May 12, 2014

On the “Libertarian” Thought Police

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

For those observers of the libertarian world, it would have been hard to miss the thick/thin debate.  Among the “thickies” includes one annoying and dogmatic (leftist-“libertarian”) Cathy Reisenwitz who, among other things, has taken the time to claim to all her readers that “Hoppe, Rockwell, Block [are continually] spewing racism.”  Later, she issued an apology for making such baseless claims.

Reisenwitz is a real social progressivist, a dangerous proponent of her distorted understanding of libertarianism.  She is what I might consider a perfect example of the need to stay firm on the definitions and foundations of a given philosophy.  She has associated all kinds of sexual deviation and immorality as necessary to the meaning of libertarianism.  To call her a political libertarian is to take aim at the very meaning of libertarianism.

But her racism accusations speak volumes into the real danger behind the mentality of those cultural leftists who have a desire to redefine the meaning of libertarianism.  The debate between thick and thin is over the sine qua non of the libertarian; that is, what constitutes a libertarian and what is the connecting point between all kinds of people with differing views on a variety of different personal issues.  What is it that connect me, a Reformed Christian, with Murray Rothbard, an agnostic, on the issue of a free society.  The connecting point, for those in the “thin camp” is that we are both unified by assent to the following proposition: “no one shall initiate or threaten to initiate physical force against others and their property.”

For the thickists, more is required in order to be categorically placed in the libertarian world.  What is the more?  At this point, it is not very specific. However, generally, there is a want from the leftists to hold to a more “approving” mentality on social issues including sex, drugs, gender roles, and the like.  To be clear, this conversation has exceeded the boundaries of politics to issues of culture and personal habit.  The thinnists consider this ridiculous; for libertarianism is a political philosophy, which means that libertarianism properly address the role of the use of physical aggression by the State in society.  But to go outside of these boundaries makes one a thickist.

Then the question became, thanks to Sheldon Richman, whether a libertarian could still be considered as such if he was a racist.  The thinnists say: “it is certainly conceivable” (for the non-aggression principle is the one necessary component).  The thickists say: “such a position on race would be contradictory to the foundations of libertarianism.”  Of course, this assumes that libertarianism as a political philosophy requires a single foundation.  And moreover, this assumes that one cannot be considered a libertarian if he holds to contradictions.  Now, contradictions are certainly bad and I think one should seriously reconsider his worldview if he sees contradiction, but there is no entry test to libertarianism to ensure that one has a proper worldview.

But there is more beyond this current debate on the nature of libertarianism.  It is this: the cultural leftists have a different understanding of racism than the cultural rightists do.  Forget politics for a moment.  Think about culture.  Fred Reed is hated by the left because he does not think that forced integration of the races is healthy for anybody.  He does not believe in forced segregation, but he does believe that, especially in big cities where the racial wars are the most heated, State-enforcement of multiculturalism is detrimental.  Some call this racist.  Other don’t think so.

If Cathy Reisnewitz has the racism one-up card on the tip of her tongue as most cultural leftists do, then we ought to realize that this debate has just as much to do with Social Themes as it does the definition of libertarianism.  The desire among so many in the thick camp to take up the same agenda as the “Therapeutic State,” to mommy our society into a people so soft a newborn could be swaddled in it, is just as destructive to liberty as the all-powerful State. Yes, I said it. The State is not our only enemy.  The people themselves are so addicted to comfort and coddling that they wouldn’t know what to do without the State and its “gooberish Mommyknowsbestism.”  A free people must prefer freedom over security.  Over niceness.  The 19th century “Wild West” was free, not kind.  No one was there with a tissue at every feeling (my teacher used to call them “feelerz”) hurt.

And yet, those who hold to a Biblical understanding of the nature of marriage and sexuality are dismissed as bigoted monsters, backwards thinkers in a progressive world.  (Now perhaps I am backwards, but forwards these days is absurd and immoral.)  In a world where “gay is the new black,” Biblical Christians are the new Klansmen.  Reisenwitz is quick to throw out the racism charges precisely because she belongs so well in the Progressive mindset. All who are not Protestant white males are victims and oppressed.  When the libertarians who love their cultural leftism bring up the issue of racism, I see this as catering to a mentality that I reject at the forefront.  Not every observation of statistical disparity between races is racism.  It is not bad that men make more money than women any more than it is bad that there are more black NBA players than white ones.  It is called the division of labor. Different people are better and different things.

To jump on the bandwagon of the Dominant Social Themes, of viewing “Old White Males,” The “Patriarchy,” Racism, Sexism, Ageism, Religion, Tradition, and The Rich, as the problems of our time is social Marxism, not libertarianism.

These people like Reisenwitz not only deceive by calling themselves libertarians, they also hypocritically deride others for “judging” when they act like Thought Police of the libertarian world.  And if “Hoppe, Rockwell, Block” (see Hoppe on the thought police here) said something that was politically incorrect, a deadly sin to the cultural progressives, then how much more will we Reformed Christians be lambasted for our worldview?

Conservative Christians will one day be purged from the libertarian movement.  This world is not our home.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to
  • Conservative Christians will one day be purged from the libertarian movement. This world is not our home.

    Indeed, they will. That is one of the main claims conservatives have been warning about for decades.

    I think the root problem with libertarianism is that it cannot stay “thin.” The number of people attracted to thin libertarianism is vanishingly small, but thick libertarianism (e.g., the kind thick with progressivism) is attractive to a much larger group. The result is what we get is freedom to engage in any forms of cultural deviancy (“We can’t use force to impose cultural norms!”) while taking away any freedoms that threaten the nanny state (“We can’t condone racists or poor people starving in the streets! For those ends we have to enforce norms.”).

    The result, in other words, is that thick libertarianism (the only kind that will every make any progress) eventually leads to progressivism, a version of what James Poulos calls the “Pink Police State.”

    • cjayengel

      “The number of people attracted to thin libertarianism is vanishingly small.” Indeed. Especially those who are not only thin, but who also hold to socially/culturally conservative (traditional) views. They are out there, but honestly among those that can be found on a Google search, there are only a dozen or so.

      “but thick libertarianism (e.g., the kind thick with progressivism) is attractive to a much larger group.” Absolutely. Especially because of the dogmatic nature of 21st century progressivists. It is a “join or die” movement.

      “The result, in other words, is that thick libertarianism (the only kind that will every make any progress) eventually leads to progressivism.” Again, I completely agree.
      I am a pessimistic libertarian (against Rothbard’s optimism). I have a ideological view of a political goal, but I am aware enough of the cultural trends and disastrous path of modern libertarianism to have zero hope for it. I hope this makes me a realist.

      Ironically perhaps, a culture with a better sense of ethical standards and virtue, but with less understanding of the fine-tunings of libertarian theory, can produce more freedom than a developed libertarianism without respect for virtue. For the simple reason that godlessness produces barbarianism.

      Perhaps I’m a one-of-a-kind libertarian. But that is why I desperately need it to be thin:)

      • David

        I’m not sure you’re completely one of a kind. I agree with most of the things you post, and I’m also pessimistic.

        To me a “fine tuned understanding of libertarian theory” is mostly irrelevant to me. But few “morally conservative” Christians are truly held back by a “lack of fine tuned libertarian theory.” The real issue is that most of them are OK with coercion, whether subconsciously or consciously. That’s the real issue, and its a serious moral issue that doesn’t get as much attention as I would like. I tend to think if Jesus ever heard prayers “for the troops who fight for our freedoms” in a church he’d be grabbing his whip again, but even many libertarians don’t think much of it. I think Jesus would be outraged at Christians who are trying to lock up the same types of people (prostitutes specifically) that he loved and ministered to in spite of their sins. I understand that there are a lot of true Christians who just haven’t thought through these things much, and I am not the judge of when someone has thought it through enough, but I’ve decided that I’m done pretending like statism is any kind of an orthodox viewpoint. And if I were ever to be the pastor of a church, I wouldn’t tolerate any implicit endorsements of it there. I’m also all for keeping soldiers, cops, and tax workers out of any ministry positions.

        The one area where I’ve yet to see a Christian libertarian writer agree with you (this does not mean you are wrong) is on the payment of taxes. I tried to post my comments on this on the other thread because I’m not quite sure where I stand on it. But… whether right or wrong, most Christian libertarians I’ve seen (the serious ones, not just ones who pick “libertarian” as their political party/ideology of choice out of a hat) at the very least equivocate a little bit on the issue of tax paying. You’re the only one that I’ve seen who interprets “render unto caesar” the same way non-libertarian Christians do. I’m not saying that makes you wrong, just thinking out loud.

        • cjayengel

          I admit I am an oddball on the tax issue. I think that Christians ought to pay all (direct) taxes even though all taxes are theft. I also believe that, although all taxes are theft, not all taxes are created equal. So while I believe that no tax is better than some tax, if you were to ask me to pick one type of tax that is better than all others, I’d say: “a fee-based tax.” That is, a tax that is annual, and the same for everybody who is a property owner. All property owners pay, say, $100 a year (not to the Federal or State Government of course). If you don’t own property, you don’t pay the tax and you don’t vote. This is due to my being influenced by Hans-Hoppe and his point that aristocracy and monarchy are bad, but better than democracy. Taxation is bad, but some taxes are worse than others.

          I saw your comment and I’m going to answer it momentarily.

        • cjayengel

          Regarding your second paragraph, it is a real difficulty because these are issues that are such a large part of our culture that most people have never thought about them. Honestly ask some random person at your church (actually don’t) what he thinks about troops that defend freedoms and he will say it is a good thing. Ask another person what he thinks about troops that destroy other people’s freedoms and he will say they need to be stopped. People don’t disagree with your logic, they disagree with the assumptions that your carry: namely, that the United States troops are part of the second category. And persuading people to change their minds on that is much harder than getting them to change their minds on the logic of a situation.

          It is the same with the coercion issue. When they hear you ask: “should insider trading in Wall Street be fined?” they hear: “should criminals be given consequences?” You see, patience is needed because many times we are working with assumptions and starting points that others are not used to. Are those who disagree with us wrong? Well by definition we must reach that conclusion. On matters of the Gospel be strict and relentless with all. But on matters of politics be ecumenical with those who agree with us on the Gospel. For the gospel unites Christians in a way that libertarianism could never unite libertarians.

          Patience for your brothers and sisters in Christ. For this world is fading fast.

          • David

            I guess part of my difficulty is that I don’t really think “politics” is a thing. If “politics” is really anything, its mostly pragmatic questions of which guy is going to be less bad (Ron Paul’s the exception here, of course.) When I see someone who says he supports drug laws, I don’t think “well, we disagree politically.” I might say that, but that’s not what I’m thinking. What I’m thinking is “We have a moral disagreement, he thinks its OK to lock people in cages for abusing their own bodies, while I do not.” And when you think about it that way, its a lot harder to be “politically ecunemical.”

            While I wish pastors would be either more knowledgeable or more ethical (it may differ by situation) and NOT allow pro-governmental or pro-soldier prayers to be prayed in church, I don’t really judge the guy who just accepts what he’s been taught his whole life and assumes America is a force for good and all that. I do judge their ignorance, perhaps too much, but I don’t judge their authenticity. I find them annoying, but it is what it is.

            While I think oftentimes this is all it is, I don’t think that’s as common as you might think. In my experience (which is minimal) this is only really a small percentage of people who are ONLY ignorant, and would otherwise agree with us on ethics. I have seen people like that, they do exist, but they’re rare. More often there’s a fundamental, even if subconscious, disagreement on basic ethics. Most christians (small c is deliberate) actually believe that the State has rights that we don’t have. If this solely related to the punishment of criminals it might not be such a big deal, but it usually also relates to the punishment of vices, stealing money, utilitarian calculations on human life, and so on.

            Consider the Iraq War. There are people who truly believe that Iraq attacked the United States. But this isn’t really that common. Most people who support that War don’t support it because they actually believe Iraq attacked us first. If they did, perhaps the disagreement would simply stem from ignorance. But most of them actually believe preemptive war is just. We’re talking about a serious moral issue here, murder. While I can see a lot of ethical issues Christians can agree to disagree on, I’m having a hard time extending that to preemptive war (or state-sanctioned kidnapping, as is the case with the War on Drugs and so many other laws.) To me, that’s closer in severity to a disagreement over whether adultery is OK than it is to a disagreement on whether Rahab sinned when she lied to protect the spies. To be clear, I have in mind the person who has had libertarian principles explained to them at least one time. I’m not talking about the guy who just accepts what he was taught in civics 101 and has never even had an alternative cross his mind. I don’t want to be too hasty here, but in general serious ethical flaws show a lack of belief in the gospel. We could be wrong, but if we see someone say he believes the gospel and he believes that his homosexual relationship is justified, we’ll assume he’s lying about his first claim. I don’t know. This is tricky for me. Could you really fellowship with someone who tells you that he disagrees with you that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagisaki were murderous the same way you could fellowship with someone despite disagreeing on, say, eschatology? I have a hard time with that. While I think a lot of people are just ignorant, I also think that part of the reason the way is so narrow (in temporal terms, obviously I am aware of and believe in unconditional election as the ultimate reason) is because cultural Chrisitanity, which lends itself well to political control, is so much easier than committing to believe when there is no power incentive and when things get tough.

            I don’t know. I have a lot of conflicting thoughts on this. But, I have a hard time looking at the guy who thinks the ends justified the means in Hiroshima the same way as I’d look at someone who thinks Rahab’s lie was justified (I don’t.) To me the guy who says Hiroshima was an ends justified the means situation is more like the guy who justifies adultery for some superficial reason, probably worse.

            And I know I’ve changed the exact point on which the questioner disagrees with libertarianism a couple different times. I definitely don’t think there’s a one size fits all approach. But I think there are some points on which a Christian pretty much has to be in agreeement with libertarianism once he is confronted with it, and should be under church discipline if they don’t. And I think you can do that without worshipping political involvement or making it into an idol. I make it a point to try not to discuss “political” issues with unbelievers in person, occasionally I do on message boards for various reasons, but if I’m talking to an unbeliever in person, I’m trying to share the gospel.

            To close, I’d like to present this article for you to think about. Its written by an agnostic, so I certainly don’t agree with him on everything, and certainly not his epistomology, but it gives a good idea of the types of thoughts I’m working through nonetheless. Thanks:


  • David

    Is my computer just glitching or something? Its telling me there are two comments but I can only see one.

    Its reasons like are described in this article that make me hesitate to call myself a libertarian in any kind of mixed company. I believe in the NAP and anarcho-capitalist ideals wholeheartedly, and I don’t care how many people dislike me for that, but sometimes “libertarian” is kind of a buzzword that turns away a subset of conservatives that would actually be quite open to what we have to say if we didn’t use the term.

    To me the question of whether one’s cultural attitude has anything to do with libertarianism is somewhat absurd. The better question, in my mind, is whether one’s views on non-statist aggression has anything to do with libertarianism. I would say that to some extent they do, and hence early OT Israel was not actually libertarian (this is not wrong, since God commanded it) despite being stateless.

    I’m also starting to dislike the word “conservative” more and more. I understand labels can be useful, but I’m not sure the average “conservative” is truly any more godly than the average individual, conservatives ignore the sixth commandment while liberals ignore the 7th (and both ignore the 8th.). I can’t really make any non-emotional distinction between the two. Now, I know that isn’t what you mean when you say “conservative” but I’m losing a real grasp on what “theological conservatism” really means. If it means adherence to the Bible authoritatively, most professing Christians say they do that, but few (whether “conservative” or “liberal”) actually do so even on very basic moral issues. I wholeheartedly accept the Bible as 100% inerrant and authoritative, but I don’t like calling myself a conservative in any sense, nor do I consider myself to be one. The “conservative” interpretation of the Bible allows for murder and theft, and I detest that every bit as much as the “liberal” interpretations that allow promiscuity.

    • cjayengel

      It’s that my comment system is slow. Mostly because I am the comment system. As for conservatism, it all depends on the definition. There are so many definitions of it, and nuances within. I consider myself a conservative in three important senses relating to the battle of world views: 1) The Bible takes precedent in my mind over scientific development. 2). I believe in absolutes, and that reality exists in the mind of God. 3) As time goes on, society gets progressively worse.

      The problem to be decided is whether most Conservatives today are not really all that Conservative or whether Conservatives today are really conservative and the mindset ought to be rejected. I lean toward the former.

      • David

        I certainly agree with #1 and #2. #3 also seems to be true lately, but I don’t know if that HAS to be the case. There are too many conservatives that oppose any form of political involvement because “the world’s going to end soon.” But it could be another 1,000 years or more, and we could have a revival during that time. Who knows?
        I guess its a denotative VS connotative issue at the end of the day. Denotatively conservatism is all about trying to conserve tradition. How far back though? That’s the real question. The Bible? Sign me up. The last 50 years of American tradition? Heck no. Connotatively, though, “conservative” most often means either neoconservatism or paleoconservatism, neither of which is Biblical and both of which are statist (paleoconservatism is far less dangerous, of course) In the theological sense it supposedly means a high view of scripture, but I don’t think you can have that as a neoconservative at the very least anymore than you can have that while promoting gay marriage.