A conversation between a libertarian and a statist

In the interest of greater interaction between ideologically opposed people below is a conversation I had recently with a statist acquaintance of mine along with some interjections by an open-minded observer. As Bob Hoskins said in those BT ads, its good to talk.

Statist – Tax is the subscription you pay for living in a complex society like ours.

Libertarian – Can I unsubscribe?

Statist – If you go and live somewhere else, yes.

Libertarian – No, I want to stay here, it’s where I’m from after all.

Statist – Well then you’re choosing to belong to this particular club and thus have to pay he subscription decided by the majority of the club.

Libertarian – That’s what I was looking for, the majoritarianism, our way or the highway. It’s not a subscription, it’s a forced levy.

Tell you what, why don’t you slash my taxes and I’ll sort my own pension and healthcare out and educate my own kids?

Statist – As I said, you can always leave the club if you don’t like the way its organised and go and live somewhere that suits you better.

Libertarian – I don’t see why I should, I was born in this country just like you and your mates in the majority. It’s as much mine as yours. In fact, what gives you the right to issue an ultimatum like that?

As I say, why don’t you slash my taxes and I’ll sort my own pension and healthcare out and educate my own kids? I’ll go and do my own thing and you and the majority can do your thing, set up an NHS, a comprehensive system and all the rest, whatever you like.

Statist – Eh?

You apparently want to be part of a community called the UK, yet apparently you don’t want to abide by the rules that the majority of that community decides upon.  That makes about as much sense as me joining a tennis club, voting for the subscription to be £80 and when the majority vote for it to be £100 complaining that they have no right to issue to me an ultimatum that I should pay £100 to be in the club.

I think we are different planets when we are on this issue and I am afraid I really do not get this moral indignation at having to abide by decisions that the majority make that I might not agree with.  I mean I don’t like having to contribute to Trident for example, but I don’t think subscriptions to the nuclear defence system should be voluntary, even though I am quite happy to go without the alleged benefits of Trident.

Libertarian – No, I want to live in the place I was born in (hence your tennis club analogy is a total dud). You want to make my living there conditional on handing my money over to you and your mates in the majority so that you can spend it as you wish which may not accord with how I wish it to be spent.

So you havent answered my question.

Statist – You are making a fetish of being born on a particular piece of ground.  That, to me, is irrelevant.

You want to live in a particular political community.  That community has rules.  You can choose to obey those rules or go and live somewhere else.  If you choose to  live in that political community you can also try to persuade others to change the rules to your way of thinking.

I am struggling to see what is objectionable about that unless you are arguing that any government spending is of necessity illegitimate (police? courts? military? – they are all funded by money taken from you and I to spend in ways we might not agree with).

Your argument ultimately leads you to some kind of anarchism – after all if you should not have to pay for pensions, education etc, a pacifist should not have to pay for police, military or the rest the state’s coercive arms.  You then get a situation where people only pay for government functions they agree with which, of course, makes government impossible.

Libertarian – It’s not irrelevant to me, I was born here. I’ve just as much right to be here as you or any of your majority. And, for that matter, I have just as much right to tell you all to clear off.

There’s a fundamental point here. My philosophy would leave you alone. If you and everyone else in the country wanted to set up an NHS or paint your heads green you could do that. I wouldn’t stop you.

Your philosophy, by complete contrast, demands that I be involved on pain of expulsion or imprisonment. It requires that what 51% want is swallowed by the other 49% on pain of punishment.

Not too appealing.

Statist – You would agree then that I should not have to pay towards Trident and a pacifist should get a full rebate on all taxes that go towards the military?  After all anyone else who wants to pay for Trident or the military can continue doing so.  Me and the pacifist wouldn’t stop them.

Libertarian – Fine. I’d join you, Trident is a waste of money.

Statist – The point is – as you are well aware – that you do, in fact agree that the state should be able to coerce people to fund some things – the military and the justice system for example.  What we are therefore arguing about is not a point of principle about state coercion but about for what particular purposes the state should be able to coerce people.

Some people think that the state should be able to coerce people to fund the military.  Other people disagree with that.  Ditto with healthcare. How do we resolve those disagreements?  I can’t think of a better way than a majority vote.

Libertarian – Well, I have my doubts about the justice system. I deal with county courts day in day out and they are a shambles. I saw a woman at Bow County Court treated appallingly by the staff last week. I was going to tell her to go to the competing court but, of course, there isn’t one. That’s what you and your majority have given us for our forced levy.

The question is how do people spend their money. I can’t think of a better way than to let them spend it themselves.

Statist – So you don’t believe there should be any state at all?    No military?  No police?  Every person for themselves?

Libertarian – I don’t see why you assume that just because I don’t want the State to do something you assume that I don’t want that thing done at all.

Statist – Because your argument was that it was illegitimate for the majority to impose its will on the minority in any circumstances.  If you think that, as a matter of principle, the majority of the population should not be able to force you to contribute towards the NHS it must follow that, as a matter of principle, the majority of the population should not be able to force the pacifist to contribute towards the military.  It then follows that contributions to all government services become voluntary, with the resulting collapse of the state.

Libertarian – It means the State stops doing certain things but it isn’t very good at doing them anyway and, as I say, that’s not to say that those things wouldn’t be done at all.

Statist – So you have no objection on principle to the state coercing people to pay for things they don’t want to pay for, it’s just a question of deciding what those things should be?

Libertarian – I’m not clear on how you’ve deduced that. I think a system which gives most people what they want is better than one which gives 51% of people what they want.

Swing voter – I’m pretty sure most people are in favour of the NHS.

Libertarian – I’m sure they are.

Swing voter – So given that you want a system that gives most people what they want, do you want to be outside that system sorting out your own healthcare?

Libertarian – Wouldnt the option be nice? I mean, how chuffed would you be if you went into a restaurant and ordered steak only to be told “Well, 51% of the diners wanted Lentil Soup so you’ll have to have that”?

Swing voter – I think I’d prefer that option than the other option which is “51% of the diners have had the lentil soup, so supply is quite limited at the moment. If you want the lentil soup, you’ll have to pay through the nose for it”

I don’t think we should be continuing the Restaurant/healthcare comparisons…

Libertarian – You might be right but if this restaurant is charging you loads for lentil soup and you’re gagging for it would pay another restaurant to flog lentil soup cheaper. Of course, that presupposes A) the availability of another restaurant and B) the ability to pick up your wallet and go there with it.

Statist – Your original point appeared to be that it was somehow illegitimate for the majority to force the minority to contribute towards something they don’t want to contribute towards. You were waxing all indignant about that. I pointed out that, taking that principle to its logical conclusion would make any form of state impossible as all contributions to the state would become purely voluntary.

You seemed to accept that in that you drew a distinction between the things that you considered the state wasn’t very good at with the things that you considered it was good at (I know you don’t say that explicitly but you certainly implied it earlier) and, I assume, accepted that people should be coerced into paying for the latter. You therefore accept that it is not illegitimate, in some circumstances, for the state to coerce people to do things they don’t want to do

That then, of course, raises the question as to how we decide which things the state should do (and which people should be coerced to pay for) and what it shouldn’t do. I can’t think of any better way of deciding this then a majority vote.

The thing is you are between a rock and a hard place here. The only two logically coherent positions are:

1. It is never legitimate for the majority to coerce the minority into paying for things they don’t want to pay for. As such, no form of state and no state functions are legitimate.

2. In some circumstances it is legitimate for the majority to coerce the minority to pay for things they don’t want to pay for. Thus some form of state and some state functions are legitimate and what is to be decided is what those functions are.

It, of course, does not necessarily follow from proposition 2 that how you decide what those functions should be should be via majority vote. There are competing theories – you can refer to your Holy Book or you can have some concept of rights and I actually think what you are groping towards is some notion of the latter. You want to hold that some things inalieanbly appertain to the individual and should not be invaded by the collective. The problem you then, of course, have is on what basis can you say that these rights to appertain to the individual when the majority of your society disagree with you.

Take the notion of the right to property. Since the rise of socialism in the 19th century, this has been hugely contested. Those with property generally argued that things like progressive income tax, inheritance tax, nationalisation etc invaded the individual’s inalienable right to property and was illegitimate no matter than the majority might vote for them. The socialists argued equally vehemently that there was no such right (or that the right was limited by the needs of society as a whole). How can one decide a dispute like that? It’s either by voting or by war isn’t it?

Libertarian – It does not follow that because “all contributions to the state would become purely voluntary” “any form of state (becomes) impossible” There are all sorts of voluntary associations which have lasted longer than most states. 

“You seemed to accept that in that you drew a distinction between the things that you considered the state wasn’t very good at with the things that you considered it was good at (I know you don’t say that explicitly but it is certainly implied in post 98 )..” I didn’t intent to make that implication (I can’t actually see that I did) so the rest doesn’t follow.

“The problem you then, of course, have is on what basis can you say that these rights to appertain to the individual when the majority of your society disagree with you.” Indeed, it was the same problem slaves had in the United States. It’s the same thing gays have when US voters decide not to let them marry. If you believe that no right is inalienable and that we only have the rights we have because the majority consents to letting us have them, then if that majority votes for slavery or discrimination you would have to accept that as perfectly legitimate.

Swing voter – And if the majority votes for a compulsory healthcare system you have to do the same.

Libertarian – Indeed, exactly the same principle which brought you Obamacare brought you California’s ban on gay marriage.

Statist – So do you agree or disagree that a state, as opposed to voluntary associations, should exist?

On your latter point, I agree, it’s a difficult issue.  I didn’t say that I didn’t believe they were inalienable rights, what I said was that the nature of such rights is heavily contested.  If people can’t agree what those rights are, you then have to decide how one decides what amounts to an inalienable right and what doesn’t.

A burglar might argue that, as a staunch social Darwinist, he believes in the survival of the fittest and that he has an inalienable right to pit his strength against that of an individual householder and see who comes out best.  It follows that it is an infringement of this right for society to lock him up if he commits a burglary.

If we can’t say the burglar is wrong because virtually everyone disagrees with him, how can we say he is wrong?

Libertarian – Well if we both agree that there are inalienable rights then it becomes a slightly more technical question of what those inalienable rights are. Id argue there is an inalienable right to life, that’s why I oppose the death penalty. I think we’d agree. Id also argue you have an inalienable right to do what you like with your own body. That might be more contentious?

Exactly, which then begs the question as to how we decide what are and what are not inalienable rights.  Which then, it seems to me, leaves us with the alternatives of either majority vote or war.

It’s not an easy issue.  On something like the right to property I would say that this is a matter of majority vote.  If society votes to tax those earning over £150,000 at 50%, then those who have to pay such a tax have a duty to pay it and not resist it by force as an illegitimate invasion of their right to property.

On the other hand if Hitler had held a (fair) referendum on the extermination of the Jews and, say 70%, voted for extermination, I would say that the 30% had a right to resist that majority decision by force as an illegitimate invasion of the Jews’ right to life.

So sometimes, it seems to me, it is reasonable to allow a majority to define an inalienable right and sometimes it isn’t.  Unfortunately, the circumstances of when allowing the majority to define an inalienable right is reasonable is also contested and we go into an infinite regression…

Libertarian – Possibly all correct, but first Id ask again about that individuals right to do what he or she wants with her body. I would consider that inalienable, would you?

Statist – To an extent.  Does an individual have a right to pay a doctor to amputate his leg when there is no medical need for such an operation?  I would say not, given that the subsequent disability will impose burdens on society.

Libertarian – That’s only a problem if ‘society’ accepts those burdens. If the guy knows in advance that it wont he might think twice before doing it.

Besides, Aids is, I understand, disproportionately a disease which afflicts homosexuals. We could reduce rates of HIV infection and avoid these supposed societal costs by voting to ban gay sex.

I wouldn’t support that.

Statist – I think the nature of humanity is such that if people see a one-legged man, they will not stop to enquire how he came by his disability, they will try to help him , so it’s pretty impossible not to get a situation where having only one leg does not impose a burden on other people.

In fact, I think a society where people are not allowed to pay doctors to chop their legs off on a whim (incidentally the doctor commits the offence not the amputee) but where the disabled are helped without deep enquiry as to how they came by their disability is much preferable to a society where such voluntary maiming is allowed but where disabled people are only helped if enquiry establishes that they are deserving of help.

Your final para again illustrates the difficulty of balancing the rights of the individual with the rights of society and how this is deeply contested (and historically contingent given that, until 40ish years ago gay sex was illegal virtually everywhere).

Libertarian – If individuals willingly want to help the one-legged man that’s up to them.

In both cases we have a negative externality which could, we are assuming, be mollified by legislation, either to stop the man having his leg chopped off or to stop men having sex with each other. How can one be accepted and the other not? Especially when the externalities of Aids are much greater than the externalities of people having their legs chopped off to solicit sympathy and money.

Statist – Actually people tend to get their legs chopped off for reasons of sexual gratification..

Virtually everything anyone does involves a “negative externality”.  If I choose to go to work by train rather than bus that involves a “negative externality” to the bus company and its employees as it deprives the former of revenue and makes it slightly more likely that the latter will lose their jobs.  Politics is all about making subjective judgments as to which forms of individual behaviour involve such an unnaceptable amount of “negative externality” that they should be forbidden.

There is no deep principle that says an individual should be able to do whatever he likes and that “negative externalities” don’t matter.  Going back to our friend the social Darwinist burglar, he is, after all, just acting in accordance with his individual desires and his individual conscience, yet I think you would agree that, in his case, the “negative externalities” of his behaviour are such that we should forcibly prevent him from committing burglary.

Libertarian – Well, you see, if I believe in an inalienable right to property then the burglar hasn’t got a leg to stand on. Just like your amputee.

The conversation sort of petered out there.


57 thoughts on “A conversation between a libertarian and a statist

  1. Well, we do have a choice. We can all have a voice in the democracy we live in and go with the majority, even if we do not like what the majority agrees on, or we can let a king or dictator rule us and make all the decisions. Then if the Libertarian or Statist doesn’t like what the king or dictator does and he or she complains, the king will have his or her head chopped off or the dictator will throw that person in prison and torture him or her daily until death or insanity takes him or her.

    But, as long as the two live in a republic where the people have a voice through the vote, then they both have a right to complain and when one breaks the law, he or she pays a fine and may spend time in jail. Maybe that’s why the US has more people in prison than any other country on earth because anarchists and libertarians decided not to follow the rules that the majority agreed on through the democratic process. So, let the libertarian believe and say what he or she wants and if they act on it and the law catches them then throw them in jail for a few years to teach the fool a lesson. The only other choice is to leave if the libertarian can find a country where libertarians rule. That will be the real challenge. For example, try being a libertarian in Iran or China.

      • The Cato Institute asked, “How Many Libertarian Voters are There? and says about 14% of voters in the US are libertarians.”

        What that says if we allow libertarians to rule the country, then that minority becomes the dictator of the rest of us: liberals, populists, conservatives, centrists/moderates, etc.

        And if we allow each individual to do what he or she wants, then it is anarchy that always leads to violence, civil war, rebellion, murder, crime, and then a dictator to bring order back.


        The next site shows that either 6% of voters are libertarian or maybe 21% depending on the source you want to believe. It also shows the numbers of liberal, conservative, populist and centrist+borderline ideologies.


        That is why we live with majority rule in a republic/democracy so we do not tear each other apart. The other choice is an authoritarian government. And this probably explains why there is not one libertarian country in the world and never has been. Libertarianism is a utopian concept the same as Communism was and Communism, as we now all know, was a total failure.

        For another example, Switzerland has a very Libertarian financial system, but they have a lot of social welfare programs that Libertarians would find distasteful. Somalia has no government, which most Libertarians would find abhorrent. I suspect The Principality of Sealand has a pretty Libertarian government, but that’s easy when your entire country is only 550 square meters.


        In a republic/democracy, to keep order, we all agree to go along with the majority. I’m sure that the conservatives in America are not happy that Obama won a second term but for the next four years, they are stuck with a liberal president the same way that liberals were stuck with Presidents Reagan and two Bushes.

        And no matter how we cut the ideological pie, libertarians are a very small minority and the only way that size of a minority can rule a country is the same way Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, as a brutal authoritarian dictator and that doesn’t fit the libertarian ideology.

        Thus, the libertarian that decides to go against majority rule and ignore the laws, rules and taxes, etc, has two choices: go to jail or move to a place such as Sealand

        And eventually, when the republic and/or democracy doesn’t work anymore because of the libertarian attitudes running rampant and threatening to pull the system down, a strong man will come to rule to restore order and because he doesn’t care for these irritating libertarians, this future Hitler or Stalin, will just round them up and get rid of them in mass graves. The problem is that this monster will not stop with the libertarians; he will start to get rid of all the other ideologies he doesn’t agree with.

        For that reason alone, it’s best that we don’t mess with what we have in the UK or the US. We vote, state our opinions on political and/or religious issues and then obey the laws and pay the taxes that the majority want.

        • You are missing the important point that Libertarians don’t want to “rule” others. They just want to not be ruled. They want to be left alone. And they don’t recognize the right of any dictator – be he named Saddam Hussein, Erich Honecker, or “50%+1” – to dictate terms to them at the point of a gun.
          And the Libertarian does have a third option between ignoring the law and being thrown into a dungeon, or giving up and moving away: To stay where he is, obey the laws under protest, and tell everyone that the system isn’t working!

    • I think you will few to no anarchists or libertarians in US prisons. You will find plenty of people who choose not to follow the laws, but that doesn’t make them either anarchists or libertarians.

  2. What point? That everyone should be allowed to do whatever he or she wants and that society should let them because …?

    I have an old friend that is a libertarian. We’ve been through this discussion of his superior political thinking more than a hundred times.

    My wife grew up in Mao’s China. During the Cultural Revolution, the country was turned over to teenagers and they did whatever they wanted. The next decade was a horror story for teachers, parents, business people, other teens, etc. This is what happens when you mess with the status quo. At least in a republic/democracy, the majority does have an impact on changing things if the vote leads in a different direction. We see that shift in the US, the UK and other democracies. In the US under G. W. Bush, American was led by a neoconservative, evangelical Christian and he gave the US two wars and a massive financial crises debt that spread to the rest of the world. Then the US switched to a liberal president and just reelected him. If the majority of voters agreed with libertinism, then that ideology might actually elect a leader one day.

    However, 124,115,807 Americans voted in the 2012 election and less than 1% voted for the Libertarian candidate for President.

    What is the purpose behind this conversation between the Libertarian and the Statist? To show the superiority of the Libertarian idea, I suspect?

    • The purpose behind the conversation is to have a conversation. Alot of your points, with respect, seem quite random and arent engaging with the substance of the argument. You say “124,115,807 Americans voted in the 2012 election and less than 1% voted for the Libertarian candidate for President.” I say, ‘So what?’

      • In theory, libertarianism sounds great if everyone in the world was well educated and literate, cooperated within that system and there were no countries competing for resources, no street gangs, no mobs, no greed, no modern day slavery, etc.

        We all go about doing what we want with the property we own, etc. and leave everyone else alone to do his or her thing. (In fact, that seems to be what my family does everyday. The government doesn’t tell us how to live our lives and the more money we earn, the more freedom we have to do things. Its difficult to experience freedom when you are broke and homeless. I’ve read that about one billion people on Earth are hungry all the time because they don’t earn enough to buy enough food to fill up. In India about 6,000 children die of starvation or malnutrition daily. How is libertariansim doing to deal with that?)

        You say “So What?” I say, “Why not engage with the points I made?” You want a conversation but then it seems that you may not want one unless it fits some criteria only you know.

        For example, how would a libertarian government deal with a Hitler, an Imperial Japan, Stalin—those brutal empire builders? If a government is small and does not have the revenue to support even a defensive military such as Switzerland does, then how could a libertarian country survive in an unpredictable world and the world has always been unpredictable. Even Switzerland has a military budget of about $4 US Billion annually and Switzerland abstained from both World War I and II and has not been in a state of war since 1815.

        In the 19th century, Imperial China didn’t want the West selling opium to its people so England and France started the two Opium Wars to force a China that wanted to be left alone to allow the West to sell Opium to the Chinese.

        The odds are that sooner or later the same thing would happen to a country that was governed by libertarian ideals.

        Here’s what I found at the Urban Dictionary (just because I found it there doesn’t mean I agree but should be part of the conversation):

        A libertarian is someone who wants to take America back to the way it was run in the 1800s, regardless of how much the world has changed since then. Libertarians also have mean hard-ons for unregulated capitalism, believing that the “Invisible Hand” will erase poverty and create a utopia instead of what ACTUALLY happens when you let companies do whatever they want, which is:

        -Children working in factories and mines
        -Corporate monopolies
        -Workplaces where death is likely
        -Low, low wages
        -Shit in your food (Read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”)
        -Even more extreme corporate corruption and political pawns than we have now.
        -Getting the living fuck stomped out of you by company-hired goons for trying to organize a union (Battle of the Overpass)
        “God I’ve got such a mean hard-on for capitalism!” *fapfapfapfapfap*

        -Typical libertarian


  3. The issue is whether there are or are not ‘certain inalienable rights’ which have moral precedence over majority rule. If a group of 50% plus 1 votes for castration of the group of 50% minus 1, then the statist would presumably support this…even, in principle, if he were in the 50% minus 1 group. Somehow, I think the statist’s support of majority rule might in fact be a bit more conditional than he suggests. This argumentum ad absurdum shows the obvious folly of the statist position. If you accept absolute majority rule, indeed absolute rule of any kind, then government becomes nothing more than a tool for tyranny, and likely to lead to the kinds of moral horrors that we are all (I hope) aware of. The pogroms of the 1940’s in Eastern Europe were the logical result of the statist POV, and perfectly defensible under statist logic.

    No my statist friends, much more must be required of government than a simple majority asserting their will on the minority; majority rule must be limited by defined, absolute personal liberties and rights which no majority can take away. If the majority can confiscate anything they desire from the minority, including their lives, then there is no liberty, and there is no freedom. Statism opens the door to tyranny or civil war…. or perhaps one following the other.

    • You are right. The majority should not rule over the minority and take away that minorities rights (for example, the right of gay men or women to marry the same sex or a woman’s right to an abortion) and that is exactly what the US Founding Fathers had in mind as they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. However, minorities often have to fight for personal liberties and rights that other groups would legislate away and that process is often part of the system in most democracies.

      But then, how do we go about finding a balance where the government has enough funds to maintain a modern nation’s infrastructure, an up-to-date defensive military and a judicial system (with an adequate police force) to deal with criminals/violent gangs if the government is limited in its powers to the point where it can barely operate?

      • I’m not sure if you’re in the US or the UK. If you’re in the UK, this answer is crap and I’m sorry for that. Your system is different than ours and I don’t understand it well enough to provide a good answer.

        In the US, however, the answer is relatively simple, though in practice it’s complex. We are the United States of America — a federation of individual states working together. We are not actually a nation. That’s why we call it the FEDERAL government … not the national government.

        The Founding Fathers recognized that in a country of individuals, you’re going to have a diversity of opinions and lifestyles. By keeping the country divided into states, you allow the opportunity for individualization within a framework of cooperation. When you read their writings in what is termed the Anti-Federalist Papers, they actually discussed this. They recognized that the residence of one state might have different ways of thinking from the members of another state.

        The US Constitution allowed for a small federal government with specific (enumerated) powers and limited land holdings to take care of things that need a corporate entity. Treaties, military, the borders, interstate commerce. Representatives from the states were elected for relatively short terms to get the job done and then go back home. They made too little money working for the government to afford to be career politicians. Taxes for that federal government were kept low so that revenues would be low, so that there was limited risk of the federal government overpowering the states.

        The states held all the other powers. People within those states could vote that their state provide services that other states did not … or they could decide their state shouldn’t provide many services at all. US citizens were free to move to the state that best fit their lifestyle. Sometimes, if enough of a certain mindset moved somewhere, they changed that state’s culture and those who didn’t like it would move to another state more to their liking.

        Unfortunately, in the 20th century and forward, the federal government has grown all out of proportion of what is needed and wanted and has become an increasingly oppressive regime. That could be dismantled. It would take time and a longer view than most politicians are capable of. Gradual reductions in programs in the Departments of Health and Social Services, Education and Energy until those relatively new agencies are completely defunded would reduce the federal budget by 1/3 and could be done in a period of 10 years, with states picking up the slack as needed. Repeal of several amendments would be needed to return governmental control to the states as required by the original constitution. States would have to adjust their taxes to take on their new roles, which would require the repeal of theThe 16th to bring federal revenue into proper alignment. Repeal of the 17th would return the Senate to control by the States instead of whomever can spend the most money. The 27th needs to be rewritten to require ratification of Congressional pay raises by State legislatures. And there needs to be a few new amendments … providing for term limits and requiring a balanced budget under most circumstances. We apparently also need to make it a requirement for Congress to actually pass a budget every year since we’re now going on four years without one.

        We need to worry less about how the “other countries do it” and concentrate on what has been good for the United States in the past and what will be good for us in the future. People who want a lot of governmental services can move to the states that provide those services. People who don’t want a lot can move to the states where less is more. Of course, if you take a look at the blue-red map, you quickly discover that the minimalist states are the ones with the majority of the resources, so the service-oriented states may find it a bit difficult to provide all those services when they have to rely on their own resources to do so.

        That allows for a clearer conversation of what liberty actually means.

        • I’m a US citizen, and I disagree with what you said: “We are the United States of America — a federation of individual states working together. We are not actually a nation. That’s why we call it the FEDERAL government … not the national government.”

          Ask the thirteen states that called themselves the Confederate States of America that left the union in 1861 what they think of the rights of individual states to act as they want.

          Who has more power in the US today (actually since the end of the Civil War)?

          A. the states
          B. the federal government

          The question of how power should be divided between the federal government and the states is really what American politics has been all about for well over two centuries. It was a question debated by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, debated by Federalists and Anti-Federalists during the ratification period, and debated between and within our political parties ever since. Elections have been won and lost on this question, and a Civil War fought over it.

          What the US has is a system of power divided not only between the states and the federal government but within the federal government between the President, the two houses of Congress and the Supreme Court creating a way to insure that citizens retain as much individual liberty as possible. When a state tramples on individual liberties, as that liberty is defined in the US Constitution, then the federal government steps in at the order of the president.

          “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

          It does not say anything about defending state’s rights. That is usually left to the federal courts.

          The Civil War was fought over the question of whether states should have the right to protect the institution of slavery. After that war, the ratification of the 14th Amendment imposed important restrictions on the rights of states to regulate the lives of persons within its jurisdiction.

          It is the Federal government’s job to enforce the Constituion at the state level. If a state violates this national law, then the president must act as the oath dictates.

          The 19th Amendment (1919) gave women the right to vote. Women did have the right to vote in some states but not in every state and not in national elections until this Amendment became part of the US Constitution.

          Although the US has national child labor laws, the Child Labor Amendment is still pending and is not part of the Constitution but, regardless, the federal government regulates child labor in every state. Before the law changed at the federal level, each state had its own laws regarding child labor. Because of the abuse of individual liberties by states, that right was taken away.

          Interest in the Child Labor Amendment died following the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which implemented federal regulation of child labor with the Supreme Court’s approval in 1941. Without an amendment to the Construction, it is possible that these laws would be repealed one day and children sent back to work as young as age five. Before the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 girls as young as nine could be sold into prostitution by their parents in one or more states and children could be sold into a form of slavery called servitude to work for very low pay with no benefits as young five. Before 1941, labor laws differed from state to state and individual liberates were trampled.

          However, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States[1] that outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women.[2] It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (“public accommodations”).

          The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not an Amendment to the Construction but it was enforced in the states by the president.

          When states in the South refused to cooperate, troops were sent in by the president. The president is duty bound to enforce the US Constitution, The Bill of Rights in addition to the 27 Amendments to the US Constitution.

          Typically today, cases that pit the rights of states against the power of the federal government will be decided by a closely divided Supreme Court.

          One could argue this complex system of checks and balances between the national and state governments evolved unintentionally to defend the libertarian concept of individual rights over majority rule. In fact, there are fifty majorities in the US, one for each state and the Electoral College becomes the voice of the national majority that votes in presidential elections. How to define what the majority believes is another challenge.

          Another example of the power of the federal government over states rights is Roe v. Wade, the historic Supreme Court decision overturning a Texas interpretation of abortion law and making abortion legal in the United States. The Roe v. Wade decision held that a woman, with her doctor, could choose abortion in earlier months of pregnancy without legal restriction, and with restrictions in later months, based on the right to privacy.

          • Just because the federal government of the United States acts like a national government in our day and age does not mean that it SHOULD act that way. Yes, the question of states rights was well-debated by the Constitutional Convention and there would have been no United States had it not been settled to reasonable satisfaction. The Federalist Papers went to great effort to assure the people of the states that their states were not going to be absorbed into a national government, but that they would have equal standing with the federal government and would ultimately hold most of the power. The 10th Amendment says, the federal government has the powers listed above and the rest of the powers belong to the states. Period! Both Madison and Hamilton wrote about states rights and said, the relationship is equal, but ultimately, the states have the power and the federal government is meant to represent the states, not control them.

            We are in the state we are today because the federal government has outgrown its defined limits.

            As for the balance of powers between the three branches … that hasn’t functioned properly for a long time. When the federal courts started creating law instead of only interpreting it, the balance of power was disrupted. Now we have a president who has issued more than 400 executive orders, creating law while bypassing congressional approval. The reason why the “tea party” came into being was that the White House and both houses of Congress were controlled by a single party and completely ignored the people who objected to the health insurance takeover that is Obamacare. When 60% of the national voters poll as against a specific issue and Congress still forces the bill through on a strict party-line vote, I think we can safely say we no longer have a representative democracy in the US.

            You may not see that because you agree with the decisions being made, but it doesn’t mean that it’s constitutional. The Founders would have revolted a long time ago.

            Also, living in a state with a lot of individualists, I see the federal government coming here often to trample on our rights. Google Jim Wilde on the Yukon Charley, for just one example. I’d much rather trust the State of Alaska to uphold my individual rights than trust the federal government to do so. I’ve seen both of them in action and there’s a clear difference between the two. The federal government has not been a friend of liberty in a long time.

            • From your reply, I think it is safe to assume you are a so-called libertarian that believes states rights means individual rights.

              However, you seem to have conveniently forgotten that it was elected representatives to the Senate and House of Representatives in Washington DC from the states that gave the federal government its national power through the Amendment process to the Constitution.

              Before an amendment can take effect, it must be proposed to the states by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by two-thirds of the states, and ratified by three-fourths of the states or by three-fourths of conventions thereof, the method of ratification being determined by Congress at the time of proposal. To date, no convention for proposing amendments has been called by the states, and only once — in 1933 for the ratification of the twenty-first amendment – has the convention method of ratification been employed.

              And since many if not all of the Founding Fathers and the authors of the US Constitution were still around be 1803 for the ratification of the first twelve Amendments to the Construction, it is safe to say that the process did not come after the Founding Fathers but during their lifetimes and that they were part of the process that defines the power of the national government.

              In fact, the power of the federal government was given to it by the states through the amendment ratification process and the power given to the US Supreme Court comes from the US Constitution that was written by the Founding Fathers, a power that the states could change by another Amendment following the language of the US Constitution.

              In addition, the history of the Amendments tells us that individual rights seems to find more protection from the federal government than from the majorities in each state.

              All we need to do is look at the Amendments to the US Constitution that protect individual liberties. I find it ironic that the GOP, the Republican Party, supported by most libertarians in the US, is the same party that blocks the Equal Rights Amendment that if ratified would give women the individual right to control their own bodies and be considered equal to men.

              Isn’t this the opposite of libertarian ideals?

      • I was not aware my comment had elicited a reply. You ask:

        “how do we go about finding a balance where the government has enough funds to maintain a modern nation’s infrastructure, an up-to-date defensive military and a judicial system (with an adequate police force) to deal with criminals/violent gangs if the government is limited in its powers to the point where it can barely operate?”

        A military, judiciary, police force, and public infrastructure are not at present the primary concerns of most governments; in most ‘first world’ countries, the primary role of government is to take wealth from some people and transfer it (directly or indirectly) to others. Yes, military, judiciary, police, and public works are functions of government everywhere, but wealth transfer is where the biggest portion of tax money goes. This is not at all surprising considering the ability of the state to confiscate personal wealth based on majority rule… given the chance, people will vote for politicians who take money from ‘the rich’ and give it to the ‘more deserving’…. that is, to the voters themselves and/or their families and friends. With the growing disparity in income between people who have the knowledge and skills demanded by the modern economy and those who do not, there is pressure for politicians to increase taxes and wealth transfer, and I have no doubt that taxes in many countries will indeed increase. At some point, of course, increasing taxes chases people and their assets away or demotivates wealth creation (think France)… the inevitable consequences of economic tyranny.

        So to directly answer your question: I would suggest absolute constitutional limits on total government spending as a fraction of GDP, on maximum individual and business income tax rates, and limits on direct confiscation of wealth (wealth taxes, property taxes, inheritance taxes, and the like). I’m not expecting it will happen, but it is probably the only way to inhibit the confiscatory inclinations of the majority.

  4. The government should only be in the business of doing things that only the government can do like control the borders (though the US government has 12 million examples of it’s incapability there) and keep the peace. Interfering in people’s bedrooms, kitchens, or internal organs is not the job of government.

  5. I believe the initial intellectual elegance of the first post has been lost due to unintelligible posts. I do not see how a libertarian government could be considered dictatorial in any sense. The ideals of libertarianism prevent such notion from having validity. Libertarianism could theoretically work very well in a non-utopian society, however, there isn’t a past/present libertarian society to compare with the United States. I am personally for libertarianism over statism, simply because I believe quite strongly in secularism, and the government has been far from secular in recent times. As it was said earlier in this debate, libertarianism would only work well in a utopian society, then to me, that says that libertarianism is a catalyst for a utopian society, since it was suggested as a government for utopia.

    • True, how could a libertarian government be dictatorial? Then how could the people in a country with that small libertarian government that is almost nonexistant with severe limited powers due to a lack of funds defend its people properly from the military of another country building an empire?

      Maybe all those free libertarian spirits could grab their shotguns and see how well they could defend themselves against tanks and modern figher jets and bombers.

    • “Are you drunk or just stupid?”

      When someone cannot have a conversation, pro or con, scatter brained or otherwise, he or she usually resorts to throwing out logical fallacies such as the ad holmium attack in the above quote and/or the use of big words that, by themselves, are meaningless.

      In other words, if you can’t contribute anything intelligent, insult the other person that may be smarter than you are. This is the mark of an Internet Troll.

      However, if you were not an Internet Troll, you could spend time explaining why it is “simplistic and pseudo-intellectual” and be specific with who or what you are attempting to insult with a possible example of arrogance from an individual that may be only a balloon full of hot air and has nothing of substance to contribute.

      • I’ve written three responses to this, and somehow scratched them all by hitting a key accidentally. Maybe it’s for the best, I have no interest in arguing politics. I would like to see your Libertarian principles put into effect somewhere, somehow so we could see if they really work. How about Beijing?

        • “How about Beijing?”

          This is an attempt to introduce another logical fallacy that has nothing to do with the topic of this post in the slightest. This logical fallacy is called a “Red Herring” where an arguer diverts the attention of the reader or listener by changing the subject to a different but sometimes subtly related one.

          Arguers that introduce logical fallacies into a discussion usually cannot support an argument on that specific topic because he or she may only have opinions driven by emotion without facts to use support. Because there has never been a country governed by libertarianism there is no way to support an argument with facts that it is a superior form of governance. All we have is theory supported by opinions.

          Instead, let’s return to the topic of the post: The discussion between the Libertarian and the Statist.

          What is the value of this discussion?

          I think the value of this discussion is vital to finding a balance in a democracy in such a way as to preserve as many individual freedoms as possible. While I think that there probably never will be a purely libertarian government because as a political concept it is unsustainable at a government level with so many political factions in the arena struggling for control, the ideology itself is important because it exists in the political discourse causing people to think about the importance of limiting government’s reach and power over our individual lives.

          Even among libertarians, there are differences of opinion: For example, libertarian schools of thought differ over the degree to which the state should be reduced. Anarchistic schools advocate complete elimination of the state. Minarchist schools advocate a state which is limited to protecting its citizens from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. Some schools accept public assistance for the poor. Additionally, some schools of thought are supportive of private property rights in the ownership of unappropriated land and natural resources while others reject such private ownership and often support common ownership instead.

          In fact, there is no consensus on the precise definition of libertarianism, but its value as a topic for debate to get people thinking on the subject is priceless—especially in a democracy where the people have a voice through the vote.

          • Take the notion of the right to property. Since the rise of socialism in the 19th century…actually, the problems related to land ownership have their roots in the enclosure acts of the 1700’s. The historical turning point probably was the Glorious Revolution. How much do you know of your own history?

            • Another Red Herring logical fallacy!

              In fact, I didn’t say anything about land ownership as it is practiced in the real world or in history. Land ownership in my comment is only mentioned to demonstrate differences of opinion among libertarians and has nothing to do with the history of my own country.

                • “It’s your argument, and your rules, so you win!”

                  No, it is not my rules. It’s the proper structure of an argument and the logic behind it, and I have nothing to do with those rules.

                  To understand what I’m talking about, you may want to read Hurley’s book on “Logic” or “The Structure of Argument” by Annette T. Rottenberg or “Informal Logic, a handbook for critical argumentation” by Douglas N. Walton.

                  Then if you do not have the time or desire to learn how to argue logically, then you may also learn from, for one example, Dr. Kevin deLaplante (he is a Canadian) of the Critical Thinker Academy.


                  Then there is professor deLaplante’s videos on You Tube.



                  I have run into people that know what they are doing when they use logical fallacies to make it appear that they are right when in fact, they have proven nothing.

                  However, most of the time, individuals that use logical fallacies to argue do not know what he or she is doing because they learned these fallacies from others, such as politicians and opinionated talk radio hosts, where the abuse of logical fallacies is often used to influence the opinions of others–to fool people into thinking something is true when it may not be true or to demean an opponent when he or she is right and it is easier to use logical fallacies to win by embarrassing or attacking the person that knows what he or she is talking about by hijacking the conversation and leading it off topic and changing the rules along the way.

      • I thought a ‘troll’ was a person that offended, made an unpopular statement, or may refuse intellectual dissertation for a less academic approach? That fellow talk-typed in a manner that was foul and that might fit the definition as well. Either way he is a failed troll. Because a good one plays it like a game of checkers. Forums are typical in such censorship. Although Blogger, WordPress and Yahoo News are quite — libertarian.

        • I suppose we could turn to the Urban Dictionary for its definition of someone that is out “Trolling” the Internet:

          “The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue. Trolling does not mean just making rude remarks: Shouting swear words at someone doesn’t count as trolling; it’s just flaming, and isn’t funny. Spam isn’t trolling either; it pisses people off, but it’s lame.

          “The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that either a) truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous, or b) give your victim malicious instructions, under the guise of help.

          “Trolling requires decieving; any trolling that doesn’t involve decieving someone isn’t trolling at all; it’s just stupid. As such, your victim must not know that you are trolling; if he does, you are an unsuccesful troll.

          “Signs that your trolling is succesful:
          *Your victim screaming in all-caps at you.
          *Personal attacks (Calling you a retard, idiot, etc).
          *Being an Internet Tough Guy.
          *Making a crude remark, before quickly logging off before you can retort.

          “Signs that your trolling is unsuccesful:
          *Your victim identifying you as a troll.
          *Identifying yourself as a troll.
          *Your efforts being ignored.
          *Being counter-trolled (See below)

          There’s more at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Trolling&defid=4250942

          It sounds like you were correct. This guy is not a Troll. Maybe he is “flaming”?

  6. Pingback: A conversation between a libertarian and a statist | birdmanps

  7. This is a good read. It reminds me that some people believe in mob rule. If the majority wants it, then so be it. That is dangerous. It is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

  8. I’m a bit confused by the photos of Audrey Hepburn as Holly, versus Mrs Thatcher as herself. but that confusion aside, I feel that libertarians have an interesting viewpoint, and one knows why they feel the state is just getting too much. But the answer is not to ditch the whole thing and rely on goodwill to all men. That ain’t gonna happen, and if it ever did it wouldn’t work for more than a week – so please get real guys! FFS. the best linbertarians can arguie for a is a bit of rolling back. Incidentally, in the UK we have just one example that I know of of an optional tax for a public good…this is the television licence fee which costs about £145 PER ANNUM PA..It’s entirely optional in that one only pays if one watches broadcast/live BBC TV. r

  9. The problem with majority rule is that it trumps individual rights. Two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner never works out well for the lamb. Which is why the US Constitution has a Bill of Rights that moderates majority rule … except when it’s ignored by an out-of-control statist regime. When 50.8% of the country decides that 49.2% of the country (plus the 15% who apparently didn’t vote this time around) should just sit down and shut up for the next two years, it tends to foment feelings of revolution. I’m not talking about violence, but about realignment in political allegiance. Statists come from both sides of the political aisle in the US; I gather this blogger is from the UK and I am THRILLED to hear there are libertarians in the UK — good for you chaps! As an American conservative, I see both major parties as control freaks who want to grow government, spend my money and take away my freedom. There are third-party alternatives, but they have trouble getting on the ballot because of ballot access laws. I’m not sure the Libertarian Party is the way to go (here in the US it’s been passed in membership by the Constitution Party), but I’m very certain that 2014 should be the year third parties make a substantial showing in Congress preparatory to an honest run at the White House in 2016. The time has come for that. The two major parties are just two sides of the same coin and neither represents about 1/3 of the population. I think when the true message of small government, low tax, and individual rights can stop being filtered through the statist GOP, we’ll see a surge of people agreeing with us.

  10. Interesting debate. I’m inclined to subscribe to the social contract of society. However, I think there are different drivers for not paying tax. Not wanting to pay tax because you have no faith in the government to spend it effectively is a very valid complaint in a society where corruption, manipulation and propaganda is commonplace among the establishment. As valid as that is though it’s more a complaint about the nature of power in the UK rather than a complaint about tax.

    Stating that one has no desire to pay tax because one believes in using your earnings however you want is an ideological position akin to anarchy. In such situations, individual interactions are then dependent upon the skills of those involved. What happens when dispute arises? I’m not saying you must have a state to resolve such issues but there needs to be independence to discuss and resolve these issues. Without public funding where would the money come from to support this? I don’t think we’re advanced enough as a society to have these kind of structures staffed by people voluntarily. Who appoints them? Under what authority? How do you safeguard against bias? There are significant questions to be asked about a taxless society, however these kind of things rarely get discussed because the debate usually focuses around the emotional issue of money and my right to do with it what I want, rather than the practicalities of how such would work in practice. I mean, what’s the difference between that and the communist utopia of everything state-owned? Nice theories, but in practice unworkable because people demand more and so they should. The rights of the individual should not be subservient to the collective and that’s where the social contract comes in. Do what you want as long as you don’t hurt others is a relatively good starting point for discussion around this I think.

  11. well,one must never forget that democracy should never become the dictatorship of the majority! An honest leader should always consider minorities while taking decisions… one other thing: “libertarians” and “statists” may represent two contradictory ideologies but the two other main factors influencing governments decisions are political orientations( left wing and right wing)! so being statist or libertarian only affects how decisions will be applied and not the decision themselves. therefore one can rarely find this debate between two individuals having the same political orientation (right or left ex.: republican or democratic), but it is frequent between those trying to escape the counterpart’s decisions and measures.

  12. Pingback: Referendum reaction | Manchester Liberal

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