There is a controversy among libertarian circles that has become frequent. I intend to shed some light on this quarrel that has been going on for some time now. The ultimate objective is to explain the difference between thin and thick libertarianism in an effort to bring clarification and resolve to the argument of what these terms actually mean. There is also a controversy on whether or not thick libertarians are libertarians at all. For instance, are left libertarians, who explicitly denounce private property rights, to be considered libertarians? They are clearly thick. But to further this discussion, I must first explain what it mean to be thin or thick.
Thin libertarians adhere to the non aggression principle (NAP) and believe the initiation of force may not be initiated against anyone else or their property. This is the only principle or axiom that defines their libertarianism. All debates, issues, and arguments come back to whether or not the non aggression principle has been violated. This is a universal truth that applies to everyone and no one can be subjective on whether or not the iniatiation of force is permissable. It is wrong no matter who initiates aggression or where it is done. On the other hand, the thick libertarian seeks to expand of the definition of libertarianism, most will accept the NAP, others will define libertarianism based on a wide range of philosophies,moral theories, and ways people should live their lives to achieve freedom. Thick libertarians who believe in the NAP also argue that in order to have a well organized and logically coordinated philosophy of freedom, then libertarianism must include more ideas that directly relate to human rights and freedom. This is thick libertarianism. Although, I think that if they believe in NAP and have other values and ways to achieve freedom and advance society that is non aggressive, that could be considered thin. So the thin libertarian says that libertarianism is only concerned with acceptable uses of force. That is all libertarianism is, where as, the thick libertarians say it is and should be more than that. So for instance, you might have libertarians who say “I want to live in a society where I can do anything I want as long as I do not steal or hurt anybody”. They many want to take drugs, have brothels, and share their food with vagrants. The other community might say, we support the non iniatiation of force but instead of being socially liberal, they may be culturally and socially conservative. They may support the traditional family, be against prostitution, prohibit reckless drug use, and despise egalitarianism. So people can live anyway they want.
Libertarianism is a philosophy that supports freedom and not a value system or moral philosophy. Thick libertarians say that some other cultural value system must be applied to everyone as a universal axiom. So left libertarians might say that there is no private property or land ownership, It must all be shared and allocated based on human needs. That’s very thick and it violates the NAP. You might have a minarchist who says that taxes are necessary to fund courts, that violates the NAP. You might have a a religious libertarian who says religious law should be followed. These practices are not in line with libertarianism becuase they violate NAP. But if you have a hedonist who seeks pleasure that is immoral but does not violate the NAP, they are still libertarians But they are thicker libertarians. Same goes for libertarians who seek to live in a society based on the values of Western civilization, they are thicker.
The real problem arises for people who call themselves libertarians but want to be against all forms of so called oppression. Even if the oppression is not really oppression at all, but just natural inequality brought about biologically or through a series of poor decisions made by a person. This is precisely how classical liberalism turned into modern day progressive-egalitarian liberalism which strives to make everyone equal in every imaginable way through the use of force by The State or some centrlaized panelof decision makers. For a certain group of purported libertarians, it’s not enough to denounce State aggression. The thick libertarians, the left libertarians, mostly of the anarcho-communist variety, are also for fighting the so called oppression of capitalism, poverty, discrimination, and political incorrectness. They seek to change the natural order into favorable living situations for everyone. They see utility and preference as objective. They believe they can socially and economically design society. And they morality as subjective and not objective. These positions are fundamentally incorrect and should be looked at in the opposite way. That is, preference is subjective and some bureaucrat or commune leader should not be deciding what someone needs to live a happy life. The other is that morality is universally applicable and there is no such thing as moral relativism in the very broad sense. The anarcho-communists and the anarcho-syndicalists, who claim to be real libertarians, complain about the intolerance of people who support private property,freedom of association, and capitalism. But these specific left libertarians would use violence to take and destroy private property and have in the past. The Occupy Movement has demonstrated this disregard for private property in a very convincing manner. At best, most left libertarians, anarcho-communists and the like, are thick. More accurately, they are frauds, with illogical positions. They claim to be for tolerance but if you do not support egalitarianism, democracy, hedonism, and communitarianism, they say you are not a libertarian. These people are free to live their lives anyway they want, in whatever society they want. But once they start forcing their beliefs on other libertarians, that is aggression and not libertarian in any sense of the word. And to further clarify, I am not talking about left libertarians like Roderick T.Long,Keven Carson, Samuel Edward Konkin III, who founded agorism. I agree with much of what these libertarian theoreticians say and have said. I disagree with Long and Carson on many issues, but I think they are legitimate libertarians. I agree with many left libertarians. It’s the anarcho-communists I find to be illogical and contradictory.
Anarcho-capitalists and paleolibertarians hold certain principles like free markets, cultural conservative values, and private property to be integral parts of their societies. These communities, or societies, are voluntary and no one is forced to live there, however, property owners are free to choose who is permitted on their land, or in their home or business. The freedom to associate is libertarian and I think it is in line with thin libertarianism. That is, the right to discriminate and own private property and possesions you homestead,purchase, inherit,or receive through gifting. Moreover, I think thick libertarians can be social and political activists and support things like anti-racism and the environment, however,i think the non aggression principle, the absence of The State, and private property could address those things in an effective manner and without all the violent rhetoric. Violent racism would be taken care of but not all racism. Being racist is stupid and immoral even if it’s non violent. But non violent racism can not and must not be punished with force, and it seems that many people want to eradicate sentiments they disagree with and that they find offensive even though holding those sentiments does not involve violence. The ones trying to eradicate non violent racism, as bad as it is, with force are the ones who are acting violently.
In conclusion, if you are someone that supports the non aggression principle and that’s all you look at when deciding the proper use of force pertaining to various issues and subjects (abortion, contracts, The State, boycotts, war, racism, child rights, victimless crimes,etc.) Then you are the thinnest of the thin. Walter Block is someone I would consider the thinnest of the thin. If you are hold the NAP as a central tenet, but also believe in other non violent cultural and social values, right or left, that does NOT involve strategic violence as a means to achieve those goals or enforce those objectives for maximum freedom, I would say you are thin. And finally, you have libertarians who believe in the NAP, and others who do not follow the NAP, but what makes them thick is that they apply some other value system, or subjective moral system, made up of a wide array of ideas and guidelines,and they universally apply it to everyone. They apply, what they believe to be,universal maxims that are subjective and really based on moral relativism to every human being. Examples include, being anti-private property, supporting egalitarian ends by coercive redistribution of wealth, social justice that involves violence against so called offenders to achieve justice for so called victims, militant feminism, etc. These are extremely thick libertarians.. The people who call themselves libertarians that would use violence, theft of private possessions, intimidation, to transform a whole society to meet their brand of freedom and to achieve social justice and egalitarianism, are not libertarians. They are so thick with nonsensical beliefs that they disqualify to be called libertarians. I would say anarcho-capitalists are thin. Anarcho -conservatives who live in defined restrictive communities that discrimninate are thin too,since discrimination is based on private property and the freedom to associate. Their values and moral philosophy are non violent and in line with the advancement of freedom and civilized society,with the NAP being the central principle of this voluntary organization. If you do not like these guidelines and rules, or you are not welcome in a community. You can live somewhere else,or homestead other property. There are choices between what is hopefully millions and millions of world communities in a much larger anarchist world. The left libertarians, the anarcho-communists, want no private property, and mob rule through democracy decided by panels, and social justice, and hardcore egalitarinism. There is no choice. Just social engineering and a bunch of hippies deciding what you need to service and be happy. Hopefully this enlightens people on what it means to be for freedom and what it means to be against the initiation of force.