Rothbardian Blackmail

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Upon a recent revisit of Rothbard’s libertarian manifesto, For A New Liberty, I realized in the text a strange rhetorical strategy I have seen copypasta by libertarians. I have decided to name this argument: Rothbardian Blackmail. The following quote is the meat of Rothbard’s argumentation.

Another problem with the utilitarian is that he will rarely adopt a principle as an absolute and consistent yardstick to apply to the varied concrete situations of the real world. He will only use a principle, at best, as a vague guideline or aspiration, as a tendency which he may choose to override at any time. This was the major defect of the nineteenth-century English Radicals, who had adopted the laissez-faire view of the eighteenth-century liberals but had substituted a supposedly “scientific” utilitarianism for the supposedly “mystical” concept of natural rights as the groundwork for that philosophy. Hence the nineteenth-century laissez-faire liberals came to use laissez-faire as a vague tendency rather than as an unblemished yardstick, and therefore increasingly and fatally compromised the libertarian creed. To say that a utilitarian cannot be “trusted” to maintain libertarian principle in every specific application may sound harsh, but it puts the case fairly. A notable contemporary example is the free-market economist Professor Milton Friedman who, like his classical economist forebears, holds to freedom as against State intervention as a general tendency, but in practice allows a myriad of damaging exceptions, exceptions which serve to vitiate the principle almost completely, notably in the fields of police and military affairs, education, taxation, welfare, “neighborhood effects,” antitrust laws, and money and banking.

Here I will further generalize the structure of Rothbardian blackmail. 

Rothbardian Blackmail

  • Libertarianism requires that you believe in and respect the natural rights, autonomy, and don’t violate the non aggression principle.
  • If you don’t believe that libertarianism is objective, logical, and absolute.
    • Then, you are saying that it is okay to have non-libertarian outcomes.
  • Consequentialism can’t truly be libertarian, because they only desire libertarianism conditionally.

This rhetoric is not without merit. The only problem is that it does not prove anything. It might be all fine and good to exclude me and other people from libertarianism. I have found a better label for myself: egoism. This does not mean I won’t still call myself a libertarian. Their argument relies on an absolute emotional commitment to libertarianism as it is defined here. I don’t value libertarianism absolutely. I think the type of true libertarian commitment is quite absurd. This has led me to develop the true libertarian test.

The True Libertarian Test

  • Put a gun to someone’s head and ask them to violate the NAP.
  • They violate the NAP?
    • They live
  • They don’t violate the NAP?
    • They die

This test only confirms that they value libertarianism more than their own life. You could raise the stakes by kidnapping friends, family, and other members of their community. This test is a little perverse. I recommend we just assume they wouldn’t try to be a martyr. This assumption is reasonable, because people are not assumed to be such extreme ideologues. We should remember that the word martyr originates with this exact scenario, so we shouldn’t completely discount the possibility.

The issue here is whether performative belief is all or nothing. I was told by some rothbardians I have met that I would not be trusted in libertarian society if I say I believe in consequentialism. I mean how could you interact with someone who was not trusted to uphold property and contract. This is so besides the point; You protect property, contract, and society with might. I think by the standards of being a true believer, no one will ever be able to join you in AnCapistan.

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