Libertarian Infighting is a Good Thing

Libertarian Infighting is a Good Thing.


Libertarian Infighting

Libertarian Infighting

I recently posted a message requesting suggestions for my next article, and a reader posted about libertarian infighting… “How division among various freedom groups will be our undoing unless we work together”. So I decided to write the exact opposite.

But I’m not just doing this to be an asshole. I think it’s actually a really important point, and before this article ends, I promise there’s good news in this for all of us. There are perpetual squabbles going on between libertarians, it’s been going on for longer than the word libertarian has been in common parlance, and despite the prevalence and popularity of libertarian sparring matches, it is still so common to hear people condemn them.

I like to refer to the condemnation of libertarian infighting as “The Unity Card”. It’s such a popular thing inside the “Liberty Movement” to tell people to put their differences aside and work together. It seems like we’re always at each other’s throats, and it’s sort of impossible not to notice that if you’re involved. Wishing we were all on the same page and working to achieve the same goals instead of going after one another seems to make a lot of sense on its face, but I think it’s important to recognize that we don’t all have the same goals, and that’s sort of the point of everything we do.

If we all wanted the same thing, it would be terribly unlikely that we’d be having any of these discussions. We’d all be following the same central plan, the State would be on our side, we wouldn’t be arguing with each other, we’d simply be playing our part in achieving the greater good. The whole point of freedom is recognizing that we don’t all want the same thing. The goals of individuals are not only different, but competitive. For me to achieve my goals, actually necessitates me preventing you from achieving yours in many cases, and that’s where the source of libertarian infighting often lies.

The easiest example is the constant argument between limited government types, and anarchists. If you still want to “restore the republic”, if you think the US Constitution is a great idea, I’ve got news for you, we’re on different teams. I seek the abolition of the State, and so the last thing I want is a more tolerable State. Comfort is a slave’s worst enemy. I want people to see the government as foreign and dangerous, so if you spread the idea that people have to get involved and participate in that system, then not only do I think you’re terribly misinformed, you’re actively working to undermine my efforts. There are only three possible outcomes to this conflict,

  1. We both fail
  2. I fail and you succeed
  3. I succeed and you fail

There is no possible outcome where we both get what we want. Either only one of us succeeds, or both of us fail, we both cannot win. Therefore I not only cannot assist you in achieving your goals, I have to try to stop you from achieving them.

Just a few days ago I was in Manhattan with the 9/11 truthers for a rethink 9/11 event. One would think that if you wanted to turn people against the government, telling them it murdered 3,000 of its own citizens, in order to predicate word war III, would be a hell of a start. But surprisingly enough, a lot of these people are liberals. They think the government staged 9/11, and somehow the answer to that problem is to, raise taxes?  I’m sorry, but that’s just plain madness, and not only do I not want to assist you, I feel compelled to work against you.

My recent drama with the FSP provides another great example. If I think the only way to achieve liberty in our lifetime is to fight back against the aggressors who call themselves the State, and you perpetually call for people to do anything but fight back, then we’re necessarily competing for hearts and minds. Someone is either going to realize they have to fight, or they are going to think they are somehow obligated not to, they necessarily cannot adhere to both ideas at the same time.

My turn to play the unity card.

The good news is, this doesn’t have to mean we can’t be friends. The problem is not that we fight, the problem is how we fight. If we are confident of our positions, then it shouldn’t bother us to argue about them. In fact, the more loudly we argue about them, the more people will hear it, and the more likely we are to bring people to our side.

If I want to abolish the State, and you want to shrink it, then I think that’s a far better conversation for people to hear, than what most people are hearing today, which is “How rapidly should we expand the size and scope of government?”. As long as people are watching us argue over whether the State should even exist, they aren’t watching Mitt Romney and Barack Obama bicker over which country to attack next. If people are questioning whether the State should shrink dramatically or simply cease to exist, they are terribly unlikely to entertain the rapid expansion thereof. So by arguing with each other over our differences, we’re simultaneously undermining the current system and attacking a common enemy, which brings both of us closer to our goals. Even if only one of us can ultimately succeed, it’s surely better than both of us failing.

If we both think the government is lying about 9/11, and we argue over what to do about that, it’s a lot better for people to hear that argument, than it is to hear two warhawks agree with the 9/11 commission report. We can both achieve the common goal of undermining the current system, even if our endgames differ.

If I think the only way to bring an end to statism is through force, and you think the only way to bring an end to statism is through some multigenerational phasing out of violence from the human psyche, then I think it’s a lot better to for people to hear us bicker over how to abolish the State, than it is for them to hear people argue over whether to abolish the State. If people are entertaining the question of how the state should cease to exist, they are terribly unlikely to entertain the notion of the State being legitimate.

So the goal in all of these arguments, and so many others should not be to stop the fighting, the goal should be to better publicize them and make them more entertaining. This stuff is really interesting. It makes for good text, audio, and video content. Not only can we all further our mutual and competitive goals, we can actually turn a profit from it at the same time. Talk about a win win…

The only time this becomes a negative is when we shut down the lines of communication, or resort to force against each other. If we care about freedom, the first thing we should understand is that the answer to bad speech, is more speech.

  • I like the idea of a context in which the delegitimacy of the state is assumed and that debate in this context could tend to normalize the assumption. Making the debate more entertaining, as well as more dramatic, would also take back a tool that the lying mainstream media uses to great effect. Controlling and/or molding context may be as important as pumping information and ideas into an old paradigm.

  • Hi Chris,

    May we repost your recent article on Infighting at Activist Post? We’ll link to the original on your blog. Thanks for considering. Keep up the great work!

    • Chris

      Sure, Eric. I’m an ancap, the next article I write will probably be about how intellectual property is complete nonsense, seems silly for me to deny someone the permission to repost my content. 🙂

      I would however ask that you keep the hyperlinks intact.

  • I LIKE the way you think, Mr, Cantwell! What can I do to help?

    • Chris

      Thanks Jeff! The easiest thing you can do to help me is share my content, the more this stuff gets out there, the more the ideas spread. If you’re feeling a bit more generous, you can stop over at the Donate page. Other than that, just live free and encourage others to do the same!

  • good stuff, Chris.

  • travis

    Will there be a part 2 about anarchist infighting (ancomms, syndicalists, left libertarians, primitivists, etc.)?

    • Chris

      I think this article covers the same point such an article would cover. I’m happy to debate economics with a leftist any day of the week if there’s an audience.

  • Stephen Carter

    So we are not on the same side and can in no way be allies because everything you seek to do is likely counter to what I seek to do.

    I don’t mind the dialog and I encourage it, but I don’t want you claiming that we’re on the same team when the fact is, we’re not.

    So I guess the question is, am I on the libertarian team, or are you?

    • Chris

      “Libertarian” is a pretty loosely defined term. I prefer to use terms like “minarchist” or “anarchocapitalist” because they are more specific. “Libertarian” sort of encompasses that whole line of thinking.

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  • Jon Diamond

    This is a great post. The message is crystal however my takeaway is probably a bit different so I just wanted to comment and say that this is a great reassurance that in spite of the fact we are fighting for the exact same end goal, complete abolition, I will likely have plenty of opportunities to engage you in difficult conversations that will sharpen my own communication skills and further my philosophical development.

  • Chris Garvey

    Harry Browne’s Acceptance Speech
    Libertarian Party Convention
    July 6, 1996
    Americans want much smaller government. They may not agree with us on the exact destination we’re seeking. But then no two of us agrees completely either. If I asked you how big the federal budget should be, there might be people in this room who would say “Zero.” And there might be other people who would say it should be as large as seven, eight, or even nine hundred dollars.

    The important issue is not the differing destinations we might all have in mind, but rather the fact that we all want to move in the same direction — toward a lot less government. And our first goal should be to make the politicians abide by the Constitution. We agree on that, and so does the vast majority of the American people.

  • Axxion

    There are several problems to this article, first off you assume one has to be all or nothing. I am for repealing the power of the state in anyway possible, by a slow and steady repealing through the political channels of the government or agorism or other. The question to me isn’t who’s right or who’s wrong, but what is the most effective means? What is your specific strategy? What is your goal and how are you working to realistically achieve it? If you have an actual plan that you are taking actual steps let’s talk. I don’t think politics is the be all end all battle, but I don’t think we benefit from someone brandishing our standard in the field of political battle. I have myself only came to this way of thinking through the Ron Paul campaigns that like it not brought the message of liberty to those who hadn’t heard those messages before (so no matter what anyone says political action isn’t 100% useless) . You might not think it matters to do something like legalize pot, but to the person who doesn’t spend the rest of their lives in jail for smoking a joint, you just changed the world. That is why I have a real issue with Anarcho-Capitalist purists, while I agree with you philosophically, I think it a cop out to shun political action in favor of remaining -oh so ideologically pure, when you could be working towards something that could create a real increase in the amount of liberty in the world around us. That is unless you have a real solid plan to create a stateless society in our lifetime. Personally I think the dismantling of the state needs to be done slowly and very methodically, if the state just collapsed tomorrow, there are many who depend on it that would die, that is just a fact. I for one don’t want to inflict unneeded suffering on my fellow human being, likewise, if the current state just collapsed or there was some kind of civil war, history shows that something just as bad or far worse is likely to replace it. Also, there is so much government intervention in the economy, one has to be careful on how you remove state intervention (if you are going to use the gradual approach, but all at once again ending of the state would provide a whole other set of challenges) so that these distortions of the market are taken in to account, after all, a lot of government regulation is simply a response to problems created through government intervention in the first place. Therefore I think the dismantling of the state should be done gradually, and carefully. Not saying it shouldn’t be done, just you don’t want to create a crisis that people will blame on the market or deregulation. So while I agree with your goal (ending the state) I disagree, and I think we should work together to reduce state power as much as possible using any and every avenue available to us.

  • J C

    This means the US govt keeping people believing that blue and red are different and arguing amongst themselves should produce amazing results any day now…

    • Christopher Cantwell

      You would look a lot smarter if you read articles before commenting

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