I was a libertarian once. Yes, I was, as a youth, even for a time as a youth in the Army. Not as contradictory as it may seem – Freedom Guy in The Authoritarian Organization. I signed a contract, and libertarians can actually sign contracts to become slaves if they wish. There is no restraint on freedom, including restraining people from doing something dangerous or foolish or both.
A libertarian, small L, because back then there was no Libertarian Party, like the right-insurgent one that is now growing at a rate that makes it the envy of the left-insurgent Greens. Right and left in this context is an economic, not a cultural, term. Neither Greens nor Libertarians care who you have sex with or whether you relax with a joint and an old Beatles LP, but they have some pretty substantial differences on more directly economic matters. I’m critically supporting Greens right now, full disclosure, and with an emphasis on critical, but once upon a time, long long ago in a universe far far away, I was a libertarian.
I was thinking a while ago about violence, which we keep coming back to because it takes up far more space in our era than it ought to. And in our thinking. Every sociological, philosophical, geographical, anthropological, economic, philosophical, and political discussion that goes on long enough will eventually join the issue of violence, and of violence and justice. Then I thought about how a libertarian would view the question of violence, in particular verbal, or linguistic, violence. The libertarian basically adheres to the sticks-and-stones point of view on this: You can verbally abuse me all you want, but the line is drawn at physical contact. This is the essence of libertarianism. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
We can see plenty of this on the internet these days, since this medium allows people to wear impenetrable masks. Not harsh language, or argumentation, or even righteous anger, but that step further into the personal insult, the words used with the sole purpose of wounding, of inflicting pain on another person.
We all know damn well that words can be used to great effect in harming people. Yet, when I was a libertarian, I did not believe verbal violence was violence, and so I counted myself a Moral Person so long as I refrained from shooting someone or burning their property. When I went to Vietnam, of course, we shot people and burned their belongings, but with the contract, I had some moral protection . . . I had outsourced the moral dimension of my actions as a soldier. A libertarian soldier.
This intensely legalistic way of working through things, this libertarian worldview, is a simplified worldview, and an expensive one. It is expensive because it is simplified. To protect the libertarian formulae on violence, we have to isolate then cast into the darkness any realities that might trouble the formulae. The first thing cast into the darkness here is language itself. To protect the formulae, we deny ourselves access to and experience of the immense, immensely complex, and unimaginably powerful reality that is language. A worldview reduced to binary yes-no answers is a world reduced yes-and-no questions. What a heavy loss this is!
Sticks and stones, indeed.
What an idea, really! That there can only legitimately be one form of restraint – because restraint is anathema to libertarians – and that is against the initiation of physical violence. This is the basis of a vast rationalization, one threatened by all those dangerous externalities like language itself, to normalize a quasi-myth of ‘white life’ in these United States. Libertarianism, even liberalism, is but a scaffold affixed to the structure that's already there, a scaffold for the painters.