Where Have All the Libertarians Gone?

As a libertarian, I have often felt that I am alone in the world with my beliefs, always eager to agree with the liberals on this issue or the conservatives on that issue, but always to the same end: a mere transient oneness with another human being. Once the liberal begins spouting off his latest anti-globalization rant (despite driving a Honda) or the conservative begins bemoaning the number of Mexican immigrants in the country (despite being a Friday night regular at La Casa Gomez), I am distinctly on my own again. And you know what? Being alone in one's beliefs is no fun. Being right isn't the only thing that matters. We are not solitary creatures. Just as my canine companions like to run in a pack, so do I. When I happen upon a libertarian, I am very happy. 'Oooooh,' I exclaim, 'Someone who understands!'

But lately I have begun to feel as though I am the last libertarian on the planet. Why? Because of the Do Not Call Registry. Here's what I want to know: Am I the only libertarian in this country who did not sign up?

A dear friend of mine, a libertarian writer and philosophical anarchist, admitted without the slightest hint of chagrin that he had registered his telephone number on the list. Was I shocked? You betcha! How could someone who disdains the government at every turn use the government to protect himself from the unwanted intrusion of telemarketers?

Now, my friend makes two arguments. First, he says that there are all sorts of government schemes that he has to take part in, such as registering the title to his real estate (otherwise he will be at risk of losing it). Does he do so? Of course he does. No man wants to lose his castle. Getting the required inspection sticker on his car is another such case. And the list goes on and on. So, my friend argues, because he is already involved in so many of these other government programs, what difference does one more make?

Well, I maintain that it makes a lot of difference. If we can't depend on even the anarchists of this world to refrain from using the government when they aren't forced to use it, then why do Libertarians even exist? If you don't register the title to your property, the government won't protect your rights to it, and you might experience a great loss. If you don't have your car inspected, the police can stop you and give you a ticket, and probably search your car and find your unregistered handgun and your little stash of marijuana that you didn't pay taxes on. Then you will be in a whole heap of trouble. We are forced to do certain things at the point of a gun (or in order to protect our home ownership).

But there are perfectly appropriate and available ways in which we can rid ourselves of telemarketers by private means. The phone companies across the country offer two services. The first one is Caller ID. This tells the telephone owners who is calling them, and if no number shows up'BINGO!--they don't answer the phone. The second service the phone companies offer is even better. It doesn't even let your phone ring if your phone doesn't recognize the number calling you, or if the caller refuses to divulge his telephone number. What more could any anarchist want? A private means to avoid unwanted intrusions into his dinner hour.

Next, my friend posits that no one has a right to call him, or to knock on his door, for that matter. And while he may be technically correct, God help the little girl who rings his bell hoping to sell a few boxes of overpriced Girl Scout Cookies (not that they don't taste good, mind you, they're just expensive). Judging from his use of the government to keep people from calling him (but only for commercial purposes), I suspect he might very well call the police and demand that the offending youngster be hauled off.

There is a problem here. It is anti-social. Yes, yes, we are all individuals, to be sure, but we are individuals living in society, and we recognize that therefore we must tolerate a certain amount of this sort of intrusion. The local Knights of Columbus will come by selling raffle tickets, the 135 candidates for governor of California will all call you the day before the election, via a computer bank and a recorded message, asking you to vote for them. This sort of contact is just one of the things social life entails: petty disturbances of our peace and tranquility.

Should we turn to the government to solve these problems? Hell, no. We should utilize private means to solve them for ourselves. Don't want the Girl Scouts ringing your doorbell? Hang a sign stating that there is a wolf inside who takes glee in popping girls in green into the oven! Don't want the Knights of Columbus selling you raffle tickets? Hang a sign saying that raffle tickets are an abomination unto the Lord! These notices are perfectly effective means of dealing with small disturbances without having to turn to the government to solve your problem.

Telemarketing calls are no different. Don't turn to the government to solve what is really a petty and inconsequential problem. Utilize the services offered by the private sector to avoid unwarranted intrusions. After all, a basic tenet of libertarianism is that anything the government can do the private sector can do better! Or have I missed something?

So listen up all you libertarians. If you can protect your right to be left alone by your own efforts, then what on earth are you doing letting the government do it for you? Aren't you supposed to be the people who want smaller government? How many unwarranted, unconstitutional laws will you take advantage of, on the one hand, while ranting about the huge scope of government power, on the other?

My grandfather always urged me to root for the underdog. I never imagined that one day I would conceive of Martha Stewart and the telemarketing industry as underdogs, but I do now. Nothing like a little dose of Leviathan to change your point of view.

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Elizabeth Bernard's picture
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