Guest Blog by Walter E. Block
Why do I think of Ron Paul as a libertarian and support his candidacy for president (for purposes of the present discussion I will not distinguish between these) but do not consider Randy Barnett in this way? As Roderick very, very truly says, each of these men hold views incompatible with libertarianism. Why, then, such a sharp distinction between them on my part?
To wit, Paul is mistaken in his views of abortion and immigration, while Barnett is in error on war (I leave to the side federalism.)
There are several reasons for my judgment.
1. I regard questions of war and peace, offense and defense, as far more important to libertarianism than abortion and immigration. The essence of libertarianism is the non-aggression axiom (coupled with homesteading and property rights). I see bombing innocent children and adults as a far more serious violation of liberty than aborting fetuses, or violating the rights of people to cross national borders. If this were my only reason, I regard it is sufficient to distinguish between Paul and Barnett, accepting the former as a libertarian but not the latter.
2. My second reason is that I regard abortion and immigration as far more complex issues than the question of whether a person or nation is committing an offensive act of war or a defensive one. Roderick rejects this as irrelevant. I demur. Suppose we were trying to determine who is a mathematician and who is not. Candidate A does not know that 2 + 2 = 4. Candidate B knows that, but stumbles over the Pythagorean theorem. I regard the latter as far more complex than the former. I consider B more of a mathematician than A. It seems to me that if a putative libertarian (Barnett) cannot distinguish offense from defense in such a simple case as war, while Paul certainly can, even though he stumbles on the far more complex issues of abortion and immigration, then Paul is certainly more of a libertarian, or a better one. But, the difference in complexity between these two issues is so gigantic, this difference of degree is so great that it amounts to a difference in kind, that I am entirely comfortable in evaluating Paul as a libertarian, but not Barnett.
Let me try again on this point. Here are two statements to which all Austrian economists subscribe.
a. Voluntary trade is mutually beneficial in the ex ante sense
b. The Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) is correct
I regard (a) as exceedingly simple to grasp. The Austrian credentials of anyone who does not see this, that is, agree with it, are nil. I regard (b) as very complex. Austrianism consists of belief in scores of such claims. If someone agreed to all such claims except for (b), I would consider him an Austrian. Heck, even an Austrian in good standing. But, if he rejected (a) but accepted everything else, I’d think he was pulling my leg, so weird would this be.
In other words, complexity is not at all irrelevant to the issues which separate Roderick and me. Indeed, it is very important.
3. My supposed argument from authority: I regard my own views on abortion and immigration to be the correct libertarian positions (if I did not, I would change them). However, in my assessment, Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe and Stephan Kinsella are three of the most import libertarian theoreticians in all of history. They disagree with me on at least one and I think both of these issues. Thus, I am a bit more modest in my stance on abortion and immigration than I would otherwise be. However, I know of NO eminent libertarian who thinks that our war in Iraq is defensive.
At first blush, you are of course correct in asserting that this is circular reasoning on my part. For, I readily admit it, if there were some other eminent libertarian (hey, give me a break, I don’t count Randroids) who did take this view, he would be dismissed, forthwith, as a libertarian in my view. Come to think of it, I think that John Hospers takes this view. Well, scratch Hospers from the ranks not only of eminent libertarian theoreticians, but from being a libertarian at all.
And yet, and yet… How else are we to determine issues of this sort? Will you concede to me that Rothbard, Hoppe and Kinsella, completely apart from the present issues under discussion, are more deserving of the title of eminent libertarian theorist than are Barnett, Hospers and the Randroids? If so, does not your position give you pause for reconsideration?
Maybe one way to reconcile our differences is as follows. I am operating from a sort of agnostic point of view: even though I have strong opinions on abortion and immigration, I am assuming, not a God’s eye point of view, but rather the position of a newcomer to libertarianism, who doesn’t know which way to go on this question since libertarian leaders diverge. You, in contrast, adopt a more knowledgeable position.