This comes up from time to time and recently, we had a disagreement on it on our Podcast, so I decided it was time to once again tackle the Libertarian problem. I am not a libertarian, I do not identify that way and I consider much of what they say nonsensical. There are some things that some libertarians say that I agree with, but there are some things that just about everyone says that I agree with, that’s not uncommon. However, when it comes to libertarianism, taken as a whole, I am unable to assent to their positions or vote for their party and I’ll explain why.
The first thing we have to do is decide which version of libertarianism we’re talking about. There are a lot of different types of people who identify as “libertarian”, yet many of them are at odds with each other and even hold directly contradictory views. The image to the left, although controversial, seems to me to be largely correct. There are a huge number of different groups who all inhabit the “libertarian” label. So which one do I choose?
I poked around online and eventually found an post, written a couple of years ago, labeled “The 7 Views Most Libertarians Have in Common“, which I will use for the basis of this article. If anyone has any questions for me on specific issues, by all means post it in the comments and I’ll do my best to address it.
So let’s take a look at these seven positions one by one.
1. Individuals have rights it is impermissible to violate.
This is the idea of “natural rights” which I have addressed in the past and which I wholly reject as irrational. Seriously, one day I’m going to have to directly take on the writings of Hobbes and Locke. I am a realist, that means I only take positions seriously when they can be demonstrated to be factually true. Natural rights, like so much of religion, is really just philosophical masturbation, it starts with a conclusion and then attempts to string together ideas and arguments that support that conclusion. It’s a whole lot of wishful thinking and not a lot of assessing the whole of the unbiased evidence, taken in aggregate and following it to a logical end. Because this is what so much of libertarian thought is based on, including the whole concept of deontological libertarianism that the Libertarian Party of America subscribes to, it, in and of itself, is enough for me to reject libertarianism as a faulty philosophy right off the bat.
2. The state has grown too large, too powerful, intrudes on too many aspects of our lives, takes too much of our money, and violates many of those rights while doing all that it does.
I can agree with that, right up until the whole “rights” thing. However, this is one of those areas where various sects of libertarianism dramatically disagree. You can find people who just want a smaller government, right down to those who want complete and total anarchy and no government whatsoever. We have to have some government, there are functions of government that really don’t work at any other resolution. I continually find it funny that libertarians come out very strongly against a federal government, yet many of them are only too happy with a state or local government. Make up your minds guys, is it government that’s the problem or only the federal government? If they pass a lot of their legislative power to the states, as many libertarians want, how is the state any better than the federal government? Come on, make some sense!
3. We would be freer, wealthier, and happier if the state were smaller (and probably much smaller) than it is now.
I honestly don’t think the size of government is going to affect how free, wealthy or happy we are, except in the sense that we won’t be giving as much money to them at any given time. In fact, I think that adopting a social position of personal and financial responsibility, wholly separate from the government, will do all of those much better. Many libertarians support this position, so I’m on board with that, but there are some who think that the powerful, intelligent and wealthy ought to just steamroll over the poor, stupid and weak, I don’t think that’s a particularly good idea.
4. The engine of wealth creation is not the state but individuals and voluntary groups engaging in free and open competition within a marketplace.
Well, yes and no. A big part of libertarian philosophy is reducing or even eliminating government oversight and regulation of private enterprise. I don’t buy that for a second. They place an absurd amount of trust in the free market, but we’ve seen exactly what can happen when a market is too free, it results in monopolies, price controls, price gouging, etc. Without some form of government oversight, these things will arise again. You may end up with a group, for instance, that controls the entire oil supply in the United States, including the refining capacity. They can control, often through bribe, the ability of potential competitors to receive licenses and/or access to technologies which will make competition ultimately impossible. Don’t say it can’t happen, it has happened and don’t pretend that the consumers can simply stop purchasing oil in protest, it’s something necessary to modern life. Now imagine this same thing happening with the food supply, or power distribution. Imagine immoral businessmen putting unsafe or unsanitary food on the market because it’s cheaper. With no FDA, there’s nothing to stop them. Who is left to detect such fraud? The private sector? Where can you get money to fund such an operation? Are we assuming that consumers will pay extra for such a service?
5. Solutions to problems that rely on harnessing the power of such a marketplace will typically be more effective and efficient than solutions that rely on further intrusion by the state.
Not necessarily. As I mentioned above, there are many regulatory bodies which are absolutely necessary in modern life, which would be hard pressed to find independent funding in the private sector. This is not only because many people would refuse to pay for such services in addition to the cost of the goods, but that there would be no way to mandate the universality of such services. Some foods may be tested by a private FDA, which if funded by the producers themselves, would raise the costs of the end product and thus make it non-competitive, and other foods may refuse to pay the fees and thus, not be tested, but be inherently cheaper. Restaurants would not be held to any standard of food handling. Buildings could be unsafe if there is no way to force contractors or construction crews to adhere to a universal building code. What may be acceptable in one state may be completely unacceptable in another.
6. The problem of knowledge identified by Friedrich A. Hayek in his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” (and later greatly expanded both by him and others) is very real and very problematic for anyone who would like to use coerced collective action (i.e., the state) to solve problems.
Of course, libertarians treat the state as a foreign body, imposed on a society from an alien world far away. They don’t recognize that the state is, by definition, the collective will of the people of the society. There’s a very obvious reason why they don’t recognize it, but they’ll never admit it, they don’t treat the state as a collective agreement by society on how things should be run because they are in the vast minority and their own views, wishes and dreams are dramatically under-represented. It’s much easier to pretend that government is a lurking evil, which they can do away with using their inherent good, than it is to admit that the overwhelming majority of people don’t take their ideas seriously. As I said before, there are a lot of libertarians who are essentially anarchists, they want government to just go away entirely, but that’s unrealistic. Humans are social creatures, we naturally bond together in groups and those groups naturally impose order, create laws and generate leaders. Even if all government went away tomorrow, it would be back a week from now. The idea that humanity can stay in some sort of perpetual anarchy is absurd, yet many libertarians are delusional and think it can.
7. “Crimes” that don’t infringe upon the rights of others are not crimes and should not be prohibited by the state. These include pornography, sodomy and homosexual sex, gun possession, drug use, etc.
Another idea that I completely and totally reject. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with some of those and others, I’m just not. While one of the primary concepts of libertarianism is individual responsibility, one thing they don’t seem to comprehend is that humans are, by their very nature, social creatures and we must take this into account. While none of those things are harmful to anyone outside of the individual, although if you expand pornography to child pornography, I’d take issue with it, at least some of them are harmful to society and as such, I will oppose them. Take drugs for example. It’s high on the libertarian list of things they want legalized. I say no way in hell. Now yes, I do say that I want personal responsibility, but what I really mean by that is I want every person to act responsibly and if you have to inject or ingest, snort or smoke something to feel good about yourself, you are not acting responsibly. And for you people who say you’re just doing it to “feel good”, too bad. If you have to resort to some form of artificial stimulation to get your jollies, just for the sake of having your jollies, you’re an idiot.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that a large portion of the libertarian population is just delusional. They clearly don’t understand human nature, they think mankind can live without government, will automatically do the right thing and that there are magical rights floating around out there that they cannot explain how they came to be, but they can sure tell you what they are. Maybe worse yet, so many of them are absurdly cocksure of themselves, like they’re coming down from the mountain bearing stone tablets. I keep making references to people’s political beliefs being far too similar to religious beliefs for my liking, I think libertarians, at least some of the most vocal of them, just have too much faith. I don’t assent to faith in religion, I sure won’t do it in my politics.