My Trouble With Libertarians

I was out on my bike, riding through the countryside, when I came upon a group of deer grazing near the edge of the road. I was riding where it is mostly woods and fields so there’s not much car traffic. As a result, the woodland critters are often in plain sight. I took the opportunity to stop, drink some water and enjoy the magnificent beauty of nature. At these times it is easy to see why men believe in a just and loving God. I was also reminded of why I hate libertarians.

To be fair, I don’t really hate all libertarians. As is the case with “conservative”, the word “libertarian” has been expanded to include things that the original libertarians never would have imagined. The word itself was coined by a French communist from the word libertaire, to mean an advocate or defender of liberty, especially in politics. The guy most consider to be the founder of libertarianism, Claude-Frédéric Bastiat, was a classical liberal in the line of John Locke and Adam Smith.

It used to be that libertarians were property and contract guys. They argued that the state existed to protect property rights and enforce contracts. These were the neo-classical liberals, who believed government had been created by individuals to protect themselves from one another. Since all property was either owned by an individual or owned collectively, the state existed to protect property and sort out disputes that arose over property. There’s really nothing wrong with this as an argument against socialism and communism.

The trouble is that somewhere along the way, this rather sensible rebuke of socialism curdled into a weird fusion of Cultural Marxism and laissez-faire globalist economics. To be a libertarian today means to abandon the field as soon as the Left assaults the culture in some new way. They always have some excuse for hiding under their bed when the Left goes on a rampage. At the same time, they fall into lectures about pencils as soon as the topic of global capitalism is raised. Listen to a modern libertarian and you get the sense they really think the point of life is cheap consumer goods.

Ironically, modern libertarians are fond of talking about the Founders and they even argue that early America was a libertarian country. That’s ridiculous, but it also misses a critical point. The American colonies were doing well economically and the taxes and levies the King wished to impose were minor. Despite this economic realty, the colonies revolted anyway. It was early proof that homo economicus has always been nonsense. Humans as not rational and narrowly self-interested agents. Humans, individually and collectively, are biological.

When the Brits went to the polls and decided to leave Europe, they did not do so with economics in mind. That was part of it, but patriotism, identity, class and other non-economic factors were at the front of their mind. The winners were not waving the Union Jack because it happen to be handy. The Brexit forces were not talking about sovereignty and self-government by accident. Libertarians are so blinkered they could not comprehend what was so blazingly obvious. They remain convinced that humans are just moist robots.

It used to be that libertarians understood this. Murray Rothbard cooked up something he called Right-Wing Populism, which was a not so subtle attempt to hook libertarianism to biology. Guys like Ron Paul and many Paleo-Conservatives embraced something that is the foundation of the emerging Alt-Right. That is, the chain of causality, which is shorthanded this way: Biology->Culture->Politics->Economics. Iceland has the culture of Iceland because it is full of Icelanders. Nigeria is the way it is because it full of Nigerians.

Modern libertarians appear to embrace the Progressive claim that humans are a blank slate so the chain of causality is reversed. They run out of the room as soon as biology is mentioned. Talk about crime, for example, and they break into a sweat and start looking for a way to escape. When it comes to culture, the modern libertarians are too quick to come up with some bit of dogma that prevents them from facing off with the Left. Usually that means another lecture on why we need to legalize weed and prostitution.

Like most sensible people, I like low taxes and limited government interference in my life. I’m a maximalist when it comes to personal liberty, but I also understand that human society is about trade-offs. I give up some liberty in exchange for the benefits of living in a society to my liking. My liking and that of my fellow citizens is not always going to be logical or fit into a tidy economic model. I also know that a certain segment of the population is going to require extra help and extra restraint. That requires trade-offs too.

Those rolling hills where I sometimes ride may one day be slated for development or a chemical plant. Maybe I’ll be all for wiping out Bambi’s playground or maybe I’ll be on the other side. My arguments will be no more rational than why I prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla. The people on the other side will be just as irrational. That’s the way it goes in politics. It is two sides fighting over what to love more and what to hate more. It is about who we will be, together, as a society. It is what we want our kids to remember about us.

Libertarians have nothing to say about any of this, but like a pebble in your shoe, they keep finding a way to be an irritant. In the current crisis, they have plenty to say, but they refuse to pick a side. They have their principles and their well crafted arguments, but most of it feels like a call to inaction. They clearly believe, but faith without works is dead. A faith that can never work because it runs counter to biological reality deserves to be dead. That’s how I feel about libertarianism.

42 thoughts on “My Trouble With Libertarians

  1. Great article. Right and all points!

    Libertarians (or at least anarchists) also have no answer to the problem of “two army corps, three air wings, and a fleet.” Mercenaries have their place, but tend to break when the chips are down. People fight to defend their own for biological reasons, ethnic reasons, love of kin and land and tradition.

  2. While your characterization of libertarians may be true of some who wear the label (Gary Johnson is a great example – firmly committed to government non-interference except for the case of all his preferences, which the government should certainly enforce), I think that does a disservice to many who would identify as libertarians simply because they are the closest party to the principles of classical liberalism. Neither of the large parties has any interest in small government, and I find that many of the “conservatives” don’t either – they pull the same trick as Gary Johnson, just with the opposite polarity. Many conservatives operate on emotion rather than principle, and want to use government as the agent to enforce their moral code on the population as a whole.

    I actually have a strong Judeo-Christian ethic, and would love to see our country return to that as a moral basis. However, many conservatives make the mistake of assuming they can make the US a moral country again by installing a moral government. That will absolutely not work. We first need to generate a moral populace, then a moral government will flow from it.

    I believe in a minimalist government and non-interference in moral issues whether they be pet issues of either the right or left. I am appalled by the scourge of substance abuse and the underlying cause, which is the rot of self-control and responsibility in our nation. However, we cannot and will not solve that problem by passing laws against drug abuse. You actually have to work with people on a personal level to solve it and force them to accept the consequences of their own actions, and I not only don’t see most conservatives doing that, I see many of them in open hypocrisy enjoying alcohol to excess. Sure, it’s legal, but putting drug abuse and alcohol abuse in separate categories is a distinction without a difference.

    Free trade is a wonderful boon to the world as long as there is free trade in both directions. However, that hasn’t been the case in some time. Open immigration policies are foolish. By all means, let’s welcome immigrants, but only if they will be a net benefit to our society. Our immigration policies now make it far too difficult to attract people who would be valuable, law-abiding additions to our country, and instead rewards those who flout our laws. Those who think we should close off immigration completely are equally foolish as those who believe in unrestricted immigration. If you research who is creating new tech companies in the US, it’s almost 90% immigrants. Go walk down the hallways of the engineering and hard sciences wings of any competent university – you will find a majority of names are eastern European, Indian, or Asian. The reason is that as a society we have come to be too lazy and don’t have the drive to excel in the hard academic disciplines. That’s not going to change overnight, so kill off immigration and we kill off our tech base and much of our entrepreneurial spirit.

    I find this portion of your comments to be very interesting:
    ” In the current crisis, they have plenty to say, but they refuse to pick a side. They have their principles and their well crafted arguments, but most of it feels like a call to inaction. They clearly believe, but faith without works is dead. A faith that can never work because it runs counter to biological reality deserves to be dead.”

    If the crisis being referred to is the election, it’s not that most libertarians are not picking a side. It’s that the side we pick is not either of the major two. I actually have nothing good to say about Gary Johnson and consider it a shame that he was nominated, but picking a choice between Trump and Clinton is like choosing whether to vote for Nero or Caligula. Both are awful choices, they just differ in which issues they are most corrupt in. I’ll have to hold my nose and vote for Trump because 2nd Amendment issues are very important to me, and there’s the tiniest shred of hope that he might appoint judges that are not entirely antithetical to my beliefs. However, in the larger crisis of culture neither the conservatives or liberals have anything close to the right answer. Both conservatives and liberals want a strong central government who will crush our liberty, they just have minor differences in which behaviors and liberties they wish to crush. You see libertarians as claiming to be on the side of conservatives and shooting them in the back when they try to push for some new action. I see libertarians as standing in no mans land and being shot from both sides. What you see as a call to inaction, I see as a call to action that doesn’t align with your preferences.

  3. Pingback: Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Chaos Patch (#124)

  4. The teaching of what to think instead of how to think. 40 years of experimentation in schools and 25 years of PC nonsense.

  5. Pingback: How the Z-Man Feels About Libertarianism | Daily Pundit

  6. One of my sons asked me why I hate libertarians. After all, without them who will be there to reshelve the book when you return it?

  7. I had come to understand the term “libertarian” as mix of conservative-capitalistic and liberal-social values. Somewhere in the middle where one can appreciates the benefits of a conservative-capitalistic society where there is a strong worth ethic where people are rewarded financially through their own hard work, with enough liber-social values to provide social responsibility to help those who are incapable of caring for themselves. Seems like a nice mix to me.

    • It’s great in theory. We deal with them in a real sense. At some point they break down into hypocrisy and facilitating the left. I now think of them the way people used to think of Quakers during our revolution and civil wars. Like traitors or free riders. As far as political economy, they seem to think that you can have the economy without the politics. No one likes to see sausage made,but that’s what politics is, and these no dairy, no egg vegans want a fantasy world where no one makes it or eats it.

      • I would not call someone who doesn’t want to go to war a traitor. I would call him someone with a conscious who is able to think for himself and not just do what he is told because someone with higher authority tells him to go die for some “great cause”. Fourteen years into the longest American conflict and young Americans are still being killed or maimed for “the great cause” in the middle east. The fact is this could end today if the politicians would do what is necessary to end it once and for all. Your general Patton once said “No one won a war by dying for his country, they won by making the other bastard die for his.” It’s a good lesson you’ve failed to learn.

        • I wasn’t calling them traitors, asshole. My own dad was a conscientious objector. I said that was they way people perceive them. You put words in other people’s mouths with the facility of a leftist.

          • Liar. Your exact words were ” I now think of them the way people used to think of Quakers during our revolution and civil wars. Like traitors or free riders.”

            Don’t you even have the conviction of your own rotten beliefs?

  8. I used to think libertarians were “limited government” until Colorado legalized weed in 2012. The whole thing was sold on the premise of doing it “for the children”…that pot taxes would be used to finance more schools. Well, the schools are no better, and pot shops are starting to rival liquor stores as symbols of neighborhood blight. Bigger government, greater levels of cynicism, bring on the Big TobaccoPot lawsuits.

  9. Sce we are into testimonials today, I will relate my dalliance with libertarianism. I first began considering it strongly when reading a book written by the late economics Benjamin Rogge titled Will Capitalism Survive? He gave a very attractive argument for it that appealed to my religious sensitivities stating that at its core libertarianism is not wishing to force one’s opinions on others, and to extend this kind of thinking to the realm of the economic impact of policy on people. I won’t tax you if you don’t tax me. I have discovered since that this is a sort of political pietism/quietism that tends toward the kind of nonconfrontationalism you describe. Later on while involved in various projects in which libertarians were involved I discovered the penchant they have for shooting officers in the back rather than fighting the common enemy, a trait they share with Conservatism Inc. I went through a period as well when I would read instapundit like an addict, only to find out in time that he’d sold his soul to Jewish neocons (it was easy for me to be blind to this having been an avid reader of Commentary for decades and conditioning to ignore the fact that religious ethnostates are evil except for one particular group of people).
    So now by process of elimination I find myself affiliating with others who find themselves to the right of those three groups, who have managed to isolate themselves from those who would have been their allies. The ecumenical un-organization otherwise known as the alt right. As long as there is no leader and no dogma it will serve a purpose. As soon as some buffoon manages to hijack it it will all be over.

  10. Great Post – two derivitive thoughts:

    1. Re Libertarians and God; Libertarians just assume socio/economic order as an underlying entitlement from where they cannot/will not not say. Anyone who has worked with any systems, human or computer, knows that order requires constant work to maintain (see 2nd. law of thermodynamics). Without order there is no property, period, regardless of political system. Without property there can be no Libertarianism.

    2. Re Free Trade; Ask Libertarians where all the money went. IOW, since their economic case for free trade is a theoretical slam dunk there must be great gains from trade somewhere. So where are they_? The Bernie Bros are not completely crazy to suspect Wall St. & the Oligarchs (great band name) ate them up just like 130 years ago when the railroad trusts roamed the continent unfettered, consuming the gains from the transportation revolution (which would have been impossible without order or property).

  11. The “socially liberal and economically conservative” tagline libertarians currently obsess over is just silly. The assumption is that the two have no connection and that, like Z says, people are just moist robots who can easily disconnect economics (and decision making in general) and personal opinions. This is totally wrong, to the point that it seems nobody could actually believe it.

    If you look over to some of the Reason posts after the Obergefell decision, they are essentially cheering the expansion of a state licensing regime. The libertarian position maybe should have been to get government out of state licensing of marriage to begin with (as I think Rand Paul stated), but it certainly wasn’t to expand the government’s role in it.

    I think most libertarian “leaders” (writers, mainly) are really just liberals who are trying to broaden the tent by hammering the “free trade” thing, making country club Republican-type conservatives feel at home.

  12. Reason is an interesting place. Most of the writers certainly seem to be that “fusion of Cultural Marxism and laissez-faire globalist economics” you describe. And that seems to be Gary Johnson’s current mindset as well. They pointidly ignore or deny the obvious with Muslim terrorism and illegal immigration.

    The comments on the site always destroy the stupid when it goes too far.

    • I think it was Lew Rockwell, but it may have been Rothbard, I no longer recall, but some old libertarian made the point that all property is owned by someone. If property rights are absolute, then countries have an absolute right to defend their borders and deny entry to anyone for any reasons.

      The tell with libertarians has always been freedom of association. They will drone on forever about free speech, but they get very nervous when the topic turns to freedom of association. The reason is they know the Left will never tolerate the return of free association. Yet, you cannot have freedom of speech without freedom of association.

      • Might explain why Gary Johnson punted so spectacularly on freedom of association. He keeps saying he believes the federal government can and should compel people to bake gay wedding cakes – losing him half the libertarian vote.

  13. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”,
    Viktor Frankl proposed that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be accompanied by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

    Theoretically then, from a neutral standpoint, or even looking down from above, this could provide balance to those teeter-tottering on both the left and right of the political see-saw.

    And, regarding Libertarians as they consider morality in both domestic and foreign affairs, they must realize no-one lives in a vacuum and sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

    After all, Intellectual Purity does not win wars.

  14. Every time I teach a freshman history class, I ask them “why do we study history?”, and someone always answers “to avoid the mistakes of the past.” Then I ask them if that ever really works. The guy that falls for a certain type of chick that always breaks his heart. The girl that always gets pumped and dumped by bad boys. The idiot who starts a land war in Asia. These people have vast amounts of very personal, very painful history to draw on, yet they always repeat the same mistakes. The simple fact is that humans are NOT rational, that thinking things through takes an enormous amount of effort, and very few of us ever manage it for very long (and nobody does it consistently). But Libertarianism, like Communism, assumes that rationality is the default in human affairs. How in the world did they ever get that idea?

    • I agree. Trying to understand the roles of and interaction between reason and emotion as driving forces for human behavior is insanely difficult. To deny this dynamic exists is like denying you have a soul.

    • I remember from some MBA class, the claim that the decision tool used most often in business is to begin pondering alternatives until you hit one that you think will work, then implement it. There simply isn’t time in the real world to go through that seven-step decision process, or whatever it was (this was all 40+ years ago). By the way, I’ve always respected the marketing and production-related profs – their focus was largely on reality, and their research reflected it. The other profs, not so much, and I took three masters degrees.

      • In real corporate meetings that is called “throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks”. In reality it is opening the mind to come up with anything and everything, hopefully not too ridiculous, and then paring away the ones that won’t work until the most likely remains.

        • Or Let’s run it up the flagpole… if you’re an old timer. Or, Will it play in Peoria? if you’re too old to be reading blogs.

  15. “Sooner or later,” Heng said, and I was reminded of Captain Trouin speaking in the opium house, “one has to take sides – if one is to remain human.” (Mr. Heng, p. 230), Graham Greene, The Quiet American.

    I see Libertarianism (if there is such a word) as a refuge for those who can’t, or won’t, take a side.

  16. From across the Pond, I get the impression that the libertarian label is somewhat more known over there, and, like atheism, as become more a banner of teenage (or, these days, the long extended adolescence well into what used to be adulthood) rebellion against parental values (or “The Man”) than anything coherent. And seems to stay that way — just look at Gary Johnson’s approving remarks about Sanders’ platform.

    I got introduced to the concept 40-odd years ago via the scurrilous writings of Robert Anton Wilson, having already been introduced to the Adam Smith notion of the liberal, and still consider AJP Taylor’s summation of England back before the Great War to be a good state to aim for — so would call myself a libertarian (I even joined our newly formed Libertarian Party for a few years a decade or so back, until it adopted a policy of supporting the Stalinist edifice of the National Health Service as-is), or a minarchist if you want to get into the weeds. But at the same time, as an Englishman, that has always gone with a strong strand of nativism, knowing that the chaps across the Channel — or over Hadrian’s Wall — aren’t quite right. We might buy their stuff and visit, but in the words of Flanders and Swann, “the English are best”.

    If you come to the concept without that sort of background of pride in country, into the self-loathing counter-culture, no wonder you get what you see.

  17. I am not quite sure what you mean when you reference “I, Pencil” with regard to this post.

    I love that story and share it widely with people, especially young folks, who have no background in technology, business, history, manufacturing, etc. as it shows the interdependence of man’s developments over time, the fulfillment of needs (“necessity is the mother of invention”), and the complexity involved in use of capital and human resources to provide such a seemingly simple implement.

    Help me understand what you mean? Thanks.

    • Libertarians have a habit of shifting the focus away from the topic at hand to some esoteric topic that seems related, but is not related. Yes, in theory trade is a good thing and it makes society richer. But, trade deals are like any other policy. They come with trade-offs and compromises. Instead of discussing trade with China, they will launch into yet another lecture about the glories of trade in the abstract. It’s a dodge in order to avoid the messy business of debating an actual policy.

      • That is the word that comes to mind when I hear “Libertarianism”. Abstraction.

        That and legalized drugs. Perhaps the drugs allow them to live peacefully in Nevermindland.

  18. At these times it is easy to see why men believe in a just and loving God. I was also reminded of why I hate libertarians.

    And I have to say, that’s hilarious. It’s gems like that that make this blog obligatory reading. I’m surprised you don’t get more comments.

  19. On the one hand, you say this:

    …this rather sensible rebuke of socialism curdled into a weird fusion of Cultural Marxism and laissez-faire globalist economics… Modern libertarians appear to embrace the Progressive claim that humans are a blank slate so the chain of causality is reversed.

    On the other, you say this:

    To be a libertarian today means to abandon the field as soon as the Left assaults the culture in some new way. They always have some excuse for hiding under their bed when the Left goes on a rampage.

    The first suggests that the Libertarians are (as you’ve said elsewhere, I think) just leftists who want low taxes. The second formulation suggests that they’re just cowardly about the cultural stuff and simply run away from arguing with the leftists, whose policies they don’t really agree with.

    I’m inclined to go with the first interpretation. I have a hard-core Libertarian friend on FB, and while he and I generally agree against the lunacy of the left, he’s totally loco when it comes to open borders, globalism, and anti-Trumpery (strangely mingled with a sort of neo-con hostility to Russia/Putin). My sense is that he is all on board with the tabula ras-ism that’s at the basis of the leftist world view.

    On the whole, I’m in substantive agreement with old-style Libertarianism in its hostility to state interference and its skepticism about the motives of those in power. But somehow that skepticism never applies to modern Libertarian outlets like Reason Mag and The Economist, which have become mindless shills for the Zuckerbergs of the world. The notion that people are governed exclusively by individual material self-interest has corrupted their idea of libertarian into one that has destroyed all sense of community feeling.

    The choice is between those who wish to destroy traditional nation states in the interest of big business and will do anything to undermine the legitimacy and viability of such political entities on the one hand and those who wish to maintain traditional (generally ethnically based) polities. The choice should be clear enough, though the media are doing their best to obscure the underlying issues.

    And in that framework, contemporary Libertarians are just a sub-group of the enemy.

    • The image I have of libertarians is of two opposing armies hunkered down in their trenches. When the Left sees an advantage and decided to go over the top, the Libertarians begin shooting their comrades in the Conservative trench. When the Right sees a chance to claw back some land and is prepared to go over the top, libertarians throw up a bunch of excuses and maybe tip off the other side to what’s coming.

      Frankly, I think what’s appealing about the ideology to modern adherents is it offers a safe space where they never have to worry about getting knocked around by either side. The result, as you say, has been a passive assistance to the Progressive war on society.

      • I think they’ve made a cost-benefit calculation. Since they don’t understand culture — I have yet to meet a self-professed Libertarian who isn’t on the autism spectrum somewhere — they think they can have all the easy living of modern Western life without paying the cultural toll. That they can be libertines, in other words, while still enjoying all the fruits of a well-ordered liberty. They see, for instance, that there can be no prosperity without property rights, but can’t see that property rights are themselves a Christian concept (“render unto Caesar” and all that). They’re like old-school Commies in that, too — your red-diaper babies really did believe that the masses could be induced to work for free with a few good lectures on dialectical materialism.

        • The irony of libertarianism is they are almost always government spongers. The great libertarian outfits are all living off the tax payer in some way. If we ever got the libertarian paradise, the boys at Reason magazine would have to leave the country, selling themselves into slavery overseas.

Comments are closed.