Libertarianism: Thick and Thin – and Why Paleolibertarianism is Neither

Libertarianism: Thick and Thin – and Why Paleolibertarianism is Neither

After reading a paper by Jeffrey Tucker and Lew Rockwell, I decided I would put something into words which I heretofore hadn’t been able to: paleolibertarianism isn’t actually a type of ‘thick libertarianism’. For those unfamiliar with the terms, I’ll give a brief explanation of them.

To be a thin libertarian is to be concerned solely with libertarian politics or philosophy, with no views whatsoever on culture. A thin libertarian will respond to anything with the flippant retort “As long as it doesn’t violate the NAP.” Perhaps the best example I could give to you of this would be a libertarian who is also culturally relativist.

To be a thick libertarian, on the other hand, is to be concerned almost totally with cultural matters. To have, for want of a better phrase, a cultural agenda. A thin libertarian will not only run everything past the NAP, but will also try to make sure that people endorse his specific alternative lifestyle. If two people wanted to get divorced, the standard thick libertarian would say “Well it doesn’t violate the NAP”, but would then add “and marriage is an outmoded and sexist institution” or something to that effect.

To be a paleolibertarian, lastly, is to be willing to “defend the undefendable”, to be a libertarian extremist and uncompromisingly intellectually radical (willing to enter the taboo realms). More specifically, a paleo will happily make use of empirical sociobiology and revisionist history in conjunction with his use of deductive Austrian school economics and natural law philosophy to paint a big picture of libertarianism. Trends in paleoism are being anarchist, anti-mass immigration, pro-secessionism, pro-retribution, anti-centralism, pro-propertarian discrimination, anti-egalitarianism, pro-patriarchy, anti-alternative lifestyles, pro-elitism, pro-Christianity, pro-hierarchy, anti-drug abuse and pro-commodity money and full reserve banking.

At first glance, with my listing of what are obviously mostly cultural preferences, one would think that paleolibertarianism is a type of thick libertarianism. I hold that it isn’t. Why? Well, first of all, what I listed were just tendencies and there are deviations from them within paleolibertarianism. But there is something which unites the list I gave above and, more generally, which unites paleolibertarians in their “cultural outlook”: the alternatives to what we tend to talk about in the realm of culture are fundamentally against human nature or human flourishing/wellbeing.

For instance: mass-immigration leads to racial tension and higher rates of crime and welfare dependency; people who lead alternative hippy-type lifestyles tend not to become as well-off as those who participate in the division of labour, get married, and own property; and those who abuse drugs often become ill. On the other hand, discrimination is a natural part of human action (in typing this short post, I’m not doing other things – one could say that I am discriminating against all other alternative actions I could have taken) and elitism is the result of one group of people having relatively greater levels of achievement than another (again, inescapable and totally natural).

“Mises believed that feminism was an assertion of equality, a revolt against nature, and therefore akin to socialism; that the family and marital fidelity were essential to civilization; that it was possible to make broad generalizations and perhaps scientific statements about races and ethnic groups; that apparent racial inequalities ought to be studied, although not used to influence state policy; that “Eurocentrism” was the proper outlook; and that one need not be sympathetic to mass culture or the counterculture, as Mises emphatically was not, to support the free market. So conservative was Mises on cultural issues, in fact, that today he would be regarded as a reactionary.” – The Cultural Thought of Ludwig von Mises, Jeffrey Tucker and Llewellyn Rockwell, 1991

Leftist cultural views, then, are going against the natural order of things: liberty or equality, take your pick. Paleolibertarians have no cultural agenda, but we do proudly assert our bias toward Western civilisation. Why wouldn’t we? – without it, there’d be no such concept as “libertarianism”. The burden of proof is not on us and our defence of the family, property rights and tradition, but on the advocates of moral libertinism and egalitarianism – both “a revolt against nature”. To be a radical, paleolibertarian, one need not robotically repeat “all cultures deserve equal praise” and you certainly ought not to specifically attack bourgeois civilisation; a real libertarian will defend private property and that which effectively produces health, wealth and happiness.


  • No libertarian is JUST a libertarian – we are also human beings who have cultural preferences.

    I do not hide the fact that my own cultural preferences are conservative ones – I think that traditional families (and so on) are GOOD.

    But am I prepared to use force (the threat of violence) to force my view of the good on others?

    No I am not.

    A libertarian is only prepared to use force in defence of justice (not all the other virtues) – justice in the sense of crime and punishment. And, to the libertarian, a crime is a violation (or an active conspiracy to violate) the bodies or goods of others.

  • Martland clearly doesn’t understand “thin” libertarianism. It’s not that we “thin” libertarians “have no views whatsoever on culture.” It’s that we consider the NAP an absolute limit on what people may morally do about their views on culture. To grab a Jeffersonian phrase, if it “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg,” I’m not justified in using force to stop or punish it. That doesn’t mean I have to like it or think it’s a good thing.

    Not being a “thick” libertarian, I won’t belabor what seems to be an equal ignorance of “thickness” on Martland’s part.

    I do have to agree with him that paleolibertarianism is “neither thick nor thin” libertarianism. If it is as he describes it, it’s not any kind of libertarianism at all.

  • Yes the non aggression principle is the limit of how far a libertarian will use violence – a libertarian will only use violence in self defence or to defend others.

    This is why (for example) the “Bleeding Hearts” who explicitly reject the non aggression principle are not libertarians.

    Take the example of a drunkard with lots of girl friends (and boy friends) who rolls around all day not doing a stroke of work.

    I may think (I do think) that his “lifestyle” stinks – but he has not committed a crime, no violation of justice has taken place in his “lifestyle”.

    Till the day he demands that I PAY FOR IT.

    And, sadly that is the modern practice.

    But let us be fair to the deadbeats (yes it is “be fair to deadbeats” day). They never got up one day (after lunchtime) and said “the taxpayers should fund my lifestyle” – that is not what happened.

    The “intellectuals” and the “activists” went around (in best Cloward and Piven fashion) telling people that they had “rights” to various benefits – funded by taxpayers. They made a massive campaign of getting people to sign on for X,Y, Z in the active hope of getting their children born into dependency – to create an Underclass (an ever growing Underclass).

    The “turn on, tune in and drop out” stuff (both in America and in Europe) was not a “bottom up” movement either – it was a “top down” movement – invented by an intellectual elite for the deliberate purpose of undermining civil society (what they call “capitalist” society) – “Progressive education” had (and has) the same purpose – and the ideas behind that go back as far as Rousseau.

    The people (in America or Britain or anywhere else) never asked for these schemes to be created – they were created by Fabians, Progressives, Great Society activists – and so on.

    • “This is why (for example) the ‘Bleeding Hearts’ who explicitly reject the non aggression principle are not libertarians.”

      I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading regarding the “Bleeding Hearts,” and that issue in particular.

      On the one hand, I tend to agree.

      On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that, as with “capitalism,” my definition of “libertarian” doesn’t enjoy a monopoly.

      At one time, “libertarian” was a theological term referring to someone who believed in free will rather than predestination.

      Then (and in places, to this day) it referred specifically to European communist anarchists.

      Although the non-aggression principle is implicit in any number of religious and philosophical teachings, so far as I can tell it’s only been specific in its current form, and associated with the term “libertarian,” for the last 50 years or so, and then only among a sub-set (in the US in particular, a lot of “constitutionalists” like to use the term, even though they advocate clearly aggressive policies on some subjects).

      So, except at the height of polemic, I tend to be more ecumenical than you might expect about who’s “allowed” to use the term “libertarian” as a self-descriptor.

      I’d rather that NAP-rejectionists, across the spectrum from Ron Paul to some of the “Bleeding Hearts,” didn’t use it, but I can’t stop them. Oh, well 😦

  • To clarify, not once did I suggest using physical violence against those who practice alternative lifestyles. One only has to read my short post to understand that. What I did say, though, is that to be really interested in liberty one must be unafraid to defend cultures which have developed naturally (without the distorting effects of the state) and which have successfully kept people free from oppression for a long time.

    And yes Mr Marks, the BHLs are tiresome.

    As libertarians we have to recognise that the socialists no longer want to control us through the direct seizure of the means of production. That has failed quite miserably and I don’t think there’s much chance of a bloody workers’ rebellion any time soon.

    No, the socialists have realised that politics and economics are linked to culture and that through a control of culture they have more chance of a victory. Well, Sean Gabb has made a pretty convincing case that the Left has achieved its revolution in this way. They have inverted many of the old values which Englishmen lived by.

    Who will dispute this? : that a single man or woman, without family ties, is easier to manipulate than a family man or woman. This is just one of the tactics which the ruling class is using. Further to this, mass-immigration also has the effect of, using Dr Gabb’s term, ‘Balkanising’ the English people. Again, an isolated and atomised man who is surrounded by people who are hostile to him is more likely to be the victim of state oppression than a man who loves his neighbour.

    Strategy and culture are the parts of libertarianism which are worst developed, and yet best developed in Marxism.

    While I did not say that we should use the state’s violence to harm militant gays, militant atheists, and fundamentalist Muslims and other politicised factions, we as libertarians must recognise that they do not desire a libertarian order.

    Furthermore, we can use empirical science combined with what we can deduce about human nature and economics to learn why it is that some societies are rich and others poor. Why is it, for instance, that some groups are more prone to crime than others? Why is it that some groups are more intelligent than others? Under what conditions is liberty best achieved and maintained?

    If we are not willing to have a serious discussion – using all the relevant information – of these questions, then we do not have the right to call ourselves libertarians. The burden of proof is on those libertarians – BHLs are an excellent example – who reject ‘hierarchy’, ‘patriarchy’ and such old institutions and concepts. They must prove that liberty, prosperity, order and the other values we strive for will definitely be achieved once nobody is married, once nobody ever discriminates against anybody, and once all of society operates – albeit voluntarily – on the principles of egalitarianism and democracy.

    • “They must prove that liberty, prosperity, order and the other values we strive for will definitely be achieved once nobody is married, once nobody ever discriminates against anybody, and once all of society operates – albeit voluntarily – on the principles of egalitarianism and democracy.”

      That’s a strange burden of proof, given that the cultures/systems you defend against them, on allegedly libertarians grounds, don’t meet it, have never met it and don’t seem likely to meet it in the future.

      • I think Keir is mired in some form of the Excluded Middle Fallacy, but I always get my fallacies confused. It might be a Straw Man, the internet’s most popular fallacy.

    • I think I am with you on this.

      There is nothing wrong with recognising things for what they are, or, for that matter, being biased to the kinds of peoples and civilisations that gave birth to – and largely sustain – notions of libertarianism.

      I am not has hardcore on my “libertarianism” as some here – but I do consider myself a fellow traveller within the scope of a particular niche (in which I suspect libertarianism would thrive and expand).

      That, unfortunately, is the opposite way to how society and demographics are working in this country and in the other select few nations most historically prone to inventing and upholding such positions.

      You are correct to say that some groups do not desire a libertarian order – and to me it is the height of stupidity for some people commenting here on this site lately to have this fairy tale in their mind where we can add to, mix up, alter the very nature of society with “individuals” from all over the world (and all this carping on about “property rights”) and that not only will things get better, but they will get more libertarian, if only we had this, or that…..

      It is complete bunkum in my opinion, often born from the minds of fantasists and puritanical upholders of some sort of dream world utopia that can not ever be achieved in practice.

      It is right to acknowledge what the traits of human nature are, recognise where there might be differences than cannot be “equalled” out, acknowledge what elements and such are conducive to achieving some kind of libertarian essence in society.

      To deny these things is to deny humanity itself, an inhuman expectation based upon fallacies instead of what is actually reality.

      Such people tend to bang on about all sorts of things about how a libertarian nation – (“or world”, seeing as some of these muppets don’t think we ought to have border controls) – would operate, but in the mean time to their chaos being presented, we are having our privacy erased, we are having parents risking fines and such for taking their *own* children out of school early at holidays, we are seeing secret courts operating in this country, we are seeing legislation proposed to stifle free speech on the internet, and even draft proposals from EU groupings to try and make “intolerance” of any kind some sort of crime.

      (See here:

      These are the kinds of things that bother me as a “libertarian”, but maybe I really have got the wrong site after all! lol.

  • Just a brief comment to address one of the many troublesome issues in this post.

    Keir, when you talk of being “pro-elitism” I think you are confusing elitism and something like meritocracy. Elitism is a system in which some group is assigned privileged “elite” status to rule over others and is anathema to any form of libertarianism, thick, thin or whatever on earth any of these subcategories are supposed to mean. As a word, it simply does not mean that some will do better than others by their own efforts in a free society. It’s the exact opposite.

  • I tend to view with great skepticism any any claim that such and such an ideology (including conservatism) equates to a ‘natural order of things’.
    the claim of the divine or natural inevitability of particular socio-economic and cultural systems is usually the defence of kings and tyrants.

  • Actually if I was a generous man (I am not) I would thank the Bleeding Hearts for being so open. Think how much time could have been wasted on the “you are against the Non Aggression Principle” “no I support it” conflict. It could have gone of for years – so them saying “yes we against the Non Aggression Principle” saves a lot time and irritation.

    As for some “cultures” being more opposed to the nonaggression principle than others (although no culture, these days, is actually in favour of the nonaggression principle) that is true.

    But we must be careful not to assume that every individual (yes I am going to use the “I” word) is in favour of the culture they are from – and is part of a criminal conspiracy to use FORCE to impose that culture here.

    Take Bishop Ali (the former Bishop of Rochester in Kent) – he was born and brought up in Pakistan.

    Is he some agent of the Islamists? No he is not. He has a fine man.

    In the end individuals have to judged on whether they are a threat to the lives and goods (yes the property rights) of others.

    Someone like Bishop Ali should be welcome – and I can think of a lot of blond haired, blue eyed people who should not be (because they hate and despise everything good that is left in the dying West).

    The question should be not “what colour are you?” or even “where are you from?” but rather “WHOSE SIDE ON YOU ON?” (and in this there really no “neutral” people ).

    What matters is not (for example) whether Barack Obama was born in Kenya (which he was NOT), but “does he support the principles of Western civilisation – most importantly that there should be limits on government power to protect property rights>”. And that answer to that is “no he does not” – he is radically on the other side.

    So is the candidate for Mayor in New York City – and he is white and was born with a German name.

    All that being said – there is a defence for “prejudice”.

    People often do not have TIME to find out about an individual – so they make a group judgement (based on previous experience of people in this group).

    “When I walk at night and hear footsteps behind me and turn round and see it is a white man (not a black man) I am relieved”,

    Who said that?

    Jesse Jackson said that – the professional racial extortion activist.

    If anyone else had said it he would be busy organising protests against them (till they “paid off” his organisation to leave them alone – that is how “Rev” Jackson makes his leaving).

    But he admitted that this he thinks himself.

    He hears footsteps behind him – he turns round and sees a black man and he is scared. He turns round and sees a white man – and he is relieved.

    That is racial profiling.

    The black man could be a saint, the white man could be a murderer – Jackson does not know. He is judging by the colour of their skin.

    That is prejudice – “pre – judging” – based on prior experience.

    Because he does not have time (in that situation) for anything else.

  • Brown skinned man from Pakistan – blond haired, blue eyed woman from Belgium,

    It could be the second who is the Islamist suicide bomber (yes there was a blue eyed, blond haired women from Belgium who was a suicide bomber) – and the brown skinned man from Pakistan could be Bishop Ali (desperately trying to save you from the suicide bomber).

    But it is not reasonable to expect people (when they do have the luxury of time) to act in an unprejudiced way – their prior experience (there pre-judgements) are all they have got.

  • As for the Frankfurt School (and the Fabians before them).

    Yes they seek to undermine traditional civil society – and to undermine the traditional virtues, and yes they have had great success in so doing. And yes the motive for their action is to destroy liberty (to reduce civil society to ashes – so they an move in and build the collectivism they desire).

    What is the connection with libertarianism?

    The only one I an think of is that some “libertarians” WELCOME the results of this destructive work – they welcome it as a form of “liberation” from the terrible burdens of personal responsibility (the price we pay for agency – for freedom).

    I doubt whether there are really very many of such “libertarians” – there are more of the “well if I attack anti discrimination laws [or whatever] people will think I am a bigot – so I had better stop attacking them” types.

    However, for those few “libertarians” who really do welcome the P.C. (or “Critical Theory” or “liberationist”) movement – well they are not libertarians at all.

    Collectivist “liberation” – the “freedom from responsibility – the freedom not to be free” stuff is the enemy of liberty.

  • Another version.

    “Babbitt” – both Irving Babbitt and the character “Babbitt” (the supposed typical Mid West businessman attacked in the satirical 1920s novel of this name) is a lot closer to liberty than their “freedom loving”, “liberationist” attackers (such as Sinclair Lewis the novelist).

    But their attackers did not call themselves libertarians – they called themselves (back in the 1920s and 1930s) “socialists”, which is exactly what they were (and are).

    And some of these socialists were (within limits) fairly honest people – for example the leftist sociologists gave a fairly honest account of “Middletown” (really Munsie Indiana – the classic “Babbitt” town in the classic “Babbitt” state).

    They were baffled by the lack of class feeling in the town (that “the workers” did NOT feel that the long term interests of “the capitalists” were in conflict with their own) – but they gave a fairly honest account of the attitudes they found, and of events in “Middletown”.

    For example, when the KKK arrived in “Middletown” they were met by hostility and rejection.

    Exactly as if they were a union – it was as if the thugs of the UAW (or whatever) had invaded “Middletown”.

    The local “Babbitts” did not see the KKK as an “ally of the capitalist order” (and neither did their employees) they viewed the KKK as an enemy – and treated them accordingly.

  • Thin and thick are a bit mixed up here. Is this a typo?
    ‘A thin libertarian will not only run everything past the NAP, but will also try to make sure that people endorse his specific alternative lifestyle. If two people wanted to get divorced, the standard thick libertarian would say “Well it doesn’t violate the NAP”, but would then add “and marriage is an outmoded and sexist institution” or something to that effect.’

  • People who say that marriage is “an outmoded and sexist institution” are not “thick libertarians”. They are just thick.

    • It’s always been an evolving institution though. It started going wrong when the Church got control of it, and went tits when the State got control of it.

      As libertarians, we should be seeking to restore it to being a privatised civil institution; just a private contract as it once was. Chaucer’s Wife Of Bath-

      “For, masters, since I was twelve years of age,
      Thanks be to God who is forever alive,
      Of husbands at church door have I had five;
      For men so many times have married me;
      And all were worthy men in their degree.
      But someone told me not so long ago
      That since Our Lord, save once, would never go
      To wedding that at Cana in Galilee,
      Thus, by this same example, showed he me
      I never should have married more than once.”

      She was married neither by the Church, nor by the State. Her marriages were outside the Church, “at the door”, and then they went inside for a subsequent blessing by God.

      So it was, so it should be again.

  • Do I support the right of people to have secular marriages? Yes I do – a secular marriage is not the same as a state marriage (I am against the state being involved – for example I am against the Births, Marriages and Deaths Registration Act of 1836).

    I prefer religious marriages, but if people want a humanist service that is (or should be) their right.

    Sadly all forms of marriage are in decline (out of wedlock births and so on – one parent families were the STATE is the “bread winner”) – indeed society is falling apart.

    Civil Society falling apart is not a good thing.

  • Keir I like your article but your definitions of what is thick and thin is very different to how the bleeding heart libs see it, and they invented the meme.

    The original premise of thick and thin libertarianism was dishonest from the beginning – it mainly was a way for left libertarians to caricature the Mises institute/Rothbard libertarians as being just focussed on the NAP to the exclusion of all else.

    They would produce one lifeboat example after another – where in order for a human to survive the NAP must be violated. The entire point of this exercise was so they could then stand back and say ‘See!!! the evil NAP does not work, we thus must include social justice and very limited coercive redistribution to compensate for the NAP not working 100%’

    Basically it is a way for the left/bleeding-heart-libs to smuggle in their Marxist and social justice tendencies into their intellectual framework, while framing the LvMI/Rothbard libs as just right wing economic libertarians.

    It was dishonest from the beginning, simply because no serious libertarian theorist claims the NAP on its own is workable. The NAP is only one half of the coin, the other being property rights. Only with a sound theory of what is voluntary exchange, what constitutes a legitimate exchange of property titles, who has a legitimate claim of control over a scarce resource, e.t.c e.t.c only with this grounding can it then be decided if invoking the NAP is justified or not.

    Of course I realise your article is very far removed from my brief history of what the thin/thick divide is all about.

  • All varieties of libertarianism have their good points except the ones contaminated by liberalism (this is liberalism in the American sense — socialism + cultural marxism), and this is a helpful description of some of those varieties. I’ve reprinted it with an appropriate quibcag here:

  • Pingback: On Paleolibertarianism | The Blog of Keir Martland

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