When the “Gotcha” Moment Disappoints

One of my goals when debating the truth of libertarian political philosophy is getting my opponent to realize that he is an advocate of aggression. That is, I want my opponent to realize that his policies necessarily require that the State not only threaten innocent people with physical violence but also that State agents must beat, jail, and even kill those who are unwilling to obey State dictates. My hope is that my opponent will see the wanton immorality of his position and rethink his political philosophy. The reason I think that such recognition will lead to an epiphany is because the people I debate claim to be peaceful people who abhor violence. In my mind, I imagine my opponent realizing that he cannot claim to value peace and abhor violence while defending an institution that is inherently aggressive and violent. This moral contradiction would lead him to see the error of his ways and instantly renounce violence. He then reads Mises.org and LewRockwell.com regularly and begins the long process of learning true history and true economics. But this has yet to happen in my experience.

Instead some of my opponents cling to the notion that we must have a monopoly of violence to prevent even more violence. In one recent debate my opponent conceded that the State does indeed reduce material wealth, but he was fine with this because the State also reduces wealth inequality. Why income inequality should be a moral concern was not addressed in this debate. But what really disappointed me in this exchange was that my opponent also claimed to value peace and nonviolence as I do. This is simply false; libertarians are the only people who value peace and nonviolence. We are the only ones who apply the same moral standards to both private and government actors. Theft is theft; murder is murder; fraud is fraud. It does not matter if the thief is a petty-pickpocket or an IRS agent. If both parties did not consent to the exchange, this is theft.

It amazes me that there are liberals and conservatives in this country who really do believe that they value peace; a simple examination of their politics reveals the opposite. While they shout peace, peace, in reality they advocate theft and violence. All of their political ideas necessarily require aggression. Income redistribution, minimum wages, affirmative action, the drug war, the police state, wars in foreign countries, etc., all require a State. None of these policies could be put into existence without a monopoly on violence. Nevertheless, many liberals and conservatives still claim that they value peace. One would think that holding such clearly contradictory ideas would compel one to rethink his political philosophy. But I am still waiting for the “gotcha” moment to lead to a pensive examination of currently held beliefs by my opponent.

Although the “gotcha” moment can be disappointing, I believe that the only reason my opponents advocate such violence is that they themselves do not have to violently enforce their own policies. I seriously doubt that my liberal friend who thinks that the State should redistribute wealth is willing to enforce such a policy himself. In fact, I seriously doubt any liberal or conservative would be willing to enforce any of the policies he advocates. I can’t imagine the typical liberal threatening to jail a tax resister and being prepared for a physical confrontation if he resists. I can’t imagine the typical conservative threatening to jail someone for possessing marijuana and being prepared for a physical confrontation if he resists.

However, the existence of the State, especially a democratic State, increases any violent tendencies individuals may possess. Taxation socializes the costs of aggression, thus making the leaders of democracies more aggressive than they would be. For instance, the US would not be involved in two foreign wars if George Bush and Dick Cheney had to pay for the military with their own wealth. Abraham Lincoln would have let the South secede if he and his friends had to pay for the army themselves. But democracies also deceive the masses into believing that they are the government. As such they believe that the State’s policies reflect “their” will.

But the deception does not stop there. Given that the democratic State is already in place this means that there are enough armed men to enforce the State’s dictates. The masses do not participate in the actual violence that must be committed to compel compliance. Thus, it is easier for the masses to tolerate and advocate aggressive policies because they themselves do not have to engage in the actual violence. The masses do not break into the houses of drug suspects and shoot their pets. The masses do not arrest tax resisters. The masses do not fight wars in foreign countries. Rather armed men who either ingest a much, much stronger cocktail of statist ideology or are thugs by nature enforce these laws and fights these wars. This means that the typical liberal or conservative can advocate his policies without the guilt of actually having to beat or jail or kill someone who disobeys a dictum of the State.

So while there are times the “gotcha” moment disappoints, I find solace in knowing that most of my opponents are unwilling to pick up arms themselves and enforce their policies. This tells me that while State ideology can generate support for the State, it is not enough for the masses to engage in violent acts. They can speak threats against their political opponents through the State all they wish and even vote for their policies; but they are unwilling to pull the trigger themselves.

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  • “I seriously doubt that my liberal friend who thinks that the State should redistribute wealth is willing to enforce such a policy himself. In fact, I seriously doubt any liberal or conservative would be willing to enforce any of the policies he advocates. ”

    Yep. Try taking the “point out the gun in the room”, to the next level. Ask if they would personally do it.

    Would you threaten or initiate physical aggression against me if I…

  • I had that epiphany myself, but like you have had little luck getting others to have it. Some people are just too comfortable with the State. It’d be nice is there was a “one size fits all” argument to turn the light bulb on for people.

  • Every time I find myself in a debate with a liberal or conservative, a funny thing happens. I give the Austro-Libertarian take on whatever political or economic topic at hand and they exclaim, “I agree with everything you are saying, but…!” This is usually followed by some ad hominem response. I find it amazing that they agree with my logic, but then accuse me of trying to “rationalize their emotions.”

    A quote from F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom comes to mind, “…socialism can be put into practice only by methods which most socialists disapprove.”