Last week’s TGIF, “One Moral Standard for All,” drew a curious response fromMatt Bruenig, a contributor to the Demos blog, Policy Shop. In reading his article, “Libertarians Are Huge Fans of Initiating Force,” one should bear in mind that the aim of my article was not to defend the libertarian philosophy, but to show that most people live by it most of the time. The problem is that they apply a different moral standard to government employees.
Mr. Bruenig’s article, which will satisfy only those of his readers who know nothing firsthand about libertarianism, charges libertarians with failing to understand that the concept “initiation of force” must be defined in terms of a theory of entitlement. It is that theory which reveals who, in any particular violent interaction, is the aggressor and who is the defender. Thus, he says, an act that a libertarian would call aggression would look different to someone working from a different theory of entitlement. (Strangely, he believes he can validate taxation by this reasoning.)
That Mr. Bruenig thinks this is news to libertarians indicates how much research he did before writing his article. I know of no libertarian who would be surprised by his statement. But Mr. Bruenig goes further and accuses libertarians of circular reasoning in defining entitlement and the initiation of force, or aggression. Is he right? Let’s see.
So taxing someone, for instance, is only aggressive if you think the amount being taxed belongs to the person being taxed. But if you believe the amount being taxed belongs to whomever the money is going to (say a retired person), then it isn't aggressive. The force involved in extracting the tax when someone resists is simply defensive force.