Dear Walter and Robert,
I have a question that has confused me a little for some time now, the issue of Libertarians, guns, and the State.
I hope I can explain my confusion in a understandable way, because I haven’t really seen the answer for it from anyone.
Libertarians as far as I can tell, are for the Right to Bear Arms, or the Right to Self Defense maybe is a better term, regardless of whether there is a 2nd amendment to the Constitution or not, which I agree. Rothbard was pro gun, Ron Paul has talked numerously about the Right to be armed, Judge Napolitano just had a great article in LRC about gun control and the Right to be armed. And obviously the 2nd amendment had nothing to do with hunting or merely protecting yourself from bad actors running around the neighborhood.
I understand that.
Here is where my confusion starts to come to play, and maybe because I am wrong in my understanding on other things I have read by Libertarians.
A lot of Libertarians write about the American Revolution in a slighted way, and I have read several things about armed revolution not being the answer ever, and that armed revolution always ends up being replaced by another tyranny. And I can understand that, although I think both Rothbard and Hoppe have a more positive look at the American Revolution and the armed secession there.
I constantly hear, we don’t want an armed rebellion, and I agree with this for the most part, I don’t want one either, the hearts and minds must be the revolution.
So where does gun ownership come into play? Or does it? Libertarians say we must not be disarmed, but also that armed rebellion is not the way to go.
So, can a Libertarian take up arms against the State, ever? If so, can it only be an individual case by case situation? Can it be a organized revolt?
I am not asking if it’s the smartest move, and I am not wanting permission to start a rebellion, because I have no desire to, I am simply asking for clarification on the Libertarian view of the State and the armed individual, and a conflict between the two.
I think it is an important question though, more than just for me, because I do think there is confusion in the Libertarian community about it, and the question I think is more relevant today than ever.
Dr. Block's response:
There are two issues here: the pragmatic or utilitarian, and the principled or deontological. From the latter perspective, armed rebellion is always justified, as long as the institution against which you are rebelling violates the non aggression principle. From the former perspective, it is justified if and only if it is (at least partially?) successful.
Now, of course, the US government, or the government of any other country I might ever visit cannot be considered to be violating the NAP (I don't want to break the law and be thrown in jail.) On the other hand, there are "bad" governments out there, and what I said above applies to them. Of course, even the US constitution provides a right to rebel when there is a "train of abuses."
Walter E. Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics
Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business
Loyola University New Orleans
I believe you make a very important point when you mention the "hearts and minds" issue, I would think that almost any revolution at the present time, anywhere globally, would likely be a failure from a libertarian perspective in that the masses do not have an appreciation of liberty, If anything good came out of any armed revolution it would be just luck, with the odds being very slim for good luck winning out. Thus, I think there is no reason to urge an armed revolution.
That said, this does not mean there isn't a place for the use of armed resistance. I am not thinking here of the United States, but say in Hitler's Germany where Jews were rounded up and then slaughtered. If I was a Jew in Hitler's Germany, if it made sense in a practical way to survive, I would have used arms against that German government.
I don't see the question as an individual versus group rebellion as much as the proper environment where armed resistance makes sense. I don't see that at the present time. I don't own a gun and don't expect to be taking part in any revolutions other than intellectual ones.