“The libertarian, who believes in freedom of the will, must insist that while it might be immoral or unfortunate for A to advocate a riot, that this is strictly in the realm of advocacy and should not be subject to legal penalty.”
-Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty
Within both the liberty movement and the mainstream political sphere, there has been a rise in divisiveness and anger over the past few years. Tensions are high, with violence often erupting at political rallies and protests. It has reached the point where people are going to these events with weapons and protective equipment, either expecting a fight or hoping to provoke one.
For precisely that reason, it is time that we must re-examine our thoughts on the legitimacy of violence as a political tool. In saying this, I am not attempting to single out one wing of the political spectrum, as this issue extends past partisan or philosophical boundaries. Antifa and others on the extreme left have preached about the virtues of “punching a Nazi,” as one masked man did to white nationalist Richard Spencer during the media coverage of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Those on the alt-right (and the far-right wing of the libertarian movement) speak about their desire to throw those who advocate for communism out of helicopters (as dictator Augusto Pinochet of Chile did during his reign in the late 20th century.) Both justify their positions by saying that they are preemptively preventing a greater evil from taking place, as they are stopping those they call Nazis and communists from ever taking power.
However, if we are to be consistent as libertarians, we must remember that each person has a right to speak their mind and express a preference. The quote from Murray Rothbard, the godfather of anarcho-capitalism, at the beginning of this article serves to reinforce this point. A general preference for communism or Nazism, as damaging as those philosophies might be if put into practice, is not an act of aggression. As there is no initiation of violence involved, no violence is justified under the non-aggression principle in response.
I chose to address this topic after a reaction to a previous article of mine that was highly critical of former Libertarian Senate candidate Augustus Invictus. After I had published it, I received a message from one of his supporters telling me that I was only providing more ammo to those who have threatened Invictus (threats of violence due to Invictus’s presence at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Liberty Festival caused the event to be canceled.) As this was in no way my intention, I decided that I should explain my position.
Though I disagree with Invictus on many issues and desire for him to have no involvement in the liberty movement (or any movement where he can affect people’s lives), I in no way wish any physical harm to him or others who have political platforms different from mine. My ideal scenario is one in which he has no influence or political power but is able to watch libertarian ideals flourish from the comfort of his couch.
I am unequivocally against attempting to use initiatory violence against those I disagree with, just as I am against “doxxing” (releasing the personal information of someone, such as a phone number or address, in order to have others harass, threaten, or attack them), a practice all too common in this intense political climate. Likewise, there is no need to involve people’s families and personal lives in our political drama. The wife, cousin, or son of your political enemy has likely done nothing to wrong you.
Even if violence against political opponents were to be justified by libertarian thinking, it would not be the appropriate way forward. While I wholeheartedly believe in Larken Rose’s mantra regarding the legitimacy of the use of force against authority figures who are aggressing upon you (as espoused in his article “When Should You Shoot a Cop”), I do not see going out and attacking those in power as the best course of action. For liberty to take hold, we will need to convince a substantial portion of the population of its legitimacy. A fight in which many innocent lives are lost due to the “collateral damage” that libertarians often rightly speak out against would only serve to paint us as violent extremists with no regard for human life.
For a truly free society to become a reality, we need to spread our message far and wide. In doing so, we must stay true to that message and reject aggression against all. While we must loudly and strongly speak out against Nazism, communism, fascism, and all forms of statism, we should not violate the principles we hold dear by using the very initiatory violence that we claim to be against.