Libertarianism: The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

“Do libertarians celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?”

Yawn. After getting in from the local bonfire in Orrell, I saw that someone seriously asked this in a libertarian Facebook group. How many more times do I have to tell libertarians that it is okay for them to have opinions, to think for themselves, and to think in terms other than the “non-aggression principle”?

The person who asks for the “libertarian” answer to life, the universe, and everything seems to be someone who is not – yet – cut out for libertarianism. Of course, they want freedom, but they want to be told exactly how they should run their lives once they have that freedom. This is one of the problems we, as libertarians, face: we are trying to convert people often from Totalitarian Humanism, state socialism, a paternalistic variant of conservatism, or maybe even fascism, ideologies which have ‘positions’ on issues which we simply do not.

But that is not, I’ll grant you, the entire story. We do not have positions on certain issues, qua libertarians. As sensible human beings, however, we can obviously have positions on these issues.

When faced with the question “What is the libertarian position on anal sex and contraception?” what is our answer? Our answer must be twofold. As a libertarian, our position must be that all consenting adults have the right to do with each other as they see fit so far as the rights of others remain unviolated – this much is not up for debate. As a person, however, your position on anal sex and contraception may be rather different. You may, for instance, be a Roman Catholic or a head-banging Proddie. This need in no way conflict with your libertarianism as long as you do not advocate the incarceration of sinners, but instead instruct them to repent.

But, if only for comedic value, here are some more examples which made me want to slit my wrists. Every one of them has been put to me over the internet in the past month:

  • Is there a libertarian position on morality?
  • What is the libertarian position on the use of Latin?
  • What is the libertarian position on smoking?
  • What is the libertarian position on collection at church?
  • What is the libertarian position on going to university?
  • What should libertarians think about homosexuality?
  • Is Christianity libertarian?
  • Can a libertarian be a vegan?
  • What is libertarian parenting like?

ad infinitum…


  1. Nice article Keir, but I think this unfortunately highlights why libertarianism won’t ever really be mainstream, and also why even though I am instinctively a libertarian and an atheist, I find myself drawn to conservatism.

    Libertarianism is like secular rationalism in this regard. If you believe to a certain fairly modest set of precepts about non-aggression, freedom of conscience and personal autonomy then it’s pretty much a default logical position. And yet it’s not one that really animates large numbers of people in the way that things like the redistribution of wealth or moral outrage can.

    Even when the communist world collapsed under the weight of it’s own stupidity and a popular revolt against the centralising totalitarianism of it’s regimes they pretty quickly defaulted not to any sort of libertarian ‘live and let live’ ethos but mostly to some sort of liberal democracy with various factions of redistributionists and moralists.

    In this sense I think libertarianism is destined to remain a sort of intellectual curiosity for a small number of people. Not to say useless – it’s still a great framework for thinking about how things would work in the absence of an overbearing state but it won’t actually help us get rid of one.

    • The problem is indeed _how to get rid of overbearing states_ when a vast majority of ordinary rational human beings don’t mind, well not much anyway, what theirs does. Or that, even of one was to object, supposing one even had the time and energy to spare from mere living, the state itself is so thoroughly overbearing that to put one’s forehead above the parapet even slightly is to invite costly, inconvenient and socially-mortal ruination.

  2. Its one reason why the Ayn Rand Institute doesn’t explicitly back libertarians. The problem comes with it being a political agenda and not a philosophical argument. Even the NAP is logically flawed and that underpins the whole libertarian movement.

    Once a political ideology has conflicting premises- as the libertarian manifesto does-then people naturally look for the ‘right’ answer to any issue they come across. It’s a half baked set of principles which, in the main, are an excellent foundation for living, but it’s far better to have derived ones own philosophical underpinnings from logical argument rather than relying on a set of rules.

  3. At the risk of being anal retentive, you don’t need contraception for anal sex.

    In general, apologies for not participating recently as I’ve been very distracted by offline real life things. Also, David Davis if you read this could you email me as I don’t have yours and I’d like to drop you a line about something if that’s okay.

  4. Anyway, the standard libertarian position on morality seems to be the same as everyone else’s; that there is a single moral standard which can be discovered by the use of reason and everyone else is wrong. Libertarians generally invoke “natural” rights to support this, even though there is no sign of such things anywhere in nature, and despite the clear observable fact that moral codes differ widely across human cultures. Our Celtic ancestors used to proudly collect the heads of their vanquished enemies and display them to visitors. Try doing that today and you’d not only be considered immoral, you’d be put in a loony bin.

    As you may have guessed by now, I am England’s last bona fide moral relativist. My definition of moral is “that which is admired by your community” and immoral is “that which is considered repugnant by your community”.

    It’s okay, I know where the door is.

    • NB This is also why people tend to ask questions like “do Libertarians celebrate Bonfire Night?”. Because they want to know specifically what their community standards are, so they can conform to them (or consciously break them). Every human fears inadvertently inciting the repugnance of the group (“moral outrage”) even when it actually doesn’t matter.

  5. I think you may have had a particular mutual friend of ours in mind while you were writing this article Keir. Without elevating myself in anyway, I personally find it bizarre when people ask about the ‘libertarian perspective’ on every single damn subject.

    Maybe you would find it in you to write up a sort of ‘Libertarian Catechism’?

    • Oh, I know one person, nice though he is, who speaks of an “anarcho-libertarian canon”, again elevating libertarianism to religious status. It strikes me as at the very least odd.

      As for our mutual friend, he was one of five people in my mind when I wrote the above. Though he is the youngest and perhaps the least informed.

      And since when did you start calling yourself ‘James’? However much you try to Anglicise yourself, you are still a Pole.

      • Well, it’s a Jewish name originally (Iacub) so I daresay one should use the local version of it.

        As to the other point, political, social and religious philosophies have a lot in common, not least the tendency towards people deciding they are the guardians of some orthodoxy. Maybe the LA should have a Council Of Deal and prohibit libertarians from indulging in iconography and wearing funny hats, and so on.

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