A few years ago I was introduced to libertarianism. I had always shied away from libertarians because I associated them with hippies, a lack of bathing, marijuana, beards, and other bad things. Not that I gave libertarians much thought at all.
Then came the 2008 election cycle, and suddenly I couldn’t just vote for everyone with an “R” by their name because of McCain. I knew I didn’t want to vote for Obama, but I couldn’t vote for McCain either. For the first time in my life I had to think about who I was going to vote for.
At this time I was a rabid devotee of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. I had heard Beck say something about “leaning libertarian” once. And then this Ron Paul guy came along. I listened to a few things he said, and it sounded reasonable, so in the end I pulled the lever for Ron Paul, mostly as a protest vote against the other two choices. I had little idea what Ron Paul was really all about.
After that, it kept gnawing at me that I didn’t know much about the guy I had voted for, so I figured I better learn. So I read Ron Paul’s book The Revolution. As I read I thought “Wait, this guy isn’t crazy. I pretty much agree with all this. Even this legalizing drugs stuff makes some sense.”
One of the real turning points was reading Walter Block’s Defending the Undefendable. In the book Block defends things nobody in their right mind would want to defend. Things like the right to cry “fire” in a crowded theater, or legalizing prostitution. It’s not that Block supports such things, quite the contrary. But what I learned from Block’s writing and the other libertarian books and articles I read afterward was that there is a single core principle of libertarianism, the anti-aggression principle or axiom, and by it I found the only moral foundation for society…unless you bring God into the picture. But before we go there, what is the anti-aggression principle?
Some might say it’s live and let live, or simply saying if you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you. The wording I like best is this, that “It is immoral to commit an act of aggression except in defense against an act of unjust aggression.” Aggression is defined as real harm to one’s person or property, and there we can find some legitimate disagreement. While breaking someone’s leg or picking their pocket are clear acts of aggression, what about using children to create child pornography, or emotional abuse? We’ll leave those questions for another time and place and keep this discussion focused on those acts of aggression that are easily defined as such.
Once I learned about the anti-aggression principle I started testing it out in my mind against all sorts of situations. And I combined it with the notion that government has no rights unto itself, but only receives the right to engage in an activity as it is delegated to it by the people whom the government represents. This created all sorts of questions. If it’s wrong for me to take someone’s money from them by force, this being nothing more than stealing, then how come the government is allowed to take my money from me by force? If someone smokes pot in the house next to me, this doesn’t hurt me, so can I enter their house, take their pot, and throw them into a prison? If I can’t do it, how come the government can?
Yes, this led to other questions, such as if the government doesn’t have a moral right to tax, then how do we pay for stuff like roads and policemen and courts? Turns out people have been writing about these types of things for decades and have proposed all sorts of solutions. If this is all so great, why isn’t the whole world libertarian? Tom Woods has an excellent reply to that question, so we won’t bother any more with it here.
The more I explored libertarianism, and more specifically anarcho-capitalism, the more I found it convincing, until I saw it as the only moral system for society. Well, almost the only moral system. As a Mormon I, like many other Christians, not to mention members of other non-Christian faiths, believe that someday Christ (or God, it’s really the same, isn’t it?) will come and rule on earth. From what I’ve read, this will not be anarcho-capitalism, although I suspect it will be closer to that than the system under which we live today. But there will most definitely be a ruler (Christ) and there will be a system of government one could potentially refer to as “the State” just as we have the State in existence today.
Then there’s the case of government in the Bible. What about Moses and the children of Israel? And what about Joshua in the Bible? Moses had people executed. Joshua invaded cities and killed men, women, and children who had never attacked the Israelites. And there are the actions of my own church, the LDS Church. The LDS Church supported Prop 8 in California and asked members to donate of their time and money to the cause.
How could I reconcile all this with the logic and clear morality of anarcho-capitalism? Then the thought came to me–it all hinges on God.
When I became enamored with the anti-aggression principle I made an assumption, one that almost everybody would make. I assumed that all acts of aggression, except in self defense, were evil. If someone kills another person, and not in self defense, would anyone question that something evil had been done? And yet that’s precisely what we see commanded by God in the Bible. The only explanation must be that killing, even when not in self defense, is not always bad. But how could it not be? Again, it all hinges on God. To understand how this can be, we first need to understand who God is, and who we are.
According to Mormon theology, God is omniscient (he knows everything) and omnipotent (he can do anything). He can see every element of the universe. He knows the position of every proton, every atom, every molecule, at any given point in time, and he knows exactly where they will be at any given time in the future, even seeing trillions of years into the future. He knows our every thought, and what our every thought will be. Likewise he knows all our actions and what our future actions will be.
God can do anything. There is nothing outside his control, although he voluntarily gives up control over us human beings and grants us our freedom to make choices, even very bad choices, as bad as can be.
God is also the father of our spirits. We are his children, and have the potential within us to “grow up” to be like him. To be like God is to become omniscient and omnipotent, to create spirit offspring as he does and populate universes with those offspring, repeating the cycle. It is, most importantly, to be happy. Not the kind of happiness that means God is constantly smiling and completely out of touch with our pain and suffering. No, he weeps for us when we hurt ourselves and each other, but somehow he still has a “fulness of joy.” I don’t understand it completely, suffice it to say God is as happy as happy can be, and that is the purpose of our existence as well. It isn’t a random, euphoric state such as what one might experience while on drugs, but rather it is due to who God is, what he knows, and what he does. We’ll leave it at that.
It’s also important to mention that God loves us, his children. He wants us to become like him because he knows only by doing so can we maximize our happiness. If we’re happy, it makes him happier. If he can increase the number of his children who are happy, it increases his happiness, or his “glory.” Think about it, he doesn’t have anywhere else to go to progress. He can’t learn anything else–he knows it all. He can’t learn to do anything else–he’s all powerful. The only thing he can do is have children and help them become like him. Otherwise he’s stuck, or damned. It would be wasted potential, imperfect, and he would therefore not have a fulness of joy, because there would there on the table greater joy than he currently has. He must keep growing his “kingdom” or it all falls apart.
Accepting what I’ve said above (perhaps only for the sake of argument, if you don’t accept it in reality), we can say that God knows what is best for us, and what is best for us might not be what we see as being what is best for us, because we see things temporally. He sees things all the way through to eternity. I think it would be good for me if my business grew and I sold it for a billion dollars. God sees that this would not be good for me, and “blesses” me by preventing that from happening (this may or may not be what’s really happening, it may be the case that I haven’t made a billion dollars because I’m simply not very bright). It may even be that God knows when and how it is best for us to die.
If you think about it, God kills everyone. He has the power to keep people alive, and yet everybody dies, and God, being omnipotent, is just as responsible for it as if I were a doctor with the power to easily save a patient’s life and decided not to do so. The difference between God and a doctor is that God knows everything, and the doctor doesn’t. God can therefore decide when someone should die, and can see that it’s in their best interest, whereas the doctor can’t. Because God knows everything, he can morally do things we cannot do. For me to decide to kill someone would be evil because I do not know everything, and do not know if I am acting in their best interest. I am taking upon myself the role of God without his permission. But God can “kill” someone and the act is not evil because God sees that it is the right time and that in the end, the person has received the best chance possible to fulfill his part in God’s plan for that individual to become like God and inherit complete joy.
Because God can decide when people die, and do so while being completely just, kind, and loving, he can also delegate this task to men. So when God commanded the Israelites to destroy cities, including children, it was not wrong for him to do so, neither for his servants to carry out his commands. It is incredibly difficult for me to think about this. Destroying wicked adults is one thing. Killing children is quite another. And yet, if God knows that these children yet have a chance to become like him and fulfill their potential, and that perhaps they are better off being killed than being left alive, is it not logical that a loving God would do that which is in their best long-term interest, even if in the short-term it seems barbaric and cruel? I’m just glad I didn’t have to be one of the Israelites doing the killing. I don’t think I’d be up to the task.
If it ok for God and those he commands to engage in killing, the ultimate act of aggression, then we can probably assume it is also ok for God to command his servants to collect taxes by force, enact legislation that prohibits gay marriage, and a host of other things antithetical to the anti-aggression principle. God can do all this because he sees the end from the beginning and can see what is good, and what isn’t. Yes, he violates the anti-aggression principle, in a sense, but it seems like the anti-aggression principle only applies to humans with our finite capacities, rather than God with his infinite wisdom.
And so if the leadership of the LDS Church were to supports something that violated libertarian principles, they could be justified in doing so if they are acting according to instructions received by God. For some that might be a bigger “if” than for others, but the point here is not to debate whether the LDS Church acts according to God’s will, but if it is justifiable for it, or anyone else, to violate libertarian principles when it is God’s will that they do so.
Thus we can see the great incentive for leaders throughout time to justify their actions by claiming divine authority. We can also see the danger inherent in failing to question such claims, since it is under the guise of divine sanction that many evils have been committed. When you can say God told you to do it and everyone believes you, you can get away with quite a lot of mischief. Curiously, today we have many leaders who do not invoke divine sanction, and so must turn to other sources of authority in order to justify their acts of aggression.
Where does this all leave us? Am I saying the State has the right to kill men, women, and children? It’s my opinion that it does not, because I don’t see the State as having divine sanction to do any such thing. It’s my opinion that the Federal Government of the United States has virtually no divine sanction whatsoever. If God approves of anything the US government does, I’m not sure what it is.
So is the only moral system for society, outside of direct rule by God, anarcho-capitalism? I’m not entirely sure of that either. What if God does approve of certain parts of the US government, even though they violate the anti-aggression principle? What if God is ok with taxation? What if God is ok with a draft? What if God wants drugs to be illegal? Then it would behoove me to support such things, even in violation of the anti-aggression principle. The trouble is, I don’t know what God supports and what he doesn’t. Ok, in some areas it might be pretty clear, but in other areas there is plenty of room for a division of opinions. Unless the leaders of the Church come out and say “God has told us to support such and such law…” it would seem we are left up to our own wisdom, working as best as possible in accordance with what God inspires us to do. In that scenario, I see anarcho-capitalism as the best system available to us. But it seems I must also allow for the possibility that I will be called upon by God or his servants to support policies that violate it.
What do you think?