Lately libertarianism has fallen victim to a parade of poorly thought out criticisms. Michael Lind of Salon has provided us with several more examples of these and even shows off his misunderstanding of the whole philosophy. Here are a few from his recent article.
“Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?”
First point; this is a fundamental misunderstanding of libertarianism. We do not pretend to know how society should be organized; no one and no small group of people know how to best organize society. All we are saying is that we should not be using an organization, the government, with the monopoly on violence to control people’s lives. If you allow people to voluntarily organize and work together society will organize itself using mutually beneficial interactions. Anyone that says they know how to control society is only seeking power or vastly overestimating their abilities.
As for the heart of the question; there have been a couple of libertarian societies that lasted 100’s of years. They are largely forgotten, but in the past Iceland and an area including Somalia have had what we would call a libertarian society. The author must have forgotten what country he lives in cause the United States started as a largely libertarian society at its founding. The libertarian values of personal property, self-ownership, and civil liberties created the wealth and quality of life we have now, but I guess that’s not worth mentioning.
This whole argument is a straw man designed to dismiss a philosophy he doesn’t understand by avoiding any real argument against it. There have been innumerable developments and ideas that had little to no president that have taken root and changed the world. The abolition of slavery, the internet, women’s suffrage, democracy, civil rights, and The Jersey Shore. G.T.L.
We are constantly breaking barriers and invading new ground. There is no reason to doubt the creative powers of the people to solve complex social problems if they were allowed to do so. Is the author so short sighted as to not see it happening around him every day? How does he dress himself in the morning?
“Libertarian theorists have the luxury of mixing and matching policies to create an imaginary utopia. A real country must function simultaneously in different realms—defense and the economy, law enforcement and some kind of system of support for the poor.”
Perhaps his greatest misunderstanding is contained in his claim that “libertarian theorists have the luxury of mixing and matching policies”. If there is anything libertarians obsess over the most, it’s how to apply the non-aggression principle and property rights consistently. It’s like their favorite pastime. Its baseball, football, apple-pie, and cat videos all rolled up into one. In a political system dominated by two parties that flip flop policy stances with every new administration, calling liberty advocates inconsistent has to be a sign of drug abuse. Ironically, libertarians would want you to get treatment for that while the establishment would want to throw you in jail and ruin the rest of your life.
Right now the majority of these “real countries” he speaks of are failing in every realm he’s talking about; especially the US. Our “defensive spending” can only be described as offensive. Our economy is in the dumps refusing to improve. We imprison more people than any other nation due to the war on drugs and our “safety net” is growing to the point of engulfing our whole national budget in the near future. We have trillions and trillions in unfunded liabilities. It can all be attributed to a government that is a monopoly on force and power. Its too big, too powerful, and not accountable.
Michael makes it sound like a “libertarian utopia” wouldn’t be a fully functional society. On the contrary, philanthropists and entrepreneurs would meet any need that arises in that society. It happens every day already. We already have private charities, security organizations, schools, hospitals, mail delivery; you name it. Well, unless the government has outright banned private companies from competing with it or completely banned the industry. Private companies and charities are run much better than any government program; we all know this. So why are people so scared to let them compete with or even replace the government? The best part would that it would introduce competition, innovation and choice. All greatly needed at this time.
“Until a few decades ago, supporters of communism in the West could point to the Soviet Union and other Marxist-Leninist dictatorships as examples of “really-existing socialism.” They argued that, while communist regimes fell short in the areas of democracy and civil rights, they proved that socialism can succeed in a large-scale modern industrial society.”
Michael also thinks that communism “fell short” in the areas of democracy and civil rights. Communism didn’t just fall short, it crashed and burned and killed 94 million people with executions, starvation, and poverty. This is key to the whole article. If the author is really concerned about the real world results of political philosophy, then he would be advocating for the policies that were behind the US economic boom in the latter half of the 1800’s or post-WW2. Both were times the economy grew by over 5% a year. This is not an article by a guy who wants to base his opinions on principle or results. He is just a guy in love with the idea of government dominance over the individual. He’s probably not even conscious of it.
His final point is to label Mauritius, a small isolated island nation that’s not even 50 years old, as a contemporary libertarian society. He then goes on to say that their education system and infant mortality rates are worse than the in the US and therefore libertarian principles don’t work. It’s a disingenuous comparison so I’m not going to say anything more about it. I provided a link to Mauritius’ Wikipedia page if you want to read more.
There are plenty of acceptable arguments and criticisms to libertarianism, but Michael presents none of them. Perhaps if he took the time to understand the philosophy, he would be able to criticize it. His characterization of communism as “falling short” is a giveaway that he is uninterested in reality and not actually looking out for the well being of others. He is obviously sympathetic to a philosophy and political system that has murdered more people than died in WW1 and WW2 combined. You cannot expect to have a serious dialogue with someone like that.
Salon – The question libertarians just can’t answer: http://www.salon.com/2013/06/04/the_question_libertarians_just_cant_answer/
Has a Libertarian Society Ever Existed? http://thelibertarianrepublic.com/has-a-libertarian-society-ever-existed/
Communism Killed 94 Million in 20th Century: http://reason.com/blog/2013/03/13/communism-killed-94m-in-20th-century