This is the promised expanded edition of an essay which originally appeared in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty in August 2008. Enjoy!
To what extent should libertarians concern themselves with social commitments, practices, projects or movements that seek social outcomes beyond, or other than, the standard libertarian commitment to expanding the scope of freedom from government coercion?
Clearly, a consistent and principled libertarian cannot support efforts or beliefs that are contrary to libertarian principlesâ€”such as efforts to engineer social outcomes by means of government intervention. But if coercive laws have been taken off the table, what should libertarians say about other religious, philosophical, social, or cultural commitments that pursue their ends through non-coercive means, such as targeted moral agitation, mass education, artistic or literary propaganda, charity, mutual aid, public praise, ridicule, social ostracism, targeted boycotts, social investing, slow-downs and strikes in a particular shop, general strikes, or other forms of solidarity and coordinated action? Which social movements should they oppose, which should they support, and towards which should they counsel indifference? And how do we tell the difference?
Recently, this question has often arisen in the context of debates over
whether or not libertarianism should be integrated into a broader commitment to
some of the social concerns traditionally associated with anti-authoritarian
Left, such as feminism, anti-racism, gay liberation, counterculturalism, labor
organizing, mutual aid, and environmentalism. Chris Sciabarra has called for a
dialectical libertarianism which recognizes that
Just as relations of
power operate through ethical, psychological, cultural, political, and economic
dimensions, so too the struggle for freedom and individualism depends upon a
certain constellation of moral, psychological, and cultural factors (Total Freedom, p. 383), and in which the struggle for
liberty is integrated into a comprehensive struggle for human liberation,
incorporating (among other things) a commitment to gay liberation and opposition
to racism. Kevin Carson has criticized the
vulgar libertarianism of
apologists for capitalism who
seem to have trouble remembering, from
one moment to the next, whether theyâ€™re defending actually existing capitalism
or free market principles (Studies in
Mutualist Political Economy, p. 142), and has argued that free market
anarchists should ally themselves with those radical industrial unions, such as
the IWW, that reject the interventionist methods of the
state labor bureaucracy. Radical libertarians including Carol
Moore, Roderick Long,
and myself, have suggested that radical libertarian insights naturally
complement, and should be integrated with, an anti-statist form of radical
On the other hand, Jan Narveson has argued that left libertarian concerns
about the importance of cultural and social arrangements are at the most a
strategic issue which libertarians should consider a separate issue from
structure of our theory. Leonard Read, the indefatigable founder of FEE,
famously promoted the argument that libertarianism is compatible with
Anything That’s Peaceful. And Walter Block has criticized
perverting libertarianism (Libertarianism is unique, p. 28) in their effort to
integrate common leftist concerns into the libertarian project. So long as
cultural values are expressed without indulging in government intervention or
any other form of coercion, Block argues, it should not matter to
plumb-line libertarians whether the cultural values in question are left
wing, right wing, or something else:
Give me a break; this issue has nothing
to do with libertarianism. … No, these are all matters of taste, and de
gustibus non est disputandum (Ibid.,
However, it is important to keep in mind that the issue at hand in these
discussions goes beyond the debate over left libertarianism specifically. The
debate leads to some strange bedfellows: not only left libertarians
defend the claim that libertarianism should be integrated into a comprehensive
critique of prevailing social relations; so do
paleolibertarians such as
Gary North or Hans-Hermann Hoppe, when they make the equal but opposite claim
that efforts to build a flourishing free society should be integrated with a
rock-ribbed inegalitarian cultural and religious traditionalism. As do Randian
Objectivists, when they argue that political freedom can only arise from a
culture of secular romantic individualism and an intellectual milieu grounded in
widespread, fairly specific agreement with the tenets of Objectivist
metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology. Abstracting from the numerous, often
mutually exclusive details of specific cultural projects that have been
recommended or condemned in the name of libertarianism, the question of general
principle has to do with whether libertarianism should be seen as a
commitment, which can be happily joined to absolutely any non-coercive set of
values and projects, or whether it should instead be seen as one strand among
others in a
thick bundle of intertwined social commitments. These
disputes are often intimately connected with other disputes concerning the
specifics of libertarian rights theory, or class analysis and the mechanisms of
social power. In order to better get a grip on what’s at stake, it will be
necessary to make the question more precise, and to tease out the distinctions
between some of the different possible relationships between libertarianism and
thicker bundles of social, cultural, religious, or philosophical
commitments, which might recommend integrating the two on some level or
Thickness in entailment and conjunction
Let’s start with the clearest and least interesting cases.
There are clearly cases in which certain social, cultural, religious, or philosophical commitments might just be an application of libertarian principles to some specific case, which follow from the non-aggression principle by virtue of the law of non-contradiction. An Aztec libertarian might very well say,
Of course libertarianism needs to be integrated with a stance on particular religious doctrines! It means you have to give up human sacrifice to Huitzilopochtli! Or, to take a politically current debate, it might well be argued that libertarians ought to actively oppose certain traditional cultural practices that involve the systematic use of violence against peaceful people â€“ such as East African customs of forcing clitoridectomy on unwilling girls, or the American and European custom of excusing or justifying a man’s murder of an unfaithful wife or her lover (although not allowed for by government laws, revenge murderers were until very recently often acquitted or given a lesser sentence by judges and juries). What’s going on in these cases is that consistent, principled libertarianism logically entails criticism of these social and cultural practices, for the same reason that it entails criticism of government intervention: because the non-aggression principle condemns any violence against individual rights to life, liberty, and property, regardless of who commits them. Thus we might call this level of integration
thickness in entailment. Thickness in entailment does raise one important issue: it is vital for libertarians to recognize that the non-aggression principle commits them to political opposition to any form of systematic coercion, not just the forms that are officially practiced by the government. Thus principled libertarianism is politically committed not only to anti-statism, but also to opposition to
private forms of systematic coercion, such as chattel slavery or domestic violence against women. But in the end, it is dubious how far thickness in entailment really counts as a form of
thickness at all, since at bottom it amounts only to the claim that libertarians really ought to be committed to libertarianism all the time.
At the opposite extreme, we might consider the extent to which there are social or cultural commitments that libertarians ought to adopt because they are worth adopting for their own sakes, independent of libertarian considerations. For example, it may be worthwhile for libertarians to all be kind to their children, because (among other things) being kind to your children is a worthwhile thing to do in its own right. You might call this
thickness in conjunction, since the only relationship it asserts between libertarianism and some other social commitment (here, kindness to children), is that you ought to accept the one (for whatever reason), and also, as it happens, you ought to accept the other (for reasons that are independent of libertarianism). But again, it is unclear how far this counts as an interesting form of
thickness for libertarianism to demand. If libertarianism is true, then we all ought to be libertarians; and besides being libertarians, we all ought to be good people, too. True, that, but it’s hardly an interesting conclusion, and it’s not clear who would deny it. Certainly not those who generally advocate the
thin libertarian line.
Thickness in entailment and thickness in conjunction tell us little interesting about the relationship between libertarianism and other social commitments. But they do show the extent to which our original question needs to be asked in terms more precise than those in which it is usually asked. Considerations of entailment make clear that consistent libertarianism means not a narrow concern with government intervention only, but also opposition to all forms of coercion against peaceful people, whether carried out within or outside of the official policy of the state. And considerations of conjunction make clear that what is really of interest is not whether libertarians should also oppose social or cultural evils other than those involved in coercion (no doubt they should), but more specifically whether there are any other evils that libertarians should oppose as libertarians, that is, whether there are any further commitments that libertarians should make, beyond principled non-aggression, at least in part because of their commitment to libertarianism. In the two cases we have considered, the logical
relationship between libertarian principles and the further commitments is either so tight (logical entailment) or else so loose (mere conjunction) that either the commitments cease to be further commitments, or else they become commitments that are completely independent of libertarianism. Thin-conception advocates like Block and Narveson often argue as if these two dubious forms of
thickness were the only sorts of relationships that are on offer, and if they are right, then it seems unlikely that there is anything very interesting to say about thick libertarianism. But I will argue that, in between the tightest possible connection and the loosest possible connection, there are at least four other interesting connections that might exist between libertarianism and further social or cultural commitments. To the extent that they allow for connections looser than entailment but tighter than mere conjunction, they offer a number of important, but subtly distinct, avenues for thick libertarian analysis and criticism.
Thickness for application
One of the most important, but most easily overlooked, forms of thickness is what I will call
thickness for application. There might be some commitments that a libertarian can reject without formally contradicting the non-aggression principle, but which she cannot reject without in fact interfering with its proper application. Principles beyond libertarianism alone may be necessary for determining where my rights end and yours begin, or stripping away conceptual blinders that prevent certain violations of liberty from being recognized as such.
Consider the way in which garden-variety political collectivism prevents many non-libertarians from even recognizing taxation or legislation by a democratic government as being forms of coercion in the first place. (After all, didn’t
we consent to it?) Or, perhaps more controversially, think of the feminist criticism of the traditional division between the
private and the
political sphere, and of those who divide the spheres in such a way that pervasive, systemic violence and coercion within families turn out to be justified, or excused, or simply ignored, as something
private and therefore less than a serious form of violent oppression. To the extent that feminists are right about the way in which sexist political theories protect or excuse systematic violence against women, there is an important sense in which libertarians, because they are libertarians, should also be feminists. Importantly, the commitments that libertarians need to have here aren’t just applications of general libertarian principle to a special case; the argument calls in resources other than the non-aggression principle to determine just where and how the principle is properly applied. In that sense the thickness called for is thicker than entailment thickness; but the cash value of the thick commitments is still the direct contribution they make towards the full and complete application of the non-aggression principle.
Thickness from grounds
A second logical relationship that might hold between libertarianism and some
further commitment is what I will call
thickness from grounds.
Libertarians have many different ideas about the theoretical foundation for the
non-aggression principleâ€”that is to say, about the best reasons for being a
libertarian. But whatever general foundational beliefs a given libertarian has,
those beliefs may have some logical implications other than libertarianism
alone. Thus, there may be cases in which certain beliefs or commitments could be
rejected without contradicting the non-aggression principle per se, but could not be rejected without logically
undermining or contradicting the deeper reasons that justify the
non-aggression principle. Although you could consistently accept
libertarianism without accepting these commitments or beliefs, you could not do
so reasonably: rejecting the commitments means rejecting the proper
grounds for libertarianism.
Consider the conceptual reasons that libertarians have to oppose
authoritarianism, not only as enforced by governments but also as
expressed in culture, business, the family, and civil society. Social systems of
status and authority include not only exercises of coercive power by the
government, but also a knot of ideas, practices, and institutions based on
deference to traditionally constituted authority. In politics, these patterns of
deference show up most clearly in the honorary titles, submissive etiquette, and
unquestioning obedience traditionally expected by, and willingly extended to,
heads of state, judges, police, and other visible representatives of government
law and order. Although these rituals and habits of obedience exist
against the backdrop of statist coercion and intimidation, they are also often
practiced voluntarily. Similar kinds of deference are often demanded from
workers by bosses, or from children by parents or teachers. Submission to
traditionally constituted authorities is reinforced not only through violence
and threats, but also through art, humor, sermons, written history, journalism,
childrearing, and so on. Although political coercion is the most distinctive
expression of political inequality, you couldâ€”in principleâ€”have a
consistent authoritarian social order without any use of force. Even in a
completely free society, everyone could, in principle, still voluntarily agree
to bow and scrape and speak only when spoken to in the presence of the (mutually
agreed-upon) town Chief, or unthinkingly agree to obey whatever restrictions and
regulations he tells them to follow over their own business or personal lives,
or agree to give him as much in voluntary
taxes on their income or
property as he might ask. So long as the expectation of submission and the
demands for wealth to be rendered were backed up only by means of verbal
harangues, cultural glorifications of the wise and virtuous authorities, social
unruly dissenters, and so on, these demands would violate
no-one’s individual rights to liberty or property. But while there’s nothing
logically inconsistent about a libertarian envisioningâ€”or even championingâ€”this
sort of social order, it would certainly be weird. Yes, in a free
society the meek could voluntarily agree to bow and scrape, and the proud could
angrily but nonviolently demand obsequious forms of address and immediate
obedience to their commands. But why should they? Non-coercive
authoritarianism may be consistent with libertarian principles, but it
is hard to reasonably reconcile the two; whatever reasons you may have
for rejecting the arrogant claims of power-hungry politicians and
bureaucratsâ€”say, for example, the Jeffersonian notion that all men and women are
born equal in political authority, and that no-one has a natural right to rule
or dominate other people’s affairsâ€”probably serve just as well for reasons to
reject other kinds of authoritarian pretension, even if they are not expressed
by means of coercive government action. While no-one should be forced
as a matter of policy to treat her fellows with the respect due to equals, or to
cultivate independent thinking and contempt for the arrogance of power,
libertarians certainly canâ€”and shouldâ€”criticize those who do not, and
exhort our fellows not to rely on authoritarian social institutions,
for much the same reasons that we have to endorse libertarianism in the first
Strategic thicknessâ€”the causes of liberty
There may be also cases in which certain ideas, practices, or projects are entailed by neither the non-aggression principle nor the best reasons for it, and are not logically necessary for its correct application, either, but are causal preconditions for implementing the non-aggression principle in the real world. Although rejecting these ideas, practices, or projects would be logically compatible with libertarianism, their success might be important or even causally necessary for libertarianism to get much purchase in an existing statist society, or for a future free society to emerge from statism without widespread poverty or social conflict, or for a future free society to sustain itself against aggressive statist neighbors, the threat of civil war, or an internal collapse back into statism. To the extent that other ideas, practices, or projects are causal preconditions for a flourishing free society, libertarians have strategic reasons to endorse them, even if they are conceptually independent of libertarian principles.
Thus, for example, left libertarians such as Roderick Long have argued that libertarians have genuine reasons to be concerned about large inequalities of wealth, or large numbers of people living in absolute poverty, and to support voluntary associations â€“ such as mutual aid societies and voluntary charity â€“ that tend to undermine inequalities and to ameliorate the effects of poverty. The reasoning for this conclusion is not that libertarians should concern themselves with voluntary anti-poverty measures because free market principles logically entail support for some particular socioeconomic outcome (clearly they do not); nor is it merely because charity and widespread material well-being are worth pursuing for their own sake (they may be, but that would reduce the argument to thickness in conjunction). Rather, the point is that there may be a significant causal relationship between economic outcomes and the material prospects for sustaining a free society. Even a totally free society in which large numbers of people are desperately poor is likely to be in great danger of collapsing into civil war. Even a totally free society in which a small class of tycoons own the overwhelming majority of the wealth, and the vast majority of the population own almost nothing is unlikely to remain free for long, if the tycoons should decide to use their wealth to purchase coercive legal privileges against the unpropertued majorityâ€”simply because they have a lot of resources to attack with, and the majority haven’t got the material resources to defend themselves. Now, to the extent that persistent, severe poverty, and large-scale inequalities of wealth are almost always the result of government intervention â€“ and thus as much a concern for thickness from consequences, as discussed below, as for strategic thickness — it’s unlikely that many totally free societies would face such dire situations; over time, many if not most of these problems would likely sort themselves out spontaneously through free market processes, even without conscious anti-poverty activism. But even where problems of poverty or economic inequality would sort themselves out in a society that has already been free for some time, they are still likely to be extremely pressing for societies like ours, which are not currently free, which libertarians hope to help become free through education and activism. Certainly in our unfree market there are large-scale inequalities of wealth and widespread poverty, most of it created by the heavy hand of government intervention, in the form of direct subsidies and the creation of rigged or captive markets. Those tycoons who now enjoy the fruit of those privileges can and have and and will continue to exercise some of the tremendous advantage that they enjoy in material resources and political pull to pressure government to perpetuate or expand the interventions from which the profiteering class benefits. Since libertarians aim to abolish those interventions, it may well make good strategic sense for them to oppose, and to support voluntary, non-governmental efforts that work to undermine or bypass, the consolidated economic power that the government-privileged robber barons currently command. Otherwise we will find ourselves trying to fight with slingshots while our enemies haul out bazookas.
Or, to take a less controversial example, many if not most libertarians, throughout the history of the movement, have argued that there are good reasons for libertarians to promote a culture in which reason and independent thinking are highly valued, and blind conformism is treated with contempt. But if this is a good thing for liberty, it must be for reasons other than some kind of entailment of the non-aggression principle. Certainly everyone has a right to believe things simply because
everybody believes it, or to do things simply because
everybody does it, as long as their conformism respects the equal rights of independent thinkers to think independently and act independently with their own person and property. It is logically conceivable that a society could be rigidly conformist while remaining entirely free; it would just have to be the case that the individual people within that society were, by and large, psychologically and culturally inclined to be so docile, and so sensitive to social disapproval, ostracism, and verbal peer pressure, that they all voluntarily chose to go along with the crowd.
But, again, while it is logically possible for people in such a society to be convinced to respect individual liberty, it’s hardly likely to happen, or, if it does happen, it’s unlikely that things will stay that way for very long. If libertarians have good reasons to believe that reason and independent thinking are good for liberty, it is because, in today’s unfree society, where the vast majority of people around you are statists, it takes quite a bit of critical thinking and resistance to peer pressure in order to come to libertarian conclusions. And similarly, in a free society, it’s likely that a healthy respect for critical thinking and contempt for conformism would be necessary in order to successfully resist later attempts to re-institute collectivism or other forms of statist coercion.
While the non-aggression principle doesn’t entail any particular attitude towards socioeconomic equality, or independent thinking, it is quite likely that any chance of implementing the non-aggression principle in the real world will be profoundly affected by whether these material or intellectual preconditions have been met, and so principled libertarians have good strategic reasons to promote them, and to adopt forms of activism that tend to support them through non-statist, voluntary means.
Thickness from consequencesâ€”the effects of liberty
Finally, there may be social practices or outcomes that libertarians should (in some sense) be committed to opposing, even though they are not themselves coercive, because (1) background acts of government coercion are a causal precondition for them to be carried out or sustained over time; and (2) there are independent reasons for regarding them as social evils. If aggression is morally illegitimate, then libertarians are entitled not only to condemn it, but also to condemn the destructive results that flow from itâ€”even if those results are, in some important sense, external to the actual coercion. Thus, for example, left libertarians such as Kevin Carson and Matt MacKenzie have argued forcefully for libertarian criticism of certain business practices—such as low-wage sweatshop labor—as exploitative. Throughout the twentieth century, most libertarians have rushed to the defense of such practices, on the grounds that they result from market processes, that such arrangements are often the best economic options for extremely poor people in developing countries, and that the state socialist solution of expansive government regulation of wages and conditions would distort the market, violate the rights of workers and bosses to freely negotiate the terms of labor, and harm the very workers that the regulators professed to help. But the problem is that these analyses often attempt to justify or excuse prevailing business practices by appeal to free market principles, when those very practices arose in actually existing markets, which are very far from being free. In Carson’s and MacKenzie’s view, while the twentieth-century libertarians were right to criticize state socialist claim that existing modes of production should not be even further distorted by expanded government regimentation, but too many twentieth-century libertarians confused that genuine insight with the delusion that existing modes of production would be the natural outcome of an undistorted market. Against these confusions, they have revived an argument drawn from the tradition of nineteenth-century individualist anarchists like Benjamin Tucker, who argued that prevailing government privileges for bosses and capitalists — monopoly, regulatory cartelization of banking, manipulation of the currency, legal restrictions and military violence against union strikers, politicized distribution of land to connected speculators and developers, etc. — distorted markets in such a way as to systematically push workers into precarious and impoverishing economic arrangements, and to force them, against the backdrop of the unfree market in land and capital, to make ends meet by entering a
free job market on the bosses’ terms.
On Tucker’s view, as on Carson’s and MacKenzie’s, this sort of systemic concentration of wealth and market power can only persist as long as the government continues to intervene in the market so as to sustain it; free market competition would free workers to better their own lives outside of traditional corporate channels, and would allow entrepreneurs to tear down top-heavy corporate behemoths through vigorous competition for land, labor, and capital. Thus, to the extent that sweatshop conditions and starvation wages are sustained, and alternative arrangements like workers’ co-ops are suppressed, because of the dramatic restrictions on property rights throughout the developing worldâ€”restrictions exploited by opportunistic corporations, which often collaborate with authoritarian governments and pro-government paramilitaries in maintaining or expanding legal privilege, land grabs, and oppressive local order—libertarians, as libertarians, have good reasons to condemn the social evils that arise from these labor practices. Though they could in principle arise in a free market, the actual market they arose in is profoundly unfree, and there is every reason to believe that in a truly free market the conditions of ordinary laborers, even those who are very poor, would be quite different, and much better. Certainly this offers no reason for libertarians to support the state socialist
solution of giving even more power to
progressive government in an ill-conceived attempt to correct for the predations that plutocratic government already enabled. But it is a good reason for libertarians to support voluntary, state-free forms of solidarity — such as private
fair trade certification, wildcat unionism, or mutual aid societies — that work to undermine exploitative practices and build a new society within the shell of the old.
I should make it clear, if it is not yet clear, that my aim in this essay has been to raise some questions, provoke some discussion, and offer some categories for carrying on that discussion intelligently. I’ve not attempted to answer all the questions I’ve raised, or to provide a fully detailed elaboration of thick conceptions of libertarianism. And I’ve deliberately left a lot of questions open for further discussion. Two of them are worth mentioning in particular, in order to avoid possible confusion.
First, pointing out that conscientious libertarians may have good reasons, as libertarians, to favor other social projects in addition to libertarianism raises a related, but importantly distinct question: whether libertarians should favor a gradualist or an immediatist stance towards the abolition of statist controls while those other social projects remain incomplete or frustrated in their progress. In particular, if getting or keeping a flourishing free society depends on having a base of certain social or intellectual preconditions in place, should libertarians still make direct efforts to abolish all statist controls immediately and completely, regardless of the social or cultural situation? Or should they hold off until the groundwork is in place, and restrict themselves to calls for limited and moderated repeals in the meantime?
For much of his career, Murray Rothbard endorsed a form of thin libertarian anarchism, arguing that libertarianism
will get nowhere until we realize that there is and can be no (Left-opportunism: The case of S.L.S., part one, in Libertarian Vanguard, February 1981, p. 11). At the same time, he endorsed ultra-immediatism, joking that if he had a magic button that immediately abolished an aspect of the state, he’d break his finger pushing it. In Total Freedom, Chris Sciabarra criticizes Rothbard’s thin libertarianism as
unanchored utopianism (202); Sciabarra argues that a
dialectical sensibility recommends a more comprehensive three-level model of social transformation, incorporating not only to the political structure of the state, but the interlocking dynamics by which political structure (Level-3) affects, and is affected by, individual psychology and philosophy (Level-1) and the framework of established cultural institutions (Level-2).
Sciabarra’s critique of Rothbardianism, and his later writing foreign policy, have emphasized the dangers of directly pursuing libertarian policies in contexts where libertarian individualism and anti-authoritarianism are not well-established in the local culture. All this strongly suggests that Sciabarra prefers a form of libertarian gradualism, and suspects that any form of immediatism depends on non-dialectical disregard for the cultural base necessary to sustain liberty. But whether Sciabarra’s right about that, or wrong about that, you need to keep in mind that endorsing a form of strategic thickness does not, just by itself, commit you to gradualism; that’s a separate issue that needs a separate argument. Believing in particular material or cultural preconditions for the flourishing or long-term survival of a free society, once statist interventions are repealed, does not entail any particular position on whether those invasions ought to continue until that base is established. A dialectical sensibility requires us to consider the possibility that individual attitudes and cultural institutions might adjust dynamically as the political structure changes, and that these changes might be favorable rather than hostile to the cultural base that we advocate. Or they may not: illiberal attitudes may be intransigent, and even without statism they may nevertheless find new, equally destructive expressions. They may even worsen. The point awaits further investigation, and is not settled simply by accepting a thick conception over a thin conception of libertarianism.
But even if you concede that immediate repeal of statist controls, without the preconditions in place, would eventually result in disaster, rather than cultural adaptation, that still doesn’t settle the argument in favor of gradualism. To do that, you would need to add some kind of further moral argument that would show that people are entitled to continue invading the rights of other people in order to maintain a particular standard of living, or to stave off aggression that would otherwise be committed by some unrelated third party at some point in the future. I happen to think that the kind of arguments that you’d need to add to thick libertarianism in order to justify gradualism are morally indefensible. Fortunately, since they are separable from strategic thickness itself, there is no reason why advocates of strategic thickness need to adopt them. That’s an important debate, and one worth havingâ€”but it’s worth having elsewhere, since it’s independent of the debate over thickness.
Second, it should be clear that I have not attempted to provide detailed justifications for the specific claims that I made on behalf of particular
thick commitmentsâ€”for example the claims that libertarians have strong reasons to oppose sexism or to support state-free efforts at mutual aid and labor solidarity. To explain the different forms of thickness, I drew most of my examples from the left libertarian literature, and I happen to think that there are good arguments to be made on that literature’s behalf. But for the purposes of this essay, these claims are intended as particular illustrations of underlying conceptsâ€”not as proofs of a detailed left libertarian analysis. For all I have said here, it might still be true that further argument would reveal reasons of thickness in application, or from grounds, or in strategy, or from consequences, that support a form of libertarianism quite different from that which I advocate, such as orthodox Objectivism, or even support a form that is almost exactly the opposite, such as Hoppean
paleolibertarianism. Consider the reasons that Objectivists give for going beyond laissez-faire principles alone, and culturally glorifying big business specificallyâ€”it’s basically thickness from grounds (Randian egoism) and strategic thickness (in the belief that vilifying big business provides grist for the altruist-statist mill). Or consider the reasons that Hoppe offers for ostracizing homosexuals and condemning large-scale migration of unskilled laborersâ€”it’s basically thickness from consequences, on the belief that without statist intervention against restrictive uses of property rights, these lifestyle choices would not be sustainable in the face of opposition from civil society. I, as a left libertarian, find these specific appeals specious (or, in Hoppe’s case, grotesque). But that means only that I disagree with the specific premises, not with the general forms of argument that all thick forms of libertarianism help themselves to.
Just which actual social and cultural projects libertarians, as libertarians, should incorporate into theory and practice still needs to be hashed out in a detailed debate over specifics. But I hope that here I have at least cleared some of the ground that must be cleared for that debate to sensibly proceed.