I was just watching Stefan Molyneux answer Jon Stewart’s list of questions for libertarians. I’m not going to put a link in because the truth is that the answers that I heard were so pathetic that I don’t think it is a good idea to spread them around. But there is one issue that I want to discuss. Stewart asked if things like the social safety net don’t enhance freedom. Molyneux’s response was (and this is close to if not exactly a quote): sure it does but then allowing rape enhances the freedom of the rapist. There are so many things wrong with this that it would take a book, so let me address just three varied issues.
First, this is a false analogy. To start with, it is offensive to suggest that rape is equivalent to a sales tax. I’m sure that Molyneux would counter that he isn’t saying they are equivalent, but that hardly matters. His argument throughout what I watched was that the problem is simply coercion. So taxing is coercive and rape is coercive. No one who is not stuck in a theoretical frame of mind would make such sweeping comparisons.
The second issue is that there is a fundamental contradiction between the libertarian non-aggression principle and the belief that people should be protected from coercion. According to libertarians, there should be laws to stop one person from raping another. So how are these laws enforced? There are two potential answers. Either it can all be done with donations or the government can coerce people into paying taxes for these “proper” government functions. The former case is just a might-makes-right system with a patina of justice painted on. The latter yields the liberal point: we all do have some duties to one another. There is no reason that we should accept libertarian dogma that the only valid purpose of government is to enforce non-aggression.
To pretend that non-aggression is the only shared good in society is just nonsense. As the years go on, I’ve begun to see that while libertarianism appeals to smart, theoretically minded people, it is also the most lazy of political philosophies. It depends upon defining most social interactions out of existence. And then, caught in its own theoretical framework, it is never forced to confront its own practical ramifications. And that’s why when libertarians make practical claims, they are always dependent upon cherry picked data and conservative political apologetics.
And for the third issue, I need to dig a bit deeper into what else our libertarian friend said. He noted that the social safety net allows people to make bad choices. Unlike raping, poverty is not a choice. In general, poor people don’t make the decision to avoid getting an education because they can depend upon the government. The idea that they do is just an old conservative canard that is not based upon any actual data. Conservatives just know these kinds of things, and the facts don’t matter at all.
The main reason for having laws against rape is to stop people from raping in the first place, not to punish them after the fact. There is no equivalent argument against poverty, which is very rarely a choice. In almost all cases it is a complex phenomenon that is almost completely determined by social factors. Allowing poor people to starve will not provide a substantial incentive to reduce poverty—most especially in the world where all the property has already been divided up.
I have heard things about Molyneux in the past, but I’d never seen him before. I can see why libertarians like him. He’s got that zestfully clean look and manner. And he’s got the libertarian dogma down. But I can also see why he makes liberals apoplectic. He’s breezy with his thinking, and breezy is not a good way to think about serious subjects. Having been a keen observer of libertarians for three decades now, I see what Molyneux is all about. He sticks mostly to theory but peppers it with practical claims. I have little doubt when it comes down to it, he will jettison all of the practical claims when they are shown to be wrong. And he’ll be left with his non-aggression principle. Taxation is rape! There is no serious political discussion to be had here.