Anthony Gregory, you rock
Conservatives ... may very well envision a state smaller than do the liberals. But they also celebrate the state’s open violence with far greater fervor. They seek a state that has few laws ... and which enforces those laws mercilessly and relentlessly. The construction of prisons should commence and accelerate. The death penalty should be preserved and extended as punishment for a widening class of crimes. Even the gun laws already on the books should be enforced without prejudice. Imprisoned drug dealers and small-time thieves should be forced to suffer their unwritten punishment of submission to their bigger cellmates. In a skirmish with a citizen, the police should get the benefit of the doubt.
There arise many troubles with accepting everything that the state does in the name of protecting "its" citizenry. The state, like any protection racket, has always advertised itself as an organization concerned with defending people from injury. This has always been its main trick, and millions have died at its hands believing it. Inevitably, the list of actions that qualify as proper means of defending people from crime becomes ever longer. Drug prohibition is sold as a way to stop miscreants from becoming violent addicts. Gun control is packaged as a preemptive strike against rapists and murderers. Assaults on due process are described as pragmatic necessity in a dangerous world where the Bill of Rights cannot be a suicide pact. War – the largest and least limited of all government programs – is advanced as righteous self-defense.
When the most prominent government projects involve the iron fist and not the velvet glove – most especially, at wartime – [conservatives] will defend and glorify state authority and power over individual sovereignty and liberty in ways that make all but the most collectivist elements on the left appear Jeffersonian by comparison. Many of those who regard the state as enemy on tax day or when it hands out food stamps come to see the police and military as extensions of their own personalities.
On this sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we hear all sorts of excuses for those acts of mass terror. The Rape of Nanking justified it. The Japanese were unwilling to surrender. The bombings saved a million American lives and even more Japanese. The specific rationalizations have all been thoroughly debunked, but what is most striking is the eagerness of some people to believe that anything at all could justify nuking two cities filled with innocent people, including countless little children. It takes a special kind of ideology, and not one at all individualistic, to defend the war crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, as the case may be, to lament the epidemic of abortion in the next breath. To praise Truman for "saving lives" by murdering hundreds of thousands, and to do so at a time of solemn remembrance of those atrocities, must require a bold certainty in one’s view. Being wrong about Hiroshima is worse than being wrong about a tax cut.
Unfortunately, due to the circumstantial overlap of the libertarian and conservative movements in years and decades past, a good number of authoritarian rightists continue to mislabel themselves as "libertarians," and too many genuine libertarians occasionally adopt the conservative avenue on police and military power. Now there are those few cultural conservatives who have some deviations from libertarianism yet who reliably oppose the very worst excesses of state activity. Generally speaking, however, the difference in ideology could hardly be sharper.
Libertarians believe in the supremacy of the individual over the abstraction of the coerced collective. We believe in the radical separation of economy and state, leading to a free market grounded in private property, voluntary cooperation and exchange, all for the betterment and liberation of workers and entrepreneurs everywhere. We detest the state’s attempts to cultivate morality as much as its projects to spur equality. We distrust the government even in its conduct of criminal justice policy. We hate war as the total negation of civilization and the most destructive of all state works. Don’t we?
It is fine for libertarians to debate the status of the state as either a necessary or an intolerable evil. Merely believing that a state should be confined to protecting life, liberty and property, however, is not enough to be a libertarian. These laudable ends boasted of the state cannot cancel out the evils of the means used. Indeed, this is the principal argument against the welfare statism of the left. Charity and healthcare are not ideas that libertarians oppose. Nor do we object to clean air or water, an educated populace or higher wages for workers. What we reject, for both practical and ethical reasons, is the use of aggressive force against innocents as a means of achieving these ends. In welfare statism, it is not the giving side, but the taking side, with which we have the most problem. Conservatives also advocate the coercive instrument of taxation, but tend to want the money used to fund schemes violent and objectionable in themselves – to lock up drug users and other outcasts, to clobber and abuse prisoners, to bomb cities. The model rightist state might be smaller than the leftist ideal, but it is no less coercive. It is violent in its funding and even more so in its ends. Libertarians must reject the "limited" government of the right as readily as the nanny state of the left. The conservative attachment to state violence is no small issue.
As Murray Rothbard defined the "non-agression principle":
The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence ('aggress') against another man's person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.