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Libertarianism is an Ideal

October 6, 2011

Libertarianism as a theory of justice states that people have a right to property and a right to noninjury, and these two rights override all other morally relevant values. The result is supposed to be that we should have a free market (laissez-faire capitalism). The only legitimate government interference (if any) is to enforce our property rights and rights to non-injury. Those who violate our rights must pay us compensation.

I am not a libertarian advocate, and I don’t think it’s a realistic goal to expect anytime soon. At the same time I have no problem with a libertarian free market utopia. Perhaps we will one day live in an ideal libertarian free market society where people have property rights, people don’t hurt each other, and people freely give charity to those who need it most — orphans, the elderly, etc. Nothing wrong with that.

Why am I not a libertarian advocate?

One, I don’t think a “free market” will exist anytime soon.

Two, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a communist utopia either. (It’s quite possible for people to freely share all their wealth and so on.)

Three, I don’t agree that libertarianism is a comprehensive theory of ethics. There’s more to right and wrong/good and bad other than what is described by the libertarian theory of justice.

Four, being a libertarian has been completely twisted by the Republican party and right-wing media. Libertarian values have been used to support the idea that the poor shouldn’t get any welfare (such as public education) and that corporations shouldn’t be regulated. At the same time libertarian values in the media and politics isn’t used to oppose corporate welfare. In other words libertarian values are being used as propaganda to empower the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Five, ideals are dangerous insofar as they are used to motivate “sweeping changes” with unpredictable effects. Let’s say a bunch of libertarians get into politics and want to slash all welfare — both for the poor and the rich. The result is likely that the welfare for the poor will be cut, but not the welfare for the rich because the rich won’t let it happen. Such idealistic actions can ignore the reality we are in right now and lead to terrible results in the process.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2011 8:43 am

    I agree ideals are dangerous, but without them it is hard to see sufficient passion for change being raised. Raised passions can work in both good and bad ways of course.

    I wonder if the idea of any kind of utopia is dangerous, in that it feeds a dream, not something ever likely to be realised, given the nature of man.

    • October 10, 2011 9:59 am

      Right, I have no problem with people thinking up utopias or having ideals. I just don’t like how people often use ideals in irrational ways. Like when they try to force their ideals onto the world no matter how impractical it often is.

  2. October 11, 2011 6:16 pm

    Libertarianism, like socialism, capitalism and communism are ideals of over a century ago and each has its pluses and minuses, though none on its own has the capacity to bring about any utopian state. Even democracy whose origins are much older has had to evolve to function in today’s society and in that it has much more to evolve to say that it functions well.

    I feel that these ideals tend to reflect an extremist perspective in their tendency for their adherents to refuse to see any positive attribute in any of the other ideals. In western society in particular, among many, socialism is a dirty word due to the distorting propaganda of the capitalist elite for they feel their sense of entitlement being threatened by such ideals.

    Personally I cannot define my own political leanings by any one of these ideas. While i agree with aspects of libertarianism, I don’t see it as being all that beneficial to society as it has no “vision” for society as a whole and seemingly acts to only protect one’s self-interests. In that it does not seem very enlightened. Capitalism like communism I feel does not work, as both are prone to fascistic tendencies. Corporations the vanguards of capitalism are fascist in their top down organizational structure and their oligarchic nature.

    What I find is interesting right now is that we are seeing a surge of libertarian and socialist ideals in politics. Ron Paul’s popularity both inside and outside the GOP is a sign of this as are the OccupyWallSt protestors a sign of rising socialist ideals. it seems to suggest that business as usual in politics is no longer acceptable. I believe that perhaps what we need is not one or the other but a combination of the best attributes of each. We need to stop thinking about hundred year old boxes and start making new boxes that will lead us where we want to go collectively as a society.

    And the notion of a utopia like perfection is not about a destination as much as it is about a never ending journey and ideals are the roadmap which gets us there.


  3. October 11, 2011 9:12 pm


    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree that libertarianism might not be able to get us to a utopia — but I can envision a libertarian utopia.

    I agree that we could use some thinking outside the box, but that is very hard. Idealists tend to have a very fuzzy ideal and what exactly a utopia would be like isn’t entirely clear. I think Zizek once said that he is a socialist but mostly what he thinks is “capitalism is wrong” and he doesn’t have much of an alternative worked out.

    You and I share Zizek’s uncertainty about what “alternative” would be best, and that might be a problem. Sometimes we can improve one thing at a time without worrying about the big picture, but sometimes it can help to have a big picture as well.

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