In the 19th century the term “liberal” was transformed into the opposite of its original meaning, from pro-liberty to pro-statism. A similar corruption occurred in the late 20th century with respect to the term “libertarian.” What once stood for a defense of individual rights came, unfortunately, to stand for its antithesis—a mindless hostility to government as such, which means: hostility to the means by which individual rights are protected. This is a hostility that can be reflected in either explicit or implicit anarchism, which I discussed at length in Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty.
Although some people innocently use the term today in its original sense in describing their views, and consistently reject the anarchist overtones, its usage among the general public denotes something different. It denotes an ideology of “non-interventionism.” The term has come to mean an ideology that combines the right’s opposition to economic intervention and the left’s anti-Americanism and opposition to military (and police) “intervention.”
Here are three recent manifestations of this libertarian mindset:
1) A Cato Institute Research Fellow is interviewed on the lesson to be learned from the events following the grand jury decision in the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting. He does not say the lesson is that people are repudiating the idea of objectivity in judging guilt or innocence. He does not say the lesson is that we have a growing danger of the judicial process being influenced by lynch mobs who care nothing about facts but only about race. Rather, he says the lesson is that people, particularly minorities, are being abused by the police, and that the government is unwilling to punish the abusers. While perfunctorily condemning violence, he says that the rioting in Ferguson is the result of justifiable anger over the abuse of power by police.
2) Ron Paul, darling of the libertarian movement and a former presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, approvingly cites an essay by Paul Craig Roberts. In it, Roberts claims that the slaughter of the Charlie Hebdo staff was not carried out by Islamic jihadists but was staged by the U.S government. Why? Because the assault “ended French and European sympathy and support for Palestine and European opposition to more U.S. wars against Muslims. . . . France was showing too much foreign policy independence. The attack on Charlie Hebdo serves to cow France and place France back under Washington’s thumb.”
3) Ron Paul approvingly cites another libertarian essay, on the same subject, which similarly insists that America is to blame for the Paris bloodshed: “[W]e will never comprehend the reasons for the slaughter of 17 innocent people in Paris as long as we ignore the history of Western violence against the Muslim world. . . . The way to end Muslim violence in the West, therefore, is for the West to end its violence against Muslims.”♦♦
(See also “Libertarianism vs. Liberty.”)