Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken

Tom Woods, Gary Chartier, and Bringing Things to the Table

thick as a brickI thought I was done with the Thick vs. Thin Libertarian debate. In fact, I wanted to be done with it. Alas, I have not been able to stop thinking about it since Andy and I discussed the topic in our podcast. If you listen to the podcast, there appears to be a slight difference in thought between Andy and I on this topic. In a couple of spots he seemed to be saying that there were things to be added to the Non-Aggression Principle, whereas I insisted at one point that nothing should be added. Later on, I added that we all bring additional items to the Non-Aggression Principle by nature of being human. I have been wondering if this is not the issue that Andy and I have with the Thick Libertarians. Perhaps the looseness of the terminology has betrayed us. When I claim to be Libertarian, the assumption I have in mind is that I am making the claim “I adhere to the Non-Aggression Principle.” Whatever I bring to the table AFTER that statement does not define the word ‘Libertarian’.

The same is true within Christianity. A Presbyterian can walk into a Baptist church and greet other Christians as fellow travelers along the same path. Because we approach life from a similar perspective, we can build on that commonality or we can rest in that commonality should we find differences as we walk forward in our conversation. The claim of Baptist or Presbyterian does not countermand or confirm our Christianity, nor does the claim of Christianity confirm or deny the tag of Baptist or Presbyterian.

bonheoffer“In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Allow me to assume two groups of people. The first is a group of ‘Lemmitarians’. They believe that people should be free of government intrusion because of their natural right to possess their own bodies. However, they also believe following experts will lead to fuller, more satisfying lives, as the experts have a greater understanding of their distinct field of study. Within Lemmitarian communities, the masses follow the advice of experts to guide their decisions about health, work, et cetera. When the greatest of their experts declared non-violence was the pathway to greater progress, they immediately adopted pacifism.  The second group are the ‘Agrarians’. The agrarians believe a life spent close to Mother Nature to be the most fulfilling and enjoyable. They till the soil and grow crops using antiquated technology to remain close to the earth. They are vegans, believing that life should not be found in the death of others. Because of this belief, they abhor violence and any use of force is unthinkable. Both of these groups are more than welcome in my conception of a Libertarian Paradise, as they both follow the Non-Aggression Principle. It is not incumbent on me to require the ‘Lemmitarians’ to shout down their experts – who will certainly be wrong from time to time – or to insist the ‘Agrarians’ adopt modern technologies to help ease the burden of their manual labor. Rather, I can live in peace with these groups, knowing that we all have non-coercion in common.

With these thoughts in my mind, I went back and listened to Tom Woods and Gary Chartier’s discussion of the topic on The Tom Woods Show. At first I thought that I must have overreacted during the first listen and in the podcast. During a general dialog about the overall Thick versus Thin debate, Gary Chartier said this:

“All I want to claim, at any rate, is that really thinking through the connections between ideas ought to lead one in a certain direction. I have zero interest in maintaining that everybody can be expected to have thought through issues in just the same way. Much less the claim that somebody who hasn’t thought through the issues in what I would take to be the right way somehow ought to be read out of the movement.”

Unfortunately, I kept listening. Chartier offers up an example of ‘Strategic Thickness’. He sets up a Libertarian society which includes many individuals who are deferential to authority. Chartier agrees that – as long as these people keep their practices non-coercive – this is compatible with principled non-aggression. He goes on to say:

“However, I think the argument would be that if we’re going to maintain a free society over time – if it really is the case that the general habit is deference to authority and people aren’t inclined to think critically about claims made by the punitive authority figures – that might over time make it difficult for that society to maintain liberty as a principal political value and might make it easier for authoritarian institutions and patterns of behavior to step in. So, is that a case where it’s a requirement that we promote critical thinking and skepticism about a certain kind of social authority? No, it’s not. But the argument would be that there is real strategic value to promoting those values because a society where those values are embraced will be more robust.”

I do not know what scared me more – the statement itself or Tom Woods agreeing with it. Of course, Woods followed up his agreement by saying that he spends ridiculous amounts of time trying to convert people from their deference to authority in the here and now.

For me, there is a huge difference between what Woods is doing and what Chartier describes. Woods is doing his best to promote the ideas of Liberty and convince others of their value in a world that has been conditioned to accept the control of the state.  Chartier is talking about a place where Libertarianism – the Non-Aggression Principle – is already well known and followed. In such a place, who takes a census asking you to identify whether you are deferential to authority or not? Who decides that it is now time to promote freedom of thought to ensure the Libertarian Ideal lives on? This smacks of statist and accommodationist thinking. No social engineering, no control is required where Liberty is allowed to flourish. Maybe I was not overreacting after all.

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