Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Libertarianism Sucks as an Ideology

A look at the socioeconomic shortcomings of America’s “third” political party

There’s a tremendous line in “Johnny Got His Gun” where Dalton Trumbo assesses the moral issue of “freedom” by exploring it as just one of two possible systems: a world in which everybody gets free ice cream for life, and another where it’s perfectly legal for everybody to steal and loot as much as they want.

A lot of people view “freedom” - that totally indefinable, subjective thing that it is - on a continuum, and perhaps Trumbo’s analysis is a look at the concept from the southern and northernmost poles. That said, Trumbo’s analysis - which posits the matter of freedom as a choice between a socialist, collectivistic utopia where all strive for the bettering of the whole and a capitalistic, individualistic utopia where one is unfettered in his or her struggle to better him or herself - is an utterly compelling idea. The kicker here is when Trumbo asks whether or not it’s worth dying for “liberty.” His response?

Just how much liberty are we talking about here, and whose idea of it?

As a concept, “libertarianism” - or at least, the modern, political definition of it in the U.S. - is an ideology that clearly implies that a world where everyone is free to steal and loot is vastly superior - even more moral, really - than a world were everybody gets free ice cream. To be fair (something that really isn’t looked favorably upon by libertarians,) the collective definition of “libertarianism” is very ill-defined - so much so that, even after years of having my ear talked off by Ron Paul supporters and Ayn Rand fan boys, I’m still not 100 percent sure there IS a mutually-agreed upon definition of “libertarianism” among libertarians themselves. That’s the trouble when you have the egotism to describe yourself as the lone interpreter of something as abstract and shapeless as “liberty,” I suppose.

I’ve struggled to grasp the libertarian ideology for several years now. I really have. The thing is, the same, basic, fundamental, entry-level criticisms of the philosophy I had way back when remain unanswered, now complicated by an ocean of pseudo-philosophical, almost-metaphysical lectures on “natural rights” and countless hours of pointless chatter about the ills of the Federal Reserve Board.

I guess you could say that libertarians are what happens when you take the absolute most annoying aspects of conservatism and slam them headlong into the most annoying aspects of liberalism. Like liberals, they constantly whine as if they’re being victimized 24 hours a day, and like conservatives, they perpetually lecture from their ivory podiums about how socioeconomics is virtually deterministic, while somehow denying the existence of “classism” as an American institution. Sticking your ear inside an air conditioner for several hours is ultimately a more enlightening procedure than having a libertarian explain his or her stance to you for just a few minutes.

While a comprehensive analysis of libertarianism as a concrete political philosophy is wholly impossible, I have noted what seem to be a very short list of things that a majority of the libertarians I have encountered consider to be nailed-down planks in their ideology. To the best of my knowledge, the following five things are accepted as universal truths by all libertarians:

- Everything about the state is bad, and everything about the market is good.
- Property rights are more important than the rights of people.
- Collectivization, in any and all incarnations, is bad.
- Regulation of everything/anything is bad.
- Economics should take precedence over social matters.

Granted, it’s a very short-handed analysis of the moral doctrine, by what the hell, “libertarianism” is a pretty short-handed moral doctrine anyway. Taken as a whole, I guess you could say that the overlying assumption of modern “libertarianism” is that economics, lacking any and all state intervention, results in the “best” possible social system. Now, one thing you will NEVER hear a libertarian say is that their ideology is a “fair” or “equitable” one; when examining the beneficiaries of a hypothetical “libertarian society,” there’s a couple at the very top of the list, and a whole hell of a lot of people that would be much, much worse off than they are at the current. Try asking a libertarian how their ideology would better serve the elderly and the poor, and you’ll learn pretty much everything you need to know about the “morality” of libertarianism as a concept.

If there’s anything out there that approaches a “golden rule” for libertarians, it’s this equation right here: “Government = Bad, Market = Good.” Tautologically, any and all forms of state intervention are inherently horrible, and any and all aftereffects of the market are inherently groovy. If the government passes legislation that ensures all Americans can receive healthcare, it’s bad, but if an economic meltdown causes a third of the nation to dip into poverty, it’s good, you see, because the market is a “natural force” that cannot, and should not, be meddled with by the hands of state interventionists. There’s really no such thing as an atheistic libertarian, because every one I’ve encountered acts as if the free market is some sort of supernatural deity above and beyond the meddling of human hands.

Core beliefs are important in determining the ingrained purpose of any ideology, and for libertarians, there is no loftier aspiration for man that self-gratification. Collectivism can never, in any capacity, be a positive, and a wholehearted dedication to self-interests is always justifiable. The problem with libertarianism here is that, while it could conceivably make for a great personal philosophy (especially if you want to be an insufferable jerk), there’s no way in hell you could ever create a mass, political movement anchored around “self-interests” as opposed to collective needs. The whole point of government is to be a force of social intervention, and when the creamy, nougat-laced core of your political doctrine is that social intervention shouldn’t exist, just how in the blue hell are you going to create a social system that doesn’t besmirch your own philosophical underpinnings?

That’s sort of the logical time bomb within “libertarianism” as a cultural philosophy: it may work in very reduced sectors - like, say, a personal economic philosophy - but as a comprehensive, mass utility, like a political ideology? It simply can’t cover all the essential bases. A major, major component of libertarianism as an attempt at political philosophy automatically discounts those that are economically dependent on the state - which, as our good buddy Mitt informed us earlier this year, constitutes a sizable portion of the U.S. population. American libertarians, inherently, speak only for a certain subset of the total nation’s population - but last time I checked, egalitarianism was never an utmost concerns for these people, anyway.

Libertarians say they are all for the “rights of the individual.” Weed and prostitution should be completely legal, people should be able to carry semi-automatic weapons into fast food restaurants and the rights of business-operators should take complete and utter precedence over civil rights legislation. The fallacy here is the assumption that the “decriminalization” of certain social behaviors will result in the decline of clearly-negative social behaviors. Call me skeptical, but I don’t think the decriminalization of methamphetamine will necessarily result in lower instances of copper theft, nor do I believe that the legalization of hooking will magically result in a downturn in urban homicides. The libertarian ideal is that people can effectively “police themselves.” Well, one trip to Vine City in Atlanta ought to be all the experiencing you need to realize that’s something that ain’t ever going to happen in these United States.

The rusted screw in the heart of libertarianism is that it’s an inherently prejudiced ideology. It favors those that have wealth, or at least, those that THINK they are in the position to become millionaires, at some point. Ironically, just about every libertarian I have ever talked to has been, at best, middle class - in other words, people that have more in common, from a socioeconomic standpoint, with Al Bundy than they do F.A. Hayek. Believing in libertarianism requires an individual to either COMPLETELY discredit the idea of social stratification in American culture, or even worse, acknowledge it as an immutable, or even positive, symptom of the free market. Not only is there no place for the underclass in libertarian philosophy, it’s a sector of the human race that libertarians simply refuse to acknowledge as significant.

Every now and then, a libertarian will tell you a horror story about how the big, bad state completely ruined some common man’s life through strict regulatory measures. Almost always, they react as if the fining of a dude out in the middle of nowhere for EPA violations is twenty Holocausts combined with fifty 9/11s, but when the discussion turns to the much, much more widespread and entrenched effects of economic inequality, suddenly, you can hear a rat pee on cotton. Any and all measures intended to address, or even acknowledge, the existence of economic inequity is branded as “wealth redistribution,” which is almost always described by libertarians as an act of federally-backed theft. Alas, those same libertarians become suspiciously mute when you bring up the countless incidents of corporate theft that have transpired over the last 30 years, in which billions of dollars were literally plucked out of the portfolios of employees. The next time a libertarian tells you that the Sixteenth Amendment is no different than pick-pocketing, try asking them what they think about “Enron” and “Lehman Brothers.” Bonus points if said libertarian accepts federal student aid, of course.

Libertarians are OBSESSED with property. They won’t back the spending of federal money to open up homeless shelters, but by golly, they will fight to the death to ensure that homeless people maintain their right to the socks on their feet and the caps on their head. Unless of course, those items are stolen, naturally. They worship businesses - especially multinationals - as if they were saints of the market. What’s good for them, they always say, is good for the nation, because they are the country’s primary job generators, right? Surprisingly, libertarians don’t have much to say when those same multinationals take American shops - and with it, American jobs - and relocate to southeast Asia to save a few dimes and nickels on taxes. Instead, it becomes a diverted spiel about how taxation and regulation - and NOT the greed of human-rights abusing conglomerates, which are already virtually immune to governmental oversight - is to blame for why so many Americans are jobless.

The absolute most damning criticism I can think of regarding “libertarianism” is that it isn’t designed to address socioeconomic problems, let alone make an attempt to remedy them. Libertarians view socioeconomic forces as these inalterable patterns of nature, things that morally shouldn’t be messed around with by state interventionists. At the end of the day, this is basically and endorsement of class stratification, through and through. If you’re born in good socioeconomic standing, then you deserve to succeed and become as rich as your parents, and if you’re born in shitty socioeconomic standing, then you deserve to be as poor and uneducated as your parents. Public schools shouldn’t get money from the haves to turn the underclass into thoughtful individuals, and subsidized welfare programs that ensure basic necessities for the poor - you know, really unimportant shit, like “food” and “medicine” - are wholly immoral because it diverts revenue from the less needy AND disrupts the “natural order” of the free market. Of course, libertarians say that they aren’t entirely heartless, and that they’re all in favor of helping out the downtrodden, just as long as it’s through private funding. And if you sincerely think that a world in which Medicaid and EBT is replaced by “non-coercive, voluntary” private investments is going to result in a more efficient and humane social welfare state in America, I sincerely hope you wake up tomorrow in the Appalachian Mountains, with dirt-stained feet and two teeth in your skull. I’m sure those charitable donations will begin rolling up the hillside any minute, won’t they?

At the end of the day, I think “libertarianism” is, at best, a quasi-effective individual reasoning tool for selfish jerks, and at worst, a completely wrongheaded, elitist, borderline segregationist (hell, borderline eugenicist, to some degree) muddle of a philosophy that’s only mildly less dangerous as a nationalized ideology than a Roman Candle pointed at a box of oily rags in front of a space heater.

Of course, I expect plenty of well-thought out, academically-sound, evidence-based responses as to why my assertions are wrong. I wouldn’t expect anything less, naturally, from a consortium of people that would prefer legalized robbery to a lifetime supply of ice cream…


  1. What you will soon learn is that the United States is the new Roman Empire. Everything that the Romans did, the United States is doing. And it all stems from an ethnic culture of greed, deception, lies, and the desire to be like the mythical gods of Greece. I made a blog post about this recently:

    Check it out and give me some feedback.

  2. This is one of the dumbest articles I've ever read. I can't tell if you are joking or not. Your attempts at logic are so haphazard as to make any sort of response entirely futile.

    1. Kev's not illogical, but the libertarian philosophy is full of self-serving beliefs mostly held by privileged, white people with time and means to contemplate their self-serving navels.