A libertarian struggles occasionally with the dichotomy between the principles informing his politics and the fact that, sometimes, he quite likes some of the more statist proposals being made by various political voices. A possible example of this is Tony Blair’s anti-terrorism announcement this past week with implications for those who preach hatred in the United Kingdom.

How legitimate is a policy that will take coercive action against individuals based simply on what they SAY instead of what they have DONE? How consistent is such a policy with a libertarian political ideal? Freedom of speech is one of those fundamental rights that (almost) everyone believes in and supports. How far that freedom extends, I have discovered, is often an entirely different conversation. By advocating violence, some Islamic groups in the West could be said to be indirectly removing the liberties of innocent citizens, thus falling into the category of things upon which government may legislate coercively. But on (most) other issues, such a pre-emptive directive is decided by libertarians to be unwarranted; only the actions of violence themselves invite government intervention. The government cannot legislate BEFORE a crime is committed, or legislate against those who sympathise with criminals or associate with criminals – only the criminals themselves, after the fact, could face prosecution.

And yet, the wannabe statist in me thinks Blair’s proposals are a timely and admirable response to an imminent threat to the United Kingdom. Those hateful bastards. Only a complete idiot doubts the role that extremist Islamic clerics, their sympathisers and supporters are playing in the terror threat to the West (and we have a few …. idiots AND extremist Islamists). All of the recent threats have come from within the West – they are homebred terrorists and are clearly bred under the culture of freedom that they are granted by our (fairly) free societies. As Blair says, “We are angry about extremism and about what they are doing to our country, angry about their abuse of our good nature.” For “good nature”, read “culture of freedom”. So its a problem for libertarians who see what’s going on.

But it is perhaps notable that, in this instance, Blair is simply proposing a change of rules within a system that ALREADY falls beyond the confines of a libertarian goverment – a change of rules to the immigration system. He proposes that Britain will deport such types (rather than jail them, torture them or kill them). Maybe a good libertarian position on such a proposal could be supportive in the interim; ie. supportive of such a proposal while a coercive immigration system exists (and border control should be among the last of current systems to be deconstructed by libertarians, in the opinion of this writer) while ultimately aiming for a society in which neither the coercive immigration system OR the terror threat exists.

I would be open to debate from other libertarians on this one.

John Wright


ADDED Wed, August 10th:

For the opinions of fellow libertarian blogger Perry de Havilland of samizdata.net on this topic, see this link for his article which was published in The Times today – http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3284-1728654,00.html