Cato Unbound: The Absurd Libertarian Case for National Military Service

A while back, Cato Unbound posted an article titled “The Libertarian Case for National Military Service.” Its hard to imagine much greater of a contradiction in terms. Why not name it “The Libertarian Case for Slavery?” Articles like this are disturbing to say the least. Admittedly, this piece was in Cato Unbound, a platform for encouraging debate among controversial topics. However, this piece seems to be creating controversy where there actually is (almost) none. One can also imagine this sort of article being used by big government types as ammunition; “why, even libertarians support national military service!” I wouldn’t expect libertarians to make arguments like this for the same reason I wouldn’t expect a communist to make the “Communist Case for Private Ownership of the Means to Production”; namely, they wouldn’t actually be following basic axioms of their own theory to make it.

All that aside, it touches on important philosophical points. The article showcases the fundamental inconsistency of political libertarians who think taxes are legitimate. As Pileus Blog has explained, from a historical standpoint saying that libertarians support the legitimacy of taxes otherwise they are an anarchist is untrue, as past libertarian party platforms would attest. From a simply political standpoint, a libertarian can recognize taxes as legitimate, but it means that they must ignore the fundamental axioms of philosophical libertarianism to do so. (The non-aggression principle, right to self-ownership). Anytime libertarians deviate from these axioms, they’re necessarily not acting as consistent libertarians. A libertarian who does follow these axioms strictly is ultimately accepting anarchy. Strictly politically, libertarianism can cross over and include both anarchy and mild statism, but as a political philosophy, dedications to its axioms consistently means being an anarchist (this is a caveat many statist libertarians don’t like to hear).

At the end of the day, a libertarian conceding the principle of taxation removes any philosophical validity to their propositions and guts libertarianism of all its substance. Also, the author can call conscription/national military service a tax-in-kind, but it merely disguises its nature; namely that national military service is slavery. It rests on the assumption that we belong to the state and do not have ownership over our own bodies, an anti-libertarian position if there ever was one. Positions like like are totally repugnant to libertarians central axioms. What’s next, the libertarian case for the holocaust?


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