Why I

By Penn Jillette

I don’t speak for all Libertarians any more than Sean Penn speaks for all Democrats.  I’m not even sure my LP membership card is up to date.   I’ve voted Libertarian as long as I can remember but I don’t really remember much before the Clintons and the Bushes.  Those clans made a lot of us bugnutty.  When I go on Glenn’s show he calls me a Libertarian, I think that’s my only real credential.

There are historical reasons and pragmatic reasons to be a Libertarian, but there are historic and pragmatic reasons to be a Democrat, a Republican or a Socialist.  I don’t know if everyone would be better off under a Libertarian government.   I don’t know what would be best for anyone.  I don’t even know what’s best for me.  What makes me Libertarian is I don’t think anyone else really knows what’s best for anyone.  My argument for Libertarianism is simple –  personal morality

I start with the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  So, essentially our government does what they do with my consent. 

I know barely enough about Max Weber to type his name into Google, but it seems he’s credited with asserting the idea that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force.  I put those two ideas together (my consent and use of physical force) and figure we all give our government the right to use force.  So, the way I figure, it’s not okay for our government to use force in any situation where I personally wouldn’t use force.

For example, if I’m not willing to kill a cute cow, I shouldn’t eat steak.  I don’t have to kill Bessy right now with my bare hands, but I have to be willing to snuff her if I want to chow down on a T-bone.  If it’s not okay for me, it’s not okay for a slaughterhouse.  Asking someone else to do something immoral is immoral.  If it’s not okay for me to break David Blaine’s hands so my magic show has less competition, it’s not okay for me to ask someone else to beat him up.  Someone else doing your dirty work is still your dirty work.

If I had a gun, and I knew a murder was happening, (we’re speaking hypothetically here,  I’m not asking you to believe that I could accurately tell a murder from aggressive CPR), I would use that gun to stop that murder.  I might be too much of a coward to use a gun myself to stop a murder or rape or robbery, but I think the use of a gun is justified.  I’m even okay with using force to enforce voluntary contracts.    If I were a hero, I would use a gun to protect the people who choose to live under this free system and to stop another country from attacking America.  But I wouldn’t use a gun to force someone to love something like say…a library.

Look, I love libraries.  I spent a lot of time in the Greenfield Public Library when I was a child.  I would give money to build a library.  I would ask you to give money to build a library.  But, if for some reason you were crazy enough to think you had a better idea for your money than building my library, I wouldn’t pull a gun on you.  I wouldn’t use a gun to build an art museum, look at the wonders of the universe through a big telescope, or even find a cure for cancer.

The fact that the majority wants something good does not give them the right to use force on the minority that don’t want to pay for it.   If you have to use a gun, it’s not really a very good idea.  Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks.  It’s just ganging up on the weird kid, and I’m always the weird kid. 

People try to argue that government isn’t really force.  You believe that?   Try not paying your taxes.  (This is only a thought experiment though — suggesting someone not pay their taxes is probably a federal offense, and while I may be a nut, I’m not crazy.)  When they come to get you for not paying your taxes, try not going to court.  Guns will be drawn.  Government is force.

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion.   Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion.  Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.  People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered. If we’re compassionate, we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right.  There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint. 

I’m a Libertarian nut because I don’t want my government to do anything in my name that I wouldn’t do myself. 

Penn Jillette is a celebrated magician, comedian, actor, author and producer.  He is best known as the larger, louder half of Penn & Teller, a role he has held since 1975.  With his partner Teller, Jillette has been awarded an Obie and an Emmy Award.  Their critically acclaimed stage show spent several years both on and off-Broadway, and now has a permanent home at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Jillette can be seen weekly co-hosting the 11 time Emmy-nominated Showtime series, "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!"  He also posts daily rants on his "Penn Says" VLog at Sony’s www.Crackle.com site.