The rise of libertarianism has been one of the major political stories of this generation. A poll last year found 22% ‘lean’ libertarian in the United States, up from about 9-12% in 1992. Socially liberal and economically conservative, libertarians seem to be in vogue, particularly among younger male voters in America.
Libertarianism has always been an interesting ideology for me in the sense it is a political philosophy that makes an inherent assumption of the ‘goodness’ in human beings – perhaps even more so than liberalism in fact.
If only we didn’t have government they claim, then everyone would just hold hands and get along. Everything would be fine. We wouldn’t need laws, standards or regulations for food, pharmaceuticals, cars etc. Charities would take care of the poor, the disabled and the sick. People wouldn’t discriminate because everyone knows the blacks/hispanics/asians are a great bunch of lads. Profit seeking businesses would never hurt people, cut corners or harm the environment in the noble course of making money. Why, the rivers would run brown with chocolate!
The problem with libertarianism isn’t so much its utopian assertions, more so the fact that its almost like most libertarians have never met actual conservatives.
‘Con-servatism’: A reactionary jack-boot on the throat of humanity for the benefit of a tiny privileged minority that has only eased off in the face of violence, protest and revolution over the past 300 years with the advent of the left wing.
How do you marry a basic faith in the civility and co-operation of human beings with the observed actions and beliefs of those driven by greed and hatred?
If theoretically we didn’t have a privileged elite that wouldn’t use the limitation (or abolition) of government as an pretext to establish their own cartels and syndicates in its place that would be one thing. But the other major glaring elephant in the room is that fundamentally, we don’t know whether human beings are capable of adhering to a system of voluntaryism – its never been tried.
An even deeper criticism would not just arise from issues of pragmatism but also of philosophy. Do you, dear reader, believe human beings as a species are inherently evil? What if laws, regulations and government were the only things holding us back from the void? Certainly the imposition of laws and even centuries of centralised social conditioning through education and religion has not eliminated crime. Even then, strong rational incentives will always remain for this human behaviour, as the economist Gary Becker has shown.
In any case, as Bill Maher pointed out in an editorial on one of his shows last year, libertarians and their variants seem to be becoming more and more extreme in their positions to the point that they are cartoonish and can’t be taken seriously even by their conservative brethren to which they usually affiliate themselves with. This may explain why Ron Paul always tanked in the presidential primary season once people had a chance to hear his ramblings about the gold standard.
Many openly now even advocate the position of complete anarchy. An ironic passing of the torch from European left leaning anarchist movements of the 60s and 70s who would probably come to blows with their modern American cousins.
Libertarianism is not without any justified criticisms however. I like many other people, find a lot of things distasteful about government: Extravagant military adventurism, bloated subsidies for corporations and farmers, frivolous regulations that serve to protect insiders, government spying and intrusion into one’s civil liberties, the idiotic war on drugs etc. But this is certainly not the right period in human history to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater and implementing radical social experiments on people’s lives.