Memo to Michael Tomasky: Libertarianism is not Anarchism

Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast:

I’ve never understood the allure of libertarianism. You may want a big state, you may want a smaller state. The idea of virtually no state is just silly. Does Ron Paul think the state grew because a bunch of liberal busybodies woke up one day in 1795 and said to one another, “Gee, we’d better impose some taxes and regulations here. These people are too free!” He probably does. The fact, of course, is that the state grew because dishonest and immoral and cheap and corner-cutting shysters in the private sector did things that ripped people off, made them sick, killed them, rendered them unequal citizens, and someone had to step in.


“The idea of virtually no state” is not Libertarianism. We might as well let Wikipedia serve as the dictionary.


Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful,[1][2] or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations.[3][4][5][6][7][8] Proponents of anarchism (known as “anarchists”) advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical[3][9][10] voluntary associations.[11][12]

Try Libertarianism on for size now:

Libertarianism has been variously defined by sources. In the strictest sense, it is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view. Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs, all advocating strict limits to government activity and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and political freedom.[1]

Philosopher Roderick T. Long defines libertarianism as “any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals”, whether “voluntary association” takes the form of the free market or of communal co-operatives.[2] According to the U.S. Libertarian Party, libertarianism is the advocacy of a government that is funded voluntarily and limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence.[3]


Everybody got it? Anarchism = no government. Libertarianism = a government limited in its powers, doing as little as is necessary to make sure individual rights are protected.

Of course Tomasky is only partly to blame for this misunderstanding. As I laid out in my Tatler post yesterday, Paul’s primary intellectual mentor was a man who advocated for anarcho-capitalism, not classical liberalism.

Commenter Eric Dondero did a good job of summarizing things in the comments:

Ron Paul does not represent the mainstream of the libertarian movement. Rather he, Raimdondo and Lew Rockwell are on the far-left fringe of our movement. Be better if they called themselves something rather than “libertarian.” But there’s not much we can do about it. Libertarian has become a vogue term as of late.

Mainstream libertarians are pro-defense, pro-military and stridently anti-Islamist. Think Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Dennis Miller, Boortz, Glenn Beck Ted Nugent, Pamela Geller and Tammy Bruce.

Eric Dondero, Publisher


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