The Problem

A topic that has been on my mind a great deal is how the Black Lives Matter movement stacks up against libertarian ideals. I wasn’t going to write on it until I saw a piece from Being Libertarian entitled Why Libertarians Need To Partner With Black Lives Matter. This was my sign to throw my chips on the table, especially since it apparently ignores the very core essence of Liberty. To help us consider this topic properly, I have distilled the whole argument down to a singular problem: is libertarianism compatible with Black Lives Matter? I think the answer to this problem will point libertarians in the right direction on this matter.

The Method

For this piece, I am using a short and simple manner of writing. While I typically write in a longer format with an emphasis on textual analysis from specific political philosophers, I believe that this topic is one that can tackled with the “less is more” approach. Furthermore, I won’t be tackling every part of both the Being Libertarian article nor every part of the Black Lives Matter website. To do would go against the aforementioned approach I am using here, and it would make quite a long piece of writing due to the fact that much of both sites are matters of personal preference rather than matters we can apply the NAP to; much of the BLM website has nothing to do with libertarianism and is therefore not worth mentioning. Interested readers will have to use their own amazing pieces of technology that they take for granted to dig deeper into the points raised here, if they so choose.

Terms Used

Socialists: Those which seek the solution of the social problem in an artificial organization. (Frederic Bastiat, Harmonies of Political Economy)

Non-Aggression Principle: That no one may threaten or commit violence (“aggress”) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. (Murray Rothbard, War, Peace, and the State)

Matter: Be of importance; have significance. (Google)

BLM As Two Pieces

In contemplating the problem we face here, I have come to believe that we must separate BLM into two pieces: the idea and the movement. The idea itself, after all, is going to be understood differently to different people, even within the movement (movements are made up of individuals; they are not monolithic collectives). The way different people use that idea, therefore, will be different. We should expect that followers of a political movement will have differing actions based on differing interpretations of an idea. I advise any libertarian discussing BLM to divide the two up thusly, in order to make conversation fruitful and clear from the get-go.

BLM As Idea

Every libertarian on social media has probably run into the question of “do you support Black Lives Matter?” or “do you think Black Lives Matter?” at some point. It’s an easy ploy to get you into argumentation; a child’s ruse at best. But it’s worth contemplation, since it appears to be the purest expression of the idea of BLM. Supporters of BLM (especially the vocal, white ones) are trying to find out if the heartless libertarian believes that the lives of black people are worth anything or not. The idea itself originates from a reasonable place: that historically, in the united States, black people have been largely shit upon. So if the idea of BLM is something to the effect of “the lives of black people matter just as much as any other group”, I don’t think proponents of liberty would find much to disagree upon. After all, libertarians by-and-by tend to be concerned most with general laws and principles; they are concerned with those things which affect humanity as a whole, and since black people are humans, they fall under those general laws and principles too.

Now, can we use the NAP in this examination? I don’t believe so. The idea itself isn’t something we can use the NAP upon to understand; the NAP is a principle that can be used in specific instances rather than a sentiment or subjective state. You may as well ask if you can use supply and demand to figure out if black lives matter or not. So instead, libertarians may have pin down their opponents on specifics if they are going to use the NAP. We can pull the hypothetical Crusoe out of the tool box to help us in this regard. For instance, imagine a white man and a black man on a desert island. So long as they do not aggress upon each other, there is no problem. If the white man aggresses upon the black man, then it is just for the black man to use violence upon the other man. If the black man aggresses upon the white man, then it is just for the white man to use violence upon the other man. But whether or not either life “matters” is not something the NAP deals with; what “matters” is nothing more than a phantasm of the mind, and the NAP is a principle that is supposed to help us comprehend Justice in specific, everyday occurrences.

In short: libertarians (using libertarian literature as a guide) are concerned with generals like property rights and principles that can be deduced from property rights. Since black people are people, they are subject to the same principles deduced from property rights just like anyone else. Therefore we can surmise that the libertarian position on the idea of BLM, based upon the NAP in a general manner, is that:

  • The individual owns himself due to his condition of being human.
    A black person is a human being.
    Therefore a black person owns himself.
  • If a black person owns himself and is a human being,
    then it is unjust to aggress upon him unless it is self-defence.
  • Apply the above to various specific instances as needed.

Anything else beyond this is likely to fall under the category of personal preference unless it is applied to specific, real life occurrences relating to Justice.

BLM As Organized Movement

I believe that the NAP may used more specifically in regards to the points on the BLM movement’s website rather than just the idea behind the movement. After all, it is not so simple to use a general principle on a necessarily subjective idea. It is simple, on the other hand, to use a general principle to dissect the specific points brought forth by people with that idea. I have copied a series of points, ones that actually might have anything to do with libertarianism, directly from the website of the movement to see how they relate to the NAP.

    1. We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.

      As long as your “freedom and justice” doesn’t violate the NAP, then libertarians won’t take issue to it on the basis of Liberty. They may have personal hang ups on them, but they won’t be based on libertarianism specifically. If your “freedom and justice” is that of the socialists, who use state violence to create an artificial society, then you will necessary violate the NAP.

    2. We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, and especially “our” children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable. 

      As long as it is voluntarily done, it won’t fall under the purview of the NAP. If you use violence on peaceful people to enforce your version of “families and ‘villages'” upon them, then don’t complain when violence gets used upon you. Again, libertarians may disagree with this point on other (read: personal) grounds, but not upon libertarian grounds.

    3. We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another. 

      Awesome. Nothing says liberation, justice, and peace like liberty. Become a libertarian and pick up some Rothbard. If your peace comes at the end of a bayonet, then you are violating the NAP and should expect violence to come your way.

    4. How Black poverty and genocide is state violence. 

      If the state is aggressing against you, take arms up against the state. If you violate private property of peaceful people, you are aggressing upon them and should expect people to defend themselves. I don’t think libertarians, in general, care if BLM protesters destroy government buildings or stop paying taxes; they do care if their form of protesting is plundering local business owners. If your solution to end state violence is to create more state violence, just against other people rather than yourselves, then you’re going to have a bad time.

    5. How 2.8 million Black people are locked in cages in this country is state violence. 

      Again, if your solution to end state violence is to create more state violence, just against other people rather than yourselves, then you’re going to have a bad time. The solution isn’t MORE laws, it’s LESS laws. This is great piece of common ground between libertarians and non-libertarians. Attack the justice system, not peaceful people who happen to be in your vicinity. If your means to do so is the socialist method, which merely replaces one form of state violence with another, then you are unjust and libertarians won’t shed a single tear if you reap what you sow.

In short: libertarians and BLM activists will agree on some things. Likely, they are topics involving state violence and the various errors of the state such as minimum wage, public education, prisons, and tyrannical law enforcement. But if BLM activists use the path of socialist violence in attempting to solve these errors (i.e. higher minimum wage, more subsidized education, more laws, and more government), then they only perpetuate the system they protest; every step they take towards stronger government will result in a stronger government that can oppress them further. Our tool in finding out what is Just and what is unjust must be the NAP if we seek to understand it from a libertarian perspective, otherwise we will be forced to walk through a quagmire of sentiment and personal preference. If we cannot use the NAP, due to incompatibility with the specific contention posed, then we should seek to find common ground in matters where we can show that state intervention has caused the oppression of black people. Between these two methods we can find our answers.

Conclusions

In determining the solution to the problem set forth, we have looked at the idea of BLM and the movement of BLM. The idea of BLM is not incompatible with libertarianism but in general it is not an issue relating to the NAP. The idea of BLM relates more to the general history of the united States, which we can approach using the historical revisionism of libertarian historians. Furthermore we can use the NAP to address specific instances of history and current events as they unfold. But the NAP may not be suited to the idea of BLM generally speaking. Rather, we can use it to address the points of the BLM movement and the realistic manifestations they may take on. The points we’ve seen are vague in regards to practical implementation and therefore we can only dissect them in the hypothetical circumstances they may arise in. The libertarian approach to BLM should be to first uncover what other people mean by it, make them produce specific points of contention, and use tools from the libertarian corpus as need be. If we can stick to that, I believe we will find places we can agree to disagree and then other places of reconciliation against the state.