One of the questions about libertarianism that has long fascinated me is: Why have so many libertarians given up on freedom? Everyone is given just one life to live. It seems to me that if there is anyone who would want to experience that one life as a free person, it is libertarians.
And yet, so many older libertarians gave up on freedom decades ago, and many younger libertarians have already given up on freedom.
Let’s look at one big example of this phenomenon. Let’s consider, for example, the massive governmental apparatus of public schooling, which is the crown jewel of American socialism at the state and local level. The state governments and local governmental school boards provide education for children. Students are there by state mandate. The state sets the curriculum and selects the textbooks. The teachers and administrators are employees of the government. Funding is through the coercive apparatus of taxation. Indoctrination, regimentation, and deference to authority are the name of the game, just like in the military.
In other words, there is nothing voluntary about public (i.e., government) schooling. As a socialist institution, it is the very antithesis of educational liberty.
What would educational freedom mean? It would mean the end of all governmental involvement in education, just as we have no governmental involvement in religion. No more compulsory-attendance laws. No more school taxes. No more government schoolteachers or administrators. No more government-approved curricula and textbooks. A total separation of school and state. A total free market in education.
How would the poor receive an education? How do the poor go to church? It’s the rich and the middle class who build and maintain the churches with their donations. No one excludes the poor. That’s the way freedom works in religion. It gives us an idea of how freedom would work in education.
Yet, freedom is not the position that many libertarians take. Many of them have settled on supporting the concept of school vouchers.
What are school vouchers? They are nothing more than a socialist reform measure, one that is based on the same principle of coercion on which public schooling is based. With vouchers, the state taxes one group of people and gives the loot to another group of people.
Vouchers constitute a direct violation of what is called the libertarian non-aggression principle, which is the core principle of the libertarian philosophy. That’s because vouchers are based on the initiation of force — i.e., taxation — to get the money to fund the vouchers.
Needless to say, vouchers are based on the continuation of the public-school system. They are simply a reform vehicle to enable some parents to use the coercive apparatus of the state to enable them to take their children out of the public-school system and place them in a private school, using the voucher to assist them with the private-school tuition.
Thus, vouchers are not freedom. They are actually antithetical to freedom.
Thirty-four years ago, when I founded The Future of Freedom Foundation, there were some libertarians who were already throwing in the towel on freedom and settling for advancing school vouchers instead of educational liberty. They have undoubtedly inspired many younger libertarians today to take that same road of surrender.
But why? Why give up on freedom and settle for some sort of warmed over, reformed serfdom? Why not continue battling for freedom rather than just giving up and settling for a socialist reform measure?
I think that the big reason that that those libertarians gave up on freedom long ago was that they decided that educational socialism was simply too big, too deeply established, and too popular among the American people. They decided that it would be more worthwhile to simply devote their lives to improving the serfdom under which we live rather than trying to end the serfdom and achieve liberty. It just became easier and more comfortable for them to make the case for reforming our serfdom rather than making the case for liberty.
For example, some states have state constitutions that require a system of public schooling. Thus, some libertarians decided that they had no real practical choice except to work within the system by trying to reform it and improve it by advocating school vouchers.
But that was always a fallacious notion because there was nothing to prevent such libertarians from advocating an amendment to the state constitution that would separate school and state. After all, that’s what the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution did with respect to religion. If it’s possible to secure an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that separates church and state, it is possible to secure a similar amendment to a state constitution that separates school and state.
But obviously securing an amendment to a state constitution is more difficult than securing approval for a voucher system. So, because achieving liberty was more difficult, many libertarians simply decided to throw in the towel and settle for advocating reform of our serfdom way of life.
One of the tragic aspects of this phenomenon was that many libertarians actually convinced themselves that a school-voucher program meant freedom. Thus, they began advocating this socialist reform device under the banner of “advancing liberty” or “advancing libertarianism.” Or they would refer to vouchers as “choice” or “competition” or a “free-market way” to advance education. They began reflecting the words of Johann Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
Is achieving educational liberty possible? Of course it is. Is it difficult? No doubt about it. But there is also no doubt that giving up on achieving liberty makes it much more difficult to achieve it.
The only chance for achieving educational liberty is by making the case for educational liberty to our fellow Americans. One never knows how ideas on liberty are going to impact people’s thinking.
But the way I figure it is that if I, who am a product of the public-school system, could achieve a breakthrough to the truth about educational socialism and educational liberty, so can everyone else.
What’s important is that we never give up and settle for school vouchers or other socialist reform measures and that we steadfastly continue making the principled case for the separation of school and state.
See FFF’s book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America’s Families by Sheldon Richman, which, by the way, makes an excellent Christmas gift, as do all of our FFF books!