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Incrementalism Versus the Libertarian Non-Aggression Principle

The modern-day libertarian movement is besieged by statist proposals to reform the welfare-warfare state way of life in which Americans live. Included among such reform proposals are things like Social Security “privatization,” school vouchers, health-savings accounts, immigration “reform,” and many more.

As I have indicated in previous articles, reform-oriented libertarians have long maintained that these reform proposals are “freedom and free enterprise.” Of course, that’s simply not true. Libertarianism — or genuine liberty — necessarily requires the elimination of infringements on liberty, not their reform. Reform leaves the infringements intact, albeit in some modified or reformed fashion.

By and large, the reform idea began being introduced into the libertarian movement by disenchanted conservatives who began leaving the conservative movement and entering the libertarian movement. They prevailed on many libertarians to abandon the radical nature of genuine liberty and instead settle for a warmed over, reformed version of the welfare-warfare state. Their argument was that in that way, libertarians could become more acceptable to the mainstream press and mainstream Americans.

To overcome objections by libertarians who insisted on adhering to principle, the disenchanted conservatives came up with the idea of “incrementalism” as a way to convince libertarians to join up with them in support of reform measures. They said that all that libertarians had to do was to say that their reform measures were incrementally leading to freedom and, therefore, that such reform measures were consistent with libertarianism.

It was a sham argument, but a lot of libertarians fell for it. Again, libertarianism, or genuine liberty, necessarily entails the removal of infringements on liberty, which means making the case for removal to others. Making the case for reform doesn’t cause people to think about what freedom really means and what it really entails. As reforms are adopted, they simply remain in place or, more often than not, simply lead to more reforms, not liberty.

We have seen this phenomenon with school vouchers. Some decades ago, conservative persuaded many libertarians to jump on the school-voucher train, arguing that vouchers would incrementally lead to the libertarian goal of educational liberty or the separation of school and state. The exact opposite happened. Vouchers more deeply embedded the state in education. Today, voucher proponents, both conservatives and libertarians, actually now tell people that vouchers will strengthen the public school system through “choice” and “competition.”

There is another big problem with incrementalism, which is the libertarian non-aggression principle. That principle, of course, doesn’t mean anything to conservatives. But it should to libertarians since it is the core principle of libertarianism.

The non-aggression principle is one in which libertarians oppose the initiation of force or fraud against another person. That’s why libertarians oppose welfare-warfare state programs. They all are based on a violation of the non-aggression principle.

Let’s assume that the conservative incrementalist argument is correct — that statist reform measures or “public policy prescriptions” really did incrementally lead to liberty. That would mean that libertarians would be supporting a violation of their core principle throughout the period of the incrementalism.

Take Social Security, for example. Rather than simply calling for repeal of this socialist program, conservatives have prevailed on many libertarians to come up with reform measures that will supposedly “phase out” Social Security over the next 40 years. That means that libertarians will necessarily be advocating the violation of their own core principle for the next 40 years.

Incrementalism is just another example of what conservatives have done to the libertarian movement. Libertarianism has become for many just a conservative-libertarian mush characterized by welfare-warfare state reform measures that are supposedly going to incrementally bring freedom decades from now.

There is but one solution to this conservative-libertarian morass and to the statIsm that both conservatives and progressives have brought to our land. That solution is the restoration of genuine, principled libertarianism. That’s the key to restoring liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony to our land.

The post Incrementalism Versus the Libertarian Non-Aggression Principle 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

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