Many people, even political analysts who really ought to know better, think that libertarianism is merely a branch of conservatism; a junior partner as it were; that by and large, the two differently named philosophies are all but indistinguishable. There are at least some good reasons for believing this fallacy.
Exhibit A in this regard is surely the Federalist Society. Truly, there is great cooperation between the two sets of political adherents in this organization. Indeed, that group describes itself as “an American legal organization of conservatives and libertarians that advocates for a textualist and originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution.”
On the other hand to say that there is great enmity between the Libertarian and the Republican Parties would not be an exaggeration. The latter are still wailing and gnashing their teeth regarding the recent election of the Senator from Georgia. Had Shane Hazel not run for this position in the last election on the Libertarian Party ticket, it is entirely possible that David Perdue would now hold that position, not Jon Ossoff, and the Republicans would now hold a 51-49 majority in that august body. If that does not establish a difference between the two philosophies, libertarianism and conservatism, a gigantic one, then nothing will.
Why is this so important now, and not just for esoteric political theorists? That is because there is now great fear amongst the Democrats that the Supreme Court, having ruled against them on abortion, will now carry through on same-sex, and even interracial marriages, despite the fact that one of their enemy Justices is engaged in the latter relationship.
How, then, will libertarians react? This is an important question despite the fact that candidates of this persuasion typically garner only 2 – 3% of the vote. Hazel’s 2.3% has had far reaching implications.
In these cases, the party of very, very limited government will now support the Democrats, not the Republicans. The key element of libertarianism is that anything between consenting adults should be legal, even “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” in the felicitous phrase of Robert Nozick. Not only will libertarians see Democrats on marriage, they will raise them. In this view, not only should marriage between gay people be allowed, and certainly between members of different racial or ethnic groups, but the same prevails for the numbers of marriage partners.
Given that the state is involved in marriage in the first place, which it should not be, libertarians certainly support government recognition of polygamous marriage (one man, several wives) and also those based upon polyandry (one woman and several husbands).
But libertarians go even further, still. Group marriages, too should be legal. For instance, between three men and four women, or, perhaps seven wives and six husbands. (Libertarian author Robert Heinlein in his book “The moon is a harsh mistress” featured just that type of arrangement.)
The government, but only the government, should be compelled to recognize such institutions. No one else, however, should be obliged to do so. If churches, conservatives, Republicans, wish to boycott folks who engage in marriages not to their liking, they should be allowed, by law, to do so. Just as we favor a separation of government and education, of government and the economy, we also support a bifurcation between government and the institution of marriage.
For libertarians, the question of morality of different marital arrangements simply does not arise. That is because this philosophy is limited to support of just law, nothing else. And it prohibits, only, the initiation or threat of violence. The law should prohibit, then, only acts and threat concerning crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, etc.
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute.