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.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Member

From that pencil lecture: “My official name is ‘Mongol 482’.” Sounds like the name of a dystopian novel about our glorious globalist future!

Member

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… Read more »

Member

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.

joe
Guest
joe

It is difficult to add much of value, after the Zman has spoken.

Terry Baker
Guest

Joe is right. When I finish reading a Zman’s article I can’t think of anything to add. Or subtract. I think he has a much bigger following than the number of comments suggests.

Member

True! I got to the last sentence and laughed out loud.

ErisGuy
Guest
ErisGuy

You’re far too kind.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

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.

The Sage
Guest
The Sage

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… Read more »

Lulu
Guest
Lulu

I have never seen Gary Johnson when he didn’t seem merrily stoned.

Member

“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.

Severian
Guest

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… Read more »

Member

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.

BillH
Guest
BillH

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.

Lulu
Guest
Lulu

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.

BillH
Guest
BillH

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.

Uncola
Guest
Uncola

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.

Drake
Guest
Drake

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.

Member

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… Read more »

Al from da Nort
Guest
Al from da Nort

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.… Read more »

Member

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… Read more »

Member

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.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
Karl Horst (Germany)

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.

Member

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.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
Karl Horst (Germany)

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… Read more »

Member

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.

John Sabotta
Guest
John Sabotta

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?

Member

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?

trackback

[…] My Trouble With Libertarians | The Z Blog […]

RobM
Member
RobM

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

trackback

[…] insight and blindness, plus the border question. What the Alt-Right gets right (also). American Nazis today. Ideological […]

A_Libertarian
Guest
A_Libertarian

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… Read more »

Christoph Dollis
Guest

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.

Christoph Dollis
Guest

*on all points