both, unless one of them is clearly winning. Then, our support transfers to the other side. On this ground, we would be inclined in the direction of preferring public sector unions. Ugh!
2. Defund government police
Government police are a mixed bag. On the one hand, they are funded through compulsory taxation, which is certain one strike against them. On the other hand, sometimes they do good work in the direction of liberty: stopping murderers, rapists, thieves, etc., or, if not preventing these occurrences, at least, sometimes, catching the miscreants afterwards and imprisoning them. On the third hand, to say nothing of every once in a rare while stepping on the neck of a handcuffed prisoner and murdering him, they attack victimless criminals such as those engaged in “capitalist acts between consenting adults” (in the felicitous phraseology of Robert Nozick) regarding sex, drugs, gambling, etc. But, then, they comprise a “thin blue line” protecting us not from “anarchy” but from criminal savagery.
So, should the police be defunded or not, in our view? Well, as I say, that is a difficult question. Ideally, they should be replaced, holus bolus, with private cops. But that is not the question on the table. As to that one, we are, gulp, at least somewhat ambivalent.
3. The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)
This bit of real estate has been taken over by what can best be characterized as Maoist Cultural Revolutionaries. A white member of this take-over crew is demanding that “All white people must pay black people $10.” Can reparations from all whites to all blacks be far behind? This is not, exactly, the Rothbardian vision of privatization.
On the other hand, it cannot be denied, this group of Antifas, Black Lives Matter people and other such folk are to be congratulated for in effect seceding from the dreaded, evil, monstrous U.S. government. Pretty much nothing that does that can be considered all bad.
So where oh where are libertarians supposed to stand in this matter? No doubt more commentators will soon be piling on, but as of the time of this writing I am aware of only two responses to this challenge; one at least vaguely supports this move, the other decidedly does not. I do not propose to answer all of these questions. My goal here is mainly to point to instances of libertarian ambivalence.
4. Chinese ocean encroachment
The Chinese government has been converting semi-submerged sandbars into small islands, all over the South China Sea. Then, they claim a twelve-mile extension into this body of water as their sovereign territory. Do we favor or oppose this initiative of theirs?
On the one hand, the libertarian position on oceans, rivers, lakes and all bodies of water is to privatize them. But is this Chinese initiative a move in this direction or not? I think the answer is yes, but it is a close call.
On the bad side, state ownership of anything is a move away from private propertarianism. The People’s Republic of China is certainly a government, so we must count this on the debit side. On the other hand, before this initiative of theirs, the ruling doctrine was freedom of movement on the seas, alternatively known as “Freedom of Navigation Operations.” But that is the exact polar opposite of the libertarian doctrine of privatization.
Imagine if there were such a natural law as “freedom of movement on the land.” That would mean, if the analogy holds, that everyone would be free to wander wherever he wanted to: onto someone else’s farm, factory or, indeed, private residence. Under such a ruling, there would be no such thing, any more, as private property. Water is just fast moving land (some of it moves slowly: icebergs); land is just slow moving water (e.g., mudslides, volcanic ash). Libertarian principles apply, and equally so, to both.
So, I give the nod to China, but it is indeed a close call. At least that country is undermining this water socialist rule that ships may wander wherever they please.