Peter 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.