L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE: The Wrong Fifteen Minutes

By L. Neil Smith

I just spent an hour this morning, listening to a pair of radio talk show hosts arguing with each other. It was one of the most interesting — and revealing — hours of talk radio I’ve ever listened to.

At issue was a decision by authorities in Colorado Springs, traditionally a conservative town, to try to reduce prostitution in their neck of the woods by exposing and humiliating “johns” on TV. Colorado Springs is also a thoroughly military town, and I would guess the “johns” in question are predominantly working class. We were left to wonder, what about the much richer “johns” who run, say, Denver?

The Colorado Springs proposal is a typical “dogwhistle” scheme to affect peoples’ misery by adding to it as much as possible. A “dogwhistle”, according to one of my favorite movies, _Strange Days_, is a guy whose “ass is so tight that when he farts, only dogs can hear him.” Their lame excuse is their professed desire to salvage the lives of young ladies of the evening from the presumed horrors of human trafficking. Yeah, I know; it sounds phony when you hear it the first time.

Andy Warhol spoke of a time in which everybody gets to be famous for fifteen minutes. I seriously doubt whether this was what he had in mind.

There are a great many things wrong, historically, sociologically, and economically with this altruistic claim, but it really doesn’t matter; it’s only an excuse. They know it, you know it, and they know you know it — but the forms must be observed. What it really is …well. we’ll get to that. I’s what the rest of this exercise is all about.

The argument eventually turned, as such arguments usually do, to the notions that individual liberty is good, but must be limited. Dan believes the Colorado Springs is doing the right thing, stinging all those “rich guys” taking advantage of young girls. Pete is opposed (as he ought to be) to human trafficking and sexual slavery, but thinks that what people do with their lives is pretty much their business. It turns out that Dan is still licking his wounds over the election which made marijuana legal to produce, sell, buy, and use. He thinks that’s very bad, Pete, a former junkie and alcoholic and a “friend of Bill”, not so much. He’s seen it all, done it twice, and owns the T-shirt.

As their argument continued, it hit the rocks again (and Pete more or less gave up on him) over limits Dan thinks he sees in the Second Amendment, as well, limits — a full-auto Uzi is a no-no — that must have originally been written by the Founding Fathers in invisible ink.  If you understand that the Second Amendment is there to keep the government in line, then you realize that such a restriction is utter nonsense.

As far as I was concerned, what emerged, after this hour of wrangling, was that Pete, of whom I am often critical, nevertheless acts consistently, whether he is conscious of it or not, with a conviction that each individual is the owner of his or her own life.

Dan, by comparison, seems to believe that somebody or something else owns our lives and may arbitrarily impose limits on the exercise of our rights.

The difference between libertarianism and every other social or political philosophy is its answer to the question “Who owns your life?” Everything else flows naturally from the answer to that question. Quite frankly, I’ve always found it hard to figure out what makes some people think they have a right to tell others how they must live.

The 2016 election seems to have started already. In this election, possibly because Rand Paul, the son of the most libertarian candidate we’ve ever seen, is running, a lot of people are talking about what they think libertarianism is, and who the real libertarians happen to be. They are almost all of them dead wrong. Rand Paul, despite his mouthings, is not a libertarian. His father, Ron Paul, although he has done a great deal to earn our love and admiration, is no libertarian, either. Both men insist on giving to government something it isn’t their right to give: the power to control a woman’s body against her will.

Robert LeFevre

Robert LeFevre

It was the great libertarian thinker and teacher, Robert LeFevre, who taught me that, in the end, the whole of politics comes down to a property dispute centering on your body. (Which is why I called the party of libertarians in my 1979 novel, _The Probability Broach_ “propertarians”. If you’re male and oppose the government’s spurious property claim — conscription — to your body, but banning abortion is okay with you, then you have a serious ethical problem: you’re a hypocrite.

Another thing you’ll hear is that the non-interference foreign policy of Rand Paul, like that of his father and of all libertarians is naive, childish, too idealistic. Media subcreatures sink to comparing it to Obama’s. But you don’t have to knock yourself out defending the idea of leaving other people (and the lives they own) alone. Point out the history of international interference. Hitler was a pure and direct product of the Allies messing with Germany. 9/11 was a pure and direct product of our interference with the Middle East. It is naive and childish to call for more of it in the face of its utter failure.

If the first tenet of libertarianism is self-ownership, then the second is the Zero-Aggression Principle. No one (especially anyone in government) has a right to initiate physical force against any other sapient being for any reason whatever. Be aware, as you listen to candidates that self-ownership and zero aggression are all there is to libertarianism.

It’s on that basis that we’ll observe and report this election.

L. Neil Smith

L. Neil Smith

Celebrated and award-winning author of over 30 books and countless shorter pieces, L. Neil Smith is available, at professional rates, to write articles and speeches for you or your organization, providing that our principles are compatible. Contact him at [email protected].


“Any official, appointed or elected, at any level of government, who attempts, through legislative act or other means, to nullify, evade, or avoid the provisions of the first ten amendments to this Constitution, or of the Thirteenth Amendment, shall be summarily removed from office, and, upon conviction, deprived of all pay and benefits including pension, and sentenced to imprisonment for life.”


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