Libertarianism’s Deficient Models of Human Nature and Society

mmw-fair-society-0711Peter Corning writes at Psychology Today (two years ago):

Who can object to the libertarian principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the right to hold property – at least in the abstract?  The problem is that the real world is never “abstract.”  All philosophies must ultimately confront reality, and the more radical versions of libertarianism (there are many, from extreme anarchism to limited government “minarchism”) rely on terminally deficient models of human nature and society.  Let’s (very briefly) take a look at the problem.

The libertarian model of individual psychology is grounded in the utilitarian, neo-classical economics model of “Homo economicus” (economic man).  Our motivations can be reduced to the single-minded pursuit of our (mostly material) self-interests. Accordingly, mainstream economists seem to consider it their mission in life to help us do so more “efficiently.” The Nobel economist Amartya Sen many years ago scathingly characterized this simplistic model as “rational fools who are decked out in their one, all-purpose preference function.”

The selfish actor model of human nature was tacitly endorsed with the rise of “Neo-Darwinism” in evolutionary biology during the 1970s, as epitomized in biologist Richard Dawkins’ famous book The Selfish Gene.  As Dawkins summed it up, “We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes….I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness….we are born selfish.”

A line from libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick’s path-breaking book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, says it all: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group [or state] may do to them without violating their rights.” (When asked to specify what those rights are, libertarians often cite philosopher John Locke’s mantra “life, liberty, and property.”)  Not to worry, though.  Through the “magic” of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the efficient pursuit of our self interests in “free markets” will ensure the greatest good for the greatest number.

One problem with this (utopian) model is we now have overwhelming evidence that the individualistic, acquisitive, selfish-gene model of human nature is seriously deficient; it is simplistic, one-sided and in reality resembles the pathological extremes among the personality traits that we find in our society.  The evidence about human evolution indicates that our species evolved in small, close-knit social groups in which cooperation and sharing overrode our individual, competitive self-interests for the sake of the common good. (This scenario is reviewed in my books The Fair Society and Holistic Darwinism.)  We evolved as intensely interdependent social animals, and our sense of empathy toward others, our sensitivity to reciprocity, our desire for inclusion and our loyalty to the groups we bond with, the intrinsic satisfaction we derive from cooperative activities, and our concern for having the respect and approval of others all evolved in humankind to temper and constrain our individualistic, selfish impulses (as Darwin himself pointed out in The Descent of Man).

So we are not, after all, like bumper cars in a carnival, where we all range freely, and, if we cause “harm” by crashing into others, we simply say “excuse me” and move on.  Rather, we are (most of us) embedded in an exceedingly complex network of social relationships, many of which are vital to our well-being.  Every day we confront issues relating to the needs and wants of others and must continually make accommodations.  And in addressing these conflicting interests, the operative norm is – or should be – fairness, a balancing of the interests and needs of other parties, other “stakeholders.”

Read more here.

70 Comments on "Libertarianism’s Deficient Models of Human Nature and Society"

  1. Hadrian999 | Sep 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm |

    every system is about doing the greatest good for the people that control the system, anyone who tells you otherwise is either conning you or has been conned.

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 17, 2013 at 7:18 pm |

      i prefer no system.

      mutual aid and voluntary participation.

      • Hadrian999 | Sep 18, 2013 at 12:37 am |

        even that can be worked by someone

        • Jin The Ninja | Sep 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

          but the level of accessibility is so much greater. there is no bureaucracy preventing democracy from actually happening. everyone becomes responsible for its healthy function.

          • Hadrian999 | Sep 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm |

            and nothing saying I can’t hire a dozen gun thugs to make my own law and take all the best land

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm |

            with what effective currency?

          • I suspect he’d be paying them in plunder.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 19, 2013 at 8:44 pm |

            warlords tend to have short lifespans.

          • Hadrian999 | Sep 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm |

            food, women, the ability to live well without actually working hard, you can have warlords without a state backed currency. Look at what happened in china without a strong government.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm |

            During the era of warlords (late qing) – – there was a civil war between royalist, nationalist and communist factions. They used american and british currency- as well as jewellery and jade.
            Cities were still largely under the ‘protection’ /control of the central government, and the black market was run by triads and benevolent associations. It wasn’t chaos. there is NO one who is saying a non-system based on anarcho-prinples wouldn’t be without flaws,what I am saying is that it would infinitely more human/e and better than what is in place now.

          • Hadrian999 | Sep 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm |

            How do you get there, it would take the entire world population to simultaneously decide that nothing has value except being subsistence farmers and that being nice to each other.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 20, 2013 at 7:03 pm |

            no one said anything about being ‘nice to each other’ or everyone becoming ‘subsistence farmers.’ anarchist principles are practiced every day in our interactions with strangers and our neighbors. we treat (or should) people with a modicum of respect. different values for different peoples. no one is coerced into a community or a set of structures. industrial civilization has 10-20 years max left. without it- we can choose our own destiny.

          • Hadrian999 | Sep 20, 2013 at 7:36 pm |

            once you rise above subsistence farming systems are required, you need infrastructure, processing, shipping all these things create methods of control that would quickly end the ability of anarchists to remain free of the system and you would be right back where we are now

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 21, 2013 at 2:34 pm |

            how many people would actually want a return to a globalised economy? many people would not. some infrastructure would obviously remain extant, perhaps unused, but extant. organising systems holistically and democratically, you’ll be hard pressed to find autocrats in historical contexts of egalitarianism.

          • Hadrian999 | Sep 21, 2013 at 8:49 pm |

            who would want to, whoever could use it to get ahead, what style of life do you see that is not subsistance farming but without having to move, store, or process any goods or resources

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm |

            of course food production would be an aspect, but it would also only be an aspect.

            ‘get ahead’ for what purpose? if cultural values shift, money has evaporated, industrialistion is a laughable historical barbarity- why pursue something meaningless, lacking reward, and most likely extremely difficult?

      • Rhoid Rager | Sep 18, 2013 at 6:36 am |

        There is no system. Never has been. Free will is tricked into believing it’s not free when there is plenty of comfort to go around. The lines of that trickery is what we refer to as the ‘system’, as though it somehow takes precedence over the our ability to make individual choices everyday of our lives. The kickback against such trickery (preference for no system) grows everyday. Then we’ll realize that mutual aid and voluntary participation has been the key component the whole time. Patience is all we need now…it’s coming.

        • Simon Valentine | Sep 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm |

          well said

          it’s like the black box effect of physical sciences
          “we have everything”, “[sic] completely describes the system”

          as you say “excuse me, but no, you don’t”

          i am buttheaded or smartassed about it at times, downright commanding if i can work that in

          it is as though the irrationals, given names, became the integers, while the integers were lost to the vastness of space – only for us to once again overlook the false dichotomy and instead grapple with ‘symmetry’ and ‘identity’ when in fact even those are illusions far enough off the true line to be seen for what they are – the clique, the club, the weight, the brute, the bully, the gang, the mass, the cloud opinion, the knot, the matrix … aaaaaaaaand that’s too far 🙂

          divide by zero

        • that’s the part I like… a comprehensive understanding of evolutionary forces can actually give us hope that we’ll eventually get over this delusion of “free markets” and “homo economicus” … not because we’ll suddenly get “wise” to it, but because evolution will drive us in that direction.

      • That’s an interesting system. Kudos.

  2. mannyfurious | Sep 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

    Broken record time– the failure is in language. We’re all describing “selfish” differently. It’s an abstract term. You can’t point at “selfish” like you can point at a cat. We can all agree on what a “cat” is, but can we agree on what “selfishness” is?

    I only bring this up because I think it’s totally selfish of me to want to live in a community where people care about each other. It’s totally selfish of me to want to live in a country that takes care of its ill, its poor, its most helpless citizens. It’s totally selfish of me to want millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share and invest in the infrastructure of the society that made them rich in the first place. It’s selfish of me to want strong unions to fight for fair wages and working conditions. It’s selfish of me to want each child born in this country to have an equal chance of success. And on and on.

    I’m not being facetious. It is totally selfish and self-serving and even ruthless to want these things. If I get these things, I ensure my own survival, as well as the survival of my genes.

    So, again, maybe I agree with Randian Libertarians and even that twisted little geek Dawkins. I am a selfish, boorish, violent creature. It’s just my definitions are a little different. And that’s the problem: we act like abstract concepts have any basis in reality and they don’t.

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 17, 2013 at 7:19 pm |

      i think it’s more compassionate than selfish, but that is my abstraction.

      • emperorreagan | Sep 17, 2013 at 8:24 pm |

        I think the problem is that human nature is not fundamentally one thing. The failure in the language isn’t just abstraction – it’s that the way english has evolved and is used naturally leads one to reductionist positions rather than allowing for more holistic conclusions.

        • Jin The Ninja | Sep 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm |

          agreed strongly.
          the way i affect my speech, code-switch, discard unnecessary grammar- are my small way of subverting that distortion in english.

    • Cortacespedes | Sep 17, 2013 at 8:26 pm |

      I like the “redistribution” and spreading of the “selfish” over a wider scope, than this hoarding of the selfish idea espoused by the “Lib-Randites”.

      But, that’s probably me being selfish again.
      By definition, abstractions have nothing to do with reality, that’s why they are called abstractions.

    • Alan Morse Davies | Sep 30, 2013 at 2:58 pm |

      Wow, objectivism got you bad. Please tell me you’re older than 20.

      • mannyfurious | Oct 1, 2013 at 10:01 am |

        I’m not understanding your post. Part of the subtext of my post is that Objectivism is bullshit.

        • Alan Morse Davies | Oct 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm |

          Yes, I got that and agree with you but your arguments were anti-objectivism only. Which is why I said they got you.

          They win when your arguments are only about rejecting them.

  3. Simon Valentine | Sep 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm |

    is not a model deficient by definition of model?
    it is a model it is not the real thing
    so i suppose it could be more than the real thing rather than less
    a mind is more than a matter, thing
    models and deficiency not being mutually exclusive…
    the real life barbie.
    the god pharaoh.
    the prophet.
    yadda yadda….

  4. Anyone who believes “personal responsibility” is a tenet of libertarianism has clearly never lived or worked with a libertarian.

    • Cortacespedes | Sep 17, 2013 at 10:11 pm |

      I only regret, that I have but one upvote to give to that comment.

    • Wow this sounds an awful lot like “Everyone in [insert group] are like [insert stereotype] because I know one or two.” What an evolved way of thinking.

    • Alan Morse Davies | Sep 30, 2013 at 3:46 pm |

      Your point is insane yet I think localised, you live in America right?

      Personal responsibility is at the very core of Libertarianism before the word Libertarian got co-opted, only in the U.S. by a weird Ayn Rand fueled section of the Republican party. Did you live with one of those?
      Selfishness goes against almost everything that all the myriad factions of Libertarians stand for.

      For me, Welsh, when I hear the word Libertarian, I think firstly Anarchism, which is essentially about avoiding central control and being able to choose to live in independent communities with different values from each other.

      Then I think of Noam Chomsky which I think is much more realistic.

      The difference between Noam Chomsky and Rand Paul is simple.

      Noam believes that some people will always try to screw others. If you create an entirely free market then you will eventually end up with one company that owns everything.

      Rand Paul says that it’s somehow about Darwinism and we should be competing with each other to see who wins and this will solve everything.

      The only way that either Ron or Rand Paul could be credible to Libertarians would be to say that they are prepared to neuter corporations and put people first.

      They will never do that, they are already bought.

      If that means I agree with you, I do.

      • Yes, I was drawing on my own American experience and also being a little facetious. No, not all Libertarians are irresponsible, but the most shrill ones seem to be lazy and needy.
        “Libertarian” in America always means the weird Randian version, in some form. The Libertarian Party platform is anarcho-capitalist. Although that hasn’t always been the case, it’s a very dogmatic party and Chomsky or any other left-libertarians are not invited. It is also the party of choice for those who think they’re just too cool to call themselves Republicans.
        Most Libertarian politicians, on the other hand, are not libertarians at all. Rand and Ron Paul are both unequivocally paleoconservatives. The same for the Tea Partiers. This ideology hasn’t been popular in the mainstream since the 1930s, so I think we may have just forgotten what it looks like.
        Libertarianism and anarchism include a broad spectrum of left, right, and in between. Just not in the US.

        • Alan Morse Davies | Oct 1, 2013 at 2:00 pm |

          OK understood and yes I think you make a very good point about paleoconservatism. I’ve always been rather stumped as to why people who label themselves as Libertarians in the U.S. have such socially conservative views and are pro-corporate (small government, big corporations = not government by corporations how?).

          I think Ron Paul and others have played a very clever game of linking the U.S. concept of freedom with Ayn Rand’s concept of god-like selfishness as justification. He also gets to be a Republican whilst simultaneously not really being a Republican.

          I think the level of support for the Republican party generally is a marketing coup. They’ve managed to adopt and bend to their will some key American concepts (god, freedom, the American dream, the constitution, the idea of a golden lost age where America was really America), use them as a form of branding… then get people to vote for them even when it’s against their own self-interest… and yet still see it as a form of patriotism.

          Now that’s an impressive marketing trick, although a horribly cynical one.

          I personally hope that the Republican party gets some policy ideas quickly, if only to prevent Rand Paul being their choice by default.

          Ultimately I think his hair will foil his ambitions. After writing all this, it comes down to that, which is a mixed blessing.

  5. Charlie Primero | Sep 17, 2013 at 9:47 pm |

    Did you get that it kids? This idea that you own yourself is a social pathology.

    Me and my cousin Cletus have the right to enjoy your booty-hole as long as we offer you a vote on the matter. It’s a public good.

    (BTW, I’ve missed your Climate Fraud posts Good German.)

    • Tuna Ghost | Sep 18, 2013 at 6:04 am |

      A more accurate interpretation is that there ISN’T a biological justification for being a shitheel, but I can see how you’d get confused.

      Like, if you’re really fucking stupid, I can see how that would confuse you.

    • Nothing in the article argues against self ownership. Making your straw man more disgusting doesn’t make it relevant.

  6. Ted Heistman | Sep 18, 2013 at 6:58 am |

    Socialism: What A and B think C should do to help X.

    • More like what A, B, C and X think A, B, C and X should do to help A, B, C and X. At least theoretically.

      • Lookinfor Buford | Sep 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm |

        And in reality, where A, B, and C wait patiently for the rest of the alphabet to do the necessary work while they eat the soup.

      • Ted Heistman | Sep 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm |

        So you just worry about what you think you should do to help those less fortunate than you and not worry what other people do with their money?

        • Well, people don’t really do things with money. They get others to do things by giving them money.

          And really, the money belongs to the banks and the Fed since they create it out of debt.

      • moremisinformation | Sep 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm |

        Just never in reality.

  7. Liam_McGonagle | Sep 18, 2013 at 8:40 am |

    I love this debate. But mainly because I want to see America destroy itself. It will be hilarious.

  8. HowardBrazee | Sep 18, 2013 at 9:00 am |

    To evaluate the success of an ideology, we need first to come to a consensus about what “success” means. Or recognize that “consensus” isn’t always best and that diversity might be better. Then evaluate the costs of extending a successful ideology to everything. Does anybody want an ideology extended 100%? Only if they can redefine the terms (no true Scotsman). Once we get past the religious definitions of the terms, we can start to measure how various parts of life are effected by a particular ideology and recognize both benefits and costs in more than a single measurement.

    • VaudeVillain | Sep 20, 2013 at 12:35 am |

      It sounds like you take a complex, nuanced view of “what we ought to do” that requires critical thought and the willingness to adjust presupposed rules in those cases where following them doesn’t seem to make sense.

      This is Highly Unacceptable. We demand Absolute Ideological Purity, and any concept of balance, compromise or willingness to reconsider is for weaklings and fools.

  9. Lookinfor Buford | Sep 18, 2013 at 10:53 am |

    Poppycock. The reason we evolved in small groups is because it was the only way to satisfy our individual needs, and not be enslaved or killed by others. These groups were only useful in protection and utility for their members, and largely existed because of blood and or love relationships, which are really the only type where our concerns for others may override our own. If we were so selfless, explain tribal warfare.

    • Scarcity, greed, and lack of cooperation. Quite possibly the lack of intelligent leaders.

    • Alan Morse Davies | Oct 2, 2013 at 4:13 pm |

      Explain tribal warfare? Tribal thinking, which we still have. Dehumanise your enemy (they wear green hats, not blue), also bend your language to suit your goals, then it matters less if you kill them and you get less emotionally scarred.

      No-one has claimed that selflessness is constant and universal, it is clearly not. Yet it has been seen to exist. Someone making that claim I guess would be the Antirand, does the Antirand come to fool us before the true Rand returns?

      If you’re arguing only against selflessness just because it’s the opposite of the one point made by Ayn Rand, you need to find people to disagree with who believe wholly in the inverse of that point, I don’t think you’ll find them here.

      Humans can be selfish and sometimes selfless yet co-operation is the basis of our survival.

      It’s complete charlatanism to suggest that we have to decide between the two and that one is more worthy than the other.

      The only person who suggested that should be the basis of the argument was Ayn Rand, I think everyone else is prepared to consider that the world is not black and white, it’s grey. The grey world is more difficult to talk about, because you have to take into account real life and real people and work with them.

      That’s a much less attractive talking point because it is nuanced and involves detail.

      So dehumanise your enemy…

      I suggest that these comparisons of human behaviour are racially charged and simplistic in nature… we don’t want tribal warfare like the Africans, OK but you’re not Africans (mostly), and most Africans are not involved in tribal warfare… how does this prove anything?

      You live in the developed world, does tribal warfare exist where you are? If so, how would you describe it?

      Is this just a convenient way to avoid actually addressing the complexity of the world you actually live in by generating fear through comparison with cheap racial stereotypes?

      We can only imagine Ayn Rand being right by imagining a primitive, nonsense, made-up past in which life was simpler and our enemy is black.

      Yes, I did just say that.

      I’m calling the subtext to account.

      And yes, I did just call you a racist, oops, perhaps it’s laissez faire racism and you just fell into it through language, unwittingly.

      I’m happy to continue the conversation though and that’s the essence of my point.

  10. Anonymous | Sep 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm |

    If Mr. Corning thinks that small, close-nit interdependent communities is more natural and more fair, then maybe he should give the philosophies of libertarianism/anarchism a closer look. For they are the only political philosophies that allow for what he seems to be longing for.

    As with any ideology, there are many different conceptions of what libertarianism is and is not. Mr. Corning has one perception, as contextualized in his his readings, personal opinions, beliefs, etc… His perception of libertarianism seems to be rather limited. His statement that the libertarian philosophy is too simplistic is very telling. For libertarian philosophy, as with all philosophies/ideologies, is anything but simplistic; especially to those who devote themselves to a serious study of any type of political philosophy. In such a study, you quickly realize that all political philosophies are open to various contradictions, etc… When you throw in the concept of “human nature,” contradictions become glaringly obvious. These contradictions arise when you consider all the varying perceptions of “human nature.” An evolutionary biologist is going to have a very different perception of human relations and nature than the perception of an anthropologist. Just as a Buddhist will have a very different perception of human nature in comparison to that of a fundamentalist Christian. Having different perceptions and beliefs with regard to these matters is not a problem, unless you are of the particular mindset that your particular perceptions are correct and that all others should live accordingly.

    Mr. Corning seems to believe that all libertarians are deluded utopians operating under a backwards conception of human nature and relations. His quoting of Nozick, Locke, and Smith and his subsequent adolescent condescending statements regarding their writings, is very telling. Firstly, his statements show that he has never read their writings in their entirety. Secondly, Nozick does not contend that individuals operate in a vacuum, as Mr. Corning seems to imply. Thirdly, Smith’s conception of self interest, is not as simple as Mr. Corning seems to imply. Finally, Locke’s conception of life, liberty, and property, is one of the main philosophical tenets for the legitimacy of the colonies’ secession from England. Without Locke’s writings, Mr. Corning would likely not have the same liberty to write such a fine, scholarly piece.

    Mr. Corning makes the classic mistake associated with those who do not have a knowledgeable understanding of what libertarian philosophy is and what it entails. He is correct in stating that humans have been and still remain interdependent beings. But this does not logically extend to supporting the contention that individuals have no rights beyond what a majority of others may grant to them. Libertarian philosophy rests on the premise that humans, as interdependent sentient beings have certain natural rights. That these rights are an extension of organic nature. Mr. Corning is correct in stating that Humans evolved in small tribes and that survival depended on cooperating with each other. What’s more this process is an example of a very organic and natural process. However, that process/system is very different from the system we have today.

    Today, humans, at least those in modern westernized civilizations, no longer find themselves in the small tribe. Humans find themselves in a cosmopolitan culture that conflates society with the nation state and its related governing agencies. The conceptions of interdependent society within the setting of a small tribe/village could not be more opposite than the modern interdependent society, as regulated and governed by a hierarchical elite. In contract to yesteryear, modern man’s conception of society is no longer rooted in or limited to the members of his family, community, and surrounding villages. Instead modern man’s conception of society is now the nation state, the global community of nation states, and their respective governing agencies. In the US and other western nations, the nation state has established itself as the ultimate, sovereign authority over human relations and its affairs. In modern times, in contrast to the times that Mr. Corning longs for, if you want to do something for your local community, you go to the Federal government for a grant, or you get 51% of the people to vote to force the other 49% to do what you think is advisable. This scenario, in contrast to the organic relations within a small tribe, leaves little room for dissent. In this scenario, the individual, as an interdependent sentient being, completely loses his ability to step out of the “tribe”, and state that he does not consent to the way things are being done. If a man, in his judgment states that he wishes to live in a different way than the way the hierarchical elite/majority group is forcing him to live, he is ostracized as selfish, and in modern times, is usually fined, jailed, or worse.

    In response to the foregoing scenario, libertarian philosophy provides modern man with an alternative to non-organic, hierarchical government, and sociomaniacal society. Libertarianism contends that man has the natural ability and right to associate with others as he pleases, so long as his association does not violate other humans’ abilities and rights to the same. It provides the individual, interdependent sentient being the opportunity to govern himself, his associations, and the extent to which he involves himself with the affairs of his community, village, state, etc… It provides him with the right and opportunity to non-consent and non-cooperation, just as it provides him the right and opportunity to full consent and full cooperation. It places all men on an equal footing (non-egalitarian) and does not allow for one man to be sacrificed to the larger group. If a man decides to practice altruism and charity towards his fellow man and community, it is his choice and his alone. No group of men has any right to force him into charity or to force him to do it per the norms that the group has established.

    Libertarianism says nothing as to what man will do with his abilities and rights to self-government and free association. Some men will use it wisely and some will use it poorly. One man’s perception of wise use, may seem to another man as an ill use. One man’s vices, may be another’s virtues. Libertarianism is the only political philosophy that allows for non-consent, thus, the only philosophy that truly recognizes man’s nature as an interdependent sentient being, capable of governing himself and his associations in the way that he sees fit. It allows for organic relations and experimentation. It does not relegate man to living according to the dictates of the masses, or the dictates of the elite sociomaniacal class.

  11. sonicbphuct | Sep 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm |

    Who can object to the libertarian principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the right to hold property

    I can object; namely: property. I believe property exists in the same way a unicorn exists – that is, in one’s imagination. What actually exists is ‘usage’. And from there, usage rights. This idea that property can extend past death is ludicrous, if not outright insane. It’s even sillier than religion. I mean, really, property can own property, or that i can determine the fate of the things I used in life after I’m dead – no longer existent, except in memories – is even more insane than believing in an unprovable existence (or non-existence) that determines things in our lives. That a person no longer exists is a demonstrable fact, and a non-existent person should impose a non-existent will upon some extant thing is … well, amusing at best.

    Otherwise, I can totally get down with individual freedom and responsibility.

    • Alan Morse Davies | Oct 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm |

      I’m with you on this but I think if we’re addressing the U.S. version of libertarianism this is not the greatest immediate risk to individual freedom.

      The Ron Paul idea is to set the market free and keep the government small. The market largely consists of corporations whose only duty, other than the laws set by government, is to make it’s shareholders richer.

      When the idea of capitalism in the U.S. is discussed, it’s always framed within a small town argument. Mike opens an ice cream shop, John opens an ice cream shop across the street. John makes better ice cream at a better price than Mike and therefore Mike goes out of business. The comparisons seem fair.

      Let’s try it again.

      Mike opens an ice cream shop, he has over 500 shops already so this ice cream shop is not a risk for him. John makes better ice cream at a cheaper price than Mike, but the risk for John is everything, the risk for Mike is nothing, so he slashes prices to remove his competition, despite the customers liking John’s ice cream better.

      Once John is out of business, Mike puts the prices up, above John’s prices.

      Inferior product, higher price through market dominance.

      I would say the greatest threat to individual liberty is who we work for and what their goal is, mostly to serve their shareholders and no-one else.

      In a way this goes back to your idea of property.

      We have become property, deployed or discarded to make people we will never meet much richer.

      We live in a democracy, so we are free right? We sleep for 6-8 hours in which we dream and notions of freedom are irrelevant, we work for 8-12 hours in a job which which pays for our life and over which we have very little control. The free time is what’s left and it’s funded by who we work for.

      I’m not seeing freedom in this.

      In order to make it seem like we have some form of input in developed capitalist democracies we’re generally asked to choose between two flavours of the same thing, we’re asked to choose between small things which then get pumped up to be big things and therefore our vote truly matters. All the politicians have been bought on both sides, largely by the people we work for.

      I honestly can’t name a properly functioning democracy now.

      Corporations are now bigger than most governments and their goal is entirely undemocratic, to serve their investors within the rule of law, which they now largely control.

      Freedom will mean something different to everyone.

      I would suggest it’s about limiting the powers that others have over you, it’s about trying to prevent the use of disproportionate force.

      Yet in the world of winners and losers, disproportionate force is the prize. Are losers still free?

  12. Alan Morse Davies | Sep 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm |

    I don’t know which form of Libertarianism is being addressed here, it’s a label but it’s by no means a set of unified views, quite the opposite.

    The broad swipes at what the author sees as the fundamental tenets of Libertarianism really only apply to the perverse Ayn Rand Republican branch that has developed in the U.S. and has very little to do with what Libertarianism has been about historically.

    Noam Chomsky is a Libertarian, do these same arguments apply to his thinking, if so how?

    Ayn Rand’s idea of being entirely selfish as a path for salvation is entirely at odds with almost all other forms of Libertarianism.

    The fundamental Libertarian idea, for me, is not about selfishness, it’s about being able to choose to live in a community with values you share and then contribute to it in whatever way you can.

    Personally I would like to live in a community where there is no legislation for personal taste, except that which harms others. I would also like the people in that community to be protected from those that seek wealth and power, maybe due to childhood insecurity or perhaps they’re just assholes, whichever way there’s an empathy deficit. I’d like businesses to be owned and run by those that work in them.

    In a way, I would welcome an Ayn Rand community based on the virtue of selfishness and let’s see how it goes. We would not exist now as a species with these values, let’s cheer them on and see how they fare.

    I would love to see Rand Island as a reality show

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm |

      noam chomsky is a libertarian. but he identifies as libertarian-socialist. it’s an important (american) distinction.

      • Alan Morse Davies | Sep 22, 2013 at 1:47 am |

        That’s exactly my point, there are many forms of Libertarianism and the distinctions between them are not minor.

        • Jin The Ninja | Sep 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm |

          but in popular conception,”libertarian” refers only to a very specific rand branded form. it doesn’t even really refer to american individualist anarchism, which is (and i’m sure you’ll agree) so much more nuanced and distinct. the problem is, in mainstream discourse (read media), whether a liberal or conservative speaker, the libertarian epithet is applied as BOTH a pejorative slur and the highest praise respectively, and with equal measure. it has lost all of its original meaning (whether individualist or communitarian).

          in my generation (well at least for me)- ‘libertarian’ referred to people who were either: extremely critical of the system, like human-rights attorneys who spoke of living in a highly racist, imperial society whose gov’t acts in impunity in all things- and frequently sued law enforcement- so called ‘civil libertarians’ (they tended to read a lot of chomsky), as well as referring to homesteaders who lead a self-sufficient lifestyle (before it was ‘cool’), lived somewhere remote, and probably owned a hunting rifle, and read a lot of goldman and spooner. i’ve known shades of both.

          there is no question it has been appropriated by a small but vocal lot of austrian school proponents (who coincedentally also appropriated ‘anarcho’ as in “anarcho-capitalism”).

          i much prefer the older meaning myself- as both individualists and communitarians (as well as american libertarianism in general) have valid points. but i use ‘left-libertarian’ or ‘libertarian-socialist’ to distinguish my actual beliefs from those of the aforementioned group- who resemble no one except a few fringe-cum-mainstream market occultists.

          • Alan Morse Davies | Sep 23, 2013 at 10:38 am |

            OK I see your point, I’m not American, I’m Welsh (living in Hong Kong)… the many forms of Libertarianism are not regarded as an Ayn Rand thing outside of the U.S., quite the opposite. Libertarianism is more associated with the many forms of Anarchism (which have strong European roots) and Libertarian Socialism.

            From a European perspective, the Ayn Rand branch is seen is at best an abberation, at worst some form of temporary insanity which appears localised to the U.S..

  13. There are no intelligent Libertarians.

    • I wouldn’t say that. Many of them are very intelligent–they’re just victims of moral coherence.

  14. ManwithnoCountry | Sep 23, 2013 at 11:39 pm |

    A lot of the things I want to happen I want because it’ll make civilization do its thing and collapse.

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