One of the more tiresome aspects of being a libertarian is being told by leftists that you’re a crypto-conservative of the worst kind who wants a new aristocracy of corporate overlords to crush women and ethnic minorities, and then being told by conservatives, often later that same day, that you’re a crypto-leftist of the worst kind who believes in the abolition of morals and the fostering of a world of anti-social nihilists who sell drugs and pornography to children.
As I’ve said time and again on this blog but perhaps never explicitly enough: Most people are very, very stupid and irrational, and those who are considered “the intellectuals” are little better, most of them priding themselves in a very pigheaded way on their refusal to understand ideologies different from their own. I rarely get angry at or frustrated by people who disagree with libertarianism, but there’s no excuse for pretending not to understand it even when it’s (wearily) explained to you over and over again, e.g.:
“INTELLECTUAL”: So you want a world where a rich person can just throw some unsuspecting little old lady off the top of a skyscraper and there’s no penalty for it?
LIBERTARIAN: No, the whole point of the philosophy is that the law should prevent one person assaulting another, so that’s exactly the kind of scenario I’d want prevented instead of the government wasting time on thousands of trivial, wasteful programs while it bungles basic policing.
“INTELLECTUAL”: So the old woman being thrown to her death doesn’t matter to you at all? Some of us have consciences!
And on it generally goes, the “intellectual” quite possibly being a respected magazine editor or future City Council candidate, since he or she is obviously so much more “mainstream” than the libertarian and therefore more respected.
But I will say this, by way of conceding that libertarianism could facilitate some (good) extreme outcomes of both far-left and far-right varieties: With all political factions so focused on government (and its expansion or contraction) in our era, libertarians perhaps don’t often enough try to excite people with the idea of what a diverse and complex array of interesting, personalized contracts would be possible, with all their subtle social ramifications, if we lived in a world of strict contract enforcement, as libertarians would like. For now, let’s take a right-wing example.
The first reaction of most social conservatives to hearing that marriage would cease to be a state function under a libertarian law code is often alarm: Everything becomes a prenuptial agreement crafted by the two parties! The gays could marry on equal legal footing with straights! Three people could marry! Horrors!
But of course, it’s not legal formalities that determine how most people spend their romantic lives together, insurance actuarial tables would still track whether some sorts of unions deserved to be taken more seriously as binding and long-term commitments than others, religions would be free to sanctify the unions they wanted to and ignore others, and — best of all from a social-conservative perspective — marriage contracts could once more carry extreme penalties for violating them, so long as the two parties agreed to it.
In a world where the sanctity of contracts meant, for instance, that we each had the right to sign and enforce contracts that said adulterers can be stripped of all their wealth, imprisoned, or even executed — again, so long as both parties knowingly and willingly entered into such contracts — I suspect that those gentle, romantic flowers we call women would quickly gravitate toward men willing to sign such contracts and away from cads who said, “Hey, baby, we all make the occasional mistake, so why not leave this marriage contract a little more open-ended?”
You want social conservatism, you blowhard Republican church-attender? There’s some real social conservatism for you, courtesy of contracts and competitive social pressure. You want diversity and liberation, you whining Democratic hippie? Go marry three grad students and a local homeless man and explicitly pool all your property, without penalties for cheaters. Libertarianism certainly isn’t the thing stopping any of you.