Myth #5: Libertarians are utopians who believe that all people are good, and that therefore State control is not necessary. Conservatives tend to add that since human nature is either partially or wholly evil, strong State regulation is therefore necessary for society.
Rothbard’s Six Myths About Libertarianism.
I don’t know if everyone’s path towards libertarianism comes to the the fork in the road called free will, but mine certainly did.
Free will, for all intents and purposes, is a terrifying thing, and I suppose that’s why we ask the State to take it away from other people. Free will means other people don’t always behave the way you want, it means they can do things which you consider morally reprehensible. Enter the State: if my neighbor won’t make choices that I see as good for him, I can make the State mandate those choices for him. One way or another, I can make my fellow man live rightly.
But somewhere along the way, I came to the epiphanic conclusion that asking the State not to play moral arbiter is not the same as complicity. More than that, State-mandated morality doesn’t remove from us the weighty responsibility attached to having free will. It does, however, hand back to the State bit by bit the freedom we wrested from it.
What really got to me in the end, though, was the power we were handing the government. “Control their lives,” may have been the goal, but implicit in that was “and not ours, please.”
As Rothbard puts it:
The State is the only social institution which is able to extract its income and wealth by coercion; all others must obtain revenue either by selling a product or service to customers or by receiving voluntary gifts. And the State is the only institution which can use the revenue from this organized theft to presume to control and regulate people’s lives and property. Hence, the institution of the State establishes a socially legitimatized and sanctified channel for bad people to do bad things, to commit regularized theft and to wield dictatorial power.
Handing the State control to regulate behavior you don’t like is a a disaster-in-waiting; when people you don’t like assume control of the machine you’ve built, the State already has the authority to regulate your life according to the whims of others.
Rothbard goes on to quote Hayek:
“The main merit of individualism [which Adam Smith and his contemporaries advocated] is that it is a system under which bad men can do least harm. It is a social system which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity….”
And there it is: once you’ve handed the State the power to regulate lives, you have to hope the “wrong people” never come into power. Fingers crossed, huh?