Is it Possible for a Libertarian to be a Nihilist? Kind Of.

Can you be a libertarian nihilist or is it much too complicated to label it?

One of the more interesting questions that comes up during libertarian conversation is whether libertarianism allows for nihilist thought? This question is often followed up with some questioning of the susceptibility of libertarians to nihilism. It does seem like it is possible, but to explore this question, the definition of nihilism must be briefly explained.

The basic definition of nihilism is the idea that life itself has no intrinsic meaning or, in other words, that life is meaningless. For example, a nihilist would answer a question regarding the meaning of life with two words: it doesn’t. Nihilists would also reject the existence of objective epistemology or ethics in the world*.

As Cormac McCarthy said in No Country for Old Men, “The point is there ain’t no point.”

So how is it possible for a libertarian to be a nihilist if there is in fact no meaning to life? Certainly a nihilist could reject the non-aggression principle as an arbitrary value that has no meaning. Further, a nihilist would reject capitalism altogether as being valueless to the meaning of human life. Both statements are true. What is also true is that a nihilist could decry the initiation of aggression as meaningless and find it abhorrent that a government should act on such an arbitrary whim as aggression.

The problem with libertarianism is it does not answer the Meaning of Life Question many people are trying to answer. Rather, libertarianism seeks to solve the question of the relationship between the individual and the state by asserting an ethical dictate that should be followed universally, namely non-aggression. It is certainly a downfall of libertarianism as it is not a complete philosophy. People who subscribe to libertarianism as a complete philosophic end might seek to answer the Meaning of Life Question, but will not find it within the philosophy. In this sense, a libertarian must be careful, or they might find themselves in an existential crisis, understanding how to live, but not necessarily why they should live like that, or, in general, why they should live. Ethical questions are not always solved by the Non-Aggression Principle, and as such one needs to seek other means of reasoning or succumb to the unbelief of nihilism.

Yet, neither nihilism, and its counterpart, world affirmation, are necessarily libertarian or non-libertarian.

For example, if you subscribe to the belief that there is no meaning to life (nihilism) and you would rather live in a complete anarchic state where both aggression and non-aggression are kept from being outlawed, yet you would prefer to live a life of non-aggression, then you are not violating the principle of non-aggression (although you might certainly reject it as an absolute principle). In this sense, yes, you could be labeled as a libertarian as you are personally adhering to the libertarian ethic without acknowledging it as a meaningful. It would, however, not be right to label nihilism as necessarily libertarianism, nor would it be correct to label libertarianism as promoting nihilism.

It would be incorrect to discount how some libertarians might require one to believe in natural rights as the foundation for non-aggression before they label someone as a libertarian. One could also claim that a libertarian must say non-personal violations of the Non-Aggression Principle must be decried as immoral. These are fair critiques. However, libertarianism necessitates non-aggression in all interactions; it does not require you to believe in the reasons behind it. Libertarianism also does not force you to make a moral claim regarding the actions of other people. Rather, it binds your personal action to the adherence of the non-aggression principle. You are no less a libertarian just because you ignore or refuse to make moral claims on non-personal behavior so long as you personally act in adherence with the Non-Aggression Principle.

Further, libertarianism is so specific a political philosophy that there is likely to exist a nihilist that does act without initiating aggression. It would not be fair to rule this person out as libertarian simply because of their nihilist beliefs. They, like so-called “right” and “left” libertarians, can hold a view of the world while acting in accordance with the non-aggression principle.

The political philosophy of libertarianism, in this sense, can be hopeful. It is an existential call to make life your own, so long as you do not initiate aggression on others. Many people feel as though this is not enough to make a sound and complete life. They need guidance, either from a supernatural being or from objective reality. However, irrespective of your personal beliefs regarding the meaning of life, the Question can only be answered in a political environment that has removed compulsion.

*A contradiction is obvious here: you cannot claim that some thing in the world is objective while claiming that objectivity is not real. The philosophy of Objectivism gives more insight to the issue of nihilism.

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