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.

Joël Valenzuela
Joël Valenzuela
Joël Valenzuela is the editor of The Desert Lynx. He is also the founder of the Rights Brigade, a mover for the Free State Project, and a martial art instructor.
  • Sam A. Robrin

    A good start, but I’d say you missed the main issue.
    The libertarians of the FSP get the “Do no harm” aspect of the NAP, but tend to ignore the second part: “Do as you agreed to do” Consequently. the word of a Free Stater has little worth, and plans can never be made, knowing that you’ll just end up with a lot of no-shows tittering “Libertarian standard time” and “It’s like herding cats.” And if they put as much effort into activism as they do into concocting excuses to blame you for their irresponsible behavior, we’d be halfway to freedom in our time already!
    Most of this has to do with the heavy promulgation of “positive thinking,” which is dream-beams and fairy-dust already. Where it gets insidious is that when you believe people bring all their own misfortune on themselves, it gives you an excuse to take advantage of them. Whatever harm your actions cause them, THEY DESERVED IT! Between that justification and the enticements of personal benefit, a lot of lying, cheating, and stealing goes on, in addition to plenty of emotional bullying and disruptive one-upmanship.
    So if you want to change the situation, start pointing out the negative effects of “positive thinking,” and refuse to tolerate it. It’s holding up the works at a time when waiting could be fatal.

    • I disagree that FSP participants tend to be this way, but I understand your point about having greater standards than just the NAP (incidentally, I pointed that out in my article). I still believe it all has to do with the relative size of the movement, giving into the “big fish small pond” syndrome. Increase the pond size, and wishful thinking won’t hold a candle to accomplishment.

      • Dave Van Wyk

        It is doubtful that libertarians are more likely to attract scum than other political groups; in fact, I suspect we are more aware of the problem than others — but I believe your take on the reasons why we put up with scum in our ranks are dead on, and I think it may be difficult to strike the ryt balance. Keep up the good work.

        • That’s true, other movements have scum too. They just seldom rise to the top, because the pool of members is large enough to not have to deal with them.

    • Andrew

      ^This all day long.

  • OldTimer

    Ironically, your ‘scum-free’ group is run by folks I consider to be unethical folks too… But hey, yu have fun with them… frankly, way too many of the FSPers have been scummy… to the point where I avoid most of them, because not having them in my life is better than the alternative.

    • Hmm, they seem to be fine by me. Anyway, it’s probably good to disassociate yourself from the majority of the Manch-centric crowd. There’s some good people up in Concord (myself included), and I’d invite you to come hang out at the new Area 23, but you’ve blocked me, so I can’t.

  • Jolly

    FSP’er here – I agree with most of the sentiments. Unfortunately, some of the early movers permanently alienated the locals. There seem to be quite a few movers that can’t or won’t get jobs. If I see yet another “handy man for odd jobs” person show up – I’ll scream! They end up living in trailers and shacks on other people’s lands, do not really contribute much, and don’t support themselves – relying on others to keep them afloat. What we need are more “middle class” movers – with actual jobs. Locals see a group of lowlifes, moving into what amounts to flop-houses, with unkempt, shaggy people – and then hear the newbies’ imprecations of moral superiority- while living like fleas. It’s taken us FOUR YEARS since we moved to our present town, to get any respect from the locals, and they still eye us warily. At least they’re cooperating with us, finally. We made some waves recently on the local forums where we actively refuse to associate with some of the more obvious parasites. Other parasites excoriated us – but – who cares? We’ve made it clear to three people ( so far ) that we’re shunning them. We’ve received a lot of ( anonymous ) support.

    • Wholeheartedly approve. I think we are doing a better job of weeding out the undesirables. We just need to keep at it.

    • Freddy

      Can I have a list of what is “desirable” behavior, and what is “undesirable” behavior, because I really want to be a part of your little party. I thought that adherence to the NAP was the only requirement.

      • I think it’s fair to say that you’ve completely missed the point of this entire article. The NAP might be the only requirement to be libertarian, but it’s not to be a decent person. With the liberty to be as you wish comes the personal responsibility to be a good person.

        And I intentionally omitted specifics, because it’s not my place to decide what is and isn’t right for people to do. That’s the whole point of liberty. What I am doing is that people hold themselves, and others, to higher standards, whatever those standards may be.

  • Andrew

    I think another, structurally inherent component to the problem that the author doesn’t quite address, is that liberty very explicitly allows for scumbags. If you truly hold to the principle of free speech, for instance, then, while you may abhor misogyny or racial bigotry, you would also fight for the rights of those people to hold and even promote those views.

    • No, I specifically mentioned that point. It’s kind of central to my argument.

  • for more freedom

    This sounds like every community. At least these liberty folks are trying to do something good.

    • Sort of, though I feel the liberty community is more tolerant than others. Still, by and large the community is doing great things.

  • Alexis Barnham

    In the grand scheme of things, no matter what you choose to call yourself, it is up to you what you choose to do. If you choose to steal or slander or gossip, then you are making a nuisance of yourself. If you choose rather to do good for others and have compassion and humility, you become useful. It is not a given that anyone will exemplify goodness, compassion, or humility 100% of the time but as one chooses to be successfully accomplishing those attributes, they will become part of ones personality.

  • Rob

    I’m having a hard time separating the hyperbole from the genuine arguments here. For one, you’re not the first to notice or even talk about this problem. It hardly qualifies as a topic that “no one” will talk about. You would have had to have been avoiding the topic yourself in order not to notice.

    Then there’s the claim you make in the comments that the scum rarely rises to the top in other communities. Patently false. The two major political parties are rife with human filth at the higher echelons that are far worse than the likes of Cantwell. As a matter of fact, until Brad Spangler, I can hardly think of an individual in the libertarian community who equaled the depravity some in the political establishment.

    There’s a real argument to be made here. It’s not original, but it does bear repeating every so often. Unfortunately the message gets muddled in your attempts at making an impact. Ditch the embellishments and concentrate on making a more precise argument.

    • Politics is a naturally scummy profession. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the rank-and-file activists. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the conservative movement (and some in the liberal), and noticed far less tolerance for the kind of behavior that’s tolerated in the liberty community.

      As far as it not being brought up, I’ve heard whispers here or there, but rarely do I see it publicly addressed with such a scope. After publishing this, the amount of private messages along the lines of “I’m glad someone finally said something” I’ve received is staggering.

      Finally, I purposely avoided specifics for the same reason legislating problems away doesn’t work: one solution doesn’t fit all situations. People are scummy in different ways. People have different behavioral standards, and have different ways of enforcing those standards. It’s not up to me to decide how they act. I’m simply urging greater discernment in associations.

  • I’ve seen a lot of folks come and go.

    One of the fundamental problems I’ve seen is that some of the zealots believe that all that must be upheld is the NAP. The NAP is the minimum it takes to keep people from killing each other, not something in which to build a cohesive community.

    We must hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold our opponents to.

    • I agree that the NAP is only a foundation upon which we may build a free society. Gotta build the rest too.

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  • Andrew Wiegand

    ” this is a group of people who reject the authority of government, religion”

    Not all anarchists reject religion.