There have long been two camps in the libertarian movement: the reform camp and the liberty camp.
The libertarian reform camp aims at improving the welfare-warfare state system under which we live. Libertarian reform plans include such things as immigration reform, Social Security “privatization,” health-savings accounts, welfare reform, school vouchers, income-tax reform, legalization of only marijuana, reining in the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA, reducing the military budget, reducing “big” government, selective foreign interventionism, regulatory reform, tariff reform, sanctions reform, trade reform, Federal Reserve reform, and much more. The operative word in all this, of course, is “reform.”
The liberty camp aims at dismantling or repealing the welfare-state, warfare-state apparatus, leaving in its place a limited-government republic and a free-market economic system, one in which people are free to enter into mutually beneficial trades with anyone in the world, travel wherever they want, accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, and decide for themselves what to do with their own money. The liberty camp would dismantle, not reform, all of welfare-warfare state programs listed above.
I fall squarely within the liberty camp of the libertarian movement. The following are my reasons:
1. I want to be free, and the reform camp does not accomplish that. That’s because reform necessarily leaves welfare-warfare state infringements on liberty intact, albeit in some sort of reformed or improved fashion. In order to achieve freedom, infringements on liberty need to be removed, not reformed.
2. The core principle of the libertarian philosophy is the non-aggression principle. It holds that it is illegitimate to initiate force against people. By keeping welfare-warfare state programs in existence, even in some sort of reformed or gradually reduced manner, the reform camp necessarily endorses a continual violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle. By advocating the dismantling of all welfare-warfare state programs, the liberty camp’s positions are consistent with the non-aggression principle.
3. Even though libertarian reform measures are termed “libertarian,” the reform camp does not raise people’s vision to the principles of a genuinely free society. Instead, the reform camp simply causes people to think in terms of how to reform and improve the welfare-warfare state way of life. The liberty camp, on the other hand, raises people vision to a higher level — toward thinking about what a genuinely free society is all about.
For example, consider education. Most people believe in public (i.e., government) schooling and state support of higher education. By advocating school vouchers as a way to improve the state’s educational system and by advocating state reform of colleges and universities, the reform camp encourages people to continue assuming the legitimacy of state involvement in education. By making the case for separating school and state at all levels, the liberty camp, on the other hand, causes people to think at a higher level — the level of educational liberty.
4. Welfare-warfare state reform proposals are boring, at least for me. That’s why I am loathe to read articles or listen to libertarian podcasts advocating libertarian welfare-warfare state reform measures. They oftentimes put me to sleep. Liberty positions, on the other hand, are exciting to me. They stimulate my thinking and get my libertarian juices going.
Now, mind you, I am not unmindful of the fact that libertarian reform measures can sometimes improve the welfare-warfare state way of life under which we live, much like slavery reform measures could have improved the lot of 19th-century slaves. But that sort of thing just doesn’t interest me. I want freedom, and my hunch is that 100 percent of 19th-century slaves did too.
Finally, the achievement of liberty necessarily would entail a gigantic paradigm shift from our welfare-warfare state way to a free-market, limited-government way of life. That paradigm shift will never come from the libertarian reform camp. It will only come from the libertarian liberty camp, which is the final reason that I fall squarely in the latter camp.