Recovering Libertarian

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

John C. Wright describes himself as a recovering libertarian:

For me, the intoxicating spell ended in three sharp realizations, each one as forceful as a thunderbolt.

The first was when I had sons, and I realized that I could not maintain libertarian neutrality on how to raise my children. I had to teach them right from wrong, virtue from vice, and teach them prudence, justice, courage, and fortitude. Most of all I had to teach that morality is an objective truth. But teaching virtue is not like teaching geometry. Such things can only be taught by example. It has to be part of the mental environment. The culture always teaches the fundamental values of the culture, parents or no, because virtue is a habit.

Every moral lesson I wished to inculcate into my children was contradicted by a thousand examples in modern media. They tried their damnedest to teach my children error, to make their filth seem normal and cool. They were trying to addict them to vice, greed and lust most of all, but also to moral apathy disguised as tolerance, and envy disguised as equality. In states where marijuana has been made legal, it’s being offered in candy and soda pop, in order to lure the young and make customers for life.

I realized that the culture surrounding me was my enemy. Imagine being an antebellum Southern abolitionist trying to raise children to believe that all men were created equal, but with the entire slave-holding society, by a thousand silent examples, teaching the opposite. Even with the best will in the world, it is not possible for a mortal man to shield his children from everything in the culture. Should I live in a cave?

Libertarianism says my neighbors do me no wrong by exposing my children to child pornography, provided only force or fraud is not used. There is no public and objective standard of decency, honesty, prudence, and justice present in the libertarian theory: but a libertarian commonwealth could not stand were its children not trained from infancy to be decent, honest, prudent and just. It is, in short, a self-eliminating theory. It is a theory for bachelors.


  1. Zhai2Nan2 says:

    Libertarianism doesn’t work if you set up the Zero Aggression Principle as your only principle.

    Libertarianism works fine as a low-priority set of guidelines added onto some otherworldly set of principles.

    E.g. if you are a poorly educated Catholic, and you are very unworldly in your pursuit of sanctifying grace, then by all means use the Z. A. P. as a supplement to solve short-term questions.

    If you are a well-educated Catholic, you might come to the same conclusions as the Z. A. P. for any given challenge, but you will be able to reason without using the Z. A. P.

    I have never had a lot of respect for the Z. A. P. I have always had a lot of respect for the philosophy of minarchism — the notion that government should be minimized.

    However, at some point, “small government conservative” became unfashionable and “libertarian” was the term that everyone recognized, so people called me a libertarian or an anarchist.

  2. Marc Pisco says:

    “In states where marijuana has been made legal, it’s being offered in candy and soda pop”

    Uh. Not here in Maine. Does he have a reference for that?

  3. Allen says:

    Right. Being a libertarian means you don’t have any morality.

    Another fake libertarian, whatever.

  4. James James says:

    Libertarianism is the denial of externalities. Sure, libertarians pay lip-service to the existence of externalities sometimes, usually when talking economics, but ignore it when talking politics. Libertarians don’t think it matters who your neighbours are. But it does: different neighbours can make you better or worse off. Anything another person does that you don’t like is an externality, even the knowledge that they consume pornography in private. Even someone’s very existence can be an externality if their very existence annoys you.

    The problem is that a proper appreciation of externalities is radically anti-property. Property law can’t take most externalities into account for practical reasons, but the externalities exist regardless.

    Libertarians are blasé about natural resource constraints. For some products, resources are not the constraint. Capitalism has been very good at creating more value out of the same resources, e.g. iPhones. But for other products, such as food, or oil, more people can make them more expensive. I.e. more people are a negative externality to me. The idea that someone who doesn’t “aggress” against me doesn’t harm me is not necessarily true.

    If you take externalities seriously, you cannot be a libertarian.


    The non-aggression principle also doesn’t work for another reason. It assumes there is a “neutral” distribution of property rights, and any deviation from these is aggression. But in fact any distribution of property rights is possible. If you have the right to consume pornography in private on your property, and I stop you, that is aggression. But if you don’t have the right to consume pornography in private, yet do so, and I stop you, you are the aggressor.

    What counts as aggression is not an objective fact: it depends on the prior distribution of property rights.

    This is a similar argument to Nick Szabo’s “The Coase theorem is false“.

  5. Toddy Cat says:

    John C. Wright goes too far, as usual. James James critique above is much better.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Marijuana edibles are apparently popular in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal. I believe “medicinal” marijuana edibles — teas, brownies, etc. — have been available in California for a while, too, if not candies and soft drinks.

  7. Isegoria says:

    There are many strains of libertarianisms. Some take “you can’t tell me what to do” as a central tenet, and don’t restrict their anti-authoritarianism to coercive authorities abusing their authority. Religious leaders are thus bad, cops are bad, strict parents are bad, etc. That kind of libertarian arguably lacks morals.

  8. L. C. Rees says:

    Fashionable libertarianism is mythologized cherry picking from broad generalizations drawn from a highly unique social normalcy whose features were a deliberate contingency of coercive non-coercion, most of which emerged creatively on the south end of a rain soaked island that, for most of the last 1,500 years, was home to the most freely authoritarian and liberally taxed kingdom in all of Latin Christendom.

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