Project August: Day 22 – Just What Is This Libertarianism Anyway?

Yes, I am going to talk about libertarianism again. Why do I talk about it when I could be making sexier posts about Dominance/submission? Talking about D/s and talking about libertarianism really stem from the same place for me. This blog is about expressing support for the liberty of the individual. D/s is part of my understanding of that, as is libertarianism. D/s and libertarianism may seem separate things in your mind, O reader, but they are intertwined in mine.

At the blog of is a post called “How Not to Argue Against Libertarianism” by Aaron Ross Powell. In it he dissects another one of the multitude of stupid anti-libertarian arguments.

Over at Psychology Today, Peter Corning has penned an attack on libertarianism. This is nothing remarkable, as attacks on libertarians, especially attacks aimed at showing how psychologically damaged we must be, are a dime a dozen. But Corning’s diatribe so neatly fits the archetype of an academic pointing out that “Libertarians Just Don’t Get It” while evincing a profound misunderstanding of libertarianism, that it’s worth taking a moment to look at. Specifically, like far too many who dismiss libertarians, Corning fails to recognize how we distinguish society from state.

“All philosophies must ultimately confront reality,” Corning writes, “and the more radical versions of libertarianism … rely on terminally deficient models of human nature and society.” What’s this libertarian model? Homo economicus, which holds that “[o]ur motivations can be reduced to the single-minded pursuit of our (mostly material) self-interests.”


Stripped to its essentials, Corning’s argument (which I stress is quite common among intellectuals who reject libertarianism) looks like this:

  1. Humans are social animals, require deep social connections in order to thrive, and develop much of their sense of self through the social environment they’re raised in. Humans cannot live well in isolation, and live best when working together within a framework of mutual respect and reciprocity.
  2. Big government is the only political system compatible with (1).
  3. Libertarians oppose big government.
  4. Therefore libertarians reject (1).

Set out like this, the absurdity of these anti-libertarian arguments becomes clear. Libertarians don’t dispute (1). In fact, many of us are libertarians because we believe libertarianism (broadly defined as strong respect for liberty, private property, and free markets) will best facilitate the sort of human flourishing (1) describes. Further, we believe the evidence supports this claim.

So instead of rejecting (1), libertarians in fact reject (2). Not only do we reject (2) by claiming that there are other political systems compatible with (1), but we take it a step further by saying that big government isn’t just unnecessary for a rich, social environment, but in fact undermines the very sort of flourishing (1) describes.

Corning’s argument is quite common among non-academic folks too. I have encountered it over and over and over again.

Suppose for a moment, O monogamous married readers of this blog, that someone tried to explain to you that because monogamous married people confine marriage to two people monogamous married people are therefore anti-social and want their children to grow up in isolation, outside of the benefits of society. “That’s crazy,” you may be thinking. “No one would make that argument because it so very obviously is not true.” But that is exactly the kind of argument people make against libertarianism all the time. And it is no less obviously untrue.

Libertarianism is in no way about people shunning or living in isolation from society. Just the opposite is true. Libertarianism is about people living together, working together, sharing and trading and doing more together than any one person can do alone.

Libertarianism does not lack a concern for the functioning of society. It has concern for the functioning of society at its very core. Libertarianism supports protecting the rights of individuals not for the sake of some extreme individualist existence, but because protecting the rights of individuals is in the best interests of society as a whole.

People who attack libertarianism as callous, anti-social and unrealistic are simply and categorically wrong. Many are the times I have been told in one form or another that libertarianism cannot work because human beings are social creatures who need society for survival and well-being on physical, mental and emotional levels. Well, of course. Nothing in libertarianism disputes that.

What libertarianism disputes is the notion that society needs large amounts of authoritarian control to be society. What libertarianism disputes is the false choice of society with large amounts of authoritarian control from government or the collapse of human civilization into dystopian hell.

When people say libertarians do not understand the ramifications of libertarian ideas, I have to wonder if they understand the ramification of their preferred non-libertarian policies. The evidence that large amounts of authoritarian control does not create a better society is abundant. The prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. did not result in a better society. The repeal of that prohibition did not result in the collapse of society. Authoritarian control was responsible for laws that entrenched slavery, and later racial discrimination in the form of the Jim Crow laws. Authoritarian control has resulted in a decades long drug war that has utterly failed to keep down the supply of drugs and has contributed to violence both inside and outside the U.S. Authoritarian control caused the Great Depression to last more than a decade. And these are just a few examples. There are many, many more.

Libertarians do not oppose these sorts of things because we are against the good of society. We oppose these sorts of things because we want society to improve. We want society to improve for everyone. And protecting the liberty of all individuals is one of the things we believe will help make society a better place for all people. Less intrusive government is something we think will make society safer and better. More control at the local and personal levels of society is something we believe will empower people to make society better.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: Protecting the rights of individuals is not contrary to the common good; protecting the rights of individuals is the common good.

So when people tell you libertarians are all anti-social, or that libertarian ideas are unworkable and unrealistic, you ask them why they are opposed to people working together for a better society. When they wonder what you are talking about, explain to them libertarianism is not about utopian, pie-in-the-sky ideas of people prospering in isolation. Explain that libertarianism is about protecting the rights, the liberty, and the dignity of the individual, whether that individual is rich or poor, dark skinned or light skinned, male or female, young or old, skilled or unskilled, et cetera. Libertarianism is about creating a society that improves itself through allowing individuals the freedom to determine their own lives. Libertarianism is about the creation of better society through voluntary cooperation and competition and the empowerment of the individual.

Explain that to them and watch their heads explode. (Not literally of course.)

Or you could just mock them for their ignorance, but that would not be nice.

Okay, I need food. So I am going to stop now and go eat. Good night.

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