When is a libertarian not a libertarian? Often

LP Columnist Barry Freeman
LP Columnist Barry Freeman
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Libertarianism is quite the little fad of late, self-professed adherents popping up all over various media like fungus on rotten wood.

A radical philosophy, this, with far reaching implications for both the individual and the nation state as we have come to understand it over the past 360-odd years (ever since the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years War and established the principle that each nation state has sovereignty over its own territory and domestic affairs).

Put simply, libertarians believe that true self-determination – liberty – is the sole supreme good, and that the interference of any external force (principally, in its now widespread incarnation, the machinery of State) can only, by definition, be an affront.

In common with most ‘-isms’ this system of thought contains much to admire and much to make those with a less idealised view of the human animal’s ability to organise its affairs laugh their head off.

And the laughs are coming thicker and faster than ever right now, with much of the ‘new intake’ appearing to have absolutely no grasp of what being a libertarian even entails.

The other day I found myself in spirited debate with one such chap, who appeared to believe that new, stronger border controls were in no way an anathema to his own loudly trumpeted libertarian outlook.

I asked him how, in principle, the libertarian border controls would work without necessarily entailing the creation of new State powers and infrastructure, funded presumably out of general taxation, which then impinged upon the individual liberty of countless people.

After all, what greater liberty can there be than freedom of movement? Isn’t this, clearly, a liberty from which many other liberties flow?

He said that was all well and good, but we couldn’t let them all in, could we? Could we though? And besides, he wanted to make sure his child was raised in a functioning democracy.

I neither agreed nor disagreed but instead pointed out that to declare oneself a libertarian was quite a big deal, and that for every benefit you and the many like you seem to think will flow – lower taxes, for the most part – this inevitably came at a price.

Our discussion concluded with an agreement that what he actually wanted was a bit of absolute liberty, more or less the precise amount he desired for himself and his family.

Obviously, none of this happened in the words here used. There was far more passive aggression and the language was downright appalling.