Why I’m a Libertarian Nut Instead of Just a Nut

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    May 24, 2009 11:30 AM GMT
    Why I’m a Libertarian Nut Instead of Just a Nut

    May 20, 2009 - 23:26 ET

    By Penn Jillette
    As Seen in Fusion Magazine


    I don’t speak for all Libertarians any more than Sean Penn speaks for all Democrats. I’m not even sure my LP membership card is up to date. I’ve voted Libertarian as long as I can remember but I don’t really remember much before the Clintons and the Bushes. Those clans made a lot of us bugnutty. When I go on Glenn’s show he calls me a Libertarian, I think that’s my only real credential.

    There are historical reasons and pragmatic reasons to be a Libertarian, but there are historic and pragmatic reasons to be a Democrat, a Republican or a Socialist. I don’t know if everyone would be better off under a Libertarian government. I don’t know what would be best for anyone. I don’t even know what’s best for me. What makes me Libertarian is I don’t think anyone else really knows what’s best for anyone. My argument for Libertarianism is simple - personal morality.

    I start with the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” So, essentially our government does what they do with my consent.

    I know barely enough about Max Weber to type his name into Google, but it seems he’s credited with asserting the idea that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. I put those two ideas together (my consent and use of physical force) and figure we all give our government the right to use force. So, the way I figure, it’s not okay for our government to use force in any situation where I personally wouldn’t use force.

    For example, if I’m not willing to kill a cute cow, I shouldn’t eat steak. I don’t have to kill Bessy right now with my bare hands, but I have to be willing to snuff her if I want to chow down on a T-bone. If it’s not okay for me, it’s not okay for a slaughterhouse. Asking someone else to do something immoral is immoral. If it’s not okay for me to break David Blaine’s hands so my magic show has less competition, it’s not okay for me to ask someone else to beat him up. Someone else doing your dirty work is still your dirty work.

    If I had a gun, and I knew a murder was happening, (we’re speaking hypothetically here, I’m not asking you to believe that I could accurately tell a murder from aggressive CPR), I would use that gun to stop that murder. I might be too much of a coward to use a gun myself to stop a murder or rape or robbery, but I think the use of a gun is justified. I’m even okay with using force to enforce voluntary contracts. If I were a hero, I would use a gun to protect the people who choose to live under this free system and to stop another country from attacking America. But I wouldn’t use a gun to force someone to love something like say…a library.

    Look, I love libraries. I spent a lot of time in the Greenfield Public Library when I was a child. I would give money to build a library. I would ask you to give money to build a library. But, if for some reason you were crazy enough to think you had a better idea for your money than building my library, I wouldn’t pull a gun on you. I wouldn’t use a gun to build an art museum, look at the wonders of the universe through a big telescope, or even find a cure for cancer.

    The fact that the majority wants something good does not give them the right to use force on the minority that don’t want to pay for it. If you have to use a gun, it’s not really a very good idea. Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks. It’s just ganging up on the weird kid, and I’m always the weird kid.

    People try to argue that government isn’t really force. You believe that? Try not paying your taxes. (This is only a thought experiment though -- suggesting someone not pay their taxes is probably a federal offense, and while I may be a nut, I’m not crazy.) When they come to get you for not paying your taxes, try not going to court. Guns will be drawn. Government is force.

    It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness. People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered. If we’re compassionate, we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

    I’m a Libertarian nut because I don’t want my government to do anything in my name that I wouldn’t do myself.
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    May 24, 2009 1:20 PM GMT
    Like all political affiliations. It's all really just dressing on a cake. Whether your really using what you believe in to do good.

    All political ideologies can be beneficial in the right hands... but disastrous in the wrong ones. I mean look at communism, it's called that but in truth its pure and simple totalitarianism, but many people still believe it's communism in its original sense.

    But yeah, the guy puts a pretty good argument. Libertarianism would be nice... the closest perhaps to 'benevolent anarchy'... IF all the guys thought like he does. LOL
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    May 24, 2009 1:47 PM GMT
    The trouble is that charity doesn't really begin at home icon_sad.gif

    I'm a social libertarian though. A big gay social libertarian.
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    May 24, 2009 3:03 PM GMT
    Lost_And_Found said
    I'm a social libertarian though. A big gay social libertarian.

    icon_lol.gificon_lol.gificon_lol.gificon_lol.gif

    I haven't given this a lot of thought, but maybe I could describe myself as a "progressive libertarian".
    I think a system of gov't that operates on the assumption that its citizens will always "do the right thing" when left to their own devices ain't gonna be the fairy tale it hopes for.
    ....but I prefer the carrot to the stick.
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    May 24, 2009 3:46 PM GMT
    Try some of these

    http://politicalcompass.org/

    today I was
    Economic Left/Right: -2.12
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.87

    So I´m a lefty on that scale.

    http://www.theadvocates.org/quizp/index.html

    (designed by a libertarian group to persuade us we are all libertarians)

    I am on the liberal-libertarian border on this one, which is considerably shorter.
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    May 24, 2009 4:04 PM GMT
    almondjoymounds.jpg
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    May 24, 2009 4:04 PM GMT
    Ah I don't align myself with any political party, because both have morons in it, and nut bags. I never vote for party, I just vote for whoever is best fit to lead, especially during the times we are in. You study each candidate pretty hard, and then make your choice, a lot of people don't do that today cause they're lazy, and or want to stay loyal to their party.

    As far as Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian ect, I don't align myself with any of those either, because again there are nut bags on both sides, and as I always say, if you're hung up on one side you're a moron, the world is too big, complex, and ever changing to be stuck on one side.
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    May 24, 2009 4:15 PM GMT
    nutsonline.jpg
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    May 24, 2009 5:10 PM GMT

    Lost - that was fun!

    Here's me from the first link...

    Economic Left/Right: -6.38
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.03

    pcgraphpng.php?ec=-6.38&soc=-5.03

    And some famous company...

    axeswithnames.gif
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    May 24, 2009 5:15 PM GMT
    I took the test .. WTF?? icon_eek.gif

    mypoliticalscore.jpg
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    May 24, 2009 5:17 PM GMT
    ActiveandFit - I'm not sure if you're taking the mickey or not. icon_wink.gif LOL.

    I took this one...http://politicalcompass.org/test

    Beaux... ...but I prefer the carrot to the stick.

    Me too. At least I thought so. According to that grid, I'm pretty close to Stalin on economic policy. LOL.
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    May 24, 2009 5:27 PM GMT
    http://www.theadvocates.org/quizp/index.html
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    May 24, 2009 5:29 PM GMT
    ActiveAndFit saidI took the test .. WTF?? icon_eek.gif

    mypoliticalscore.jpg


    You have measles. See a doctor

  • May 24, 2009 5:36 PM GMT
    Beaux said

    I think a system of gov't that operates on the assumption that its citizens will always "do the right thing" when left to their own devices ain't gonna be the fairy tale it hopes for.
    ....but I prefer the carrot to the stick.


    Sure, I think we should strive to find the best balance between the two. But government is like making sausage, after all, and messy in the details. I like Penn, but this is a rambling mess. And the leap from personal morals to societal morals is weird. What's his point? He doesn't want certain things done with his tax money, therefore being forced to pay taxes is immoral? Our (US) government isn't beholden to one man's consent, but that of the majority. And why the bit about not respecting individual rights? We HAVE a Bill of Rights. It just doesn't include the right not to pay for stuff you don't personally favor. We don't have the means to have government à la carte.
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    May 24, 2009 6:15 PM GMT
    I went through a libertarian phase; I even got a fellowship to live in DC and work in a Libertarian advocacy group. I guess there are parts of my political outlook that are still somewhat libertarian, but overall the political philosophy is completely bankrupt. Those who adhere to free market libertarianism are kidding themselves to think that markets don't need regulations; see also, our recent economic apocalypse and the lack of regulation in derivatives that made it all possible.

    But the arguments in this piece in particular are about three things: the use of force, what constitutes a public good and whether the government ought to be involved in any of these areas.

    On the first count, let's assume for the sake of argument that the government got out of the business of being the only legitimate use of force. That means no police, no army, no navy-- it means that the government would also, essentially, forfeit its duty to protect the citizenry. It is unfortunate that many acts of violence are perpetrated by officers of the law but this is exactly why officers of the law are not above the law; for if they have the ability to carry out actions in the name of the people, when they get it wrong the people should have the ability to hold them accountable.

    The rest of this trash is concerned with the idea of public goods, a bete noire for those who are cheap when it comes to paying for democracy (a k a those who dislike the necessity of taxes). Now, personally I'd rather get more bang for my tax buck; universal healthcare would be nice, particularly a single-payer system (having lived in Socialist Old Europe, I can tell you it works far better than healthcare here in the Capitalist New World). But that's not happened yet and I have a hard time believing that the country would be better off with fewer public goods paid for by the state. The truth is, the market cannot account for all of people's needs because markets are motivated by self-interest, profit and, at their worst, greed. So, what happens to all those people whose services, currently taken care of by public goods, are left without government support and do not constitute a market large enough or profitable enough for private industry to step in? We just let them fall by the wayside?

    (Tangentially, it is not true that governments use force to make people love libraries; the suggestion is absurd, a tenuous linkage between the fact that taxes pay for both police and libraries.)

    No one is forcing Penn to like libraries and to suggest that his paying taxes is akin to giving a stamp of approval is ridiculous. Government, since it must govern all, will not always do things one likes or provide services that one uses (though given the shoddy reasoning in this article, I would suggest he start to avail himself of his local library.) That's democracy and while it is not the best system of government available, it is, as Churchill said, better than all the other systems of government we've tried before.
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    May 24, 2009 6:56 PM GMT
    I´ve been shifting from right wing libertarian to now liberal with some libertarian traces left. Living in the land of Pinochet I can see that libertarianism works very well for the rich...
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    May 24, 2009 7:04 PM GMT
    Lostboy saidI´ve been shifting from right wing libertarian to now liberal with some libertarian traces left. Living in the land of Pinochet I can see that libertarianism works very well for the rich...


    I would recommend reading The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. She sometimes overlooks arguments that she finds inconvenient and there are better ways to argue some of her points, but if you're living in Chile it will give you a good view into why Chile is such an abominable clusterfuck for everyone except those at the top.
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    May 24, 2009 7:27 PM GMT
    By the way - good article, it's well written.

    I don't normally get all the way through a long OP. icon_wink.gif
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    Aug 17, 2011 1:57 AM GMT
    http://politicalcompass.org/facebook/pcgraphpng.php?ec=0.38&soc=-0.67

    Could've sworn I were more libertarian!

    Guess I'm "centrist", how boring and rational.
  • TheIStrat

    Posts: 777

    Aug 17, 2011 2:02 AM GMT
    Everyone's a libertarian until their house catches on fire...
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    Aug 17, 2011 2:35 AM GMT
    I just got off the phone with a friend who votes libertarian.

    After seeing what the dems and repubs have done with this country, I'll take my chances on the next election and vote libertarian too.
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    Aug 17, 2011 2:56 AM GMT
    "So, the way I figure, it’s not okay for our government to use force in any situation where I personally wouldn’t use force."

    States operate on more than one person, but the author provides no argument justifying the state's conformance to their *particular* views. The majority of the piece confuses personal opinion with the group consensus. As large groups of people invariably disagree, conflating the two leads to logical inconsistencies.

    Specifically: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” So, essentially our government does what they do with my consent."

    "The governed", here, cannot possibly refer to Penn Jillette specifically; what about the other ~300 million citizens of the US? It also cannot refer to the unanimous consent of every citizen; how many murderers would allow their own imprisonment? Ironically, an essay which begins with "I don't think anyone else really knows what's best for everyone" proceeds to use the author's personal morality as the boundary of the entire state's policymaking.

    Look guys, we have different opinions. We operate in a shared world. *Some* form of negotiation and consensus is going to be necessary if you want most people to lead fulfilling lives.

    I have more concrete objections to most libertarian policies on the basis of information efficiency, the difficulty of including externalities in unregulated markets, and a lack of consensus over what "freedom" means, but don't have the time to write them now.

    [Edit: On reflection, this is Penn of Penn & Teller, isn't it? Perhaps he's trolling.]
  • dancedancekj

    Posts: 1761

    Aug 17, 2011 3:13 AM GMT
    I think libertarianism places great faith in the power of the individual to make intelligent decisions. I don't have faith in most people to do that, since most people make their decisions based on emotions (mostly, greed and fear).

    Therein lies my problem. People, left up to their own devices, I believe, are greedy backstabbing neanderthals when it comes down to it. Not everyone, but unfortunately all it takes is one crazy individual, and then we'll be back in the stone age clubbing each other with sticks icon_razz.gif