Concerning Libertarianism: On the “Cynicism” of Libertarian Philosophy

One of the popular criticisms (and by criticism in this instance I mean denigration) of libertarianism these days seems to be that libertarianism is little more than cynicism. The implied idea in that criticism being that libertarianism has no ideological footing or moral standing and is just something snarky kooks use to pick on the poor ol’ government that is just trying to help people. Which is, of course, a fully erroneous idea. Libertarianism is, in fact, moral and optimistic.

Yes, I said libertarianism is both moral and optimistic. Somewhere out there are some “progressive” liberals and some moralizing conservatives who are sputtering out objections, ready to insist that libertarianism is neither. So I will explain my statement.

An argument often thrown at libertarians is the “if you are against X government program that [supposedly] is intended to help people, then you must not believe in helping people” argument. The implied idea there being that since helping people is moral and since (supposedly) only X government program can really help people, then being against X government program is therefore to hold an amoral position against helping people. Another argument often used against libertarianism is the “if you think X should not be illegal then I guess you’re okay with murder” argument. The implied idea there is that since murder is immoral and illegal and since X is immoral and illegal, then saying X should not be illegal is therefore an amoral position against laws intended to protect people.

You may have noticed that in the above examples I used both the words amoral and immoral. Despite how they are sometimes used, they do not have the same meaning. Just so we are clear on what these terms mean: amoral means lacking a moral code and immoral means violating a moral code. (And just to be complete, unmoral or nonmoral means being neither moral or immoral.)

Anyway, the problems with those kinds of anti-libertarian arguments are that they are among the worst kind of strawmen and that what these arguments basically mean is “if you don’t agree with me then you must be amoral.” It is a very close-minded way of thinking, and is often performed by people who claim to be open-minded and tolerant. Many so-called “progressive” liberals are among the worst offenders. President Barack Obama being a primary example. But conservatives do this too. Just watch the Republicans who are trying to cling to things like the war on drugs.

Libertarianism is, in fact, moral. Being against massive government entitlement programs that are supposedly intended to help people does not mean libertarians are against helping people. In fact, libertarians generally view the government entitlement programs as doing people more harm than good. And forgotten in the liberal rush to defend government entitlement programs is another moral issue. Is forcibly taking money from one group of people to spend it on other people something that is moral? The libertarian position is that is not moral.

Some folks may be tsk-tsking and thinking I have forgotten that the Bible teaches we are supposed to help others and feed the poor and all that. No, I have not forgotten that. I see that in the Bible Jesus told individuals to help others, but never once did He say “Go take money from that group of people and give it to the poor.” Jesus did not tell the rich young ruler to go get laws passed that taxes should be taken from the wealthy for the sake of establishing a government run social program to fight poverty. Jesus told the rich young ruler something else: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”(The Gospel of Matthew 19:21, NKJV) Not go take from others. Go sell what you have.

But there will be time to look at how scripture relates to libertarianism in another post.

Returning to the topic, and being more specific, libertarianism holds to the morality of individual liberty, and the idea that every person owns himself. While government may be said to be a moral means of protecting their individual liberties, it is not a moral means to control other people, to have a relative few people decide by what moral code everyone else must abide. (This is why the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights used these documents to restrict the government, not the general populace.) Because using government for that end is itself immoral.

Which means laws that forcibly take money from this group to give to another, and laws that impose the kind of restrictions we see in the “war on drugs” are both immoral. Libertarian morality may not agree with the political goals of your ideology, but it is no less moral.

And now to the other part of the statement I made at the beginning of this post. How is libertarianism optimistic?

Another argument people sometimes try to use against libertarianism is to claim that libertarianism ignores that human beings are social animals and that we all need other people to succeed in this world. That argument is completely ignorant and false.

Actually, libertarianism recognizes that humans need other humans. It counts on it. It depends on it. Libertarianism says we human beings can and should choose to work together because by doing so we make not just ourselves better, but those with whom we interact. Inherent in libertarianism is the notion that human beings can do more when we work together in voluntary cooperation, and that protecting the liberty of the individual is the best way to allow that to occur.

This is such an optimistic idea that when people are not criticizing libertarianism for being cynical, they criticize it for being utopian.

People speak of the “common good” or the “good of society” when they speak on behalf of government policies intended to control this or that social issue. The position of libertarianism is that protecting individual liberty for everyone is the common good.

Libertarianism believes that protecting the liberty, the rights of individuals is a moral good and a social good. Libertarianism believes that good comes from voluntary cooperation among individuals even when those individuals do not always have the most altruistic of motivations.

Libertarianism is moral and optimistic. Yes, some of you may be saying, but it is unrealistic. Is it? Governments large and small that have been very much not fiscally libertarian have run or are running out of money. They are finding out they cannot afford to keep taking money out of their economies to spend on massive welfare programs. And much of the world is moving toward socially libertarian ideas, like ending the “war on drugs” and allowing homosexuals to marry. Seems to me the unrealistic folks, and too perhaps the cynical folks, are those who keep trying to ignore and/or denigrate libertarian ideas.


I am attempting to get to the point where Concerning Libertarianism is a somewhat regular feature of this blog. I have a long way to go, but I think I can get there.

I hope soon to have a finish for the “A Dream of Extreme Control” story. I will try to let you know, O readers, how things progress on that.

Keep the comments and questions coming. Until next time, keep breathing.

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