The Violent Libertarian

Column by Alex R. Knight III.

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I suppose I had wanted to begin this essay talking about a piece published back in January by Jay Bookman, “Second Amendment is Not License for Treason, Armed Revolt.” I further suppose I had wanted to point out how, from a libertarian/market anarchist/voluntaryist perspective, it matters little what any amendment in any government document has to say about individual self-protection – it is an inherent and most obvious requisite of any human life. I would’ve pointed out how “treason” is based on the intrinsically flawed idea that government is a legitimate ideological construct, and that one is somehow in turn bound to it by non-consensual obligation. I would’ve pointed out some thoughts on that subject by a not nearly as well-reknowned-as-deserved person of antiquity here. I would’ve no doubt concluded by pointing out how thoroughly the Viet Cong kicked Uncle Sam’s ass in Vietnam, how both Iraq and Afghanistan are unwinnable stalemates, and how well the Taliban performed against Soviet invaders in the 1980s, armed with far less modern equipment and ammunition than the average American hunter or sportsman has on hand. I would’ve pointed out quite clearly, although I am no military expert, how little Bookman understands about the dynamics of civil conflict and counterinsurgency as opposed to invasion of foreign territory.

But I’ve chosen to forego more than a passing bash at all of that in favor of a slightly different tack. I’d like to talk about violence. Libertarians talk about the fact that it is the basis of all government. We talk about that quite often, in fact. And it is undeniably true. But we’ve also, for the most part, been omitting part of the picture. I’m suggesting we come clean. I’ll even go first.

Truth is, I’m not against violence. While it is possible to be both a pacifist and a libertarian, I don’t happen to be the former. I do believe in self-defense, and I will exercise it if I feel there is no other way to protect my life, liberty, or property. Hence, I can’t really say I’m entirely non-violent, can I?

Let’s go even further: Suppose I become really angry – I mean just pissed off enough to chew on some 16-penny framing spikes as if they were sticks of bubble gum. Ever been there? If not, then you’ve never been me. I’ve been known in the past to rearrange the furniture in my abode from time to time – and not the way the smiling housewives suggest in Good Housekeeping magazine, either. In fact, the vast majority of what I see happening in the news evokes a reaction in me in which I can still revel in the concept of turning the contents of my entire living room into a toothpick factory. It’s all pretty difficult to justify in terms of higher ideals, yes. It is juvenile and highly immature, to say nothing of financially costly. I ought to have probably invested in a punching bag. I hear and get that.

And it also shows that I’m not entirely non-violent. Yet, I maintain I am every bit a Libertarian.

Speaking strictly for myself (I would never want to so much as presume to speak for anyone else), I get a little tired of the trite and overworn phrase libertarians like to use, “peaceful people.” Comparatively few folks, libertarians included, are entirely non-violent. It is counter to human nature, and completely unrealistic to make that assertion. You’re going to tell me (and others) that you’ve never gotten upset, kicked things, yelled, slammed a door, broken a glass, punched a wall?

And perhaps we are even compelled to defend ourselves, circumstances forbid, with deadly force.

That last is self-defense only when fully justifiable by any clear and rational standards. And the rest should ever only involve inanimate objects legitimately within the individual’s ownership. But neither course of action can truthfully be termed “non-violent.”

It is fortunate that the libertarian axiom is the Non-Aggression Principle. Otherwise we’d be in a bit of a quandary, with a large amount of explaining to do (and that’s burdensome enough already when communicating our ideas to the uninitiated). The point is, I don’t think we are, or even necessarily should be, against violence in sum total, per se. What we must be against, is aggression – the initiation of violence against the person or property of another.

All of this, then, may just be a long-winded way of pointing out the obvious. Other than, perhaps, the fact that some of you now know for the first time that I have had a history of ill-temper. In further truth, it hasn’t been a problem for quite a while. I’m older now, and I no longer booze to the point of inebriated rage and control loss. In fact, I just don’t booze at all anymore, period. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it in itself, but it was never the full picture. With alcoholism, it never is. There have been other unsavory elements of my past I’ve had to come to sober terms with. I’m trying – as I would hope you are – to become a better human being. I’m also imperfect, as you are. I have problems, as you no doubt do, as well. I’m willing to admit these things publicly, and whether you do the same is entirely your own business. That’s only as it should be.

Libertarianism, as a philosophy and corresponding way of life, encourages us to improve ourselves and our relations with others, and I would like to think that it has had a significant role in helping me to leave behind much of the violence – contained and otherwise -- that has plagued my past. I would like to think it has influenced me to be more open and honest – both with myself and others. And I would also hope that any failures, faults, or mistakes of my own that I have conveyed to you might assist in your own personal journey, and be of some illumination or benefit, wherever that may lead.

That all said, I will never achieve flawlessness. I will likely always be a Libertarian, but I will also definitely always be human. I know odds are I’ll do better in everything by remembering that.

And so will the philosophy I try to live by.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 111

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales, including Tales from Dark 7.  He has also written and published poetry; non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues; and is former Communications Director for the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.  In 1998, he was awarded Activist of the Year for that organization.  He now lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University, and looks forward to living in a governmentless society of liberty.

Comments

Paul's picture

Bookman is just the typical state-loving bootlicker. His opinion is irrelevant.

Sometimes I think some of this is a linguistic problem. In the English language there is no distinct term for "aggressive violence" or for "defensive violence" even though the two are treated completely differently both legally and morally. Inevitably the adjective is left off and people start thinking as if any kind of violence is bad or "never solves anything", and other such obviously incorrect statements.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Agree on Bookman, Paul.  I find your comments most apt.  What I really wanted to do here, other than self-therapy, was to dispel a lot of the utopian overtones libertarian discourse has seemed to adopt.  The "peaceful people" mantra has become just a bit smug for my taste.  We are human, and we have our faults.  Those don't all just magically disappear when we decide that libertarianism (and correspondingly the NAP) is the only rational ideal.  And this further supplants the idea that government is legitimate, not the opposite.  So, I knew this would prove controversial and objectionable to some, but perhaps even for that very reason I thought it needed to be said.