Libertarians Don’t Get a Lot

Have we ever tried to argue with a libertarian?  Do we think that there is something fundamentally wrong with a worldview that champions selfishness and is obsessed with liberty?  Even though these liberties do not include the freedom from deprivation?  After all, we are supposed to be independent and self-reliant.  Relying on others when down and out whether it be the state or society is wrong.  What about the belief that unrestrained capitalism will always produce a beneficial outcome for everyone?  Or the belief that providing for the common good is immoral.  These beliefs turn out to be dangerous.  We need to stop the spread of this contagion.  This post will address why Libertarians neither understand what morality means nor are interested in pragmatism.  More to come…

Libertarianism is dangerous because culture will not interpret its nuances.  And there really are not that many shades of grey to begin with.  It is dogmatic.  It states that selfishness is the means to an end—the end is living a happy life.  It further says that sacrificing for others is not in anyone’s best interest.  They claim, however, that this does not mean we cannot help others, which is a small kind of sacrifice.  But then they condemn altruism altogether as immoral.  This philosophy cannot be taken seriously.  The only way it can be taken seriously is if sacrifice is restricted to mean helping others to a significant detriment of our own or if it is forced upon us through coercion.  But sometimes we must give up something to get something.  It is certainly moral to have a certain degree of self-interest since our well-being depends upon it.  But if we make selfishness to be a dogmatic version of morality, then we get a social norm of “me before you”—first and always.  This is not a society I would want to live in nor should our children.


I cannot address Gad Saad’s philosophy because he has not written about it at length.  Instead, I pick Michael Dahlen, a worshiper of libertarianism who wrote a fantastic book on the philosophy of libertarianism.  It boils down to a conflict between the individual’s and group’s interests.  Dahlen claims that the group has no interests as long as we all act selfishly.  He has no solution though for those who cannot pursue their interests.  We are not supposed to sacrifice for one another but rather exchange for mutual benefit. He probably has the most persuasive argument out there for libertarianism—it is lucid and coherent.  But it is wrong nevertheless. Like all worldviews, libertarianism is a preference cloaked in reason and logic.  The only difference is that this one is dangerous.

Libertarian: Most important, a selfish person places nothing above his own happiness. Consequently, he rejects the notion that sacrifice is a virtue. He understands that sacrifice—of himself to others or others to himself—is not in anyone’s interests. [1]  Biologist: Incorrect, the real world is not all-or-nothing; we often compromise our happiness for others.  It is in the group’s best interest to participate in teamwork and sacrifice.  Sacrifice through giving works at the individual level because someday we may become weak, disabled, or incapable. Sacrifice is a matter of degree.

The fatal flaw of libertarianism is the very reason why it is not as pervasive as it could be.  Dahlen cannot understand why so many people believe that selfishness is immoral when he believes it is moral.  His definition of selfishness and morality is based on a priori reasoning.  Here’s a scientific fact for Dahlen, which is the best kind.  Morality is defined as the “values of a tribe to suppress and regulate the self-interest in others.”  We evolved within the group to favor fairness and equality.  It is in the group’s best interest to somewhat sacrifice so that we can cooperate and compete in order to survive.  It is in everyone’s best interest when we do not get too “full of ourselves” or too much success and forget about others.  Even our friends keep us in check by putting us down if we get “high and mighty”.  Emotions are adaptations to help solve the problem of group living.  We feel envy and hate when threatened by those who are better than us.  We feel contempt for those who are beneath us, which do not contribute to the group.  We feel sympathy for those who are impoverished and left behind.  We were more or less egalitarian before the advent of agriculture [1.1].

Libertarian: To justify altruism, one must appeal to faith, or feelings, or God’s will, or society’s will, or an ineffable moral sentiment—anything but facts, logic, reason. Altruism rests on irrationalism. [1]  Biologist: Incorrect, altruism is any behaviors that improve the wellbeing of others.  Arguing that altruism is one biological imperative to aid in the survival of the group is an appeal to science, not irrationalism.  Moral emotions are not “ineffable moral sentiments”.

Dahlen would object and say that we are past tribalism.  After all, we reasoned our way to individualism through the Enlightenment era, so we can reason ourselves out of our natural emotions.  Capitalism provided a solution to the problem of group living since each person maximizes their self-interest through the exchange of money for goods and services.  It is a non-zero summed game. Wealth is created in the process, and we are all better off.  This is true.  But besides being self-interested we have moral emotions that are intended to increase the survival of the group through teamwork and sacrifice.  He writes this fact off as being an “ineffable moral sentiment”.   He claims that we must base our reasoning on facts and logic.  But his logic cannot account for conflicting emotions: selfishness feels wrong when others display an exaggerated amount, and we have a strong desire to be selfish. These are observable facts that aid in our survival.  Dahlen is motivated to make a case that is not based on how human nature works.

Libertarians Don’t Get Pragmatism

There is much to celebrate about libertarianism; its commitment to liberty and personal autonomy is commendable.  The very idea of individualism allows anyone to be who they want to be, which is integral to our health and happiness.  We do not want anyone coercing us or telling us what to do, and we want as much freedom as possible to pursue our goals in life.  As Homo sapiens, however, we are social creatures through and through (i).  This means that we must balance our needs for personal autonomy within the constraints of our social group.  The challenge is that most libertarians are against collectivism, which is when we sacrifice for the common good.  This could include scenarios where we would sacrifice in the form of taxes for welfare programs.  Since they make a distinction between society and the state, they must permit collectivism at some level. But if this is the case, then why is it never discussed?  And if liberty is the freedom to do what we want as long as we do not impinge upon others, then the state mandating we sacrifice something for others is a form of coercion.  If we assume that it is coercion, then collectivism is immoral.

Libertarian: There is nothing humane, benevolent, or compassionate about a morality (altruism) that rests on the premise that you have no right to your own life—a morality that subordinates your life to the needs of others, a morality that condemns you for pursuing your interests, a morality that considers you noble only if you choose to suffer. Because there is no legitimate reason to sacrifice, altruism is a groundless morality. [1]  Psychologist: Life is not all-or-nothing.  Sacrifice comes in degrees.  If we are sacrificing always to our own detriment, then this is neither healthy nor moral.  If we sacrifice for the common good in a way that does not affect our wellbeing, then altruism is moral.

Whether or not collectivism is a case of coercion, however, depends on the willingness of the individual to submit.  We are inevitably subordinating ourselves to the state, but we are doing it willingly.  So, at least for the willing, state interference is not coercion (i). We are giving up freedoms to the state in order to maximize our freedom for the common good.  Libertarians will be quick to point out that this goes against the founding fathers’ philosophy of individualism, which was concerned mainly with limiting the power of government and protecting our rights.  But others state that the U.S. Constitution’s preamble wording of “promote the general welfare” suggests that providing assistance to those in need is justified.  On the other hand, the courts have been consistent in saying that the U.S. Constitution guarantees no rights to a minimal standard of living.  Legislation, however, has many routes in which to institute policy.  Furthermore, the tradition of individualism was not always followed.  Take the original colonies that named states the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Virginia (iii).  This commonwealth of Massachusetts was for the common good.

Freedom is the freedom to do what we want to do and the freedom from harm, want, and fear.  Libertarians want the freedom to do what they want and freedom from harm, want, and fear with the least amount of state interference.  Freedom from harm, want, and fear would require the state to protect us from ourselves, others, and economic deprivation.  This would be accomplished through regulations, welfare, the police force, and national defense.  Libertarians do not like regulations, expropriations, or interference; they are to be mocked as coddling and condemned as immoral.  The mocking works because it appeals to autonomy and toughness (iv). Sometimes we have to give up something in order to get something.  In other words, we are giving up freedom to not have interference in order to get freedom from harm, want, and fear.  How many lives have been saved with seatbelt regulations?  We should of course not have unnecessary regulations.  But their value for autonomy becomes an absolute that prevents pragmatism.

Libertarians Don’t Get Morality

Libertarian: Animals automatically pursue the values their lives depend on. Man does not. He’s not born with instincts telling him what to do. He’s not born with innate knowledge of what values he needs and how to gain them. [1] Biologist: Dahlen’s facts on human nature are wrong.  We are animals and very similar to other animals.  It has been speculated that other animals must form intuitive inferences, which is a form of reasoning.  Moral sentiments are hard-wired into us and are not learned.  We can refine our innate morality with reason.  But passion drives reason.

Morality in the everyday sense is about right and wrong behavior.  This right and wrong behavior translates into the rights that we have.  The right to choose.  The right to be free from coercion and abuse.  The right to pursue our self-interest.  In the scientific sense, it is about managing the self-interest of everyone in order to free us up enough to cooperate.  If we are selfish and exploit one another, then cooperation would not be possible.  Therefore we must regulate the self-interest in one another through morality, either consciously or unconsciously.  Moral emotions either were co-opted or evolved directly as a way to solve the problem of cooperation.  Solving the problem of cooperation allowed us to put Us ahead of Me.  Groups that cooperated outcompeted groups that did not cooperate.  This allowed us to put Us ahead of Them.  What makes cooperation and sacrifice work?  It is not reason and logic but emotions.  The pride we feel towards group membership, the sympathy we feel towards those in need, or the desire to want to be a part of something are all pieces that make cooperation and sacrifice work.  To ignore these is to ignore morality.

There is a reason why we feel strong emotions when issues of fairness, equality, status, rank, care, safety, authority, liberty, and loyalty arise.  In some sense, we have multiple moralities.  Each one of these scenarios may engage independent evolved psychological mechanisms that helped to solve the problem of cooperation through suppressing self-interest.  Self-interest is anything that benefits us which can be at the cost of another.  So murder, stealing, and rape are self-interested according to an evolutionary biologist.  This is why punishment is moral because it suppresses self-interested acts.  Reciprocal altruism, which says if you scratch my back, I will scratch yours, says that we only engage in altruism that benefits us.  So even altruism is selfish because we expect a returned favor.  But group-level selection can explain why some forms of altruism do not require a favor in return because it benefits the group; we may be on the receiving end of an altruistic act when in need.  Since altruism evolved between groups or within a group, this is why we are not as altruistic to complete strangers.  Typically shared values, beliefs, and backgrounds increase the likelihood that we behave altruistically.  A more comprehensive definition of morality is found below.

Libertarian: An objective morality is logically derived from man’s nature as a volitional being and the factual requirements of his survival and happiness. [1]  Moral Psychologist: Correct, but Dahlen does not base his morality on facts that conform to real morality.  Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and innate tedencies that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible. [5]

Dahlen does not include any discussion of real morality because it allows him to conclude that moral emotions are “ineffable moral sentiments”.  His account of morality is based on reason alone.  The fact is without these moral emotions there is no morality. Politics is just as much about control over resources and influence over people as it is about morality and shared visions on how society should be configured.  Morality both “binds and blinds us”.  It “binds” us together with similar beliefs and values so we can cooperate and compete with other groups, but it “blinds” us to the points of view of others who do not share our values and beliefs. We become self-righteous and cemented to our values.  This is one reason why there is so much tension amongst different political groups. Reason and logic of course can help us see our similarities.  In fact, it may help us to overcome some of our tribal instincts of Us versus Them.  But for in-group morality, for Me versus Us, we do not want to abandon our emotions [1].  To omit these emotions from our reason is not only dangerous but not possible.  All research within moral psychology points to emotions driving our reasoning.  Reasoning becomes a way to rationalize and conceal our moral sentiments.  We feel first and justify with reasons.

Libertarian: These government-imposed policies are immoral because they initiate force, immoral because they violate people’s rights.  We must argue that just because a person needs something, that doesn’t entitle him to other people’s wealth. Transferring wealth from those who have earned it to those who haven’t is immoral. [1]

A part of morality is for us to not like when others push us around, tell us what to do, or force us to do things against our will.  This is a legitimate aversion that we have against being dominated and exploited.  For libertarians unwilling to sacrifice, they can accurately say that imposing taxes on us by the threat of punishment violates an aspect of morality.  But sometimes it is in everyone’s best interest to submit to others.  Recall that morality is about right and wrong conduct that will suppress the self-interest in others so that we can cooperate.  This right and wrong behavior usually benefits our well-being.  So morality is often conceptualized in terms of the well-being it can provide to others.  Subordinating ourselves to the state by giving up some of our wealth for the common good does not impose much harm to our wellbeing.  It is a sacrifice that can benefit those in need.  This is hard to convince a lot of people of having merit.  Besides being immoral for the unwilling, there are two further reasons not to buy into welfare: economic and proximity. Economists argue that transferring wealth hinders capital accumulation, savings, and investment.  Furthermore, those who receive transfers of wealth tend to consume it all and not save.  Whether or not this has a positive or negative effect on the economy depends on a host of factors.  Welfare may also promote dependency and decrease incentives to be productive.  But there is an equal amount of studies showing how welfare if implemented correctly can lift honest people out of poverty and reduce the corrosive effects of status inequality.  The second problem, namely proximity, is that we evolved in small tribes of no bigger than one hundred. Today we are a heterogeneous population with differing values and ethnicities.  We do not like to sacrifice to those dissimilar to us.

Moral Psycholgoist: Your moral intuitions are fantastic cognitive gizmos, honed by millions of years of biological evolution, thousands of years of cultural evolution, and years of personal experience. In your personal life, you should trust your moral instincts and be wary of your manual mode, which is all too adept at figuring out how to put Me ahead of Us. But in the face of moral controversy, when it’s Us versus Them, it’s time to shift into manual mode. When our emotional moral compasses point in opposite directions, they can’t both be right. [4]

Dahlen claims that groups have no rights and are mere abstractions of individuals.  This is not true.  Groups have a biological reality to them and inter-group selection has shaped our moral emotions and given rise to altruism.  We cannot write off our moral emotions and reason that selfishness is our best virtue.  If we do this, then there is little reason to provide for the common good.  This means that we will not be able to solve the problem of poverty and status inequality.  Capitalism is not enough.  Not everyone can maximize their self-interest in life.  Individuals providing only for their next of kin or relying exclusively on charity will neither solve the problem of proximity nor be enough.  There will always be a conflict between individual rights and the interests of the group.  This is a fact. But denying that the group has rights is a failed tactic.  The solution is pragmatism.  Putting aside the intentions of the founding fathers, whose rights should take precedence?  The right to be free from the state coercing us to pay taxes or the right to be free from economic deprivation and unfair status inequalities?  There is no non-question-begging way of settling the dispute.  Altruism and hence collectivism are not immoral because they are a part of the definition of what morality is.  Dahlen’s argument is motivated to prove that self-interest is all there is, but it is at the exclusion of other moralities.  It does not model what morality really is.  This is not appealing to the feelings of unfairness, as these emotions are a strong compass telling us what is not right for the group, it is an appeal to how unfairness can be deleterious to our well-being.  This is anything but appealing to our ineffable moral emotions.

Libertarians Don’t Get Reason

Libertarian: A philosophy of reason, by contrast, recognizes that the outside world exists independent of our minds. To know reality, we must look at reality. Facts are facts despite anyone’s will or feelings. Nobody decrees the truth; nobody decides the truth. The truth must be discovered. [1]  Reason is our means of discovering it.  Cognitive Scientist: Not true. There is a dependency involved in the interpretation of facts that we derive from the world.  It is called our minds. Yes, we must look at reality, but  Dahlen makes no attempt to appeal to science to understand morality.

This statement is not correct.  There are stable objective facts about the world, but they are relative to our understanding.  Facts that exist in human language are useless without a mind to interpret them.  So there are no absolute objective facts but relative objective facts.  Cognitive science has shown that most thought is not literal which means that facts do not always fit the world directly.  The best example is the phenomenological experience of color and science’s interpretation of color.  The predicate “the grass is green” infers that green is an intrinsic property of grass.  But science knows this is not true since it is reflected and interpreted in our minds as being green.  So the “grass is green” is not true within the scientific level of understanding, but it is true within our real-world experiences.  Truth, therefore, is relative to different levels of understanding.  The same logic often applies to our worldviews.

This is why conservatives and liberals believe that each is illogical.  Real reason is not formal logic and thus is not grounded in an ontology with precise definitions.  But it is relevant because we use this type of reasoning every day.  Liberals frame abortion as “a cluster of cells”.  Conservatives frame abortion as “a baby”.  The liberal framework, therefore, concludes that abortion is moral.  The conservative framework, therefore, concludes that abortion is immoral.  Thus, real logic, truth, and facts are relative to the conceptual framework we are working with.  Logic, reason, and facts are human creations.  The only thing that exists in the world independent of our minds are patterns, relations, and quantities.  Absolute truth, logic, and facts are appealing to people for practical and emotional reasons.  They represent the no-nonsense person in all of us that wants to settle the score once and for all.

Libertarian: “If society is the arbiter of truth and morality, then objectivity must be redefined. In this view, objectivity is not a matter of deriving logical conclusions from the facts. Instead, quoting Richard Rorty, “Objectivity is a matter of intersubjective consensus among human beings.” [1]  Scientist: There are different types of facts.  The closest we can get to objectivity is science’s description of reality.  But even this requires our mind’s conceptual systems to make sense of facts and an agreed upon system of measurement.

Of course, we make inferences from observations and facts.  But where do these facts come from?  This is far from an easy question to answer.  The above quote misinterprets when objectivity is a matter of consensus means.  There are different types of facts.  The only types of facts that would minimize the use of a  consensus are physical descriptions of reality.  But even here facts are dependent on our conceptual systems interpreting them and agreed-upon conventions of measurements.  Take for example the concept of free will. An objectivist perspective would define free will by saying what properties it has by giving it necessary and sufficient conditions.  Philosophers have failed miserably and no objectivist account of free will exists.  The debate rests on who will define it, which comes down to a consensus.  Objective in itself means that there is an agreed-upon consensus for determining the truth of something.  Social facts, such as whether or not political correctness is moral, depend upon our worldview and its agreed-upon definition of morality.  Some scientists even define morality as well-being, but others claim that we have multiple moralities.

Libertarian:  If selfish acts are life-preserving acts and if life-preserving acts are good, it follows that selfishness is good. [1]

Dahlen creates his logic and reason by relating concepts through syllogism.  This can be done to establish a valid argument on most anything.  This is not by any means impressive and gives the illusion of truth.  The premises need to be accurate in order to capture reality.  For example, he concludes that selfishness is good, which is true, but it is a matter of degree.  There is a lot of evidence to suggest that selfless acts can be beneficial to our well-being, which includes many forms of sacrifice.  Following his logic, we would never get this impression.  Self-interest is good in as much as it is required to maintain a sufficient amount of well-being.  If we want to maximize our self-interest, then it will be at the cost of not sacrificing to others.  Not true.  We can picture many scenarios in which putting our interests second would help our long-term wellbeing.  And if we never sacrifice, then we could be ostracized from the group.  So we could argue that some sacrifices are in our best interest because we benefit from them in some way.  But this would violate Dahlen’s maxim that all sacrifice is immoral.  Why does Dahlen insist on using all-or-nothing terms?  Because his argument is driven by his passion to authoritatively conclude that self-interest is moral and altruism is immoral.  This is not an objective morality.

Libertarian: “Once a person has chosen his values, he should prioritize them, deciding which values are most important. Moreover, he should not sacrifice his values. Sacrifice means surrendering a value for a non-value or a lesser value.  Man needs values to sustain his life and achieve his happiness. Any doctrine that demands he sacrifice them negates the purpose of morality. [1]

Dahlen’s logic is one-dimensional, requiring a linear prioritization of principles.  Life is better thought of as an optimization problem with conflicting goals and tradeoffs.   There is reason to give preference to self-interest, but putting it on a time scale, it will not always be on top.  In order to achieve goals, we will have to sacrifice our short-term happiness for long-term gain through self-discipline.  But short-term happiness is important to our well-being too.  So we cannot narrowly define self-interest as to what is in our best long-term interests.  Which variable do we maximize, our short-term happiness or our long-term happiness achieved through goals?  There is obviously a balance achieved in which we are maximizing both variables at different times.  Dahlen’s model is sequential and requires that we only maximize our long-term self-interest.  This is far from a good model of how to live life. Instead, it is an argument that is meant to have rhetorical force, trying to get us to conclude that self-interest is always moral.


will post soon


[1.1] Boehm, Christopher.  Hierarchy in the Forest.

[1] Dahlen, Michael. Ending Big Government: The Essential Case for Capitalism and Freedom

[2] Foster, David.  Why We Bite the Invisible Hand.

[3] Friedman, Milton.  Free to Choose

[4] Greene, Joshua. Moral Tribes.

[5] Haidt, Jonathan.  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religon

[6] Wison, David Sloan.  Does Altruism Exist

[7] Wison, David Sloan.  Evolution for Everyone.

[8] Wison, David Sloan. This View of Life.


  1. says

    Have we ever tried to argue with a libertarian?

    Not lately — they haven’t been nearly as willing to argue as they used to be. Their entire movement, party and ideology are a scam, and too many people see through the scam these days for them to even have a chance of arguing credibly in public anymore.

    The only people arguing libertarian talking points these days are fascists, nazis, racists, and spoiled rich anarchists who need the cops to keep them safe from the rest of us — none of whom see any need to hide behind the “libertarian” label anymore.

    Do we think that there is something fundamentally wrong with a worldview that champions selfishness and is obsessed with rights?

    They never gave a shit about “rights;” they cared about “liberty,” which, in their rhetoric at least, is a far more nebulous concept and therefore unconnected with any specific rights the people might claim for ourselves. Truth is, they never cared about anyone else’s actual legal rights, enumerated or not, and have mindlessly and consistently opposed every single meaningful government effort to uphold or enforce anyone’s rights, all the way back to Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka and Miranda, if not back to the Emancipation Proclamation.

    • musing says

      I don’t think I agree with you. Most libertarians are well versed in the constitution, America’s history, and economics. I think a lot of them genuinely believe that we should stick with the founding father’s intentions which were towards confining the government’s power and protecting our rights. As far as rights, they argue for life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. The freedom to do as we will as long as we do not interfere with anyone else’s will is liberty. This is an important belief that they uphold. And liberals share this belief although liberals diverge in that they don’t fret over a large state. In my view, they are extreme in their preference for personal freedom and aversiveness towards the federal government. I did not even touch upon their extreme position on liberty and non-interference. The only interference I am arguing over is the state using force to take our income and redistribute it. This violates their philosophy since altruism and coercion are immoral. In the next post, however, I will argue that it is in our best interest, the founding father’s vision aside, to reduce income inequality.

      Real libertarians should not be displaying authoritarian traits like fascism since authoritarians exercise illegitimate force and domination. But of course, it is just a philosophy and individuals will vary in the real world. You probably have a point about actual rights. But since they believe that government should have a limited role in our affairs, then it does not surprise me. Again, I am only trying to make the points that they do not understand what morality means and although their personalities may be pragmatic, they are dogmatic in some of their beliefs.

      • says

        I think a lot of them genuinely believe that we should stick with the founding father’s intentions which were towards confining the government’s power and protecting our rights.

        Actually, the Founders intentionally created a national government that had MORE power than its predecessor, not less; and they did so because that’s what proved necessary to uphold and enforce the people’s legal rights. Under the Articles of Confederation, “The United States in Congress Assembled” didn’t even have the power to collect enough taxes to pay its own Revolutionary War vets, or subdue a rebellion by said vets, or hold any of the state governments responsible for upholding or respecting their peoples’ rights.

        This whole idea that the Founders wanted “limited government” is nothing but a revisionist lie made up by reactionaries who never wanted government to inconvenience them in any way for any reason. It was false then, and our entire history from 1787 on proves it false: every single significant advancement in individual rights in the USA was a direct or indirect result of active intervention by the national government — and it was accomplished over the objections of libertarians and other “small government” reactionaries — from ending slavery to desegregation to crushing the Nazis to regulating business to protecting the environment to the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Roe vs. Wade, Miranda, and many more examples.

        Don’t let the libertarians fool you: they “genuinely believe” a lie, and they could easily see through that lie if they really knew our history and laws as well as they pretend they do.

        • musing says

          Do you have any sources where I can learn about this revisionist history? I know when we do history it is always from a perspective of seeing the US in a positive light—almost mythological. The revisionists now are retelling US foreign policy from the perspective of indigenous populations and other countries, which sheds much light on the US’s actions. So I don’t doubt what you are saying.

          You are probably right on how the government has assisted in human rights. But when listening to people like Howard Zinn they claim that it is really more of a grassroots effort to change people’s attitudes and perceptions on issues and marginalized people. He claims that it must be more than just the passing of laws. So it is obviously a joint effort.

          If you have some good sources to read, then I would appreciate it.

          • says

            Do you have any sources where I can learn about this revisionist history?

            It’s gonna be kinda hard to cite everything I’ve ever read or heard by, or about, libertarians and their policy ideas since 1978. Including your own statement above, “I think a lot of them genuinely believe that we should stick with the founding father’s intentions which were towards confining the government’s power and protecting our rights…” followed by more of the same thing about how libertarians oppose “interference.” All of your paragraph above is in line with what libertarians themselves routinely say. Also, the revisionist history put out by opponents of (relatively) strong national government are about as old as the real history: it started out as anti-federalism and moved on to secessionist ideologues insisting that the slaveowners were fighting for “liberty” and the guy who went to war to free their slaves was a “tyrant.” Look up “states’ rights” and “strict constructionism”/”originalism” — libertarians have been dutifully providing ideological cover for those reactionary ideas ever since the Libertarian Party was founded by Virginia segregationists looking to justify their opposition to equal rights for black people.

            You are probably right on how the government has assisted in human rights. But when listening to people like Howard Zinn they claim that it is really more of a grassroots effort to change people’s attitudes and perceptions on issues and marginalized people.

            Yes, grassroots efforts to change attitudes are important; but government action — yes, including laws and coercive state power — is still needed to overcome reaction and inertia and enact coherent policies that get reliable results, especially since there will always be ORGANIZED reactionary opposition to any progress, which will be well-funded by whatever entrenched interest-groups might be harmed by progressive change.

            Also, while changing attitudes influence government action, government action often influences attitudes as well: laws against discrimination mean more opportunities for the majority group to see minority people face-to-face; policies requiring sacrifice for a common good will reassure each individual that others are sacrificing along with them; and any real leadership in enacting any new policy will, in itself, counteract the inevitable attitude that change is impossible, inconceivable, unworkable, too much trouble, etc.

            And let’s face it: ALL significant progressive change, from disaster response to feeding the hungry to fighting an aggressive tyrannical regime to enforcing rights previously denied to this or that group, requires leadership and well-organized coordinated action, probably on the national if not global scale. Voluntarism and haphazard anarchic whatever never work. Which means you will always need a strong government to make any of it work for more than a week.

      • Ichthyic says

        “Real libertarians”

        you should be poking yourself right now and asking: “Am I going down the route of the Scottsman fallacy?”

        really really.

        • says

          Libertarianism is, in its entirety, a fraud — the movement, the party, the ideology. That’s the reality of what libertarianism is. So when anyone speaks of “real libertarians,” one has to ask, “What’s an ‘un-real libertarian?'” Someone who only pretends to engage in such fraud? Someone who does it wrong? Someone who perpetrates an entirely different fraud within the overall fraud? It’s like saying “real con-artists.” Like, what other kind of con-artist is there? If he’s conning people, he’s a real con-artist; and if he’s not, then he’s not a con-artist at all.

          • says

            Follow-on: I suppose one could be called a “fake con-artist,” if he’s only pretending to con people. But that would be a bit of a con too, so he’d be a real con-artist of sorts, at least in a meta or performance-art sort of way.

  2. Katydid says

    I work with a self-proclaimed Libertarian. He spends a lot of time whining “It’s not FAAAAAIRRR” that (he’s not getting something he feels he’s entitled to, no matter how ridiculous). Meanwhile, he’s completely unfazed by things like minorities getting slaughtered in the streets and women losing the right to bodily autonomy.

    Yes; immature, self-centered, Libertarian. They’re all synonyms.

    • musing says

      I agree with the self-centered part and even research shows this to be true. But I am surprised that they would be complaining about fairness because they are against entitlements. You have to earn it yourself. But it is just a philosophy as I said above and people will of course be people. Research also shows that they are deficient in empathy, so that makes sense that the horrific parts of humanity don’t bother them. And since they don’t think the government should be interfering in our affairs, then your last point on abortion makes perfect sense. But I think we should give them some credit for upholding liberty because we share that in a much less extreme form. The positive side of being strongly against interference is that a true libertarian is against war. Man should be free from all forms of coercion. Although some wars may have been necessary.

  3. says

    But I am surprised that they would be complaining about fairness because they are against entitlements.

    What, you actually believe their shtick about how “consistent” they always are?

    • musing says

      Not really. I realize that there is a philosophy that dictates how we should act but then how people often act is contradictory. But I do not view them as any more pure or impure to their philosophy as a liberal or conservative would be. That said, there is research that says that our personalities are one element that attracts us to a particular worldview. Libertarians in principle should be more selfish, and independent, and not experience as much empathy as others. So given these traits, we may be able to predict their beliefs. But as I said people often hold contradictory beliefs.

  4. Katydid says

    Oh, my libertarian acquaintance was perfectly fine in the government interfering with a woman’s right to get an abortion, but was hysterical about the “unfairness” of having to wear a mask at work. Whatever impacted him was “unfair” and “tyranny”, but he didn’t mind atrocities being committed against people who weren’t him.

    • musing says

      That sounds about right. There is an excellent study by Jonathan Haidt on a libertarian’s personality. One conclusion from the study is “Libertarians will value (personal) liberty more strongly and consistently than liberals or conservatives, at the expense of other moral concerns.”

  5. beholder says

    Capitalism is not enough. Not everyone can maximize their self-interest in life. Individuals providing only for their next of kin or relying exclusively on charity will neither solve the problem of proximity nor be enough.

    The Libertarian stance about charity providing for a lack of taxes or state welfare is trivially refuted, IMHO. It’s along the same lines as refuting the somewhat-less-common Christian claim that prayers will bring about world peace.

    Hey, Libertarians, if charity can do all these things, why is it taking so long? You’ve had plenty of time to donate to charity and nothing to show for it.

    • musing says

      Embarrassingly, I have not investigated the effects private charity has on poverty and status inequality. But given that poverty and income inequality still exists, then obviously it is not doing its job. What is so frustrating about researching this is that think tanks are monopolizing the discussion, like FEE and Cato. And no right-leaning person would come here to get info. They all believe that upward mobility is as strong as ever, people are being lifted out of poverty by capitalism (which is somewhat true), but they do not understand the costs that status inequality has on everyone. I was reading a thread on FEE that trashed wiki as left-leaning and most scholarship as well. How in the world does one ever persuade someone of these facts if they label them as myths? They do not buy the argument that scientists can be objective about inequality and mobility. Of course, the government cannot do anything because the centralized redistribution of wealth is socialism. If you ever get the chance, you should read the scholarship on status inequality if not already familiar with it. Relative status turns out to matter a lot to everyone’s health and happiness. I summarized it here, and you should also check out this. Thanks for the comment.

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