Against Libertarian Hedonism

There has long been a debate in libertarian circles between thin libertarianism and thick libertarianism. Thin libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force, saying that initiating the use of force is never acceptable and using force to defend against a force initiator is always acceptable. Thick libertarianism says that this is insufficient and views conservative or reactionary views on social issues as threats to liberty. This is not news to anyone who is well acquainted with libertarian discourse, but there is a particular manifestation of thick libertarianism which is both quickly growing and extremely troubling.

There are people who enter into libertarianism not because they seek to advance peaceful societal organization, voluntary provision of necessary services, or the protection of rights against infringement, although they may do this to the extent that it benefits them personally. Nor do they enter because they seek to form homogeneous communities, dissociate from people they dislike, or put their prejudices into practice on a larger scale, although they may do this to some extent with those who share their particular behaviors. These people come into libertarian circles simply because they seek a safe space for the practice of their vices, whatever they may be. Leftist elements within libertarianism provide them with this safe space because doing so is an easier way to grow the movement than authentic proselytization, then attack those who criticize this practice as bigots, reactionaries, and generally ignorant people.

While the toleration of vices is required by the non-aggression principle as long as said vices do not lead to assaults upon people or destruction of their property, there is a difference between tolerance and encouragement. A successful libertarian civilization must have a well-functioning market economy and be capable of both stopping common criminality and repelling external invasions. Those who abuse drugs, engage in sexual promiscuity, gamble excessively, and so forth may not be directly harming anyone other than themselves, but these behaviors practiced frequently on a large scale not only fail to make a successful libertarian civilization, but endanger its continued existence and flourishing by weakening its members and attracting people who will fake being a libertarian for their own selfish ends while undermining the community.

People who are addicted to substances are less likely to make good decisions, be productive in a trade other than manufacturing or selling drugs, or perceive reality as it is. This would be bad enough, but the impairment that drug use causes can lead people to commit acts of aggression against people and property that they would not commit if sober. While the decriminalization of drugs that a free society requires would lower the price of a drug habit, such a habit would still divert resources to finance destructive rather than productive behavior and could still lead people to steal property to finance a habit.

Sexual promiscuity has the consequences of spreading diseases and causing unwanted pregnancies, even with modern birth control, abortion, and prophylactic methods. When the costs of such behavior are not paid for by the people involved, they will be pushed onto the rest of the community regardless of whether there is a welfare state, private charity, or neither, as most people are too compassionate to allow natural selection to work against people who have brought misfortune upon themselves, let alone the children they produce. Single motherhood is strongly correlated with negative outcomes for children, so it is in the best interests of a community to discourage behaviors which produce it.

While a certain amount of gambling is necessary for the most efficient allocation of capital and speculators perform several necessary market functions, an excess of gambling diverts resources from other purposes and encourages the acquisition of wealth by chance rather than by labor. The poor decision-making habits that problem gamblers develop can spill over into other areas of one’s life. The end result is a general deterioration of work ethic and quality of service throughout the community.

When Hans-Hermann Hoppe wrote that people need to physically remove advocates and practitioners of individual hedonism (among others) from a community in order to maintain a libertarian order, he was predictably condemned by left-libertarians. They argue that this restricts the liberty of hedonists for no legitimate reason and may even constitute aggression, but this is not true as long as those performing the removal are rightful owners of private property who consider hedonists to be unwelcome inside their lands. While people should be free to pursue their own destruction if they so choose, they have neither the right to do so where their presence is unwanted by private property owners nor the right to bring non-hedonists to ruin with them. A stance against libertarian hedonism that stays within the confines of the non-aggression principle is not only acceptable, but in need of promotion.

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  • Thanks for posting this. It was a breath of fresh air and I’m sharing it around now.