I frequent a conservative Christian website called “What’s Wrong With The World” (WWWTW) where my Libertarianism is often challenged on the basis of Natural Law theory, the “common good”, or on some other philosophical footing. Now I have to admit that their views of Libertarianism are so worked out that most of them describe it in terms completely foreign to me. I’m often confronted with “doomsday scenarios” where, in some theoretical Libertarian society, all societal structures break down (even the family) and all that is left is individuals battling other individuals in a barren wasteland. (The only thing missing is the zombies!) Now, I’m only a recent convert to Libertarian thinking and as such am not well versed in its history or philosophical underpinnings. I will say this though: the Libertarianism I have learned about from Libertarians themselves differs dramatically from that described by the WWWTW sages – so I’m not sure what exactly they’re against, but I’m fairly certain what I am for… For simple-minded me, Libertarianism is all about the nature and proper role of government.
First, the nature of government: Government is the only entity in society (other than parents) that can legitimately exercise coercive control over individuals. The government can come to your house, break down your door, confiscate your property, drag you and your family into the street and beat you to a pulp if you resist – all with relative impunity (even if it turns out later that it was the wrong address). Individuals (even parents) cannot legally do that. We, as a society, have collectively agreed to submit to an authority with the power of life and death over us. We do this because we believe in the necessity of government for order and peace. Everything the government does (and this is important), ultimately resolves in the threat of lawful force if resisted. Even the most innocent of crimes---say parking tickets---if ignored long enough will result in the government forcing its will upon you. The nature of government then, is ‘legitimized tyranny’. Or, in the words of Thomas Paine, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."
So, given the tyrannical nature of government, the question then becomes “over what areas of society should we grant such tyrannical authority?” In other words: “what is the proper role of government?” The pure Libertarian answer is that the role of government is solely to protect the innocent from force and fraud. Coercive force, in a Libertarian society, is legitimate only for keeping the peace and protecting the innocent. A Libertarian State then, would have departments of Defense, Corrections, Law Enforcement, and not much else. Other shades of Libertarianism will add other areas into the mix such as Immigration, Environmental Protection, or whatever. But each area added moves the State one step further from pure Libertarianism. (Of course you'd still have an independant Judiciary and a Legislative branch - though the legislators would have much less to do in a Libertarian society!) For me then, the answer to the question of 'areas to grant tyrannical authority over' is: “as few as possible”. I’m not a pure Libertarian. I think that a nation should have borders and an immigration policy. I also think there needs to be environmental protections of some sort. And, I know that many Libertarians are pro-abortion – I’m not. I think that the primary function of government is to protect innocent life. For me, that means life at conception (see: Science, more specifically: Biology, even more specifically: Genetics, for further information).
So where are we at in this country? Well, currently in this country, we have allowed the government tyrannical access to so many areas the list is dizzying! (For a list of just the federal departments of government see here.) We have collectively agreed that we are willing to submit ourselves to coercive force in the areas of health care, transportation, agriculture, retirement, education, commerce, the environment, housing, wages, labor relations… the list goes on and on and on! And, if you doubt that these departments would ever use force against us, think again. Many of these departments have “enforcement divisions” consisting of armed officers. The Department of Education, for instance, has its own law enforcement arm (the “U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General” or “OIG”) that, on June 7, 2011 broke down a door to a Stockton, CA residence, dragged a man and his three children out of their home, handcuffed the man and detained all of them for several hours in squad cars for the “crime” of living in the previous residence of the man’s ex-wife (who was wanted on some warrant having to do with student loan fraud).
Such is the nature of government. Something as seemingly innocuous as the Department of Education can, when provoked, turn quite ugly!
Interestingly, the one area from which the government has voluntarily withdrawn its tyranny is in the area of the US currency. This, in spite of the constitutional mandate stating that “only Congress” can coin money and set its value! So who does the government trust to create currency and set its value? Believe it or not it has given that power over to the banking industry! Yes, the Federal Reserve Bank (a private bank over which the government appoints officers – but oddly refuses to audit) is in charge of the money supply in this country! It’s a little like letting the fox guard the hen house. (Of course that's another issue worthy of its own thread!)
So - build a house without a permit: the government steps in, condemns your house and kicks you out on the street; forget to pay your parking tickets long enough: they haul you off to jail; arbitrarily devalue the US dollar so your buddies in the banking industry can profit: government winks, extends their open hand and looks the other way!
This then, is the nature and role of government in this country. It’s time people, to think Libertarian thoughts and get ourselves free!