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Why Do Libertarians Support School Vouchers?

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For the life of me, I simply cannot understand why some libertarians still support school vouchers. Libertarianism, after all, is about achieving a free society. What do school vouchers have to do with freedom? They are the very antithesis of freedom.

A genuinely free society necessarily entails getting government out of education entirely. That includes ridding our nation of the federal Department of Education. Most libertarians know that and advocate it.

But a genuinely free society entails more than that. It entails getting all government — federal, state, and local — out of education. Most libertarians know that too, even if it’s only on an instinctive level.

And there is the rub. Some libertarians just won’t go that far. They’ll call for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education but they’ll back off from calling for the separation of school and state at the state and local level. They just can’t bring themselves to calling for the abolition of public (i.e., government) schooling, the repeal of state compulsory-attendance laws, the abolition of school taxes, and the end of state involvement in education.

Why?

The libertarian non-aggression principle

After all, it is impossible to reconcile public schooling itself with the core principle of the libertarian philosophy — the non-aggression principle. It holds that the initiation of force against another person is illegitimate. Every libertarian understands that the non-aggression principle goes to the heart of the libertarian philosophy.

When the state collects taxes to fund its public schooling operations, it is initiating force against other people. When it compels parents to subject their children to the state’s educational system, it is also initiating force against other people.

Libertarianism also stands squarely against socialism, one of the most immoral and destructive economic philosophies in history. Yet, it would be difficult to find a better model for socialism than public schooling. It is based on the socialist concept of central planning by government officials. The state selects the textbooks, hires the teachers and administrators, sets the curriculum, and decides what student are going to be taught. It is a system characterized by regimentation, conformity, obedience, regulation, and memorization and regurgitation, much like the army.

Libertarians understand all this and most of them agree with it. Unfortunately, however, they simply cannot bring themselves to openly and publicly call for educational liberty.

Why?

I think one reason is that such libertarians are scared of how people will perceive them if they call for the abolition of public schooling. They fear being criticized or socially ostracized by others for standing in favor of such a radical idea. They want to be taken seriously by the mainstream media. They want to be respected and admired. They want to be accepted by others in society.

The school-voucher plan

Decades ago, some libertarians, unable to bring themselves to call for full educational liberty, settled on a compromise plan, one that entailed abolishing the federal Department of Education and, at the same time, advocating a program called “school vouchers” at the state and local level. In this way, they could be perceived as favoring what they considered was a “radical” idea of getting the federal government out of education while, at the same time, not be perceived to be calling for the end of public schooling at the state and local level.

The idea behind vouchers was to provide a way for parents to take their children out of the destructive public schooling system and put them into private schools. The way the program works is the state taxes people and then redistributes the money to parents in the form of vouchers, which they use to help pay the tuition at private schools.

Obviously, there is a serious problem that immediately arises, one that entails taxation and socialism. Since they are funded by taxation, vouchers are based on the initiation of force, a grave violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle. They are also based on the socialist principle of using the state to take money from people to whom it rightly belongs and give it to people who claim to need it more.

Obviously, there is no way to reconcile a program that violates the libertarian non-aggression principle with libertarianism. There is also no way to reconcile a socialist program with libertarianism.

The “incrementalism” concept

In the early days of the voucher movement some 30 years ago, libertarian proponents of school vouchers fell back on the “incrementalism” concept that was gaining popularity at the time within the libertarian movement. It held that it is okay for libertarians to advocate programs that “incrementally” lead toward freedom. Vouchers, they said, would incrementally lead toward the separation of school and state and, therefore, it was okay for libertarians to support them.

Two big problems arise, however.

One is that during the period of time of the incrementalism, the state is initiating force against others, which becomes a continuous violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle.

The other is that school vouchers do not incrementally lead to the demise of public schooling. Instead, they do the opposite. By making private schools dependent on the vouchers, they more deeply embed the state in the education of children, the exact opposite of what voucher proponents 30 years ago said would happen.

Thus, it’s not a coincidence that after almost 30 years of school vouchers in Milwaukee, the city’s school voucher program has not incrementally led to the separation of school and state in Milwaukee. Public schooling is more deeply embedded than ever in the city. Given such, the question naturally arises: Why are those libertarians and those libertarian organizations that supported school vouchers 30 years ago still supporting them today?

In fact, most libertarians who still support vouchers today don’t dare mention the incrementalism argument. They know that if they do, people will figure out that their goal is to end public schooling. Revealing that goal would subject pro-voucher libertarians to the criticism and social ostracism that they have long determined to avoid.

Making peace with public schooling

So, the argument that libertarian proponents of vouchers use today is that their program will improve, not end, the public school system through what they call “choice” and “competition.” In other words, pro-voucher libertarians have abandoned their incrementalism argument and have made peace with the permanent existence of public schooling. They just want to make this socialist program better, which is what they assert their socialist program of school vouchers will do.

Never mind that the state continues to damage children’s minds and destroy their natural love of learning with its public schooling system. Never mind that school vouchers expand the state’s tentacles to the private educational sector. Never mind that we have the spectacle of libertarians advocating socialist programs that violate libertarian principles. Never mind that a good end can never justify immoral means.

Pro-voucher libertarians today, including those who have advocated vouchers for decades, need to do some serous soul-searching and ask themselves some critically important questions. Why are you still supporting school vouchers? Why not abandon your support for this immoral and destructive socialist program? Why not leave the advocacy of school vouchers to conservatives and Republicans? Why not join up with us libertarians who are fighting for educational liberty? Why not openly and publicly begin calling for the separation of school and state, at all levels of government?

The post Why Do Libertarians Support School Vouchers? appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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About The Author

Jacob G. Hornberger

The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government. Visit https://www.fff.org

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