Ed Brayton pointed out to me a particularly silly comment on his blog to the effect that Somalia is a “libertarian paradise” because it has “no government at all that functions, you can buy or sell anything or anyone you want, and can get any weapon you want to protect yourself—if you can afford it).”
Normally you just ignore belligerent ignorance like this, but I’ve heard this one more than once, so perhaps a brief response is in order. That response would, of course, be the one John Locke offered four centuries ago:
liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law; and is not, as we are told, “a liberty for every man to do what he lists.” For who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him? But a liberty to dispose and order freely as he lists his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.
Libertarians believe in freedom—the freedom to act without the interference of others, whether it be the interference of government or of other individuals. Thus libertarians believe in a rule of law and in government, to protect our freedom from the interference of others. No libertarian at all believes that there should be no government or that you should be free to violate the rights of individuals.
There are anarchist libertarians, but they also believe in law and government—just in a very different kind of law and government. They believe that protection of individual rights can be more effectively and justly provided by private institutions, so that they would radically privatize the functions of government. But they would do so in order to protect the rights of individuals from the interference of others. They believe in anarchy, but not in chaos.
No libertarians believe that there should be roving gangs of warlords free to violate individual rights at will. That accusation is either profoundly ignorant of the most basic principles of libertarianism, or an outright lie perpetrated by people who want to convince us to fear freedom and to accept instead the violation of our rights by an overpowerful government. The latter is a very old ploy. That is why Algernon Sidney, responding to this same charge four centuries ago also, at roughly the same time as Locke, wrote that people like Brayton’s commenter
confine the subject’s choice to acting or suffering, that is, doing what is commanded, or lying down to have his throat cut, or to see his family and country made desolate. This he calls giving to Caesar that which is Caesar’s; whereas he ought to have considered that the question is not whether that which is Caesar’s should be rendered to him, for that is to be done to all men; but who is Caesar, and what doth of right belong to him, which he no way indicates to us: so that the question remains entire, as if he had never mentioned it….