Libertarian Answer Man time again!
I was asked a question about voting for Javier Milei, the soi-disant anarcho-capitalist or libertarian running for President in Argentina. I can certainly say that of the few videos and statements I’ve seen from the guy, he seems amazing, compared to any politician I’ve ever heard of. Since he seems to be familiar with Austrian economics and Rothbardian anarcho-libertarianism, and a scholar to boot.1 I doubt he get much of his radical programme enacted if elected, but even if he could dollarize the economy and stop hyperinflation, that would be a huge plus.2
In any case, I am not quite sure why anyone would solicit my views on the morality or practicality of voting, much less in Argentina, much less for a particular candidate. I’m not Argentinian, I don’t know the questioners, and, more to the point, I’m not a morals/ethics expert. But hey, they asked.
I will rephrase the question (to anonymize, simplify, and clarify) and then follow with an edited version of my reply.
Javier Milei is a libertarian candidate for the presidency of Argentina, who declares himself an Anarcho-Capitalist and openly calls taxes theft, and the State organized mafia. Some libertarians here are more purist, who question whether there is any good reason to vote at all, for any politician, or whether it is even ethically legitimate. Some accuse those of us planning to vote for him statist; others feel that he is worth voting for as he could bring Argentina closer to anarcho-capitalism and help reduce and maybe reverse the growth of the state. His candidacy and, even more, a victory, could also help put libertarian ideas on the table, to help challenge the previously dominant left-right status-quo. The critics think that voting itself legitimizes the statist system and democracy, and thus no libertarian should do this. There is intense debate about this among Latin American libertarians. What is your opinion?
I do not know if there a clear-cut objective answer to the morality or propriety of voting, for a libertarian, either from moral principles or especially from libertarian principles, or even from a tactical perspective. I certainly do not personally believe voting is per se prohibited by libertarian principles. That is, it is not necessarily unlibertarian to vote, and that is for two reasons. First, voting is not necessarily an act of aggression. (One can easily imagine situations where it is defensive or a legitimate attempt to achieve an improved, if second-best, outcome.)
Second, one could argue it is immoral (wrong) to vote—or even that it is immoral or wrong to commit aggression; but technically speaking, the morality of one’s actions is not within the province of libertarianism. Libertarian norms are metanorms that tell us which laws are justified; they are not normal morals that directly guide human action on a daily basis.3
Let me try to elaborate. Libertarianism does not directly tell us how to act morally, it only informs us as to what laws are just.4
I also do not personally believe (and I say this as a normal human, not as a libertarian) that it is necessarily immoral to vote. I do think that voting is usually futile and useless, but I see nothing wrong with it, per se, at least if one votes for the obviously more libertarian candidate or result. Voting for socialism, to the contrary, could be argued to be a type of aggression.5
Thus, although I respect arguments to the contrary, I would disagree with my friend Wendy McElroy in her classic article “Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler.”6
If I were in Argentina I would vote for Milei! But again, I say this as a human, going by normal moral intuitions and values, not as a libertarian, since I don’t think libertarianism is a guide to moral behavior per se, it is a guide as to what laws we can support. And as noted above, I do not think voting necessarily is an act of aggression, or legitimizing the state, although in some instances (voting for a tyrant or socialist), it can be.
For more Twitter activity:
El Abogado y Jurista Anarco-Capitalista Stephan Kinsella votaría por Milei
"No sé si hay una respuesta objetiva y clara a la moralidad de votar, para un libertario, ya sea desde principios morales o especialmente desde principios libertarios.
Ciertamente no creo que votar… pic.twitter.com/jECMnczJpF
— LEK (@Lek_ANCAP) September 7, 2023
Ad hominem, in any case, I know them more than you, and I am publishing an article on libertarianism and praxeological law from Kantian metaphysia with a colleague, so yes, Hoppe I know he knows a lot, and I do too thanks to reading his perfect essays with a deductive method
— zZz (@LElzame) September 9, 2023
but you know you "purist" guys would all be secretly happy if Milei wins. You would just prefer others do the dirty work of getting him elected.
— Stephan Kinsella (@NSKinsella) September 9, 2023
La política per se tampoco nos llevará a ese "paraíso", lo que sí podría hacer es RETRASAR algo y temporalmente el avance del Estado, y mejorar ciertos problemas puntuales como la inflación al quitarles poder de emitir como es el caso argentino.
— Pipo 🏴 (@piipoo7) September 8, 2023
And from my comment below, drawing in this Tweet:
Let’s assume we all here agree on basic libertarian principles. That is, that aggression is unjust, and that no law can be just except those that outlaw aggression; and that aggression is defined in terms of property rights of self-ownership of one’s body and ownership of previously unowned scarce resources in accordance with original appropriation and contractual title transfer. I will assume we all agree on this.
I also think it can be argued that libertarianism is not a moral theory, that its norms are metanorms, as argued by Rasmussen and Den Uyl, meaning that it does not directly tell us what to do in our daily lives. It tells us what laws are just, but is not a moral code. [See, on this, my “Dialogical Arguments for Libertarian Rights,” in Legal Foundations of a Free Society, at p. 126 n.2.]
And finally I think the above is basic libertarian theory which, in addition to not being a moral theory, also is not a theory of strategy. Knowing what laws are just and what rights we have does not tell us anything about whether such a world is achievable or possible or how to go about achieving it. That is the domain of strategy and tactics. I believe education plays a role but only a limited one, since at this point there is sufficient developed knowledge and theory to show that liberty is the only just society; yet we don’t have it yet, so education and handing out pamphlets and hectoring your uncle at family dinners or pestering your college dorm roommates to death is clearly insufficient. I also think electoral politics is useless, partly because of the inner logic of democracy as adumbrate by Hoppe. (I say that even though I joined the US Libertarian Party; but not in hopes of winning, but only to try to influence its platform to accurately reflect libertarian principles; see Aggression and Property Rights Plank in the Libertarian Party Platform.)
But the question put to me was, basically: whether it’s unlibertarian or unethical or pointless, to vote for an avowed libertarian candidate. From a causation point of view I think that votes are basically futile so it’s hard to argue voting per se is always a rights violation, esp. if you are voting in favor of reductions of socialism instead of expanding it. This is true even if you are right that it is counterproductive strategically to try to achieve liberty by voting. All it would mean is that it’s a waste of time and not doing anything useful. But people are entitled to waste their time and not work productively for liberty. I don’t see that it’s a rights violation to vote–not necessarily, that is; in some cases, it can be. (See my chapter “Causation and Aggression” in the aforementioned book.)
As for voting being strategically wise or not: I would tend to agree it’s pointless and won’t work. Even if Milei wins, I doubt he can do much. But if he only managed to reduce inflation, that would be an improvement, I think.
As for it being moral or not to vote: again, this is not a question for libertarianism, per se. So if you ask me my opinion, I can only answer just as a normal human, not as a libertarian; and not as an expert, since I am not an ethics expert—but only as a layman. I answered from this perspective that in my opinion, I do not think it’s necessarily immoral to vote for a libertarian candidate. But I do not pretend to be an expert on this, nor do I know if anyone is, to be honest.
Now, if you disagree with any particular assertion or argument I gave above, please explain exactly why, in calm and concise terms, without veering off into other terrain and with no loaded questions or question-begging or ill-defined terms or other assumptions.
- See his chapter “Capitalism, Socialism, and the Neoclassical Trap,” in David Howden & , eds., The Emergence of a Tradition: Essays in Honor of Jesús Huerta de Soto, Vol. II (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023), which unfortunately has a prohibitive academic publisher price, but I hear rumors free copies can be found online. [↩]
- For more on Milei, see Fernando Chiocca, “O grande triunfo da esquerda: uma direita socialista,” Instituto Rothbard (July 1, 2023); and Javier Milei, “El retiro de Bernanke y el futuro de los emergentes” (Sábado 3 de agosto, 2013). [↩]
- See, on this, Kinsella, “Dialogical Arguments for Libertarian Rights,” in Legal Foundations of a Free Society (Houston, Texas: Papinian Press, 2023) [LFFS], p. 126 n.2. [↩]
- Again, see, on this, Kinsella, “Dialogical Arguments for Libertarian Rights,” p. 126 n.2. [↩]
- See my analysis of causation and responsibility in “Causation and Aggression,” in LFFS. [↩]
- Wendy McElroy, “Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler,” Liberty 9, no. 5 (May 1996): 46–47. For other libertarian arguments against voting, see those collected at “I Don’t Vote,” Openly Voluntary. Others, like Walter Block, disagree. See, e.g., Walter E. Block,”Voting: Rejoinder to Casey, McElroy, Ward, Pugsley, Konkin and Barnett,” Political Dialogues: Journal of Political Theory (2018): 23–38, and idem, “If You Have To Vote for a President,” LewRockwell.com (June 28, 2004). [↩]