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Why Is Libertarianism Wrong? ^

Posted on 02/01/2002 10:21:47 AM PST by Exnihilo

Why is libertarianism wrong?

Why is libertarianism wrong?

The origins, background, values, effects, and defects of libertarianism. Some sections are abstract, but at the end some irreducible value conflicts are clearly stated.


Libertarianism is part of the Anglo-American liberal tradition in political philosophy. It is a development of classic liberalism, and not a separate category from it. It is specifically linked to the United States. Many libertarian texts are written by people, who know only North American political culture and society. They claim universal application for libertarianism, but it remains culture-bound. For instance, some libertarians argue by quoting the US Constitution, without apparently realising, that it is not in force outside the USA. Most online material on libertarianism contrasts it to liberalism, but this contrast is also specific the USA - where the word 'liberal' is used to mean 'left-of-centre'. Here, the word 'liberal' is used in the European sense: libertarians are a sub-category of liberals. As political philosophy, liberalism includes John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, Isaiah Berlin, and John Rawls. As a political movement, it is represented by the continental-European liberal parties in the Liberal International.

At this point, you might expect a definition of libertarianism. However, most definitions of libertarianism are written by libertarians themselves, and they are extremely propagandistic. "Libertarianism is freedom!' is a slogan, not a definition. Most other definitions of libertarianism borrow from those self-definitions, so I have avoided them. Instead, the values, claims, and effects listed below describe the reality of libertarianism.


The values of libertarianism can not be rationally grounded. It is a system of belief, a 'worldview'. If you are a libertarian, then there is no point in reading any further. There is no attempt here to convert you: your belief is simply rejected. The rejection is comprehensive, meaning that all the starting points of libertarian argument (premises) are also rejected. There is no shared ground from which to conduct an argument.

The libertarian belief system includes the values listed in this section, which are affirmed by most libertarians. Certainly, no libertarian rejects them all...

the claims and self-image of libertarianism

Libertarians tend to speak in slogans - "we want freedom", "we are against bureaucracy" - and not in political programmes. Even when they give a direct definition of libertarianism, it is not necessarily true.

The differences between libertarian image and libertarian reality are summarised in this table.

libertarian image libertarian reality
Image: non-coercion, no initiation of force Reality: libertarians legitimise economic injustice, by refusing to define it as coercion or initiated force
Image: moral autonomy of the individual Reality: libertarians demand that the individual accept the outcome of market forces
Image: political freedom Reality: some form of libertarian government, imposing libertarian policies on non-libertarians
Image: libertarians condemn existing states as oppressive Reality: libertarians use the political process in existing states to implement their policies
Image: benefits of libertarianism Reality: libertarians claim the right to decide for others, what constitutes a 'benefit'

political structures in a libertarian society

Values do not enforce their own existence in the social world. The values of libertarianism would have to be enforced, like those of any other political ideology. These political structures would be found in most libertarian societies.


The effects of a libertarian world flow from the values it enforces.

what is libertarianism?

With the values and effects listed above, the general characteristics of libertarianism can be summarised.

Firstly, libertarianism is a legitimation of the existing order, at least in the United States. All political regimes have a legitimising ideology, which gives an ethical justification for the exercise of political power. The European absolute monarchies, for instance, appealed to the doctrine of legitimate descent. The King was the son of a previous King, and therefore (so the story went), entitled to be king. In turn, a comprehensive opposition to a regime will have a comprehensive justification for abolishing it. Libertarianism is not a 'revolutionary ideology' in that sense, seeking to overthrow fundamental values of the society around it. In fact, most US libertarians have a traditionalist attitude to American core values. Libertarianism legitimises primarily the free-market, and the resulting social inequalities.

Specifically libertarianism is a legitimation for the rich - the second defining characteristic. If Bill Gates wants to defend his great personal wealth (while others are starving) then libertarianism is a comprehensive option. His critics will accuse him of greed. They will say he does not need the money and that others desperately need it. They will say his wealth is an injustice, and insist that the government redistribute it. Liberalism (classic liberal philosophy) offers a defence for all these criticisms, but libertarianism is sharper in its rejection. That is not to say that Bill Gates 'pays all the libertarians'. (He would pay the Republican Party instead, which is much better organised, and capable of winning elections). Libertarianism is not necessarily invented or financed, by those who benefit from the ideology. In the USA and certainly in Europe, self-declared libertarians are a minority within market-liberal and neoliberal politics - also legitimising ideologies. To put it crudely, Bill Gates and his companies do not need the libertarians - although they are among his few consistent defenders. (Libertarians formed a 'Committee for the Moral Defense of Microsoft' during the legal actions against the firm).

Thirdly, libertarians are conservatives. Many are openly conservative, but others are evasive about the issue. But in the case of openly conservative libertarians, the intense commitment to conservatism forms the apparent core of their beliefs. I suggest this applies to most libertarians: they are not really interested in the free market or the non-coercion principle or limited government, but in their effects. Perhaps what libertarians really want is to prevent innovation, to reverse social change, or in some way to return to the past. Certainly conservative ideals are easy to find among libertarians. Charles Murray, for instance, writes in What it means to be a Libertarian (p. 138):

The triumph of an earlier America was that it has set all the right trends in motion, at a time when the world was first coming out of millennia of poverty into an era of plenty. The tragedy of contemporary America is that it abandonned that course. Libertarians want to return to it.

Now, Murray is an easy target: he is not only an open conservative, but also a racist. (As co-author of The Bell Curve he is probably the most influential western academic theorist of racial inferiority). But most US libertarians share his nostalgia for the early years of the United States, although it was a slave-owning society. Libertarianism, however, is also structurally conservative in its rejection of revolutionary force (or any innovative force). Without destruction there can be no long-term social change: a world entirely without coercion and force would be a static world.

the real value conflicts with libertarians

The descriptions of libertarianism above are abstract, and criticise its internal inconsistency. Many libertarian texts are insubstantial - just simple propaganda tricks, and misleading appeals to emotion. But there are irreducible differences in fundamental values, between libertarians and their opponents. Because they are irreducible, no common ground of shared values exists: discussion is fruitless. The non-libertarian alternative values include these...

the alternative: what should the state do?

The fundamental task of the state, in a world of liberal market-democratic nation states, is to innovate. To innovate in contravention of national tradition, to innovate when necessary in defiance of the 'will of the people', and to innovate in defiance of market forces and market logic. Libertarians reject any such draconian role for the state - but then libertarians are not the carriers of absolute truth.

These proposed 'tasks of the state' are a replacement for the standard version, used in theoretical works on public administration:

  1. to restrict tradition and heritage, to limit transgenerational culture and transgenerational community - especially if they inhibit innovation
  2. to restrict 'national values', that is the imposition of an ethnic or nation-specific morality
  3. to permit the individual to secede from the nation state, the primary transgenerational community
  4. to limit market forces, and their effects
  5. to permit the individual to secede from the free market
  6. to restrict an emergent civil society, that is, control of society by a network of elite 'actors' (businesses and NGO's)
  7. to prevent a 'knowledge society' - a society where a single worldview (with an absolute claim to truth) is uncontested .
To avoid confusion, note that they are not all directed against libertarianism: but if libertarians shaped the world, the state would do none of these things.

relevant links

Index page: liberalism

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Liberalism - the mainstream definitions of liberalism.

Liberal Manifesto of Oxford (1947), European political liberalism. Some elements, such as "Loyal adherence to a world organisation of all nations..." would now be rejected by the same parties.

Libertäre Ideologie - a series of articles on the libertarian ideology at the online magazine Telepolis. Even if you can not read German, it is useful as a source of links, to libertarian and related sites.

European Libertarians. The Statue of Liberty on their homepage also symbolises Atlanticism: there is no recent libertarian tradition in Europe, outside the UK. More typical of European ultra-liberal politics is the New Right economic liberalism which was at the start of the Thatcher government in Britain. See for example the Institute for Economic Studies Europe, or in central Europe the Czech Liberální Institut.

Libertarian NL, a Dutch libertarian homepage (Aschwin de Wolf). But look at the political issues, the political thinkers, and the links: the libertarian world consists primarily of the United States. In December 2000 the featured theme was an open letter to Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the US central bank (Federal Reserve Board). Yet this is a Dutch website, made by people who live in Europe. Their currency policy is made by European central bank chairman Wim Duisenberg, the former Netherlands central bank president. But they chose to ignore the society around them, and live as wannabe US citizens. Again, a recurrent pattern among European libertarians.

Libertarisme: De renaissance van het klassiek liberalisme by Aschwin de Wolf. This introduction to libertarianism, written for the members of the Netherlands liberal party VVD, illustrates the missionary attitude of libertarians in Europe. European liberalism has become corrupted, they claim, and must reform itself on the model of US libertarianism.

Libertarisme FAQ: explicit about the conservative effects of libertarianism: "Je zou echter wel kunnen stellen dat het libertarisme conservatief is in die zin dat zij mensen in hun waarde laat en geen progressieve experimenten door de overheid toelaat. Het libertarisme is dus heel goed verenigbaar met het koesteren van tradities of andere overgeleverde manieren van leven."

democratic expansionism: liberal market democracy itself depends on coercion, a US military invasion for example

The advantage of capitalist trucks, David Friedman

The Cathedral and the Bazaar: libertarian ideologists are switching their attention from the Internet to Open Source. This text restates a theme from classic liberal philosophy: the contrast between emergent and ideal order (market and Church).

The non-statist FAQ seems to have gone offline (December 2000).

Critiques Of Libertarianism, the best-known anti-libertarian site, but almost exclusively US-American in content.

Elfnet: O/S for a Global Brain?: a good example of the combination of New Age, computer science, and globalism in global-brain connectionism. Opens, as you might expect, with a quote from Kevin Kelly.

Multi-Agent Systems / Hypereconomy: organicist free-market ideas from Alexander Chislenko, "...a contract economy looks much like a forest ecology..."
Networking in the Mind Age: Chislenko on a network global-brain. "The infomorph society will be built on new organizational principles and will represent a blend of a superliquid economy, cyberspace anarchy and advanced consciousness". I hope it works better than his website, which crashed my browser.

Gigantism in Soviet Space: the Soviet Union's state-organised mega-projects are a horror for all liberals. They contravene almost every libertarian precept.

The Right to Discriminate, from the libertarian "Constitution of Oceania". Few libertarians are so explicit about this, but logically it fits. The Right to Own a Business also provides that "Mandatory disability benefits for transvestites, pedophiles, pyromaniacs, kleptomaniacs, drug addicts, and compulsive gamblers are obviously forbidden."

Virtual Canton Constitution, from the libertarian think-tank Free Nation Foundation. Although they claim to be anti-statists, libertarians write many and detailed Constitutions. This one re-appears in the generally libertarian Amsterdam 2.0 urban design project.

Serbia and Bosnia: A Foreign Policy Formulation : libertarianism solves the Bosnia problem. "I am a newcomer to foreign policy and cannot claim to understand all that matters". From the Free Nation site, which advocates a (logically inconsistent) libertarian state.

Libertarian immigration: Entirely free, but, but...."Fortunately, a truly free society would be protected by the fact that all property would be private. Only an immigrant who had permission to occupy the property of another could even enter the country. Even roads and sidewalks would be privately owned and would probably require some type of fee for entry."

Libertarian Foreign Policy, Libertarian Party of Canada. An example of the isolationism which at present characterises North American libertarianism, despite its inherent universalist character.

The Unlikeliest Cult in History

TOPICS: Editorial; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: aynrand; libertarianism; libertarians; medicalmarijuana
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To: Exnihilo
Funny, I and the author both find that Libertarians consistantly do that.. hmm...

Example. I dare you. As of this post, the gloves come off.
41 posted on 02/01/2002 10:50:53 AM PST by FreedomIsSimple
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To: Exnihilo
I say the state should tax those with more than an acceptable minimum income. But what if they are the creators of wealth, and they refuse to create when they are taxed? Well then let us all live in poverty, and let us imprison them, for trying to blackmail the state into lowering their taxes.

Good God. Did you even read any of this before you posted it?!

42 posted on 02/01/2002 10:51:17 AM PST by riley1992
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To: WindMinstrel
I find it interesting that you refuse to address any of the author's points, but instead point out what "side" he is on, as if that automatically invalidates his points. That's what I call a short-cut to thinking.
43 posted on 02/01/2002 10:51:27 AM PST by Exnihilo
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To: Glasser
The Banneker Center For Economic Justice

Pretty interesting reading.

44 posted on 02/01/2002 10:51:32 AM PST by Captain Shady
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To: Exnihilo, Doctor Doom
I found this quite illuminating.
libertarian image/libertarian reality
Image: non-coercion, no initiation of force
Reality: libertarians legitimise economic injustice, by refusing to define it as coercion or initiated force

Why one earth would anyone care that you found a communistic critique of Libertarianism to be "illuminating"?
The Free Market is not "economic injustice", it is the only possible Economic System which conforms to the Law of God.

Frankly, you Communists scare me. You have a nasty record of murdering Christians.
God willing, America will move in a Libertarian direction, and not go down the Christian-killing path of Communism that you find so "illuminating".

45 posted on 02/01/2002 10:52:23 AM PST by OrthodoxPresbyterian
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To: Exnihilo
99% of this essay falls into the category of, "I know all these words, but I just can't parse this." I have commented on the few statements I could find that appear to have some sort of comprehensible meaning:

Most other definitions of libertarianism borrow from those self-definitions, so I have avoided them.

If you want to write your own defintions of words, you should have asked your hero to help you.

A short pro-libertarian essay by David Friedman is about "bad trucks" - trucks made in the Soviet Union. As Friedman says, "The capitalist truck was built under a system of institutions in which people who build bad trucks are likely to lose money". So in the end, no more "bad trucks" will be built. There is no evidence that Friedman sees anything wrong with this. For him, and many other libertarians, it is self-evident that certain things are "bad": they deserve no existence, and society should be designed to punish them out of existence.

It is self-evident to any sane person that trucks that break down frequently, accelerate slowly to a low top speed, carry smaller passenger and cargo loads than other equally expensive trucks, etc. are "bad" and that it is desirable that resources not be wasted on producing them.

Of course, this argument won't be convincing to people like exnihilo, who reject the notion that there is such a thing as objective truth.

The syncretism of libertarianism is also best visible among cyber-libertarians.

At this point, he reaches the level of obfuscation where even the individual words don't mean anything, or at least they don't mean what he thinks they mean. Thus, I am forced to throw up my hands and quit.

46 posted on 02/01/2002 10:52:29 AM PST by steve-b
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To: riley1992
I posted it for his points on Libertarianism, not his personal opinions on other matters. I wish you guys would refute his points about Libertarians..
47 posted on 02/01/2002 10:52:41 AM PST by Exnihilo
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To: Exnihilo
Because there is a real distinction between moral good and evil that matters in more than a utilitarian way.
48 posted on 02/01/2002 10:52:46 AM PST by HowlinglyMind-BendingAbsurdity
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To: Maceman
A libertarian is a conservative who smokes pot. Hardly a sufficient distinction to justify the animosity conservatives display for libertarians here on FR

Dude, dead on right, I'd be a hardcore rwer if weed was legal, but all the jesus stuff from the religious maniacs gets tiresome.

49 posted on 02/01/2002 10:53:08 AM PST by cinciphil
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To: Southack
1. that they always want revolutionary change rather than baby steps (in an "all or nothing" game, they have too little power to get it all, and that leaves "nothing" everytime)
There's something to be said for this argument, IMO it's the difference between LPers and what I call "small l libertarians", which are much more numerous.

I predict that within 20 years, "conservative" and "liberal" will be less meaningful than "libertarian" and communitarian.


50 posted on 02/01/2002 10:53:21 AM PST by E Rocc
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To: Exnihilo
Many do. As does everyone.

I usually pass them by as I will pass this guy as I stroll past the ash-heap of history.

51 posted on 02/01/2002 10:53:45 AM PST by El Sordo
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To: OrthodoxPresbyterian
I'm a communist because I post something from someone with a different political view than I have?? Wow.. that's logic for ya!
52 posted on 02/01/2002 10:53:45 AM PST by Exnihilo
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To: Exnihilo
I find it interesting that you refuse to address any of the author's points, but instead point out what "side" he is on, as if that automatically invalidates his points. That's what I call a short-cut to thinking.

The author's "points" are based on socialism, based on the idea that it is just fine for the government to redistribute income and regulate employer-employee relationships to an absurd degree. Therefore, your precious "points" mean nothing to Libertarians and I would dare say, most conservatives.
53 posted on 02/01/2002 10:54:05 AM PST by FreedomIsSimple
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To: Exnihilo
redistribution of wealth is not wrong:

Oh, really?

I call it "theft".

54 posted on 02/01/2002 10:54:29 AM PST by narby
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To: Exnihilo
I don't care what "side" he's on.

You don't care that the article (to the small extent to which it conveys any comprehensible message at all) is an endorsement of communist philosophy?

55 posted on 02/01/2002 10:54:31 AM PST by steve-b
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To: Central Scrutiniser
Why are you spending all morning attacking Libertarians?

It's a disease. He can't help himself. Every few months we get a new anti-libertarian lunatic posting the same old anti-libertarian rants that we've all seen dozens of times over the years. He'll be banned soon.

56 posted on 02/01/2002 10:54:46 AM PST by Sandy
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To: Exnihilo;malador
I say the state should tax those with more than an acceptable minimum income. But what if they are the creators of wealth, and they refuse to create when they are taxed? Well then let us all live in poverty, and let us imprison them, for trying to blackmail the state into lowering their taxes.

Why don't you just post from Chairman Mao's Little Red Book? It's not quite as socialist as this drivel.

57 posted on 02/01/2002 10:55:06 AM PST by Dakmar
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To: El Sordo
Is it just me or does this article boil down to: "You need a ruling class to tell people what's what."

The will to power is a tough one to overcome. The paradox is, once having given up power, you realize that you never needed it in the first place.

The problem we have today is that far too many of us are willing to enforce our vision of what ought to be at the point of a gun. When and where rational me and women of good will disagree, each is free to shrog their shoulders and walk away and let reality be the fianl arbiter. The problem arises when either party seeks to 'improve' the others' judgement at gunpoint. Spiral-eyed liberal/marxist radicals and god-shouting fanatics occupy the same pew in the church of oppression and mass murder. They're worshipping the same set of death-oriented values, like it or not, know it or not.

58 posted on 02/01/2002 10:56:08 AM PST by Noumenon
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To: E Rocc
Thank you.
59 posted on 02/01/2002 10:56:22 AM PST by Southack
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To: El Sordo
Many of the author's "points" about Libertarian thought depend entirely on how he chooses to define his terms.

And I would have sworn that Billzebubba had far too much ego to write under a nom de plume....

60 posted on 02/01/2002 10:56:38 AM PST by steve-b
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