Tom Knapp is Managing Editor of Free-Market.Net and publisher of Rational Review.
Everything in Moderation
The usual libertarian retort to accusations of "extremism" is Barry Goldwater's dictum: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice ... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." The sentiments ring true, but I'd like to take a different approach. My operating hypothesis may strike the reader as bizarre, but I believe it is defensible:
I contend that libertarians are moderates. As a matter of fact, I contend that a survey of the cratered no-man's land that we call "American politics" reveals libertarians as the only moderates, and that the more "extreme" the libertarian, the more "moderate" he or she is relative to the assortment of cranks, thieves, murderers and degenerates currently lobbing shells at one another from the respective trenches of the "conservative" and "progressive" forces fighting for rare and transient moments of dominance over that no-man's land.
If I were to tell you that I believed I had a right to come into your home, rummage through your medicine cabinet, confiscate the medications which did not meet with my approval and imprison you for having possessed them, you'd label me as an extremist, most probably of the terrorist sort. And you'd be spot-on right.
Slap a fify-cent label on that activity, however -- for the sake of argument, I'll call myself the "Office of National Drug Control Policy" or the "Drug Enforcement Agency" or even the "Food and Drug Administration" -- and suddenly my activities take on a patina of legitimacy, even normalcy (at least as long as it is your neighbor's medicine cabinet and not yours, of course).
What I have just described is the extremist policy of the government of the United States as it has evolved over the last century, and as it is advocated by Democrat and Republican alike. The libertarian policy, of course, is moderate. Libertarians believe that what you keep in your medicine cabinet (or what you take out of it and drink, smoke, swallow, inject or otherwise ingest) is, well your business.
If I were to tell you that I believed I had a right to kidnap your children each and every weekday morning, nine months out of the year, for twelve years running, and transport them to a place of my choosing to be indoctrinated for six to eight hours in the ideas and philosophies which I believed best represented right thinking, you'd probably call the police and tell them that you had another extremist nut on your hands, and that he might be dangerous. If I further informed you that I expected you to pay, annually, a portion of the value of whatever property you owned to cover the costs of this kidnapping (whether you were the parent of any of the children I was doing this to or not), you'd probably save the police some time and gun me down like a rabid dog on the spot. Once again, you'd be right.
And, once again, this is done every day under the rubric of "public education," by strange extremist groups with cryptic, quasi-military names such as "Lebanon R-3," and not many people pay a great deal of attention or regard it as particularly abnormal that this should be so. Libertarians, of course, believe that educational decisions are best made by parents, not by the extremists in the Department of Education compound. Moderation, you know.
Apply this to your pet issue. Gay marriage? Who but an extremist would claim the "right" to determine the consensual living arrangements of a couple? Guns? Who but an extremist would claim the "right" to disarm law-abiding victims and leave them defenseless against violent criminals (and government extremists)? Taxes? I don't know about you, brother, but we have a name for people who steal -- thieves. And another name for people who claim to have a "right" to do so and tell us that we're better off for having allowed them to: "nuts." Or, if you will, "extremists."
The extent to which we accept armed bands of thugs circulating among us and dictating our modes of living, while simultaneously extorting funds from their victims to finance enforcement of their tin-horn edicts, is the extent to which we have incorporated extremism into our worldview.
The fact that we even give serious consideration to the claims of people like Robert Byrd, Dick Armey, Gray Davis, John McCain et al to rule over us is the sign of a serious neurosis in the American polity, perhaps something similar to "Battered Woman Syndrome" (a point well made in a commercial for 1996 and 2000 Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne, by the way).
If you're seeking "extremism" then step outside your front door and take a look around. You're living in it. The libertarian idea is the only moderate ("Not violent or subject to extremes") set of prescriptions for living in civil society that you'll find.