Libertarianism: A Reply to Peter Schwartz
by Ari Armstrong, May 26, 2004
What is libertarianism, and is it good or bad, supportive of liberty or inimical to it? This might seem like a strange question to those unfamiliar with the history of the term. Those who have spent some time studying the modern freedom movement, however, recall that Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard -- two of the biggest influences on modern-day libertarians and advocates of free markets -- fell from friendship to hostility, and this tension continues today among many Objectivists (adherents to Rand's philosophy) and libertarians.
During the evening of April 29, I seriously discussed with my wife the possibility of changing the tag line of the Colorado Freedom Report to something other than, "A libertarian journal of politics and culture." I had just finished (re)reading Peter Schwartz's essay, "Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty," a 1985 essay published as a "highly condensed version" four years later in The Voice of Reason, a compilation mostly of Rand's essays edited by Leonard Peikoff. (For this essay, I'll cite the self-contained 1986 reprint of the complete work.) After reading a number of other essays on the subject and reflecting on Schwartz's arguments, I concluded that Schwartz makes one very strong argument but also a number of serious errors. Thus, I remain a self-identified "libertarian," yet my understanding of what that implies has changed somewhat based on (my recent reading of) Schwartz's critique. My hope is that the present essay will help readers and me reach a more complete, more accurate understanding of what libertarianism means -- and what Objectivism means.
So what prompted me to rethink this issue at this point? My recent tiff with the board of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, among many other things, caused me to wonder whether the LP can really be effective. Generally, it has not been effective in the past, but is this because of a lack of effort or a systemic problem? Should I be more enthusiastic in my support of the LP, or should I distance myself from it?
In addition, local scholar Diana Hsieh recently split with The Objectivist Center, David Kelley's organization that encourages cooperation with libertarians. Peikoff and Schwartz are part of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Kelley was kicked out of that group after he spoke at a libertarian function. Hsieh's move has inspired me to reevaluate some of my philosophical beliefs.
Reading the critiques of Schwartz's essay about libertarianism left me unsatisfied. Critics seem not to take seriously Schwartz's powerful indictment of one particular variant of libertarianism. At the same time, as I sifted through Schwartz's arguments, a series of errors became apparent that were not, I believed, adequately addressed by others. And so my goal is to examine both where Schwartz went right and where he went wrong.
Jim Peron contends Schwartz strips some quotes out of context, misinterprets the original meaning of some quotes, and fails to offer representative quotes from specific libertarians and the libertarian movement generally. I do not wish to get into the details of Peron's claims (or my own disagreements with Peron), because, even if some of Schwartz's evidence is faulty, he is still onto something important about one variant of libertarianism. (Schwartz argues he's talking about the "essence" of libertarianism, but I'll address this issue later on.)
The main problem with libertarianism, argues Schwartz, is that it fails to recognize any philosophical grounding of liberty. That is, liberty is seen as good in itself, with no moral reasons supporting it. The Objectivist view, by contrast, sees the political conclusion of free markets as based on the ethical theory of egoism (rational self-interest) and individual rights. The philosophy-free version of libertarianism leads to a number of problems:
* "Libertarians are not pro-liberty, but simply anti-state," Schwartz writes (1). That is, they fail to recognize that some states are fundamentally corrupt, while others are fundamentally concerned with protecting rights. Thus, libertarians would smash the state, even if that resulted in a complete breakdown of order and mass violence.
* Libertarians support fundamentally anti-freedom organizations if they have some superficial anti-state stance. For example, libertarians might support the "anti-nuclear power movement" just because it happens to oppose subsidies of nuclear power (5).
* Libertarians argue any moral foundation whatsoever is compatible with liberty, even a completely mystical one (7). This tends to degenerate into the view that moral standards as such are impossible or illegitimate (37).
* Libertarians tend to approve even of grossly immoral behavior -- so long as it's performed on the free market (9). Libertarianism tends to devolve into nihilism.
* Without a moral foundation, the very concept of "liberty" becomes vague (10). For example, how are we to distinguish between the liberty of property rights and the "liberty" of communist revolution, without a moral foundation?
* Libertarians tend to "soft-pedal" liberty, to make an unprincipled, pragmatic case for it (13).
* Libertarians often substitute class theory for a case based on individual rights (17). This is closely related to an anti-state reactionism.
Some of my personal experiences show Schwartz' criticisms sometimes find their mark. For instance, I have read the standard "smash the state" essay on the internet within the past few months that merely assumed a smashed state would be replaced by a system of individual rights. More to the point, the essay failed to see the significance of the problem. (I didn't take this essay seriously enough to mark its location or author, but I'm fairly representing its thrust.)
In 2002, the state LP nominated a lunatic for U.S. Senate. The common argument I heard in favor of his nomination is that, though he may be a bit unstable and irrational, at least he'll get attention for libertarian views. He got attention all right -- and convinced thousands of Coloradans that libertarianism is precisely what Schwartz said it is.
One particular internal debate arose concerning this nomination over the status of bigotry. I argued, as Schwartz does (30), that racism fundamentally undermines a political system of liberty. Others disagreed, arguing that racism is perfectly legal in a free society, so long as it doesn't involve the use of initiatory force. As Schwartz recognizes, this argument is true: a free society does permit people to be racists, so long as they don't hurt other people or their property in the process. But that's not what's important to the debate: what's important is that racism does in fact undercut liberty, it is fundamentally irrational, and it must be morally condemned. Some of my interlocutors seemed to confuse the legality of racism with the sanctioning or toleration of racism.
Here's a more recent example. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners recently denounced a state LP candidate for advocating particular civilian disarmament measures. (While I've seen a few comments from Objectivists critical of individual gun ownership, the overwhelming majority of Objectivists I've met advocate the individual's right to own guns, a position that is fundamentally supported by Objectivism. Regardless, is a mainstay of the libertarian movement.) What is more disturbing than the candidate's incoherent reply to RMGO is the response from the state LP chair:
Contrary to what some believe, the Libertarian Party is not a single issue party. Our party platform consists of 61 planks covering a wide variety of issues from foreign policy to environmental protection. It is extremely rare that a Libertarian agrees with all 61 planks of the platform. The Libertarian Party does not have an issue litmus test for membership on any issue. That there may be one or more members of the party who are not staunch second amendment rights advocates does not surprise me, nor does it dismay me. While the overwhelming majority of Libertarians are staunch gun rights advocates, being such is definitely not a requirement to be a member of the Libertarian Party. It is an old saying in the party that every member has two or three issues on which they are not "Libertarian."
Of course there is an important element of truth to this claim: libertarians can reasonably disagree about some particular issues, just as Objectivists can do so. The problem is the attitude that libertarianism is just a random hodgepodge of assorted views. When running for his current position on the board, the state chair explicitly argued he would be concerned only with electoral results, not with libertarian "purity" (read: principles). He wanted to avoid debates over fundamental issues and stick to direct political activism. I voted for him for that position, reluctantly, because there was no alternative candidate, and I hoped more principled board members would steer the boat as the chair paddled. Now I must admit my error. According to the state LP chair, "libertarianism" is simply a matter of holding a certain number of pre-defined positions on particular issues. Where is the appeal to principle? Where is the moral case for individual rights?
As Schwartz predicts, the state LP has become fundamentally reactionary. It is not reacting against the state in this case, but rather against Republicans. The chair characterizes the LP as "an open party with a diverse membership; and a party in which there are no back room bosses pulling all the strings and dictating the position individual members must adopt." This position simultaneously adopts a subjectivist notion of libertarianism and pits that movement against the corrupt establishment. But, in fact, the proper alternative to a dictatorship is not individual whim, it is instead a system of moral principles. The proper response to a member who undermines those principles is not to posit that anything goes in this "open" and "diverse" organization, but rather to clearly explain those principles and their implications.
I have made some errors myself, though my general advocacy of individual rights, the value of the individual, and an epistemology of reason has kept my errors mostly contained. Specifically, I have sometimes downplayed the philosophical differences between myself and others in order to "go along to get along." Now, I do believe one can state one's philosophical differences eloquently, nicely, and with style (characteristics Schwartz would do well to pick up), but I now have a heightened sense of why stating one's core values clearly and strongly is of fundamental importance. I will seek to do better. In addition, I have sometimes defined libertarianism inappropriately as "wanting less government" or something similar. Now I am even more committed to describing my political views as rooted in a respect for individuals and their rights and ability to achieve their values.
The question is, can I still call myself a libertarian? Do Schwartz's criticisms, as he claims, cut to the core of libertarianism, or do they address a perverse variant of a fundamentally healthy outlook? Can libertarianism be reclaimed from the subjectivists and nihilists and restored?
As Schwartz readily acknowledges (47), many or most self-identified libertarians reject the bizarre claims presented as "libertarian" in Schwartz's selective overview. Yet Schwartz, (appropriately) typical of Objectivists, is more concerned with the logical implications of a set of beliefs than with superficially related ideas. For example (see 48), though Marxists claim to be concerned with technological progress, self-actualization, and brotherly love, the ideas of Marx, when implemented as a political system, actually lead to economic destruction, the sacrifice of the individual to the state, and brutal totalitarianism.
What, then, is the "essence" of libertarianism? Schwartz claims that "Libertarianism very studiously avoids taking any position on liberty's intellectual foundation" (48). In other words, the essence of libertarianism is that it seeks to defend liberty, while denying that any ethical framework is necessary for the defense of liberty.
And, as I've granted, some libertarians indeed take such a view. However, Schwartz is simply mistaken in his assumption that self-identified libertarians must take that position, and he is mistaken that such constitutes the "essence" of libertarianism.
So let me state my positive case before further exploring Schwartz's errors. Libertarianism, properly understood, must rest on a particular philosophical foundation, one consistent with the rudiments of Objectivism. In brief, libertarianism requires a general, at least implicit, acceptance of epistemological realism, the recognition of the individual person as an end in him or her self, and a commitment to a system of property rights in which the individual can pursue values. Those who claim libertarianism can exist without such a philosophical foundation are either profoundly confused about their own ideas, or they quite simply are not libertarians. There is no third way. As Schwartz points out, a concept of liberty without a particular moral foundation is not even coherent. (One of the most horrible things I've ever seen is a sign above the gate of an old Nazi concentration camp that reads, "arbeit macht frei" -- work (in this case brutal slavery often followed by murder) makes you free. One's conception of freedom is indeed rooted in one's deeper philosophical convictions.)
Is a full-blown understanding of Objectivism necessary for one to reach proper political conclusions, though? Obviously not. What Rand called "the greatest political achievement in history," the American Revolution, was conducted by men who weren't Objectivists, yet their core values were similar to those of Objectivism (The Voice of Reason (for all quotes from Rand, unless otherwise noted) 21). Schwartz speaks favorably of "the secular view of man as an end in himself and of rights as inalienably tied to man's nature" (7).
Interestingly, Rand speaks of the "moral code which is implicit in capitalism" (93), something I argue applies also to libertarianism (without implying, of course, that all capitalists or libertarians fully discover this implicit moral code). Rand also suggests that one's political views can lead a person to alter his or her epistemological views (98).
My general conception of libertarianism, then, is a political doctrine that advocates individual rights, free markets and property rights, and government limited to protecting people's rights, rooted in the ethical theory of rational self-interest.
Schwartz makes a series of errors in ascribing to libertarianism the "essence" of dismissing a philosophical base (in popular terms, of "not having a philosophy").
Most importantly, Schwartz's claim is arbitrary. He cites a number of self-identified libertarians who hold libertarianism can exist without a philosophical base, and then he arbitrarily asserts that this therefore constitutes the essence of libertarianism. Put simply, there is no reason to accept Schwartz's assertion.
Schwartz's argument is circular. It rests on the assumption that libertarianism holds no philosophical foundation is necessary to establish liberty, and, not surprisingly, he concludes that constitutes the essence of libertarianism. If we drop the initial assumption, the conclusion is unwarranted. Schwartz's erroneous reasoning becomes apparent as we follow the argument in his section 8 (starting on page 47). First, he describes the view that the absurd positions he describes are not representative of libertarianism. He considers the possibility that the "essence" of libertarianism is "simply: the defense of liberty." Already Schwartz has ascribed to libertarians the view that liberty can be defended in a vacuum. Then Schwartz argues, correctly, that the "nature of an ideology is determined not by majority vote -- but by logic." But the "logic" he lays out for libertarianism assumes it is anti-philosophical. Schwartz also argues, again correctly, that adherents of an ideology often fail to see the implications of that ideology. Schwartz then asserts libertarians who think their doctrine "is compatible with laissez-faire capitalism" are "blind" and they "refuse to perceive the essential character of Libertarianism." Finally, Schwartz claims the essence of libertarianism, "by its own admission, offers no defense" of liberty. Schwartz does not lay out an argument, he merely repeats his premise many times.
There is something peculiar about Schwartz's treatment. Notice the phrases, "Libertarianism inexorably leads," "Libertarianism... offers no defense," "Libertarianism very studiously avoids," "Libertarianism is mute," "Libertarianism's indifference." Ordinarily, this sort of language is acceptable, but here Schwartz is reifying the concept "libertarianism," treating it as if it were a concrete with a mind of its own. This allows him to pretend a single term can be used to name only a single concept. In reality, however, we frequently assign the same word to multiple concepts, and we rely upon context and explicit definitions to make clear our meaning. Yet Schwartz purposely defines libertarianism in a way he emphasizes is incoherent, and he admits only that definition. He almost treats the "essence" of libertarianism as if it were an external, physical characteristic.
Of relevance is Schwartz' favorable use of the terms "capitalism" and "capitalist" (e.g., 53, 61). In fact, the term capitalism was coined by socialists, and thus it was, originally, bound up with socialist notions of exploitation and the inevitability of the state-industrial complex. And yet Schwartz has no problem rescuing the term for his own uses and dumping the socialist baggage. (Logan Feys also makes this point.) Similarly, Schwartz has no problem dismissing those who use the term capitalism to describe today's mixed economy. He would properly dismiss the claim that he has failed to recognize the essence of capitalism. He would point out that his view of capitalism is the only coherent one. Similarly, that's precisely what I'm claiming about my view of libertarianism.
As we've seen with the term capitalism, the original intent of a term is irrelevant to how we may properly use it. Yet Schwartz invokes the history of the term libertarianism to help ascertain its "essence." Specifically, Schwartz argues, "Libertarianism by its nature holds that no particular justification for liberty is necessary... Indeed, this is the very purpose of Libertarianism's existence. It was created strictly in order to adopt a 'united front' approach to liberty... Libertarianism was established precisely to bypass all the ideas underlying liberty and jump directly to the assertion that the use of force is wrong" (48-9).
We can also look to Rand's use of the word "selfishness" by way of comparison. In her introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand notes that in "popular usage" selfishness "is a synonym of evil" that conjures the image of "a murderous brute." Rand objects this is an inappropriate "package deal." If she can rescue the term by cutting away false assumptions surrounding it, why can't we do the same for libertarianism? (Nathaniel Branden also makes this point.)
Hsieh offers two more examples. The term egoism by many conceptions means something quite different than what Rand describes. Also, Rand referred to Mises and Hazlitt as "so-called libertarians." Rand once spoke of libertarians as "political-economic" allies, though she later condemned them.
Schwartz faces another problem, besides the obvious one that we need not retain the original meaning of a term: his historical account is incorrect. Libertarianism was not established for anything like what Schwartz describes.
Notably, Schwartz capitalizes the word "Libertarian" throughout. Today, standard usage is to capitalize the term only when discussing the Libertarian Party, and otherwise to use it in lower case. (I'm not sure if this practice arose with the founding of the Libertarian Party in 1971 or more recently.) However, unlike, say, Objectivism, libertarianism was never a unified movement founded and named by a single person or tight association.
Schwartz begins his discussion by citing a former leader of the Libertarian Party, and he says "Murray Rothbard [Rand's nemesis] [is] widely regarded as the intellectual father of the Libertarian movement" (3). It's important to realize that Rothbard began using the term "libertarian" in the 60s, before the founding of the Libertarian Party and after the term had already come into circulation.
David Boaz in The Libertarian Reader links libertarianism to an intellectual tradition that dates back thousands of years. Boaz explains, "The advocacy of individual liberty against state power has gone by many names over the centuries, including Whiggism, individualism, voluntaryism, and radical republicanism. In the first years of the nineteenth century the term liberalism came into widespread use in France and Spain, and it soon spread" (xiii). However, as we know, that term was corrupted. "Thus in the 1950s Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, began calling himself a libertarian," a term he borrowed from "the advocates of free will." So what does Boaz think of libertarianism? "We might define libertarianism as a species of (classical) liberalism, an advocacy of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government rooted in a commitment to self-ownership, imprescriptible rights, and the moral autonomy of the individual" (xiv). This sounds remarkably like Schwartz's description of capitalism.
And so I conclude that my usage of the term libertarianism, as the advocacy of individual rights, the value of the individual, free markets, and properly limited governance, is coherent and appropriate, it is consistent with how most self-identified libertarians use the term, and it easily deflects Schwartz's criticisms. It's at least as good as Schwartz's alternative definition of the word "capitalism" (which I also sometimes use to describe my views).
Sanction and Persuasion
Clearly, Schwartz's case rests upon his particular (faulty and indeed intrinsicist) definition of libertarianism. Here's how that case plays out. According to Schwartz, "Those who truly want to defend liberty should have nothing whatsoever to do with Libertarianism" (61). He elaborates in his essay On Moral Sanctions. Schwartz lays out his general theory: "It is by scrupulously withholding from the irrational even a crumb of a moral sanction -- by rejecting any form of accommodation with the irrational... that one keeps evil impotent." Then he applies this theory to libertarianism: "Justice demands... that one identify Libertarianism as the antithesis of -- and therefore as a clear threat to -- not merely genuine liberty, but all rational values. And it demands that Libertarianism, like all such threats, be boycotted and condemned."
Obviously, Objectivists do not advocate boycotting all neutral -- or even bad -- people or groups. For instance, most Objectivists I know support George W. Bush in some of his foreign policies, and I would bet that most self-described Objectivists will vote for Bush this coming election. Yet which Objectivist wishes to argue that Bush upholds a rational moral philosophy? The logical conclusions of Bush's worst ideas lead to all the things Schwartz fears about libertarianism.
In his introduction to The Voice of Reason, Peikoff speaks in the most glowing terms of the Ford Hall Forum. He says "the Forum professes to be fair; it claims to be open to all viewpoints. Unlike most of our colleges and media, however, the Forum is not an exercise in hypocrisy; it is fair. It actually says to real dissenters on fundamental issues: 'Come and tell us what you think. We will not necessarily agree, but we will listen'." When Rand spoke there in 1961, continues Peikoff, the "audience that evening did not agree with her, but they listened..." Rand, quotes Peikoff, said the Forum "sponsors many speakers with whom I disagree totally. But it is honest" and "open to new ideas..." At her first lecture there, Rand began, "I am speaking here today on the assumption that I am addressing an audience consisting predominantly of 'liberals' -- that is: of my antagonists" (85).
As Peron reminds us, Rand explicitly endorsed Barry Goldwater for President, even as she explicitly criticized his philosophical ideas. As the introductory text in Ayn Rand's Marginalia (page 183) reviews, Rand praised Goldwater as "the only hope of the anti-collectivist side on [that day's] political scene," even as she said "what he lacked was intellectual courage -- a quality one cannot acquire except from a set of firm philosophical convictions." Not merely did Goldwater lack firm convictions, according to Rand, he implicitly endorsed the "morality of altruism," and he was at times under "the influence of the mystics of Conservatism" (185). As Schwartz reminds us, David Kelley spoke at an event associated with Laissez Faire Books -- explicitly to argue the defense of liberty requires a specific (Objectivist) moral foundation. So how, precisely, does Kelley's talk at the LFB event constitute "sanction" of evil ideas, while Rand's endorsement of Goldwater does not?
The present discussion gives rise to two broad strategic questions. First, when is it inappropriate to address or otherwise associate with a person or group? Second, regardless of the most coherent definition of libertarianism, is it otherwise imprudent to self-identify as a libertarian?
I agree with Schwartz's assessment that one ought not cooperate with a "totalitarian theocracy" that threatens violence against writers. To generalize, one ought not cooperate with murderous or violent thugs. But then Schwartz absurdly writes, "The identical reasoning applies to trafficking with Libertarians." He applies this to people who have never committed an act of violence and who in fact have rejected the very positions Schwartz condemns -- hardly an application of justice.
If we expect that a particular person or audience will not grant us a fair hearing (say, by booing relentlessly), there's hardly a point to participating. The other party has to be willing to communicate. I also agree with Schwartz that, generally, speaking to an inherently irrational person or group (say, a racist one) is not only pointless but potentially helpful to the enemy.
And yet Schwartz generalizes too hastily. According to Schwartz, if you disagree with an idea, you are sanctioning it if you actively argue against it among the adherents of the idea. However, if we really want to defeat an idea, in most cases we should argue against it as strongly and as often as we can -- especially among those who accept it. You're not "sanctioning" an idea by directly criticizing the adherents of that idea.
(I think it's safe to say the overwhelming majority of self-described libertarians have never even heard of Peter Schwartz, much less of his critique of axiomatic libertarianism. So, ironically, Schwartz's own policy has kept many libertarians from learning about his critique.)
Schwartz's description of sanctions is simplistic. He equates sanction with association, and condemnation with boycott. It strikes me as obvious, though, that sometimes one sanctions evil by avoiding association or practicing a boycott. It depends on the context, and it's a complicated matter over which reasonable people can disagree.
For example, we abhor racism and would rightly decline an invitation to denounce racism at a neo-Nazi event. Neo-Nazis are already marginalized and they could only profit by our participation. However, I would readily accept an invitation to address a crowd of environmentalists or Marxists, in order to criticize those views. In today's society, neither of those positions is marginalized, and the impact of my speaking could only be to possibly persuade some of the members to reconsider their views. That's the opposite of sanctioning. It's simply not possible for me to further legitimize environmentalism or Marxism -- those are both widespread views.
Another bit of important context is the speaker's personality. I relish a fight, and I think speaking to hostile crowds is likely to help me improve my ability to articulate my positions and handle pressure. (By "hostile" here I mean angrily critical, not completely unwilling to listen.) One of my best learning experiences was addressing a hostile crowd (I didn't know before hand how one-sided it would be): I performed badly but learned a lot of important lessons that helped me improve my skills.
If we take as Schwartz's major premise the notion that we ought not sanction evil, then I completely agree with that. However, Schwartz's minor premise, which holds sanction is the equivalent of association, is in most cases wrong, and in some cases it is precisely backwards. Sometimes, a boycott constitutes the sanction of evil.
In the case of libertarians, obviously most libertarians hold core values that are similar to Objectivist ones, so there's no question of sanctioning wrong ideas. What about self-professed libertarians who hold philosophical views that are, at root, hostile to liberty, such as mysticism? As Peikoff recognizes (in, for instance, his lectures about Disintegration, Integration, and Misintegration), most people hold contradictory ideas. A Christian libertarian, to the extent that he or she is a libertarian, must maintain a realist epistemology and an ethics of individual self-value. Most people give different weights to different ideas. No, Christian libertarians cannot be Objectivists, but they can agree with Objectivists on enough matters to actually pursue liberty. All Objectivists are libertarians. The reverse is not true, but all libertarians must share certain core beliefs with Objectivists. I intend to work with libertarians with whom I disagree over certain philosophical matters, even as I continue to argue for epistemological realism, ethical egoism, and so on. That's not "sanctioning" wrong ideas, quite the opposite.
What about finding common ground with those who hold fundamentally different ideas? I am an optimist when it comes to persuasion: I believe even people set in their ways can be influenced to change their positions for the better. It's perfectly fine to find common ground with, say, self-professed progressives or other leftists. First, sometimes doing so is necessary to stop bad laws. Second, the strategy of finding common ground opens up the possibility of discussion. Then we can point out that, while we share a superficial agreement on one particular issue, our core beliefs are quite different. Schwartz's style is alienation. Mine is civil exchange.
I might describe Schwartz' view as intellectual isolationism, and mine as intellectual adventurism. I believe, as does David Kelley, that debating even those with fundamentally different views can be enlightening. We can learn by reformulating our own arguments and also by uncovering grains of truth hidden in our opponents' arguments. Chris Matthew Sciabarra is brilliant at this. Also, sometimes we can actually persuade our opponents, or at least check their worst ideas.
Now for the second point of strategy. I have rejected Schwartz's claim that the "essence" of libertarianism is the rejection of a moral foundation for political liberty. But we still have to decide whether using the term libertarian as a self-description is prudent. Even if we hold a coherent definition of the term that implies a moral base, we might select a different label for our views that doesn't carry some of the unfortunate associations that libertarianism does.
Even though most self-described libertarians reject most of the bizarre positions Schwartz describes, some accept them. One might decide the term carries too much baggage to be useful. Also, one might not want to be associated with the Libertarian Party. But these are strategic decisions that don't involve fundamental moral principles. Again, reasonable people can disagree about this.
My view is that, in today's culture, the term libertarian is generally understood to mean roughly what I take it to mean, rather than how Schwartz describes it (or, rather, described it almost twenty years ago). Further, there are problems with any possible replacement. The term "capitalism" is often associated with the mixed economy, not a free economy. Also, the term capitalism usually is associated only with economics, whereas Schwartz wishes to make the philosophical base clear. Few understand the terms "classical liberal" or "market liberal." "Rational individualist?" Besides being a mouthful, I'm not sure people will comprehend its intended meaning.
I consider myself "Objectivist-leaning" or a "friend of Objectivism," but I'm hesitant to call myself an Objectivist in my political work. First, while I believe most Objectivist ideas, I disagree with a few. I do not wish to get into fights over whether I am sufficiently Objectivist to call myself one. (Yes, I agree that all the positions must fit logically within the system; my point is that some of Rand's specific beliefs must be modified in order to so fit.) In addition, hardly anyone in the general culture knows what the term Objectivism means. Most of my work is hands-on politics, not philosophical dissertation. I might was well call myself an "Acvurtiblim" as an "Objectivist," so far as public understanding is concerned. The term libertarian, on the other hand, is widely recognized, and accurately so for the most part. Thus, that's the term I shall stick with. I'll also use other apt terms and attempt to describe as clearly as possible just what I mean when I call myself a libertarian.
If some Objectivists wish to continue to criticize me for describing myself as a libertarian, they're welcome to do so. However, unlike some self-described Objectivists I've met, I simply will not change my position until I'm persuaded rationally to do so, and unjustifiably nasty rhetoric such as Schwartz employs will only contribute to my stubbornness.
'Subjectivism, Amoralism and Anarchism'
In On Moral Sanctions, Schwartz uses the phrase "[s]ubjectivism, amoralism and anarchism" as if those things were inseparable. In Libertarianism, Schwartz argues, "From the Libertarian premise of amoralism, anarchism follows inexorably" (36). Perhaps, but that doesn't mean the reverse is true.
Part of the problem, of course, lies with the self-described "anarchists" in the libertarian camp. These people aren't anarchists at all, at least not by the leftist conception. Anarchism actually has three distinct meanings: social chaos, non-hierarchical communes, and the rule of law enforced by competing defense agencies. The second meaning pertains to leftists, the third to libertarians. The libertarian anarchists have defined their position as a negative -- opposition to a state monopoly within a given geographical region -- but their positive case looks nothing like the other sorts of anarchy.
The most common argument Objectivists continue to invoke is that a system of competing defense agencies would degenerate into the "social chaos" variety of anarchy. Yet people like Randy Barnett and David Friedman offer good counters to this. Ironically, the basic anarcho-capitalist counter relies precisely on the point Rand makes in Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics? In that essay, Rand argues ethics is objectively verifiable, not the result of subjective whim or some commandment. To Objectivists who argue competing defense agencies would necessarily degenerate to senseless violence, anarcho-capitalists counter that, in a basically rational society, people would be able to objectively verify sound legal principles and settle disputes accordingly.
Amoralism may lead to anarchy (as social chaos), but anarchy (as the rule of law enforced by competing defense agencies) does not entail amoralism. I was once very persuaded by the arguments of the anarcho-capitalists; now I am less strongly persuaded. I see the point as basically moot: I would be happy to see a properly limited state in my lifetime, and if, in the distant future, probably in a space-faring community, people want to try competing defense agencies, that's really of no consequence to me. Regardless, Schwartz misrepresents the nature of libertarian anarchism, at least in its best forms.
A similar argument can be made about gay rights and other efforts. Just because some leftists associate gay rights with the unjust use of state power, doesn't mean that's essential to advocating the rights of homosexuals. It's entirely reasonable to advocate the equal rights of homosexuals from a libertarian or Objectivist perspective, a point Schwartz neglects to concede. Even environmentalism can be and has been rescued from the Marxists and treated as a particular application of property rights. The Property and Environment Research Center does pretty good work. But Schwartz is spooked by those ghostly "essences" floating around.
In the end, though, despite Schwartz's many errors, he does make some excellent points that libertarians ignore at their peril. Certainly I recommend his essay to all self-described libertarians. It seems clear that Schwartz's critique, and others like it, have altered the libertarian movement over the last twenty years, and for the better. Most importantly, Schwartz affirms that liberty depends upon specific philosophical principles. Those who call themselves libertarians, but who reject the ethical and epistemological underpinnings of liberty, will, if their worst ideas gain dominance, tend to accomplish only what Schwartz warns about: the perversion of liberty.