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Libertarianism without the Loonies
Cormac MacCarthy's apocalyptic vision in The Road is not popular with some THINQon posters I see, but it struck home with me in the way a lot of science fiction does, as a stripped down vision of us now rather than a hypothetical future.  That grisly scene in the mansion, that's us  - not necessarily the cannibalism of course -but how our structures and organisations create wealth and plenty essentially by preying on others who pass by.  Wealth creates poverty, power creates powerlessness.  Meanwhile we complain and protest the criminal and cruel actions of our governments (Iraq, Gaza, Guantanamo), and we protest the spending priorities (bail out the rich while neglecting the poor), but it is too late because we have already given our elected representatives full power to act for us without recall or meaningful accountability. 

In a recent post the phrase libertarianism came up.  Libertarians argue for an end to structure and rule making so that we can all do best by ourselves, but the free market they argue for has proved just as rule bound and parasitic as any statism, and Greenspan has lived long enough to show us just how misguided he was to free it all up: creating not more economic freedom but more and greater opportunities for theft by the few from the many.
LIbertarian socialism (also known as anarchism) is a cousin because it is founded on the same love of freedom or liberty.  Chomsky quotes Bakunin who wrote 'I love liberty. Not the purely formal liberty conceded, measured out and regulated by the state ...but the unique condition under which intelligence, dignity and human happiness can develop and grow.'  Libertarian socialists argue for liberty with social responsibility,  replacing authority and power structures not with a free-for-all but with full, active participation in society at a local level by ourselves and our neighbours, wherever that might lead.  

My question is this.  Shouldn't we question authority rather than accept it - give according to our moral and intellectual capabilities rather than be passengers in a society which is not only wrong but will eventually also destroy the natural world we depend on?   

Books discussed
Great topic, great challenge.

As I understand libertarianism, the 'purist' would argue that there is no need for government and that everyone should be self sufficient and that socialism creates entitlements which de-motivates society into becoming dependent rather than contributory.

I tend to agree with the principles involved but place huge emphasis on the 'that everyone should be self sufficient' bit, because we are a long way from that, long in terms of centuries or even millennia.

So I think that a sane and balanced libertarian approach is to acknowledge the ideal and understand that there is a centuries long journey to be undertaken by ourselves, our children and their children after them, for many generations to come, in order to even approach that ideal. To take the position that we should have nobody telling us what to do when for the whole, we largely don't yet know what to do for ourselves, is just plain stupid.

Any journey is taken a step at a time, and a successful journey is made of many, sometimes even thousands of successful steps. If we define a successful step as one which leaves us, collectively and individually better off, by any sane measure of 'better off', and we keep taking those steps, eventually, a generation in the future will attain that utopia.

If on the other hand we are to demand and try and force that utopia on a society which is not ready for it, we are simply going to self-destruct, as effectively as if we decided that we needed a society based on individual power, a sort of perverted vision of Darwin's theory of 'natural selection' and Spencer's theory of the 'survival of the fittest', which are linked, but neither of which were intended to imply that in human society, the biggest bully should always win and be allowed precedence and the weak should just be allowed to wither and die unless they could find the wherewithal to pull themselves up by their boot straps, a view which never the less seems to be held by many looney elements of the libertarian camp. 

They seem to forget that once they have ditched the socio-political structures of the day and have not replaced them with socio-political structures for tomorrow, they could well become islands of self-sufficiency but isolated intellectually, socially, technologically and financially, surrounded by thousands of impoverished have nothings, who under the circumstances would feel even less than nothing for the libertarians' claims for the sanctity of their lives, limbs and property to be respected.

So the challenge I see for libertarians, is to identify and walk a pragmatic path from where we are to where we need to be and to understand that a multiplicity of steps are needed to walk that path successfully and that it will take time and we need the patience of Job to undertake that journey.

To answer your question about questioning authority, yes we should, every step of the way and every minute of the day, every day. in fact, I think we need to define the term authority, or at least re-identify its source, which is that of those who cede it. as Elizabeth 1 is scripted to say in the film, Shakespeare in Love, to one of her lackeys, 'Careful how you use my name, you may wear it out'.

In a sense, for libertarianism to succeed, it needs to re-identify itself.

So what principles should Libertarians adopt?

I'll start a list and hope others add to it, although the list should be short if its content is right:

1) That respect for and compliance with the law be a cornerstone of libertarianism.

2) The sovereignty of the individual exists above that of all collectives, including that of corporates and government.

3) The sanctity of everyone's life, limb and property be respected.

4) That all exchanges should be based on quid pro quo and if not, for whatever reason, can be reversed or enforced.

5) That government's purpose, in so far as it is permitted to exist, is to serve, not to rule.

6) That the principle of 'the greater good' cannot be used to impose the will of one over another.

7) That everyone has the absolute right to do what he wishes provided in so doing he does not imping on the rights of others.

8) That no law or contract may remove or diminish an individual's rights in terms of these principles and no law that restates the above principles should be recognized. 

9) That a universally accessible judicial system exists to uphold those principles.
10)  Any government should be the minimum required for the orderly functioning of society.

I have a problem with the 'Libertarian Socialism' term used in another of Bev's posts. I don't believe in entitlements, which is what I believe socialism is all about but I do believe in libertarian pragmatism. I believe that a libertarian will understand that if he is the only pool of wealth in a desert of poverty, he will soon loose his wealth. In order to retain or even increase his wealth, he needs to help develop the wealth of those around him, and that he will do, not from altruism but for his own good. If he serves those about him well, particularly if that service improves their lot, he will earn their respect and support and if he is clever about it, he will also gain in wealth; financially, spiritually and socially. That is about as close to socialism that I ever want to go.

In response to John barri
As I understand libertarianism, the 'purist' would argue that there is no need for government and that everyone should be self sufficient

I'm a bit late to this thread, and I haven't digested it very well, but, as a member of the LP, I wanted to respond to John's comment: Nyet!

At least in this comment, John makes a common error of confusing libertarianism with anarchism.   I consider  "classical liberatarian" theory to call for a minimal government with three essential functions, meaning government should:

1.  defend the nation from military invasion;

2.  maintain a judicial system to adjudicate disputes and pass necessary judgments according to law;

3. maintain a police force to enforce the law, which would basically only enjoin the use of force or fraud.

 Libertarians do not expect self-sufficiency.  They merely maintain that the only moral associations between humans are mutually voluntary ones, and that nobody has a claim on you, unless you have entered into some sort of contract with that person.

I might note that libertarianism is for adults: the whole concept doesn't apply to children.   I sometimes have difficulty fitting children into a libertarian paradigm.  A libertarian society would not have laws to protect adults from the consequences of their own decisions. For example, no laws against taking drugs or restrictions on voluntary sexual activities, leading some to consider the Libertarian Party to be the party of drugs and sex (well maybe it is, but that's certainly not all that it is).   And the freedom to conduct your life as you see fit in these matters would not necessarily apply to children.  By the way, in a libertarian world my freedom to move my fist ends where your nose begins (precisely defining that interface can be difficult).

Here's a little magazine that recently gave up the ghost as a print publication and went online.  It does a spirited job of defending liberty in a libertarian framework:

Here's another, somewhat more scholarly publication that is available for free as a print publication:

FEE is perhaps the grandaddy of American libertarian organizations, and its publications can describe libertarian principles much better than I can hope to do.

Finally, the Libertarian Party's website is here:

And remember, Libertarians do it freely!


P.S.  Please note this post represents only my own views, and does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Libertarian Party.

In response to John barri

As I understand libertarianism, the 'purist' would argue that there is no need for government and that everyone should be self sufficient  

  I think you are confusing libertarian thought with anarchism.  Libertarians generally hold that some minimal government is necessary. Government should:

1. protect the shores from foreign invaders (that would give generous employment opportunities to botanists, lol);

2. develop a legal system and a judicial system to adjudicate disputes;

3. sustain a police force to enforce the law.

Essentially, government exists to prevent you from moving your fist where my nose begins (and visa versa).  It does not exist to provide either of us the good things of life, or even what is necessary to maintain life.  Even if all people were moral, there would be a need for limited government, as there would always be honest differences of opinion that require an impartial arbitrator.
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Latest Post: March 13, 2012 at 1:06 PM
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