I’ll make every effort here to avoid allowing this to turn into a history lesson. Considering my love of history, that’ll be no easy feat. I will at very least, need to give some historical background in order for the reader to grasp the depth of the connection between the origin of libertarianism and that of Quakerism. Murray Rothbard, maybe more than anyone else, has shown that modern libertarianism is founded on the thinking of a wide array of historical figures going back to antiquity, however libertarianism as I see it, began to codify with late seventeenth and early eighteenth century English writers. I believe the desire for liberty at that time and place was sparked by the trauma of having seen first hand, the excesses of tyranny placed upon England by Cromwell and his Roundheads. The spread of Quakerism in England and in the American colonies, I believe, was a reaction to that same tyranny imposed by the religious arm of the Roundheads, the Puritans. That is to say, Puritanism taken to its logical end is a combination of religious, governmental, and societal tyranny whereas Quakerism is exemplified in religious and societal tolerance and its logical political end is the non-aggression principle, which is the foundation of libertarianism.
To the degree that England and the colonies were subjected to the tyranny of Puritanism, the liberty minded individuals were driven towards Quakerism and libertarianism. And since State begets State as evil begets evil, when the Puritans fell from power the restored monarchy and its parliament, invigorated by Cromwell’s “New Model Army”, pushed free minded individuals further towards either libertarianism or Quakerism according to their predisposed positions. Both libertarianism and Quakerism are radical reactions to oppression. By that I mean to say, if no one is oppressing you and you’re free to go about your life without restrictions, religious, social, or political, you have a tendency to not think about liberty. It’s like air. If you have all you need you don’t think about it. But if someone takes it away you quickly realize its importance and you will react to that denial of air in direct proportion to the extent it is denied. So with the defeat of the English in the colonies there was a loosening of the shackles of oppression and likewise a relaxing of the impulse to abolish the State. Much like old Rip Van Winkle, libertarianism in the western hemisphere drank from the jug of complacence and sat down in the shade for a nap. The newly formed American government was, relatively speaking, held in check. And with more western land becoming available, anyone feeling choked by the State could simply move away from it.
Quakerism, however, saw no relief from the stranglehold of the religious ideologues. While the “good religious folks” of New England were denying property rights to natives, treating women like second class citizens, and owning humans as slaves, the Quakers were pointing out this hypocrisy and proclaiming that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator unalienable Rights. Eventually, like the libertarians, the Quakers found a degree of victory and became less important in America. However, unlike the libertarians, Quaker ideas didn’t get set aside. A far more dastardly method was used against Quakerism. The State feigned acceptance of Quaker demands by “protecting” the natives (reservations and handouts) “freeing” the slaves (murderously denying secession) and “empowering” women (economic destruction requiring two incomes per family).
At this point we must turn away from history and clarify the two words I’ve been tossing about with such careless abandon. What does it mean to be libertarian and what does it mean to be Quaker? Both these words bring almost instant confusion to the average American. Both conjure up inaccurate images that have been spoon fed to Americans by the State through its puppets in Hollywood, the schools, and the media. Associating them with things they don’t remotely resemble has systematically discredited both. So to begin the clarification process, allow me your indulgence while I explain what libertarians and Quakers are not.
Quakers are not Amish nor are they Mennonites.
Quakers do not shun modern inventions like electricity and zippers.
Quakers do not use buggies for transportation.
Quaker men are not required to have beards and Quaker women are not required to wear dresses styled in the 1800’s.
If you walked past a Quaker in a shopping mall there would be no way of knowing the person was a Quaker.
Just to make sure I’m getting the point across, Quakers are not Amish nor are they Mennonites.
One last point, Quakers are not Amish nor are they Mennonites.
Are we clear on this?
Libertarians are not dope heads.
Libertarians are not pro-dope.
Libertarians do not want your children to have dope.
Are we seeing a pattern here?
Libertarians do not believe people should be able to “do what ever they want”.
Libertarians are not “liberal on some things and conservative on others”. (Libertarianism is consistent.)
Libertarianism is not pro-corporation nor is it pro-business.
Libertarianism is neither anti-corporation nor anti-business.
Libertarianism is not “against the Federal Reserve”.
Libertarianism is not “for the gold standard”.
Often, when a person attempts to understand another person’s political position, they will ask questions like, “Do you support policy A?” or, “Do you think B is a good law?” You can never come to an understanding of libertarianism by asking such questions because libertarianism is not a political position. Libertarianism is a philosophy based on a very narrow set of principals. The more thoroughly the individual adheres to those principals the more consistently libertarian they are.
Every individual person, by the simple fact that they are alive, owns property. Their life is their property and can rightfully belong to no one else. Additionally an individual owns other property that they have rightfully acquired through trade, by gift, or by homesteading previously unowned property. A person may defend their property but no person or group of people can ever rightfully initiate aggression against the property of another person. Individuals are responsible for their own actions and cannot be responsible for the actions of another. This is the simplicity and the elegance of the libertarian philosophy. Libertarians reject theft, aggression, and lies while embracing ownership, peace, and responsibility.
There was once a Person who taught just such a philosophy. The words He used were a bit different, but the meaning was clearly the same. He said things like, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” and He taught us that God is not impressed with fancy costumes, titles of honor, or man-made authority and neither should we acknowledge such things. So when I say that Quakerism taken to its logical political end is libertarianism, its because both have the non-aggression principal as their foundation and both promote an equal respect for individuals, recognizing that no one human has the right to demand the servitude of another.
In the old days Quakers suffered many strikes of the lash for refusing to remove their hat and bow to State dignitaries. They caused a fuss by refusing to swear allegiance to the symbols of those who sought deification by giving themselves such titles as Lord or Governor or Bishop. Quakers even went so far as to refuse to use self-glorifying titles and refused to call others by them. Quakers felt no obligation to attend services at or pay money to support buildings were men stood on perches and spoke down to congregations. All these things were quite upsetting to those who did dress up in silly costumes and adorn themselves with ridicules titles of honor.
Oddly enough, however, to attempt to understand Quakerism by asking a series of questions like, “Do you believe in Doctrine A?” or “Do Quakers believe B?” is a misguided path that will likely never produce a consistent result. Quakers differ greatly in their individual beliefs. Some strictly believe a particular version of The Bible, while others have a far less structured religion. Quakers are more defined by their actions than the particular details of how they view theology. Much like the non aggression principle is to libertarians, Quakers adhere to something we call “testimonies”.
An example of a list of testimonies would look like this:
Integrity (or Truth)
Stewardship (or Sustainability)
So for example, a Quaker’s testimony of peace is to refuse to aggress. Many Quakers take their testimony of peace to the point of even refusing self-defense, but not all Quakers are pacifists. A Quaker’s testimony of integrity is to refuse to lie. This has caused some confusion in courtrooms when Quakers have refused to “be sworn in”. The Quaker contends that the very fact that they are speaking indicates they are not lying. And to repeat some magic words while raising or lowering one’s hand or placing it on some object, indicate that without such rituals a lie is acceptable. So the “testimonies” of a Quaker are not simply words or doctrines, they are the day-to-day living actions of the individual.
At this point, if I have done my job in a satisfactory manner, it should start to become clear why I say that Quakerism is the natural result of applying libertarian principals to theology and libertarianism is the natural result of applying Quaker principals to politics. However, if you don’t agree with me I won’t attempt to force you.