Libertarian Purity Test

Since the meme is going 'round again, I thought I'd report my thoughts on the Libertarian Purity Test.

First off, my scores. If I take the test without reading the questions closely, I score 160. No sweat.

If I take the test skeptically, reading every question tightly and only agreeing when there is no possible way I can see to answer the question "No", then I score 61. An example of this is the word "abolish". To me "abolition" has the connation of a legislative act that applies universally. As an anarchist, though, I am willing to let other people have what I regard as politically-incorrect institutions. So consider q63: "Should the state be abolished?" Under the reading of "should" where "I should" or "we should" do something, I do not want to abolish all states; to do so would mean at minimum (a) war with every state in the world, (b) an army to make that war, and (c) contradiction, as you cannot supply such an army without taxation, conscription, and generally an iron-fisted state.

If the question read, "do you hope that the state peacefully fades away", then I would answer "Yes".

Generally, a lot of the questions have one or more of the following problems:
  • they lack context: I want free immigration into the USA after abolishing Federal taxation, not before. The order matters.

  • they use "we" incautiously: I do think "we" (meaning: the USA federal government) spends too much on anti-poverty. The correct level is zero. But "we" (the society of people that live in the USA), spend about the right amount. I certainly don't think that "we" should, could, or would abolish welfare under the latter reading.

  • they use "government" to mean "the state": in anarchist thought the protection agencies, judging agencies, etc will "govern" the people. Criminals will be hunted, caught, and brought to justice. This is "government".

  • they don't take account of the decentralist aspect of libertarian thought
Let me expand on that last point. If you take one particular fairly-large state that a libertarian lives in - i.e., I live in the USA, or Maryland - then I would argue that libertarian thought is, indeed, a single spectrum. At one end is North Korea; at the other end, anarchy. But we live in a federal state, and an anarchic world system. There are many states, some small and some large; and we are not citizens of them all. There are, in short, many third parties.

Libertarian thought has little to say about how third parties interact. It says what the individual should do - not coerce others. It doesn't say what to do when you find someone else coercing someone. Yes, it's admirable to help; some libertarians think it is necessary, but not all. It is not morally required. So it has nothing to say about what we should, or should not, do for people not in our state.

Furthermore, the very notion of coercion fades away gradually as you get to very small states. Consider a most-nearly-anarchic USA where counties were the states (i.e., they have the power to initiate coercion, and a monopoly), and the states and Federal government existed only as fully voluntary bodies which the counties could opt in or opt out of freely. In this scenario, an individual would have a choice of many counties to live in without changing his job. Practically speaking, this would be near anarchy, since the counties would be able to compete to be nice places to live in. Although technically they would be states, the degree to which their laws would be "coercion" would be far less than currently is the case, because "love it or leave it" would begin to have real force.

Of course, the right to secede ought to hold universally, right down to individuals and their property - that's what anarchy is. If the state can take your house, you are not free. Still, competition between counties, and small-scale democracy in them, would make the typical predations of large states (taxation, inflation, regulation) very rare in such a system.

As a measure of what I believe libertarianism is about, the test is quite lacking. I can do better than that easily. Hmm.

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