I am feeling energetic today, and I thought I would tackle an issue that I have been thinking about for weeks now. As with many deep discussions, it started with a beer between friends.
Maybe it is the contrarian in me, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I think the Libertarians’ philosophy is wrong.
Before we begin, there are some ideas from Libertarians that I find attractive – I like the idea of a smaller government, and I like the idea of allowing markets to operate more freely; however, when you take a Libertarians at their word, I think the entire philosophy starts to break down.
First let’s define Libertarian as I see it:
- Libertarians feel that government should do as little as possible [ok, we agree],
- the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others [we are starting to break down here]
- and finally government should be responsible for a standing army, local security, and a court system, and that’s it [we go off the rails here].
Again, we are going to take Libertarians at their word, and we are going to set aside the contradictory notion that people who think everyone should live their lives as they want, attempt to make the world operate under their philosophy.
I also do understand there are different strands of Libertarianism ranging from Chomsky to Paul – but for this blog post, we are going to work with the definition above.
Criticism of Libertarianism
Let’s start with the light lifting:
1) At its heart Libertarianism is incredibly selfish. Libertarians won’t call it that, but at its core, Libertarianism is indulgent, narcissistic, and just plain selfish.
2) The current Libertarianism coalition will split among social issues. Libertarians are cool kids at the moment.
When I attend Libertarian meetings, I see friends. Some of these friends I KNOW for a fact are conservative Christians. At the moment, economic issues are more salient to them; therefore, they are willing to caucus with the Libertarians to work on those issues.
However, as a country, we don’t have the luxury of working only on fiscal issues. Social issues will come up and they will matter – when that happens the current libertarian coalition will splinter.
That is a problem with breaking away from the GOP – when you are forced to put on paper what it actually means to be a Libertarian, it fractures the current Libertarian club.
3) Libertarianism is cruel. Markets fail and markets are unfeeling and damn right cruel. Here is a thought exercise: If someone is in the process of making a terrible decision that will result in their immediate death, do we watch them die or intervene?
4) There are some societal functions that do not respond to markets. Example: Pollution. If totally unregulated, corporations will pollute. Okay, if you assume eventually the market will correct it, ‘eventually’ may take 20 years and in the meantime an entire generation of children have jelly for brains.
5) If markets are completely unregulated, then all market segments will naturally move towards monopolies. There will be collusion to maximize profits. Humans cheat, that is what we do. So in the end, if you take Libertarians at their word, we all end up slaves to large monopolies and are at their whim. Ironically, the effort to decentralize has the result of centralizing power and economic wealth.
6) When disputes arise, who decides? If you are on your property blaring Lawrence Welk music at 2 am in the morning declaring your Liberty, am I not harmed? Yes, you have the right to your property and I have the right to sanity? Who wins? Who decides? Is it just the strongest person able to force their will? Is it Lord of the Flies? You just can’t say we have a court – someone wins – who is it? Who decides the restrictions on rights?
Ok, but here is some heavy lifting:
7) In my opinion, humans are not wired for Libertarianism, and the philosophy does not make sense with my understanding of the human condition.
If you read anything about human decision making, it is highly irrational.
When given unlimited choices, humans suffer from the paradox of choice. In the face of unlimited choice humans freeze, become anxious, and indecisive. We just don’t know what in the hell to do with ourselves.
8) Finally, in my biggest criticism, from all of my reading of modern psychology, absolute freedom is not good for humans.
Again, if we take Libertarians at their word – everyone decides what is good for themselves and retreats to their plot of land. If that happens, there is no community, no common bonds.
PLEASE do not mistake me for some collective liberal, I’m not.
But in its purest form, there is nothing binding people together. There is no core.
This is in conflict with our natural tendencies to form groups.
What we are talking about is achieving anomie, the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community.
Humans are just not wired for Libertarianism.
For example, if everyone retreats to their acre and we have nothing in common, we no longer have a country. Even our founding fathers (who were Libertarian leaning) realized there must be something that binds us together.
In summation, there must be something MORE that binds us together other than roads, military, and courts.
9) No Libertarian can make a coherent argument of HOW to get to a Libertarian vision.
However, even over beer, no one has been able to express to me the HOW. They can tell me what is currently wrong, they can tell me their vision for the future, but they can’t tell me HOW.
Most just selfishly say “BLOW IT UP.” The irresponsibility to humanity that comes with BLOW IT UP is mind blowing.
Every time I end up taking a path down Libertarianism, I end up in treacherous landscape.
Choice? Yeah, well if the South wants slaves, then so be it. (Rand Paul, later retracted)
Nothing but roads, military, and courts? What about currency? Multiple currencies and bit coins for all and when something goes wrong? Markets baby!
Education? Private schools for all? But difficult students who require more attention, time and effort? There will be little profit in that! Do we not educate them and turn them lose in society with no skills? Do they not then commit crimes? OK, home school everyone? What if the parent can barely read? Do they get to homeschool? If not, who regulates?
Again, it is interesting, but for me, it just breaks down the more you think. The more you move away from bumper stickers, Libertarianism collapses when it meets with the human condition.
There is always tension between freedom, rights, protection, security, and fairness. There should be.
In my opinion, most Libertarians I have discussed this with seem to have an overly simplistic worldview and simplistic understanding of the human condition.
As you may know, I reject absolutism to any philosophy. For me, these philosophies (Libertarianism, capitalism, etc) are a little like simplified economic models. They have little basis in reality, but are helpful for learning concepts and testing.
When we place the philosophies next to each other, for me the truth lies some where in-between the pure forms. The right answer lies in the tension between the choices.
The entire key is to keep things in equilibrium. My equilibrium is leaning towards Libertarianism, but with nuance and conditions.
The problem is there is not an ideologue in the world that would agree with me on that and have a discussion on the location of the line.
PS. As a final thought – Isolationism is plain wrong.