Jackbooted Government Thugs Crackdown on Peaceful Immigrants, Paleo-Libertarians Pleased?

Absolutely shameful. Has the federal government done enough yet to squash capitalist acts between consenting (albeit, brown-skinned) adults, or does the LewRockwell anti-immigrant crowd demand even more "enforcement"? Secure the borders! Libertarians for ethnic cleansing! Viva la Ron Paul Revolución!

MOUNT PLEASANT, Texas, April 17, 2008: Federal agents arrested hundreds of people in raids at Pilgrim's Pride chicken plants in five states, the latest crackdown on illegal immigrant labor at the nation's poultry producers.

In separate sweeps Wednesday, authorities also arrested dozens of workers at a doughnut factory in Houston and the operators of a chain of Mexican restaurants in upstate New York.

The arrests at Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the nation's largest chicken producer, included charges of identity theft, document fraud and immigration violations. The company worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents ahead of the raid, said Ray Atkinson, a company spokesman....

No criminal or civil charges have been filed against Pilgrim's Pride,
which has about 55,000 employees and operates dozens of facilities
mostly in the South, Mexico and Puerto Rico
, supplying the Kentucky
Fried Chicken restaurant chain and other customers.

ICE said nearly 300 were arrested, but Pilgrim's Pride officials said about 400 hourly, non-management employees were arrested.

"We have terminated all of the employees who were taken into
and will terminate any employee who is found to have engaged in
similar misconduct. We are investigating these allegations further,"
Atkinson said in a statement. ...

Employers don't need to worry about getting deported if they cooperate with the police and rat out their employees, so it's no great surprise to discover which way the deck is stacked between labor and capital. And yet so-called "Progressives" continue to call for demand-side policies that punish employers who hire undocumented workers and not the workers themselves. Even if such a policy could be make to work, which is unlikely given the above reason, Progressives aren't exactly helping the workers by targeting their evil corporate masters; as Rad Geek explains,

The idea [behind demand-side policies] is to forcibly drive down the demand for immigrant labor, which means forcing willing immigrant workers into unemployment, and whitewashing this anti-worker legislation with pseudo-populist rhetoric about greedy corporations—sometimes on the implicit claim that American workers are more deserving than other workers, simply on the basis of their nationality, and sometimes on the even more outrageous claim that forced pauperism is for the immigrants’ own good.

Continuing on with the news article,

Pilgrim's Pride has had previous trouble with employees in Arkansas. In
January 2007, police arrested a manager at the company's De Queen plant
who rented identification documents for $800 to get a job there....

Wednesday's coordinated raids began at 5:30 a.m., said John Ratcliffe,
U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. He said agents went to
homes as well as the plants

Of course, using paramilitary tactics against peaceful civilians is standard procedure for Immigration Enforcement agents.

"I hope that the message from today's operation is clear," Ratcliffe
said. "We are intent on stopping immigration fraud and identity theft
and we will aggressively prosecute anyone who uses another person's
name or Social Security number for the purpose of working illegally in
this country."...

No unauthorized trade of goods or services, dammit! This is the fundamental principle for which Paleo-Libertarians stand.

DJs on a Spanish-language radio station told listeners to be careful
Wednesday after reporting news of the raid. After the arrests, many of
the dozens of businesses in town that cater to Latino immigrants had
few customers or none at all.

In Buffalo, New York, federal law enforcement officials announced the
arrest of a local businessman and 10 restaurant managers accused of
illegal Mexican immigrants in seven restaurants in four
states. Authorities also arrested 45 illegal immigrants during raids in
western New York; Bradford, Pennsylvania; Mentor, Ohio; and Wheeling
and New Martinsville, West Virginia.

Authorities said the workers were forced to staff the Mexican
restaurants for long hours with little pay to work off smuggling fees
and rent.

Classic DEA logic. Engage in a War on Immigration, and then wonder why unpleasant black markets arise to circumvent government controls. Blame these black market unpleasantries on the buyers and sellers; make no connection to--and place no blame on--the restrictions themselves.

In Atlanta, a federal grand jury indicted 10 people from suburban Atlanta employment agencies on charges they placed illegal immigrants in jobs at Chinese restaurants and warehouses in six states. The agencies are accused of developing a network to "recruit and exploit" undocumented workers, said Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE office in Atlanta.

Between October 2006 and April 2008, the agencies advertised their services and charged immigrants a fee for finding a job, without requiring any proof that the workers were allowed to work in the U.S, prosecutor David Nahmias said.

Authorities accuse the restaurants in Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama of providing housing and paid workers in cash to avoid taxes, Nahmias said.

These employment agencies exploited the workers... by recruiting them and finding them jobs. Unbefuckinglievable. Next time I go to a job interview, I'm going to ask my prospective employer to "recruit and exploit" me. I desperately want to be exploited!

In a decent world, all of the accused would be given freakin' medals for their honorable, capitalist activities. Paleo-libertarians and other supporters of the status quo system of international apartheid believe the decent thing to do is arrest, imprison, and ethnicly cleanse these peaceful, enterprising exemplars of the free market. Shame on them. They make a complete mockery of the cause of liberty.

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"Paleolibertarians" and immigration

From Wikipedia:

No universal consensus exists with paleolibertarians on the debate of what, if any, role the government should play on the issue of regulating immigration and the borders. While practically all paleolibertarians subscribe to a philosophy of anarcho-capitalism, they differ with what a society with a state (i.e., a state that controls and "owns" property and has a welfare system) should do. However, paleolibertarians are slightly more inclined than not to support some kind of border enforcement and immigration regulation.

Also see this:

Disaffiliation from the post-Cold War-era alliance between libertarians and the New Left. [...]

Commitment to a natural law approach to libertarian theory, and intense opposition towards utilitarian approaches. [...]

Appreciation for traditional values and customs, along with churches and voluntary associations, as an alternative to state-backed social engineering and managerial public policy. The paleos express frustration over other libertarians who stress what they see as positive rights (such as gay rights, abortion rights, and sexual freedom) rather than fight state coercion on life, liberty and property.

Recognition that "positive rights" (as delineated by Isaiah Berlin) is the enemy's concept of rights (the positive notion of liberty plays a crucial, yet almost always implicit, role in many major political philosophies, such as direct democracy, socialism, and communism - Wikipedia), appreciation of society's spontaneously generated values and customs, antipathy toward leftism, and commitment to natural law and opposition to utilitarianism are separable from favoring controls on immigration - which last item many paleolibertarians don't agree with.

I happened to read that very

I happened to read that very same Wikipedia entry as I was writing this post. Nevertheless, the overlap between self-described paleo-libertarians and immigration restrictionists is sufficiently large to justify interchangeability of labels.

Think about: Of the few token pro-freedom of migration people associated with the Mises Institute - Roderick Long, Gene Callahan, Walter Block, Anthony Gregory - none self-identify as paleo-libertarians, none share the socially conservative views usually held by paleo-libertarians (actually, Gene might, I'm not entirely sure of his views), at least two consider themselves "of the left", and at least three are pro-choice. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the view that not all paleo-libertarians are anti-immigration. Perhaps there are some paleo-libertarians who, despite their dislike of immigration, nevertheless bite the bullet and acknowledge that, as anarcho-capitalists, there is no way they can consistently support government restrictions on migration. But I certainly don't know of any actual, self-described paleo-libertarians who not only reject immigration controls, but are also happy with free migration. While a pro-immigration paleo-libertarian is certainly conceptually possible, there just don't seem to be any in practice. Feel free to offer suggestions if you can think of any.

That last bit about positive rights is especially disengenuous. No libertarians I know of, paleo or not, are in favor of gay rights if understood as legal restrictions on freedom of association. Being in favor of a "thick" conception of libertarianism that opposes discrimination against gays as a moral, but not legally enforceable matter is in no way a demonstration of support for "positive rights."

The inclusion of abortion rights and sexual freedom as examples of positive rights is even more puzzling. At least gay rights can conceptually be either negative or positive. But what does it mean to call abortion rights and sexual freedom positive rights? No libertarian thinks everyone is morally entitled to tax-payer funded abortions. (Perhaps as a matter of consistency within the current system, some libertarians--myself included--would object to a socialized system of medicine that paid for all medical procedures other than abortion, but that doesn't demonstrate a belief in a positive right to abortion.)

And again, what does it mean to say sexual freedom is a positive right to some libertarians? Which libertarians have expressed their support for government-provided sexual access? Any connection between Isaiah Berlin-style positive rights and left-libertarian support for social freedom is entirely non-existent, a product of absurd paleo-libertarian smear-mongering.

You made this bed

Any connection between Isaiah Berlin-style positive rights and left-libertarian support for social freedom is entirely non-existent, a product of absurd paleo-libertarian smear-mongering.

Will Wilkinson wrote, "I believe that the liberty most worth caring about is positive liberty." You quoted him approvingly. If you didn't want to be taken as endorsing "Isaiah Berlin-style" positive liberty, you don't want to use the term "positive liberty" at all to describe what you endorse, and you don't want to approvingly quote somebody who does. Isaiah Berlin's usage is definitive - it defines the term. If you use the term you are implicitly referring back to Isaiah Berlin. The contrast between positive liberty and negative liberty is his idea. He came up with it and he still defines it. Don't blame paleoconservatives for this one. Not when you encourage the confusion with your own choice of terminology.

Will Wilkinson goes even further in the bit that you quote approvingly. He writes: Within this framework, racism, sexism, etc., which strongly limit the useful exercise of liberty are clear evils. Now, I am ambivalent about whether the state ought to step in and do anything about it. He's ambivalent. Other libertarians are not: the state should not step in. To say you are ambivalent certainly is to open yourself up for criticism from those who are not ambivalent. Suppose I were ambivalent about whether or not blacks should be re-enslaved. Suppose I were ambivalent about whether or not homosexual men should be branded on the ass, or castrated. Ambivalence in such matters would tend to separate me from the libertarians, would tend to argue against calling me a libertarian. People would be justified in wondering out loud whether I really was a libertarian.

And so, when I see the paleo-libertarians attacked by self-described "positive-rights" libertarians, who say they are ambivalent about state intervention to fix the social ill of racism (which statement solidifies the impression that they are talking about Isaiah Berlin-style positive rights), what it looks like to me is that libertarians full-stop are being criticized from an anti-libertarian standpoint. Somebody is attacking libertarianism as such from outside of libertarianism.

Nevertheless, the overlap between self-described paleo-libertarians and immigration restrictionists is sufficiently large to justify interchangeability of labels.

Whereas I see you as (based on your track record) potentially a non-libertarian opportunistically attacking actual libertarians. I see that you claim otherwise here, but this isn't all that you've written.

I make a distinction,

I make a distinction, perhaps erroneously, between positive liberty and positive rights. The concept of positive liberty is compatible with and indeed essential to a utilitarian-consequentialist theory of political economy, even a libertarian one, while the concept of positive rights is inimical to both social democratic utilitarianism, as well as its libertarian sibling. To be a utilitarian or a consequentialist is to reject the notion of rights, both positive and negative, as the fundamental basis of political morality, by definition; if it was otherwise, it wouldn't be utilitarianism or consequentialism, it would be deontology. (This is not to say that utilitarianism/consequentialism rejects the notion of rights entirely; rights are useful as handy short-cuts to avoid having to do cost-benefit analysis for conflicts that arise repeatedly. Rather, the claim here is that rights cannot be the fundamental basis of political morality for utilitarians/consequentialists. Rights are not axiomatic; if they seem to conflict or we are unsure or in some other way unable to appeal to rights directly, we can go one step deeper and look at the consequences of each decision tree.)

So to say that we should desire a society in which positive liberty is maximized to the fullest extent possible (through both coercive and civil means) is not the same as, and indeed contradictory to, a claim that we should desire a society in which positive rights are maximized to the fullest extent possible. Incidentally, the latter claim--the maximization of positive rights--would be meaningless, as positive rights are not compossible. You cannot maximize a set of targets if they contradict each other.

To say you are ambivalent certainly is to open yourself up for criticism from those who are not ambivalent

True, this is a valid criticism, but nonresponsive to the present argument. Ambivalence with regard to the enforceability of positive rights is not the same thing as explicit support for the enforceability of positive rights. And the charge of explicit support for the enforceability of positive rights made by paleo-libertarians against left-libertarians is what is at issue here. Finding an ambivalent libertarian example when asked to find an explicitly pro-positive rights example is changing goal posts mid-argument.

Thick-Thin Wedge?

I was blind-sided by this whole internecine cosmo- vs. paleo- battle. I'm wondering if its because I formed my libertarian ideas while I was overseas.

Is there a simple test for distinguishing a "thick" from a "thin" libertarian that both Micha and Constant (or some other advocate for the paleo side) can agree on?

I thought Constant was coming close with the "positive rights" distinction, but Micha says this was disingenuous.



I don't think the debate here is between "thick" versus "thin" libertarians. After all, paleo-libertarianism is a version of "thick" libertarianism too; that is, paleo-libertarians believe that, above and beyond the Rothbardian non-aggression axiom (i.e. thin libertarianism), a libertarian society is best fostered by conservative social norms. Whereas left-libertarianism, which is also a version of "thick" libertarianism, shares a common belief in the Rothbardian non-aggression axiom with paleo-libertarians, but differs in believing that a libertarian society is best fostered by liberal social norms.

As I've argued in the comments above, positive rights are not at issue on either side of this debate, at least insofar as both sides are consistently Rothbardian in their application of non-aggression, i.e. at least insofar as both sides are sufficiently "thin." The idea of "thickness" is not meant to oppose "thinness", but to supplement it.

So, do either

So, do either paleos or lefts (or any other type of thicky) believe that, ultimately, coercion should be used to enforce their ideal society? I say "ultimately" in the sense of a steady-state end society.

Do the various thick libertarians simply argue about the order in which they wish to dismantle the current coercive monopoly? Or, if they move to an existing Libertopia, would they begin to use coercion to force people to associate (or not associate) with others? Or do they maintain that there is a type of non-coercive social pressure that can be used to engineer society?

I don't think any class of

I don't think any class of libertarian supports coercion. So the answer to your final question is, yes, thick libertarians maintain there is non-coercive social pressure. Different thick libertarians differ on where that pressure should be pressed.

They would also differ and

They would also differ and what type of society would arise and/or which is most conducive to maintaining freedom.

How, then?

yes, thick libertarians maintain there is non-coercive social pressure

What is this non-coercive social pressure? Is it anything more than the exercise of rights of association and speech?

Seems no--I can't think of

Seems no--I can't think of anything else that wouldn't rise to the level of coercion.

Thick = Thin + Lifestyle

So does this whole cosmo vs. paleo bickering come down to differences in lifestyle? Gay vs. Straight? Atheist vs. Christian? Urban vs. Rural? Single vs. Family? Koch fan vs. Rockwell fan? Xenophile vs. Xenophobe?

I thought the non-aggression principle let each person choose whatever lifestyle they wish and then live with the consequences. A consequence could involve being ostracized or criticized by others who live by the NAP, but should not involve being lynched or defamed by them.


Probably for the bulk of people, yeah, that's what it comes down to.  Sometimes, like Constant pointed out, certain versions of thick libertarianism come associated with some tendency to support non-libertarian measures--hence Wilkinson's ambivalence on forcing private parties not to discriminate--so the other side attacks the entire culture of the other because they've betrayed or are ambivalent about betraying the libertarian core.

And some sides argue that only their thick libertarianism can provide the culture necessary for a stable libertarian order.

Liberty on probation

One gets the sense sometimes when reading comments like Wilkinson's that libertarianism itself is on probation. As long as individual liberty "delivers the goods" - which they generally expect it to do - then they'll stick with it, but if at some moment it does not, they'll drop it like the the sheep's clothing that it always was to them. This goes hand in hand with a redefinition of liberty which paints them as even greater advocates of liberty: as they view it, the freedom of racists to be racist was, after all, a false freedom, or a lesser freedom, subordinate to the greater freedom of people to live in a society free of racists. In any case, one gets the sense that their libertarianism is conditional: it will last as long as, and not a moment longer than, liberty appears to deliver whatever particular package of goods they're looking for - which they might well portray as a higher liberty. This is the sort of libertarian I'm not inclined to turn my back on.

Liberty is indeed on probation

You are absolutely correct: consequentialist libertarians do indeed maintain that liberty (i.e. the NAP) is on probation. If liberty somehow failed to "deliver the goods", so much the worse for liberty. If they didn't believe this, they wouldn't be consequentialists; they would be deontologists. But since consequentialist libertarians do in fact believe--assertorically and not apodictically--that liberty leads to good consequences, they support libertarianism. If they didn't believe this, they wouldn't be libertarians; they would be consequentialist social democrats (or something else sufficiently non-libertarian).

Incidentally, it is very rare to find a deontological libertarian who not only believes that liberty should be maintained though the heavens may fall, but also believes that the heavens will fall if liberty is maintained. Both consequentialist and deontological libertarians believe that liberty almost always leads to good consequences; they differ regarding what should be the tie-breaker in the rare cases when the two conflict. Roderick Long and Randy Barnett both offer arguments for an Aristotelian third-way to square this circle without picking sides.

There is a reason for this. Liberty is closely connected to good consequences, because of certain contingent social facts: we live in a world in which many of the resources needed for human survival are scarce and non-rivalrous, more resources can be produced through division of labor than autarky, and for these and other reasons, humans (as well as many non-human animals) evolved with a natural affinity for property rights as well as mutually beneficial exchange.

However, these positive claims alone are not enough to generate the normative claim that we should want to live in a society of peace and prosperity; that is, there are no categorical imperatives, according to consequentialists, only hypothetical imperatives: given the social facts of human nature and physical resources, if we want to have peace and prosperity, then we should adopt a policy of liberty.

Just as in the discussion of "thick" libertarianism above, lifestyle choices are no less important for the question of liberty merely because lifestyle choices are not apodictically determined by the non-aggression principle but assertorically determined by the congruence between both the NAP and contingent social facts, so too hypothetical imperatives are no less important or real merely because they are not apodictically true but are contingent on social facts and widely held human desires.

This goes hand in hand with a redefinition of liberty which paints them
as even greater advocates of liberty: as they view it, the freedom of
racists to be racist was, after all, a false freedom, or a lesser
freedom, subordinate to the greater freedom of people to live in a
society free of racists.

This argument is circular: you are assuming the very conclusion you are attempting to reach in your premises. We do not have access to the correct understanding of liberty prior to our examination of it. We cannot look up the "true" definition of liberty in the dictionary prior to our writing a dictionary. We have no purely objective, apodictic, analytic, logically necessary facts from which we can discover what the right definition of liberty truly is. We have to discover what liberty means - assertorically, synthetically, through the combination of pure reason, empiricism, and a sprinkling of subjective preferences. And when we do this, we find that negative liberty is not the only kind of liberty that matters to us - positive liberty is important as well. Deontological libertarians would be a very a rare breed indeed if we lived in a world with little to no coercion, but tremendous poverty, starvation, and death resulting from this lack of coercion. Luckily, we don't live in such a world.

The negative freedom of racists to be racist is neither a false freedom nor always and everywhere a lesser freedom than the positive freedom of victims of racism to be free from NAP-consistent subjugation (in my view, if not necessarily Will's). Rather, it's a different kind of freedom. Both freedoms are important, the two freedoms very rarely conflict unless a society completely fails to nurture healthy social norms and lifestyles (which is exactly why left-libertarians champion this nurturing), and if and only if such a society does come into being would we (consequentialists, not deontologists) then say that a negative freedom is less important than a positive freedom - precisely because in such a society, the complete absence of positive freedom for some would (contingently) result in the a absence of negative freedom for many anyway. In other words, trying to preserve negative freedom in the complete absence of positive freedom is like trying to dry the ocean with a paper towel - you're just going to get the towel wet, not the ocean dry. The consequentialist prioritization of positive liberty over negative liberty would only happen in such a society where non-coercive social norm creation proved entirely incapable of combating the positive freedom-destroying effects of racism, and I don't think such a society has ever existed in the past or is likely to exist in the future.

Lifestyle is important

Lifestyle is important for maintaining liberty. The non-aggression principle does let each person choose whatever non-coercive lifestyle they wish, but certain non-coercive lifestyles are incompatible with maintaining a consistent application of the non-aggression principle.

For example, socially conservative libertarians argue that a culture in which a significant portion of people engage in a lifestyle of premarital sex and pornography is a culture that cannot remain libertarian for long, because premarital sex and pornography lead to disinterest in marriage (because of the principle of “get the milk for free without buying the cow”) which leads to family breakdown which leads to single mothers raising kids alone which leads to increasing demands for coercive welfare programs - i.e. if fathers don't step in to raise their children, the government will.

Socially liberal libertarians tend to argue that a culture in which a significant portion of people engage in a lifestyle of racism, sexism, and homophobia is a culture that cannot remain libertarian for long, because tolerating, encouraging, and leaving bigotry unchecked through the absence of noncoercive social norms against it leads to increasing demands for either

  1. coercive anti-discrimination laws, as well as restorative policies like affirmative action and welfare intended to reduce the social inequalities
  2. or coercive pro-discrimination laws like Jim Crow, intended to enable otherwise costly and inefficient market preferences, because a truly free market absent coercion frustrates the ability of firms to discriminate against employees and customers and still stay in business.

Re: Thick = Thin + Lifestyle


Well. The scope of the debate is not actually limited to what are commonly called "lifestyle" issues, unless you mean to expand the word "lifestyle" out from its conventional meaning into something much broader (i.e. so broad as to cover absolutely any feature of social or personal life other than those immediately connected with the use of violence). For example, in addition to dealing with genuine "lifestyle" issues (e.g. what kind of sex acts and with whom you should or should not treat as worth indulging in; whether or not you participate in traditional religious rituals in your community or subculture; etc.), the debate also touches on more strictly intellectual issues (e.g. what kinds of explicit philosophical positions, or tacit worldviews, best cohere with libertarianism), and also with material and institutional structures that are larger and more formalized than any individual lifestyle choice -- e.g. I believe that a free economy should have a large and vibrant network of wildcat unions and grassroots mutual aid associations; whereas some other libertarians believe that a free economy should be dominated more or less exclusively by large-scale corporations or proprietorships, with little or no unionization in the workforce. The difference between these two views is not settled by the non-aggression principle alone (presumably, we both reject, on principle, all forms of coercive social or corporate welfare, all State patronage to either big business or to organized labor, etc. etc. etc.). But it's not really a difference over individual lifestyles, either; it's a difference over the relative merits of certain organizing structures within social society that are much larger than any individual and which come about through deliberate, entrepreneurial social coordination, not simply from a series of uncoordinated individual lifestyle changes.

A consequence could involve being ostracized or criticized by others who live by the NAP, but should not involve being lynched or defamed by them.

You're right about that. Thick conceptions of libertarianism aren't intended as a way of carrying non-libertarian policies into libertarianism. The point is to make clear what kinds of things are worth criticizing, ridiculing, ostracizing, boycotting, striking, or whatever, and what kinds of things are worth praising, celebrating, materially supporting, etc. A thick conception of libertarianism holds that libertarians, as such, have some good reasons to take a definite stance on that, even where what's being criticized, ridiculed, ostracized, boycotted, struck against, praised, celebrated, materially supported, or whatever is not directly, logically tied to the question of aggression or liberty.

Tautologically true

Is non-coercive social pressure anything more than the exercise of rights of association? (Speech can be subsumed under association, because part of choosing to associate with someone is choosing to speak to or listen to that person.)

The "anything more" part seems to connote something minimal - it is identical to saying "nothing more." But it isn't minimal at all. It is all-encompassing, by tautology. Doesn't it satisfy all conceptual possibilities if we substract all coercive actions from all social interactions in general? What else could there be to human social intereaction apart from free association and coercive association?

Thick libertarianism counsels us to use our free association wisely, lest it devolve into coercive association.

Sticks & stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me

If you are secure in your territory, and I am secure in mine, then I don't see how each of us exercising our right of association would involve coercion. We both willingly associate, and if one of us wants to terminate the association, we can.

Re: Sticks & stones can break my bones, but words will never hur


Micha never claimed that exercising the rights of nonviolent association and dissociation might itself "involve coercion." He said that doing so foolishly or viciously might causally contribute to the emergence of a social environment in which certain kinds of coercion are widely practiced. That's a distinct claim, and one which is, I think, obviously true.

Or maybe we misunderstood each other

I used "anything more" to distinguish between coercive and non-coercive behavior. I didn't mean to suggest that there were two different types of free association. I just meant to stress that exercising your right of association was not "anything more" than non-coercive behavior.

Varieties of Thickness


The debate between "thick" and "thin" conceptions of libertarianism encompasses several interrelated but more specific debates, having to do with (1) correct application of the non-aggression principle in hard cases; or (2) libertarian strategy and the possibility of there being cultural, intellectual, or other causal preconditions for a free society to emerge, survive, or flourish; or (3) views about the likely effects of liberty, and whether freedom will tend to produce more of certain rare positive goods, or to undermine certain prevalent (but non-coercive) positive evils; or (4) whether the best logical grounds for libertarianism (whatever that may be) also justify some further set of voluntarily-adopted beliefs, principles, projects, practices, traditions, institutions, etc. If you're interested, I've discussed (1), (2), and (4) at some more length in my remarks from the Molinari Society symposium on thickness, and (3) briefly towards the end of my remarks on Matt MacKenzie's paper on libertarian theories of exploitation.

Because the debate involves a lot of smaller debates that are interrelated but logically distinct from each other, and because many people who consider their conception of libertarianism to be "thin" (e.g. Jan Narveson) often actually end up endorsing a thicker conception in at least one of these respects (the "thinness" that they have in mind in their self-identification usually just amounts to accepting fewer thick commitments in total than are accepted by most self-identified advocates of a "thick" conception), I don't think there is any good single formula to separate the thick from the thin. The closest that you can come to would be something like this: if you believe that libertarians should (in some sense or another, yet to be discussed) concern themselves (in some sense or another, yet to be discussed) with stuff other than just the non-aggression principle, and ought (in some sense or another, yet to be discussed) try to non-aggressively promote stuff other than just consistent non-aggression as part of their libertarian program, then you're advocating a thick conception of libertarianism. If not, then you're promoting a thin conception.

For what it's worth, the internecine battle you're thinking of, between paleolibertarians and so-called "cosmopolitan" libertarians, is not really a battle between thick and thin libertarians. Both those who think (1) that voluntarily cultivating some form of parochial traditionalism is (in some sense) vital to libertarianism, and those who think (2) that voluntarily cultivating some form of anti-traditionalist "cosmopolitanism" is (in some sense) vital to libertarianism, are advancing a thick conception of libertarianism, and battling over which thick conception is the right conception. (There are also those, like me, who think (3) that the battle, such as it is, is largely founded on a confusion, and who advance quite different claims about the best social-intellectual context for liberty from either of the two warring parties. There are also those who think (4) that libertarians shouldn't be feuding over this stuff at all, and should just push the non-aggression principle and nothing else, wherever they go, whether to rock-ribbed but non-violent white supremacists, or to cocktail parties by snooty but non-violent New York intellectuals, or to rabble-rousing but non-violent popular liberation movements, or to kooky but non-violent survivalist-conspiracy theory types, or whatever. Only those who advocate (4) are advancing a thin conception of libertarianism.)

Hope this helps.


Hope this helps

It does help, and so do all of the other comments you, Micha, Constant, Scott, and Arthur have made on this post. As you say, the debate is a mix of interrelated issues--I just wanted to say thanks to you all for helping to pull it apart. I've read the Feser article Micha recommended and I look forward to following up with the other links at the first opportunity.

For what its worth, my libertarian ideals came to fruition during the collapse of Apartheid in South Africa. I knew racists, animists, Calvinists, New Agers, Catholics, Muslims, Hindis, Buddhists, atheists, nuclear families, extended families, adulterers, swingers, gays, transsexuals, polygamists, industrialists, entrepreneurs, subsistence farmers, pacifists, Objectivists, communists, national socialists, and common thieves. I always had the means to use deadly force, and I generally assumed they did also.

So perhaps I view the relationship between the non-aggression principle and tolerance differently than most Americans.

Re: The Fountainhead argument?

[Libertarians] ought (in some sense or another, yet to be discussed) try to
non-aggressively promote stuff other than just consistent
non-aggression as part of their libertarian program, then you're
advocating a thick conception of libertarianism.

Actually, even this much is debatable. The non-aggression principle doesn't necessarily tell us that we should advocate non-aggression, so long as we don't ourselves commit aggression. It is not a violation of the NAP, for example, to author, publish, and disperse Das Kapital, for example, so long as one does not personally enforce the policies recommended in it. The idea that libertarians ought to (as opposed to ought not to) promote X over Y is itself a version of thick libertarianism, even when X is NAP and Y is aggression! So even if thin libertarian itself is simply understood as common-denominator libertarianism, i.e. what all thick libertarians all share in common with each other, even the principle that one ought to advocate non-aggression and ought not advocate aggression seems to fall outside the boundaries of what strictly follows from an embrace of the NAP, and is therefore a kind of thick libertarianism itself.

You and Roderick seem to recognize this strange but illuminating lesson in your libertarian feminism article, in the last paragraph of section 2 and the discussion of The Fountainhead.

Re: Following and promoting


Point taken; but I'd say that the issue here really just turns on what verb "thin conception of libertarianism" is supposed to be the object of. You can follow a thin conception of libertarianism without ever promoting libertarianism (of any kind), but you can't advocate or promote a thin conception of libertarianism. But presumably someone who follows a thin conception may want to promote it, too, for reasons which they may think of as having to do with libertarianism (in which case I guess we're talking about some slight thickening, at least in the strategic dimension, away from the degenerate case of thinness), or which may not have anything to do with libertarianism, but rather be for the sake of other reasons (which puts us back in the degenerate case, and may seem quite weird, but is in the end a conceivable option).

Of course, the real upshot here may be that it may be somewhat misleading to speak of "thick" and "thin" conceptions as if they involved a distinction of kind. Really the debate is between thickerer conceptions, with variations in degree along several different axes. Certainly, you could characterize my own position, in part, by saying that it's much thinner than that of, say, orthodox Objectivsts -- in the sense that my ideas about what would constitute the proper context and preconditions for a flourishing free society are much broader and less detailed -- but much thicker than that of, say, Walter Block.

Re: Following and promoting

What I mean to say is: "you can't advocate or promote a thin conception of libertarianism without ever promoting it."