Tell me, are you a liberal or a conservative? You are not really one of those right-wing racist misogynists, are you? Or are you one of those radical left-wing elitists? People spend so much time crafting their memes about what the other side is that they do not stop to ask any questions about what they believe or what they are. If you have been accused of being both a right-wing racist and a leftist elitist in the same day, then you might be a libertarian. You are not alone. There are good reasons why Rand Paul’s libertarianism could be the next big thing.
On a surface level, people may be attracted to libertarianism because it provides an escape from the liberal/conservative dichotomy. You can think for yourself, disagree with both parties when they are wrong and agree with them when they are right. Still on a surface level, people are attracted to the concept of freedom. But surface level attractions should not define our political views. If we investigate the libertarianism of men such as Rand Paul in his book Taking A Stand, we will find that it provides good solutions to difficult challenges. If we cross-examine libertarianism as a political philosophy, as seen in the book Libertarianism: For And Against by Tibor Machan and Craig Duncan, we find that it stands up to scrutiny.
The Doctrine That Taxation Is Theft
While not emphasized too much in Paul’s Taking A Stand, as a political philosophy, libertarianism hinges on the doctrine that taxation is theft. Taxation is an economic contract to which the people did not agree. Citizens never signed a contract agreeing that they would pay taxes in exchange for citizenship. It is a forced contract. If you refuse to pay taxes, the government will use its power to take your money and imprison you. That standing threat is enough to motivate people to pay taxes. Yet if given the choice, I would not pay taxes. I do it because of the threat of imprisonment. That is extortion.
In response to this point, Craig Duncan said in his critique of libertarianism that we should think of it as something like a shopkeeper operating in a mall. The mall will charge a fee for the service. If the shopkeeper refuses to pay the fee, they will be evicted. But that is not extortion. In the same way, we are paying a price for citizenship. The operations of the government make it possible for us to make money and therefore a tax is reasonable.
There are a few problems with Professor Duncan’s assessment. First, I never agreed to enter into this contract. The shopkeeper who is operating in a mall did agree to enter into it. Second, the argument that the government makes my ability to work possible makes the assumption that the government is a necessary condition to civilization. It assumes that in the absence of the government, private organizations absolutely would not be able to account for defense, economic prosperity, and the other necessities of labor. But that assumption is strictly unproven. In summary, taxation really is theft. It forces a contract on me to which I did not agree with the threat of imprisonment. Any political philosophy which relies on taxation will therefore be deficient.
Are People Competent Enough To Run Their Own Lives?
The United States has a few negative connotations and a few positive ones. One of the main themes that comes to mind when one thinks of the United States is the freedom. Our ancestors came through Ellis Island in pursuit of prosperity and a new life for their families. However, as Machan pointed out on page 130 of Libertarianism, many aspects of American government, democracy and liberal policies are illiberal. The United States makes compromises to freedom and dictates how people should live their lives.
After all, freedom means that I can make a choice, even if the government views that choice as a mistake. I want to assess my life for myself and decide which direction I am to go. So long as I am not hurting anybody else, I should have the freedom to pursue that. This is a theme with which many so-called liberals should be familiar. After all, same-sex marriage is a major issue for many people. The issue is other people controlling the lives of sovereign citizens. Yet this is precisely the issue that the libertarian raises.
In particular, I should have the freedom to choose whether I want to subscribe to a healthcare plan. If I cannot afford healthcare, then I should not be forced to purchase it. If I just do not want it, then that is my choice. It may be an irresponsible choice, but I should be free to make irresponsible choices. The government does not get to dictate responsibility to the citizens. That aside, as Rand pointed out on page 41 of Taking A Stand, healthcare is not a medical issue. It is an economic one and needs to be approached as such. He concludes on page 50 that his health insurance plan would bring something back to the American people, stolen by Obamacare, namely, the “freedom of choice.”
Reason Over Coercion
People cannot be forced to do the right thing, especially by the government. Even those living in poverty have the intelligence to be skeptical of the government. As children of Descartes, we are naturally skeptical of authority figures. The government imposing some ethic on us is not convincing. Think of the individual mandate within Obamacare. The government said that everybody must have health insurance. But that does not convince anybody that healthcare is a responsible and reasonable choice. People do it because they fear being fined.
But if you sit down with somebody, then you have the opportunity to convince them to get health insurance. Of course, health insurance is not the only issue. If you wanted to convince someone that same-sex marriage is a moral crime, or a moral good, worthy of the highest of praise, then persuasion is the way to do that. If you cannot persuade them due to time, resources, or stubbornness, that still does not give you the right to trespass on their sovereignty and force them to do something that they do not want. The fact is though that the individual mandate was legal. Same sex marriage was illegal and now it is legal. Nobody changes their mind based on laws.
Drugs Pouring In Over The Border
Many of us know somebody who is or has been addicted to drugs. Many of us also know that there is always a way to get drugs. The fact that it is illegal does not change that. The way that the US government has handled drug use has always been ineffective. Rand Paul pointed out what is known as the “broken window” theory of policing on page 114 of Taking A Stand. The police basically crack down on light drug users to show them the consequences of drug use and to deter anybody from starting.
However, far from stopping drug use, this tactic has only filled prisons with non-violent offenders. Paul pointed out in page 115 that since 1998, the main criminal in prisons are those who were convicted of drug charges. In fact, because of the “three strikes and you’re out” law, some non-violent, drug offenders are serving 20 years to life. Citing example after example, Paul illustrates just how bad the sentencing is. It is quite literally an affront to justice. Anybody who is in jail for years, much less decades, on a drug charge has had their rights violated.
Paul concludes, “We need drug sentencing that makes sense… We should free those who are in jail under the old guidelines.” Working with Democrats across the aisle, Senator Paul contributed to the Redeem Act, which expunges the record of drug offenders who stay clean. Again, freedom means the ability to make your own choices. Paul may not have said it, but even the hardest of drugs should be legal. If the violent crime associated with the sale of narcotics would be reduced, the US could save $20B on a wall, and it would be easier to reach out to addicts.
Better Solutions For Poor And Minorities
Republicans have genuinely failed to reach the African-Americans and those living in poverty. Despite that, Republicans such as Rand Paul truly do offer better solutions for those who are living in poverty. The solutions that heavily relies on the extortion fund (taxes) are usually not effective. Paul pointed out in page 136 that under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, poor people could qualify for affordable housing, but you have to stay poor to live there. Welfare systems might help people to get by, but they also create dependency and keep the poor down. That is how people become trapped.
Similarly, he pointed out that solutions such as raising the minimum wage may seem like a good idea on the surface. But who would hire an 18 year old college student to work for $15 an hour? Yet people in these transitional phases do need to work. A $15 minimum wage may sound nice, but realistically, it is not feasible for employers. That is why Paul suggested the libertarian solution of “reducing payroll taxes,” on page 158.
He argued that this will allow more poor families to keep more of their money and would boost the economy by keeping money in the marketplace. All of this would take place in what he refers to as Economic Freedom Zones, designated by communities which are in poverty. If successful, these policies would likely spread. The difference between Paul’s libertarianism and other political philosophies is simple. He says on page 149 that “virtually every other solution makes the government bigger… making the citizen defenseless against such a relentless system.” But libertarianism empowers the citizen and reduces the government.
We Are Not Entitled To The Services of Others
Professor Machan made a distinction between negative rights and positive rights. Negative rights are rights that do not require the work of other people. This would include, as Locke thought, the rights to life, liberty, and property. Negative rights will also protect the life of the unborn. Positive rights are those rights that do require the action of other people. In the political sphere, we hear Bernie Sanders saying things such as, “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” which of course is a mandate on physicians to provide healthcare. Similarly, one may think that we have the right to not be discriminated against based on our race, religion, gender, et cetera.
However, I am not inclined to think that this is the case – even in discrimination. Machan pointed out that a consumer, for example, has the right to discriminate against shops based on race, religion, or gender. Nobody can compel an individual to shop somewhere. Duncan replied that this may be the case for consumers, but not for employers. But even then, I still do not know that this is the case. This would assume that an individual is entitled to work for a particular employer, and I just do not see any good reason to think that.
Again, providing these services may be the right thing to do, but you cannot compel somebody by law to do the right thing. People will discriminate whether you have a law or not – they just won’t be vocal about it. Something that might be difficult to grasp for many of us is that the world does not owe us anything. Doctors do not owe us healthcare. Employers do not owe us an equal opportunity.
Why Are They Rich? Why Not Me?
People tend to think that the rich are in their position because they won the cosmic lottery. They are just better off. But, if that is the case, then the question of desert will inevitably arise. There is nothing special about that rich man. He should have to share his fortune with me. That is where the concept of redistribution of wealth finds its origins. Machan speculated on page 72 of Libertarianism that it may be that getting wealthy by honest means is relatively new, as historically, people would have to lie and cheat their way to the top.
Either way, argues Machan, “Instead of wishing that we were all in the same point – equality in opportunity, conditions, and results, we should all readily accept that variable circumstances are natural and moral.” Whether the rich clawed their way from the very bottom (think of Ben Carson) or built on their family fortune, that still does not justify redistribution of wealth. Machan concludes that it is inappropriate for a model of human dignity to allow for one person to take the life’s work of another person. It does not matter how wealthy somebody is. You are not entitled to a portion of their income.
Workplace Regulations And Law And Order
Probably one of the stronger arguments that Professor Duncan mounted against the libertarian model was the idea of workplace regulations. After all, he says on page 51, political power is not the only power one can have over a person. There is also economic power. If I threaten to fire an employee, I have power over her. She may not be able to feed her children. In a libertarian society, argues Duncan, there are no workplace regulations. In this situation, an employer could abuse his power and sexually harass employees, force them to work unreasonable hours, et cetera.
But again, the assumption that Professor Duncan seems to be making is that the government is the only solution to this problem. On libertarianism, sexual harassment would be a violation of an individual’s negative rights. There could feasibly be private law and order organizations that compete in the marketplace, operating something like health insurers. They would enforce laws related to sexual harassment. Similarly, in a society with no payroll taxes, employers would be able to compete by offering higher wages to attract competent employees. Companies that forced unreasonable hours and low wages would be discarded by the marketplace. There do seem to be solutions to these problems that do not involve government regulations.
The Insufficiency of Charity
Libertarianism will rely in part on the charitable donations of the power to the government. After all, without the extortion fund, it would seem difficult for the government to function. Professor Duncan pointed out that charity will not suffice for the operation of a government. People tend to hoard their money. They look for any opportunity they can find to avoid paying taxes. They want to be comfortable. So, charity is not a reliable source of income.
There are a few problems with this assessment. First, the government that Machan imagines will be significantly smaller than the government that Duncan has in mind. In fact, many libertarians are anarchists, which is to say that absolutely everything is privatized and there are no governments whatsoever. But as far as I can tell, Machan and Paul are minarchists, which is to say that they advocate for minimal government that exists only to protect the negative rights of the people.
For such a government, the funding provided by charity could plausibly be sufficient. Machan even somewhere suggested that the government sponsor a lottery for its funding. If it were as effective as the actual lottery, the government would have plenty of money. People would also be more motivated to purchase these lottery tickets than they are now because they know that their $1 would be for the support of the government. Government funding may be a problem, but it is certainly possible to resolve it.
Losing Freedom Democratically
People tend to associate democracy with freedom. But there are good reasons that these words should not be synonyms. The fact that the majority will have a say in the direction of government does not guarantee freedom for all of the people. It guarantees freedom for the majority. Machan pointed out on page 131 that “A country can lose its freedom democratically, as when the majority, once its gains power, curtails the freedom of the minority.”
Second, Rand Paul made a similar point on page 178 of Taking A Stand when he talked about the militarization of the police force. He cited things such as no-knock warrants often justified by the sound of a toilet flushing or something equally as vague. With Bush’s Patriot Act, no-knock warrants became a reality again. After 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security began arresting people based on what they regard as “suspicious behavior,” such as “people who avoid eye-contact, are over-dressed for the weather, or are driving overloaded vehicles.” Further, Paul pointed out that SWAT raids are being conducted on small-time drug users, often taking unwarranted and severe action, harming those involved.
While the SWAT team might get a rush from throwing grenades into the cradle of a 19 month old boy (page 186), these raids are an example of the government overstepping its boundaries. If the people have to worry about spying, raids, being searched or the police unjustly using their power, then the people are no longer free.
But There Is No Libertarian Society In The World
Fortunately, Professor Duncan did not raise this objection. Often advertised as the questions libertarians cannot answer, objectors will raise their head in pride as they sneer, “Why haven’t other countries tried it?” But the objector is making an assumption about what libertarianism is. They are assuming that libertarianism is anarchism. Yes, anarchism is libertarianism, but libertarianism is not necessarily anarchism. A society with minimal government that exists only to protect the rights of the people would be a libertarian society.
Most of us acknowledge that a society with no government probably would not actually happen. What we want is to see our society move closer to libertarian freedom, including a reduction in the extortion fund and reduced charges for drug users. These might not be absolutely libertarian policies, but they come closer to libertarianism. Libertarian policies will genuinely lead to a better future, even if the full libertarian society will never be actualized. That is why most of us are willing to get behind senators such as Rand Paul.
Why Rand Paul’s Libertarianism Could Be The Next Big Thing
Libertarianism is often referred to as classical liberalism. Modern liberalism is not truly liberal. It does not promote the freedom of the people. Libertarianism is purified liberalism. What Rand Paul is advocating in the senate and what Tibor Machan debates as a political philosopher is a model of government that gives the people sovereignty over their lives, keeps the government accountable and diminishes it so much that the people do not have to worry about it overstepping its boundaries.
• If taxation is theft, libertarianism is established
• Professor Duncan argues that taxation is the price of citizenship
• The problem is that taxation is a contract that I never consented
• I have two choices: give them my money or they will imprison me. That is extortion
• There are free market alternatives to government functions
• People should not go to jail over drugs
• Redistribution of wealth assumes that you are entitled to someone else’s money
• Democracy guarantees freedom for the majority. Libertarianism guarantees freedom for all
• The government cannot tell the people to behave morally
Libertarianism: For And Against by Tibor Machan And Craig Duncan
Taking A Stand by Rand Paul
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