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A strictly rhetorical question on Saturday

I saw this elsewhere, but I thought I’d ask it as well.

What does a “libertarian” do when their house is on fire?


9 comments to A strictly rhetorical question on Saturday

  • "Tell us where Libertarianism begins and ends. "

    No one  has the right to initiate force or delegate the initiation of force against another except in self-defense.

    All interaction between people should be free, voluntary and consensual –  not coerced.  This is a truly free market, not the crony capitalism and state-enforced oligopolies  and cartels we see in our society now. You’d be hard pressed to find a libertarian – a true libertarian, not a CATO institute apologist – who believes what we live in now is anything remotely resembling a free market.

    Basically I do not own other people. Therefore, I believe other people should be free to do whatever they wish, so long as it does not harm me or my property (property rightfully obtained and held, of course).

    Apply these principles to the politics we see daily and you’ll see that it is neither "left" nor "right" and enforces some policy you would support – gay marriage is ok, legalization of drugs, less regulations that favour corporate polluters – and some that you might find hard to swallow – no hate crimes legislation, mixed healthcare system, no taxes. But at least it is principled and consistent. And far more so than anything that Liberals or Conservatives or even NDP supporters stand for.

    I have made more than a few posts at my place on this, if you would care to explore it further.

    Otherwise, I’ll hijack Scott’s thread.

  • ALW

    The libertarian waits for the privately-operated firefighters he paid insurance for to arrive and put out the fire.  (For non-libertarians: this isn’t conceptually very different than firefighters as a public service: we all pay taxes (instead of insurance).  The only difference is in the libertarian world, there’s a choice.)

    On another note, I can understand people will attack libertarianism as being nebulous and somewhat unclear on certain scenarios, but I find it ironic that most of the people who attack it can’t themselves articulate a consistent, airtight political philosophy, nor can they defend it against similar quandaries about inconsistencies and extreme hypotheticals.

  • Wow, interesting responses to a rhetorical questions.

    First, I would expect in many areas to have the same fire department that I had growing up – a volunteer one made up of people from the community. It would be supported, voluntarily, by the people of the community. In short, it might not look all that different than now. But it might. And before anyone screams "free rider!", people would be, of course, free to not contribute, but I would expect those people to have to pay much higher insurance premiums for their home, since it is a risk. A smart insurance company would certainly make it in your interest to support a fire department, or pay an "Protection Agency" (combining police, fire and other security into a first response team) to provide protection, since it reduces risk.

    But SuperSoaker and FlameOut would probably have reciprocal agreements allowing each to help the others clients in an emergency, like Rogers does with Sprint or AT&T when I roam…

    Andy makes the point too that right now if my municipal police or fire department are horrid (Hello Sarnia!) I already have no choice to pay someone else to do it better. And it could simply be that my choices are not profit making companies, but different, non-profit or not for profit organizations that can provide this service – think a Lion’s vs Rotary Club of firefighting.

    Extend the voluntary society to thinks like the Armed Forces. Don’t agree with sending troops to Afghanistan? Don’t send money. Don’t volunteer to go. Don’t support businesses that do. Right now, you and I must pay our taxes, which send "our" troops to places we don’t agree with and purchase aircraft and other corporate welfare for friends of the ruling class.  If you agree with troops in Afghanistan, feel free to pay, voluntarily, or go, voluntarily (ironically, under these circumstances, even Conservatives would be asking much harder questions about the mission, since they would have a personal financial stake in it….)

    Voluntary society and libertarianism doesn’t necessarily mean right-wing corporate capitalism with no rules (indeed, many of us would consider that "vulgar libertarianism"). It  can mean a Canadian Cooperative Federation society, where people control their own lives. It can mean a Syndicalist society. It could mean any number of these co-existing simultaneously.

    Have a look at Kevin Carson’s blog and work for an example of a Free Market Anti-Capitalist approach to libertarianism.

    Then feel free to ask the next rhetorical question. Like why people who vote think that 22% of the population supporting a particular party means getting essentially dictatorial powers for 4 years, but still call it democracy?

  • Andy

    The same thing could happen under the state-run system if your neighbour’s house happened to lie on the other side of a municipal boundary. In any event, your example is a bit ridiculous, since Mike would presumably not agree to a deal with "SuperSoak" that delivered services only when Mike was home or that refused to take calls about fires at Mike’s home from those of his neighbours who weren’t clients. In a "voluntary" society one would have the ability to refuse to pay for such poor service, which is not the case in our actual society.

  • Mike, let me put this scenario before you:One day in your voluntary society, your neighbour’s house catches fire when you’re not home.  You and your neighbour have different fire companies to which you voluntarily subscribe.  You’ve tried to get him to subscribe to yours, but he’s always been a little recalcitrant that way.  Your company is the "SuperSoak" and your neighbour’s is "FlameOut."  Naturally, your neighbour calls the "FlameOut" company, with which he has a contract.  They come and put out his fire.  But as this is happening the fire spreads to your house.  "FlameOut" won’t put your fire out, and you don’t know to call "SuperSoak" because you’re not home.  Even if your neighbour called "SuperSoak" they wouldn’t respond to him because he’s not one of their clients.  So, you get home at last, and your reward for having a voluntary society in which you don’t have to subscribe to the state monopoly is … you’ve lost everything.  You have no say or control over the matter; your stuff is gone.There’s nothing theoretical about this.  That’s exactly what used to happen all the time in real life, before state-run fire companies.  That’s why we voluntarily got rid of the so-called "voluntary society":  it doesn’t actually work, and actually gives people very little in the way of meaningful choices.

  • David Elliott


    Tell us where Libertarianism begins and ends. 

    Or is it amorphous and hard to pin down? Like Jell-O to a wall?

  • Call the fire department.

    I mean come on, we’re libertarians not slack-jawed morons.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t yearn for the days when we have our choice of who to call when this happens, or our choice of who to pay – voluntarily – to support such services.

    Unfortunately, state monopoly services based on theft is the only game in town, so I have little choice but to play.

    When I get robbed, I would call the cops too (unless I had a baseball bat or a gun nearby, in which case, I might wait a bit…)


    Man you got a funny view of libertarians. We want a voluntary society. What is wrong with that?

  • doug newton

    Hope that their neighbours will help to put out the fire and or help to rebuild the house.

  • Militant Liberal

    Nothing he waits for the "Invisible hand of the market" to put out the fire.

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