I intend these comments as a friendly amendment to Matt’s thoughtful post.
What implications, if any, does adherence to a political libertarian principle have for other moral issues?
The libertarian principle (LP) is a view about the morality of state coercion. LP defines the set of legal prohibitions that are morally acceptable. For libertarians, that set is considerably smaller than for others (I do not address here what the set includes). For present purposes, a legal prohibition is behavior to which the state attaches a penalty. A behavior that is not legally prohibited under LP-justified laws is legally permitted. Because under LP the set of legally permitted behavior is greater than under alternative political arrangements, individuals governed by laws justified under LP enjoy greater political freedom. This, I take it, is the point that Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch‘s book celebrates: the relative lack of external restraints in a libertarian society allows persons to do all these things that our over-regulated society does not currently allow them to do.
However, this leaves entirely intact issues of personal morality. It is perfectly possible for me to say simultaneously that prostitution should be decriminalized and that prostitution is morally wrong, degrading, or whatever. We understand this in many areas of life: a disloyal friend is a bad person, but the state has no business forcing him to do the right thing. Libertarianism is not a system of personal morality in this sense. One of the virtues of libertarianism is that it rejects perfectionism (which is why I consider J.S. Mill a member of our club in spite of some of his other views.) That something is immoral does not mean it ought to be criminalized. The set of legally permissible actions and beliefs under LP-justified laws has a subset of morally objectionable actions and beliefs. Not all actions that we are politically entitled to perform are morally defensible.
A person with racist attitudes is highly objectionable, and we are entitled to criticize him, refuse to socialize with him, ostracize him, and the like. But libertarians will insist that the state may not send him the police to try to reform him. Conversely, can a racist person be a libertarian? Matt suggests he cannot, but I don’t think this is right, if by “libertarian” we merely mean adherence to LP. I suspect this is a verbal issue, but someone who endorses LP and has racist views does not hold contradictory beliefs. He is just a bad person.
This analysis suggests two mistakes that libertarians must avoid. The type A mistake (and here I fully agree with Matt) is to suggest or imply that libertarians have nothing to say about politically permissible but immoral behavior. Libertarians can and must oppose and criticize immoral behavior just like anyone else. Unlike others, however, we don’t send the police to miscreants.
They Type B mistake is this. Suppose I endorse LP because I think all persons are morally equal or some such other value. I may be then tempted to enlarge the scope of state coercion to penalize behavior that undermines equality (I don’t think Matt supports this at all.) In other words: if, as Matt says, we are libertarians because we believe in other values, we must be careful not to allow pursuance of any one of those values to augment the scope of state coercion, and thus abandon libertarianism. For myself, libertarian institutions are supported by a combination of normative and empirical reasons (I sketched them in my very first post). Usually, attempts to privilege one of those reasons will undermine the others.