Why Culture Matters

In the little corner of the world occupied by libertarians of all stripes, discussion often ranges far and wide on matters that can be broadly labeled “culture.”  Posts and commentary can be found on issues ranging from those commonly labeled as “left-libertarian” (gay marriage, open borders, be nice to everyone, break down all hierarchical structures) to issues commonly labeled as “right-libertarian” (traditional lifestyle choices, managed borders, governance via family, church and community).

Why?  Why do libertarians find it necessary or valuable to comment on such matters?  Of course, a simple answer is that individuals who identify as libertarian have many other interests.  But it is clear that there is something more – the two spheres, “culture” and “libertarian,” seem to overlap inherently.  If it was random, we might expect to read just as many commentaries by (and passionate arguments amongst) libertarians on sports or cooking, for example.

What is it about culture that draws libertarian writers into its circle?  I will offer my thoughts on those traditionally labelled “right-libertarians.”  For the left – I have offered my thoughts plenty of times.

What Do I Mean by “Culture”?

Culture – in this context – is all of the behaviors in our lives that are not answerable by or even addressed by the non-aggression principle.  The non-aggression principle addresses when it is proper to use aggression; it is a political principle.  The NAP says nothing about many things: haircuts, clothes, religious affiliation (or not), car color, etc.  It speaks to the proper use of force, nothing more.

What is Libertarianism?

Libertarianism is the non-aggression principle built on a foundation of private property.  It is not appropriate to initiate aggression against the life or property of another; aggression is appropriate only in defense of life or property.

The definition is itself quite thin – I imagine in the abstract most people in the world would agree with this principle (one or both of the golden rule and silver rule, while not perfect matches, has/have a home in all of the various major religions of the world).

The application of the principle sometimes becomes an issue.  For the majority this difficulty begins with the intellectual or emotional inability to apply the NAP to state actors: for too many, initiating aggression is acceptable if the aggressor wears a badge (or uniform or any other state-sanctioned license).

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