The 7 Strangest Libertarian Ideas
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Few movements in the United States today harbor stranger political ideas than the self-proclaimed libertarians. The Rand Paul school of libertarianism is at least as far outside the mainstream on the right as, say, a rather doctrinaire old-school form of Marxism/Leninism is on the left. The difference is this: The mainstream media isn’t telling us that we’re in the middle of a “Marxist/Leninist moment.” Leninist politicians aren’t being touted as serious presidential contenders. And all the media chatter we’re hearing about a “Libertarian moment” ignores the very harsh, extreme and sometimes downright ugly ideas that are being disseminated under that banner.
It’s great to have allies like Rand Paul working alongside other Americans to defend our right to privacy, restrain the NSA and reduce the military/industrial complex’s grip on foreign policy. It’s possible to admire their political courage in these areas while at the same time recognize that we may not care for the environment they inhabit.
There’s another reason to challenge libertarians on the extreme nature of their ideology: A number of them seem determined to drive competing ideas out of the free market for ideas—which isn’t very libertarian of them. There has been a concerted effort to marginalize mainstream values and ideas about everything from workers’ rights to the role of government in national life. So by all means, let’s have an open debate. Let’s make sure that all ideas, no matter how unusual they may seem, are welcome for debate and consideration. But let’s not allow any political movement to become a Trojan horse, one which is allowed to have a “moment” without ever telling us what it really represents.
Obviously, not every self-proclaimed libertarian believes these ideas, but libertarianism is a space which nurtures them. Can the Republican Party really succeed by embracing this space? Why does the mainstream media treat libertarian ideas as somehow more legitimate than, say, the social welfare principles which guide Great Britain or Sweden?
Here are seven of modern libertarianism’s strangest and most extreme notions.
1. Parents should be allowed to let their children starve to death. We’re not making this up. From progressive writer Matt Bruenig (via Sean McElwee at Salon) comes this excerpt from libertarian economist Murray Rothbard:
“a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also … should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die.”
Note the repetitive use of the word “it” to describe the child. This linguistic dehumanization of helpless individuals is surprisingly common in libertarian literature. (See Ayn Rand and the young Alan Greenspan for further examples.)
Rothbard is a member of the so-called Austrian School of economics, cofounded the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and is widely admired among libertarians. He continues:
“The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. (Again, whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question.) This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g., by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. (Though, as we shall see below, in a libertarian society the existence of a free baby market will bring such “neglect” down to a minimum.)”