Why Liberty Attracts Scumbags


News flash: I care deeply about the cause of human liberty. I believe government is the greatest blight on human achievement and well-being. Of all political labels I most closely identify with libertarianism. So much so, in fact, that I moved to New Hampshire for the Free State Project in order to join other like-minded liberty lovers in ushering in a new era of freedom and progress for mankind.

And, naturally, I’d want to believe that people who think like me are the best this world has to offer. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s very far from the reality.

Now don’t get me wrong, most libertarians are decent people. In fact, the majority of the most humble, generous, hard-working, kind, and intelligent people I’ve come across are liberty activists. I know many people of great achievement, selfless compassion, and brilliant humor who easily outclass their counterparts outside of the liberty movement. However, that doesn’t change the fact that a sizable chunk of this movement is comprised of some real lowlifes.

It’s the elephant in the room that no one in the movement wants to talk about. But believe me, our critics and detractors have no problem with pointing out the scum among us, so I’m taking a crack at addressing our ugly spots before they do. I’m not just talking about a surly demeanor or purely self-interested behavior, which is almost expected of a movement comprised of fierce individualists. I’m talking about theft, fraud, and financial irresponsibility. I’m talking about creepy behavior and unwelcome advances bordering on sexual harassment. I’m talking about insults, harassment, and general unkindness (one prominent member with far too many apologists centers his entire act around being a terrible person). And the drama. Oh, the drama. Make no mistake, there are some real scummy people who call themselves libertarian, and they have a surprisingly-large contingent of apologists.

Why is this? How did a movement whose central philosophy is personal responsibility, private charity, and individual goodness come to contain so many people so far from these key virtues? For a few reasons:

The movement is relatively new. The philosophy of liberty is still a minority viewpoint, and that minority gets even smaller the farther towards anarchism you go. Really, it almost goes without saying that people who reject the entire structure of modern human society would be few and far between. As such, the relative value of the individual in this small movement is relatively high. Libertarians are much more willing to take crap from other libertarians, since there are still so few of us. The line of thinking (sometimes subconscious) of “Yeah he’s kind of a jerk, but we need everyone we can get” persists.

A comprehensive behavioral standard remains elusive. We have to remember, this is a group of people who reject the authority of government, religion, and… well, really every source of authority except the individual’s conscience. The only persistent moral standard seems to be the Non-Aggression Principle, and while this serves well to weed out abject violence and theft, it still leaves a lot of wiggle room for scummy behavior. Libertarians, who believe in the individual’s right to adopt any action that doesn’t directly trample on the liberty or property of others, are extremely hesitant to condemn undesirable, though nonviolent, acts. It’s not that they don’t have a code of conduct more strict than simply adhering to the Non-Aggression Principle. It’s that they tend to be shy about telling others to shape up, for fear of being called a filthy statist.

Anarchists struggle with an enforcement mechanism. The world at large has a number of structures used for reigning in bad people, from government to religion to other belief structures that prescribe a clear behavioral standard. None of these apply to a philosophy that allows for basically doing what you want, with very few restrictions. Even when a group of anarchists can agree that a particular person is behaving badly, figuring out what to do about it is another matter entirely. Even ostracism requires a consensus and organization, which remain elusive.

So now that I’ve addressed the ugly spots in the liberty community, whatever can we do to heal them?

The movement needs to grow and mature. Plain and simple, the best way we can improve the quality of the people in the liberty movement is to make more of them. More libertarians means lower individual value, which means we can focus more on esteeming those of value and character. Once being a liberty lover isn’t so scarce anymore, no one will care about you unless you’re a decent person as well.

We need to stop tolerating and making excuses for terrible people. Let’s be honest, we attract the dregs of society because we put up with them. The solution is amazingly simple: stop tolerating terrible people. No perfectly orchestrated campaign of mass ostracism is necessary. Just don’t hang out with scum. Don’t socialize with them, don’t endorse them, don’t speak with them. Stop inviting them to events, stop talking about them, and certainly stop working or doing business with them. They aren’t entitled to a fair trial in the court of public opinion, and they have no right to any kind of social circle. We don’t owe bad libertarians acceptance, period. If they’re free to act as they see fit, we’re just as free to exclude them. And we should. It’s about damn time.

Sorry for not being sorry about addressing the seedy underbelly of the liberty movement. We can’t turn a blind eye to it any longer. And we really shouldn’t. We can build a scum-free libertarian community. And, if we ever want the philosophy of liberty to become attractive to regular people, we absolutely should.