ABOUT TOM WOODS

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown (on the financial crisis). A senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Woods has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News, FOX Business, C-SPAN, Bloomberg Television, and hundreds of radio programs... (Read More)



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Thick and Thin Libertarianism, and Duck Dynasty

19th December 2013      by: Tom Woods     

I am in haste, as I always am these days because of the time I’m spending creating course material for the Ron Paul homeschool curriculum, but a quick note about Duck Dynasty. My wife really likes the show. I myself haven’t been able to get into it. I just find it boring. I realize I’m in the minority.

Having said that, I thought the whole matter of Phil Robertson brought up an interesting issue for libertarians. Some libertarians say the traditional libertarian principle of nonaggression is insufficient. That is merely “thin” libertarianism, they say. We also need to have left-liberal views on religion, sexual morality, feminism, etc., because reactionary beliefs among the public are also threats to liberty. This is “thick” libertarianism.

As a “thin” libertarian myself (or what in the past was simply called a libertarian), I reject the claims of the thickists. I see no good reason to expand the list of requirements people must meet in order to be admitted to our little group. If they support nonaggression, they are libertarians.

But if the thickists are concerned that certain cultural attitudes might be dangerous to liberty, why do I never hear them express concern that the hysteria of the cultural Left might be prejudicial to liberty? Why is it only the traditional moral ideas of the bourgeoisie that are supposed to be so threatening? Could this be yet another double standard?

Everyone in American society now knows there are certain things they must never say, lest they be banished from polite society by the opinion police. The opinion police do not believe competing views have a right to exist. Yes, yes, in theory they do. But in practice they seek out and destroy anyone who does not accept fashionable opinion on a range of questions. Couple this with thought-control organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which conflates “hate” with unconventional views — having condemned such purveyors of violence and hate as Judge Napolitano and Ron Paul (note to the brain-dead: that is sarcasm) — and which actually collaborates with law enforcement, and isn’t the result far more dangerous to liberty than the fact that lots of people dissent from the new orthodoxy on sex?

Yet I haven’t come across a thickist who seems concerned about this. Maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough. I doubt it.

Unlearn the Propaganda!

  • DissidentRight

    -> I don’t understand your argument that the social contract never existed.

    I’m not making an argument, I’m demanding you cite the language of this social contract so we can all judge for ourselves whether it supports your neocon view of aggression.

    -> I asked you to assume that Hitler would’ve conquered all of Europe.

    All of Europe, excluding Switzerland, you mean? Because you’re also asking us to assume that Hitler would have then moved on to attack the United States when he had no reason to do. You do realize that Europe was largely embroiled in war all through the 18th and 19th centuries, right? Why aren’t you claiming we should have declared “preemptive” war against Napoleon? Or any of the other belligerents? Why are you ignoring America’s fabulous original foreign policy: stay out of entangling alliances? Hitler did not want to fight the United States, which is why he tried to be so tolerant of our passive-aggressive policy of supplying arms to England. And if he changed his mind later, we could have simply fought him on our home ground and won that much more easily. That’s the great thing about being an economic powerhouse, you don’t need to assume you are going to lose if you don’t attack first.

    -> I’m interested in understanding why Dr. Woods insists that libertarianism necessitates a hands-off foreign policy.

    Again: it’s because of the NAP. Clearly you do understand that the NAP does in fact require an “isolationist” foreign policy (I love that term) because otherwise you wouldn’t have brought up the “social contract” to create an exception. But you have thus far refused to demonstrate how and where it endorses aggressive war against people in other societies; that’s because it doesn’t. Feel free to show otherwise.

    -> And I didn’t mention WWI because I’m not interested in debating history.

    WWI is enormously important, because it demonstrates that being the aggressor is completely unnecessary and results in a cascade of misfortune.

    -> In the age of missiles and planes, it is essentially impossible to defeat an enemy without using collective punishment.

    You have that exactly backwards. Planes and missiles allow for a level of precision unheard of since the wicked advent of total war. If China is firing missiles at us, we can shoot the missiles down. If there is an airplane shooting missiles at us, we can destroy the airplane. Eventually they will run out of airplanes and missiles. And since we have avoided barbarously attacking Chinese civilians, support for their government’s aggression will wane quickly.

    Stop operating under the assumption that there is any state with the willpower (let alone military capacity, let alone suicidal tendencies) to sustain unlimited total war forever against a technologically advanced industrial powerhouse.

  • Anthony Gregory

    How has homosexuals’ integration been by force?

  • DissidentRight

    Insofar as some groups would prefer to not associate or transact with homosexuals, but are forced to by state edict.

    Of course this has been to a vastly lesser degree than the prior example of forced integration.

  • Anthony Gregory

    Tom’s concern with Robertson being fired is an example of thick libertarianism. He agrees that A&E has a right to fire Robertson. But he thinks that this action has a significant relationship to other trends and realities that should concern libertarians.

    Similarly, left-libertarians would likely say that Robertson’s comments are also problematic and have a relationship to other realities that should concern libertarians.

    Now, I answered his post decisively, in my opinion. He said he hasn’t seen thick libertarians criticize the firing. But I have. I have several thick libertarian friends—including left-libertarians—who don’t like the firing.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t consider Molyneux a left-libertarian at all. And I think on spanking he’s simply saying that spanking is a violation of NAP, and bad for other reasons, and I know plenty of conservative libertarians who’d agree with that.

  • David

    I’m reminded of a quip by the late Joe Sobran:

    “An anti-Semite used to be someone who hated Jews. Now it means someone who Jews hate.”

  • George

    No offense, but so what?

    When did I deny a point like that?

    I was talking about the big picture; that is, the number of overall standards than a particular. When it comes to sexual morality, in particular, there is a lot more “rules” or “standards” with the Right than the Left. How can anybody deny that? Of course, there are all sorts of different factions of Right and Left. But in this case, I have in mind those on the Right who more or less follow traditional natural law in the line of Thomas Aquinas. Here there is a sense, for example, in which contraception is immoral for similar reasons as why homosexual sex is immoral. The Left doesn’t have as many “rules.” They are therefore not as strict in that relevant sense. Who would argue otherwise?

    Besides, this isn’t the place to debate if this “strict morality” that the Left has in the case you are pointing to at hand is even based on good morality. So without debating that, I can grant your point. I never denied it.

  • George

    DissidentRight, I was only abstracting the number of “rules” or “standards.” Thus, I wasn’t commenting on if the Left’s theories of morality are coherent.

    I agree that the Left is morally bankrupt. But I wouldn’t underestimate their intelligence for constructing arguments in moral philosophy. Have you really read a scholarly book that goes into the details of a Leftist moral theory?

    At any rate, I admire your passion. I hope you have read up on the natural law tradition. Buy a couple of books by Edward Feser for starters. If you haven’t read him, you won’t be disappointed.

  • Barry

    The social contract and the state of nature has been written about at length. It is the basis of libertarianism according to many thinkers (e.g., Locke and Jefferson). The social contract is not a text that one can examine. But basically, it is a document that people once upon a time signed in the state of nature (before governments existed). They voluntarily surrendered some of their natural rights for the sake of life, liberty, and property — for the sake of protection from fellow men (who, alas, are not perfect) and from external peoples that might attack them.
    This is basic classic libertarianism.
    As for WWI, I might agree with you. But what I’m arguing here is principles, not history. If you disagree about Hitler, fine (although I think you might be underestimnating his ambitions and the danger he posed). But surely, you can imagine a scenario where a pre-emptive war would save lives.
    Concerning China and the state of modern warfare: I think you are being super optimistic. It is not the case that America or any nation can stop incoming missiles or bombers at will. We do not possess fool-proof missile shields and anti-aircraft weapons only catch a very modest percentage of incoming planes.
    Russia or China could easily drop several nukes on American cities if it so chose. Is it your position that if they did so, we should not retaliate on Russian and Chinese cities? If your anwer is that we should not, I think that is a recipe for national destructon.
    Surely it was only the threat of retaliation by America that kept the USSR in check during the Cold War.

  • Anthony Gregory

    There are all sorts of family behaviors that leftists are more likely to regard as immoral, and in fact cultural conservatives consider this moral judgment oppressive. “Political correctness” can be seen as a code of morality. So is feminism. So are a lot of these ideas about how people should treat one another.

  • George

    I haven’t seen evidence of that. Perhaps you can point me to some references. Unless somebody actually thinks the Right somehow supports, e.g., absolute and abusive dominance of the husband over the wife, the notion that the Left has all sorts of new and difficult standards seem on the face of it pretty ridiculous. I have seen some of the political philosophy of, e.g., feminism, but there wasn’t much indicating more “moral standards” on net. And I haven’t seen anything even near to being comprehensive as the moral philosophy of Thomism.

  • Roderick T. long

    a) Thick libertarianism is not the view that one has to hold additional values in order to count as a libertarian; it’s the view that one has reason qua libertarian to hold additional values. Those are two different claims.
    b) Thick libertarianism per se does not specify that the values have to be left-wing; Hans Hoppe, for example, is generally counted as a right-wing thick-libertarian.
    Both of these points are explained here: http://radgeek.com/gt/2008/10/03/libertarianism_through/
    c) If you haven’t found left-wing thick libertarians attacking the likes of the SPLC, then yes, you obviously aren’t looking hard enough, since otherwise you would have found this on THE main left-wing thick-libertarian website: http://c4ss.org/content/15599
    I’m just sayin’.

  • slim jim

    ya, a&e is definitely the intolerant, narrow-minded, bigoted one in this story.

  • Antonio Buehler

    She said be culturally aware, not force people to adhere to anything.

  • Antonio Buehler

    Who said anything about forcing anyone to do anything? Hint: No one.

  • Antonio Buehler

    Private employers should be able to fire whoever they want, right?

  • Michael Jon Barker

    Sounds like your describing the history of racism. Racism is oppression. Christianity can be oppression as well but your worried about the oppression of Christians. Can you give me examples of real Christians living in America who were kicked out of their homes and are now hungry because they professed their religious beliefs? I can give you historic examples of Blacks who had their homes taken, were excluded form work and went hungry by people who called themselves Christians.

  • Michael Jon Barker

    “So, yes, we are absolutely being persecuted.” How exactly are you being persecuted on the same level that racism has oppressed POC?

    “Can you find a SINGLE anti-leftist libertarian who thinks that it was okay for the State to enforce anti-leftism?” Ann Rand was a strong supporter of Israel. She thought Arabs were “dirty people”. She was a corporate statist.
    If your an ancap anti-racist watch people heads explode.
    Humanity is my god not the state. Your god requires a state.

  • Michael Jon Barker

    Reclaiming social justice from my Anarchist perspective means doing away with the institutionalized privileges of the State and consciously recognizing Hierarchy’s within society. Otherwise everything breaks down into antagonistic groups. Equal opportunity and unhindered access to markets within society can happen through both abolishing the State as well as raising the social conscious to recognize and have mutual respect for your neighbors rights even if on religious or philosophical grounds you think they are immoral.

    The mechanism behind Statism is the Law. The Supreme Courts of every country interpret law in favor of their Constitutions which act as protectionisms for their privileged group. It is through Law that economic rents, privileges and coercion of some groups, become institutionalized within society. This is why for example racism is institutionalized within the American Justice system.

    In a Stateless society the form of Law would change from protecting the Corpratacracy and special groups to protecting everyone within the community. Traditional folk and tribal groups operated on customary law which resembles European natural law in spirit but it’s application is compensatory as opposed to punitive. Customary law is about restitution while Statist law focuses on retribution, imprisonment and fines. Customary law is controlled by the community while Statist law is the reflection of the Empire and enforced by the State.

    Mutual respect amongst individuals (regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, religion ect) and the willingness to stand up for your neighbor rights, insures moral equality under the law.

  • DissidentRight

    1) You’re not really using the same definition that Tom is, don’t you agree?

    2) Perhaps they are many other left (thick) libertarians, especially ones in the spotlight, who don’t object.

    3) Hardly anyone will disagree that there is overlap between conservative and leftist libertarians on a variety of issues, but I think it is safe to say that the labels do reflect certain accurate generalities.

    4) If Molyneux isn’t on the left, who is…?

  • DissidentRight

    -> They voluntarily surrendered…

    Have you noticed that you are obviously not talking about the same sort of “libertarianism” that Tom is?

    -> But surely, you can imagine a scenario where a pre-emptive war would save lives.

    Just call it aggressive war. “Pre-emptive” war is such a pretentious term. And just because such a scenario can be imagined doesn’t justify a bankrupt philosophy.

    -> Concerning China and the state of modern warfare: I think you are being super optimistic.

    I’m not being optimistic, I’m being realistic about America’s military capacities in comparison to those of Russia or China. You seem to be assuming that America’s defensive capabilities are on par with those of the Iraqis.

    -> we should not retaliate on Russian and Chinese cities?

    Of course we shouldn’t bomb their cities. That is ridiculous. What the hell would be point of it? Cities do not have the capacity to attack us. In the case of an attack, the response must be directed solely at their weapons installations.

    Anyway, your assumption that some nation is going to use its military to attack our civilians is patently ridiculous. They gain absolutely nothing for it except notoriety.

    -> Surely it was only the threat of retaliation by America that kept the USSR in check during the Cold War.

    Wasn’t it the other way around?

  • Anthony Gregory

    1) Yes. I do agree. I think his definition is flawed. That was the point of my first comment. One of the main proponents of thick libertarianism as a concept, Roderick Long, clarifies what the concept means on this thread.

    2) I haven’t seen any left-libertarians or thick libertarians pile on, cheering Robertson’s suspension, and I’ve seen a few object.

    3) Sure, I basically agree with you there.

    4) Molyneux is rapidly anti-feminist and very un-PC. I think of him as a typical ancap somewhere in the middle of the culture war spectrum.

  • DissidentRight

    I rarely read anything systematic unless it’s being cited against me. And I have never encountered a leftist citing a book detailing leftist moral theory.

    So maybe it’s a passion formed from ignorance. Nevertheless I have never seen any evidence that I underestimate Leftist reason, at least as it goes for popular Leftism.

  • DissidentRight

    1) Alright. I note that if had been responding to your original post (which I don’t disagree with), none of this clarification would have been necessary. I should have read it.

    2) Alright.

    4) No question, but I think his positions on atheism, general child-rearing, and abortion put him squarely to the left. But I can understand why someone might place him in the center.

  • George

    DissidentRight, have you read anything from the Right that covers (at least partially) natural law, e.g., Edward Feser’s “Aquinas” or “The Last Superstition?” If you want to have a chat about such a topic, BTW, you can e-mail me at radicalright at hushmail.com

  • Barry

    You mean Dr. Woods doesn’t subscribe to the libertarianism of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson? I don’t mean to sound condescending but you really ought to read some basic works on libertarianism. Start with the Declaration of Independence and the beginning of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.”
    And regarding war, I have nothing more to say. I think your philosophy of war is suicidal (acting nice and obstensibly morally “superior” while the other side fights dirty is a recipe for disaster in my opinion), but if you disagree, I don’t think I can say much more than I already have to convince you.

  • Mason

    An athouritarian culture begets an athouritarian government. Thin libertarians are striving for an impossibility: a libertarian law within an athouritarian society. Very few people arrive at the NAP through a rational intellectual process. People gain their sense of right/wrong from their culture. A religious, conservative culture that is taught to demonize those whose lifestyles aren’t in God’s Big Book of Rules is not going to ever be libertarian. Private hate WILL become state-enforced oppression.

    Most people don’t have the intellectual rigor to say “I personally hate you but I will not hurt you because of the NAP”. If you want libertarian change you are going to have to create an anti-authoritarian, liberty-oriented societey.

  • DissidentRight

    - If Ann Rand was corporate statist, then she was not an anti-leftist libertarian, was she?

    - Your view requires the state, because the only way to combat racism and disparate impact is with the state. Meanwhile, God does not require a state, sorry.

    - Nobody ever said that Christians are being persecuted “on the same level” as blacks were. Typical leftist logic: two wrongs make a right.

    Anyway, I hate to break it to you, but racism isn’t oppression anymore. Today, racism is just 1) speaking the inconvenient truth about group differences and their significantly genetic origins, 2) speaking the inconvenient truth about the staggering failure of leftist uplift programs, 3) having realistic (i.e., lowered) expectations about non-Asian minority achievement, 4) treating NAMs as the higher risk factors that they are, and 5) supporting assessment measures (academic, job performance, etc.) for their predictive accuracy rather than dismissing them because NAMs score more poorly than Jews. That about covers the sort of “racism” you should probably be worried about–not cross-burning, brick-throwing bigots.

  • DissidentRight

    - I never surrendered anything to anyone. That premise is false,l especially if it is meant to justify aggression.

    - Correction: you think the libertarian philosophy of war is suicidal. This is a wild overstatement. At most, holding a libertarian policy on war puts you at a mild strategic disadvantage while conveying a tremendous diplomatic advantage.

    At any rate, be thankful that the world you want to protect yourself from does not exist. A libertarian society does not have perpetual, natural, national enemies–let alone enemies with unlimited military assets and political will.

    Now, if you’re worried that America will reap the just reward of imperialism–that’s a definite possibility. Why take it personally?

  • Brian Mitchell

    Jim Goad makes a fair point here. As sinner is a Christian term fairly well defined. Bigot is from what I call the “Statist” religion, its meaning is less well defined but seems to be: holding a politically incorrect idea. As Goad points out conflicting religions are seldom tolerant with each other. http://takimag.com/article/when_ducks_cry_jim_goad/print#axzz2oghNsDd6

  • Anonymous

    Sued by who?

  • Anonymous

    Greetings, Mr. Woods. I believe the old-fashioned term for left-wing “thick” libertarians is “Marxist.”

  • Buttcrack Obomba

    SPLC possibly…on behalf of all the ‘discriminated’-against homos out there…

  • brigin

    The media in this country is heavily subsidized by the state. So when A&E fires the duck dude they are acting as agents of the state.

  • Davy Goossens

    libertarianism is destroyed precisely by rothbard combining austrian economics with spooner and tucker, in turn, americans ruin everything, they ruined diet avice as well for example.

    had instead mises and molinari been followed, the problem about moral pandering would not have existed and anarchocapitalism could be more strictly defended as wertfrei.



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