Penn Jillette: Why Iím a Libertarian Nut Instead of Just a Nut
May 20, 2009 - 11:27 ET
By Penn Jillette
As Seen in Fusion Magazine
I donít speak for all Libertarians any more than Sean Penn speaks for all Democrats. Iím not even sure my LP membership card is up to date. Iíve voted Libertarian as long as I can remember but I donít really remember much before the Clintons and the Bushes. Those clans made a lot of us bugnutty. When I go on Glennís show he calls me a Libertarian, I think thatís my only real credential.
There are historical reasons and pragmatic reasons to be a Libertarian, but there are historic and pragmatic reasons to be a Democrat, a Republican or a Socialist. I donít know if everyone would be better off under a Libertarian government. I donít know what would be best for anyone. I donít even know whatís best for me. What makes me Libertarian is I donít think anyone else really knows whatís best for anyone. My argument for Libertarianism is simple - personal morality.
I start with the Declaration of Independence: ďGovernments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.Ē So, essentially our government does what they do with my consent.
I know barely enough about Max Weber to type his name into Google, but it seems heís credited with asserting the idea that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. I put those two ideas together (my consent and use of physical force) and figure we all give our government the right to use force. So, the way I figure, itís not okay for our government to use force in any situation where I personally wouldnít use force.
For example, if Iím not willing to kill a cute cow, I shouldnít eat steak. I donít have to kill Bessy right now with my bare hands, but I have to be willing to snuff her if I want to chow down on a T-bone. If itís not okay for me, itís not okay for a slaughterhouse. Asking someone else to do something immoral is immoral. If itís not okay for me to break David Blaineís hands so my magic show has less competition, itís not okay for me to ask someone else to beat him up. Someone else doing your dirty work is still your dirty work.
If I had a gun, and I knew a murder was happening, (weíre speaking hypothetically here, Iím not asking you to believe that I could accurately tell a murder from aggressive CPR), I would use that gun to stop that murder. I might be too much of a coward to use a gun myself to stop a murder or rape or robbery, but I think the use of a gun is justified. Iím even okay with using force to enforce voluntary contracts. If I were a hero, I would use a gun to protect the people who choose to live under this free system and to stop another country from attacking America. But I wouldnít use a gun to force someone to love something like sayÖa library.
Look, I love libraries. I spent a lot of time in the Greenfield Public Library when I was a child. I would give money to build a library. I would ask you to give money to build a library. But, if for some reason you were crazy enough to think you had a better idea for your money than building my library, I wouldnít pull a gun on you. I wouldnít use a gun to build an art museum, look at the wonders of the universe through a big telescope, or even find a cure for cancer.
The fact that the majority wants something good does not give them the right to use force on the minority that donít want to pay for it. If you have to use a gun, itís not really a very good idea. Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks. Itís just ganging up on the weird kid, and Iím always the weird kid.
People try to argue that government isnít really force. You believe that? Try not paying your taxes. (This is only a thought experiment though -- suggesting someone not pay their taxes is probably a federal offense, and while I may be a nut, Iím not crazy.) When they come to get you for not paying your taxes, try not going to court. Guns will be drawn. Government is force.
Itís amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness. People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered. If weíre compassionate, weíll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.
Iím a Libertarian nut because I donít want my government to do anything in my name that I wouldnít do myself.