Thursday, July 11, 2013

Criticisms of Libertarianism

If the powers-that-be feel the need to attack you, that's probably a good thing. After all, they will only attack you if they think you are strong enough to challenge them. This bodes well for libertarianism as a movement.

Of course, there are going to be criticisms that range from ridiculous smear pieces long on accusations and short on direct proof to more legitimate criticisms, as outlined by Jacob Levy. Yes, there are subsets of stupid ideas in libertarianism, broadly understood. There are Confederate apologists and conspiracy theorists, but probably no more than one would find among conservatives or leftists, respectively (they seem larger in such a small movement).

To my mind, you cannot be a libertarian and believe in either the rightness of the Confederacy or conspiracy theories. The former accepts the equation between oppression and agricultural socialism, and liberalism -- as though those can ever be reconciled. The latter accepts that order is created by powerful elites (in this they agree with the socialists), only they don't want the socialists' order. I say this latter is un-libertarian because libertarianism argues that social order emerges naturally from human social interactions. To argue otherwise is un-libertarian, un-liberal.

There also seems to be a notion that libertarianism has only been around since the early 1970s. In the contemporary American parlance, this is technically true. This is what allows people like the one I linked to in the first link to claim that if Rothbard was a racist, and Rothbard helped found libertarianism, therefore libertarianism was founded by a racists and, thus, in racist ideas. I don't want to get into whether or not "Rothbard was a racist" is in fact a truth statement; rather, I want to get into the foundations of libertarianism. While it is true that one can point to a literal date for the foundation of the Libertarian Party and, thus, make an argument that this is the foundation for libertarianism, doing so ignores the fact that libertarianism has its true foundations in classical liberalism -- in the ideas of Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, et al. Classical liberalism generally opposed aristocratic government and supported democratic self-governance, opposed government interference in people's lives, including the economy, and supported the liberation of women, slaves, and other oppressed peoples. This carried over into the foundations of libertarianism, because in a real sense, libertarianism is a postmodern continuation of classical liberalism (this fact may in fact be the problem with it).

Let me make it clear what it is libertarians support.

Libertarians support the free movement of people -- we do not think people should be condemned by the accident of their birth to economic destitution and oppression. Thus, libertarians support open borders and free immigration. It should be difficult to argue that this is a racist policy. It is support for immigration restrictions which is racist and unjust.

Libertarians support drug legalization and ending the War on Drugs. Given that the War on Drugs grossly disproportionately targets minorities (despite the fact that whites are no less likely to use them), libertarians are supporting a policy that will overwhelmingly benefit those minorities being targeted by our legal system. It is support for the War on Drugs which is racist and unjust.

Libertarians support equality under the law and the rule of law. Special privileges for any group is a violation of both of these and leads to group conflict. Favoring one group over another is unjust. And if the groups are racial groups, it's racist; if the groups are men and women, it's sexist; if the groups are one economic group or another, it's cronyist. In all cases, we see collectivism at work. Racism and sexism are forms of collectivism, and libertarianism opposes collectivism. Libertarians think each person should be judged on their own merits.

Libertarians support eliminating the minimum wage, an idea originally developed by progressives because it would result in the unemployment of minorities. It continues to disproportionately affect minorities and teens. One result is that teens have a harder time finding employment, leaving them bored. Bored teenagers is a recipe for trouble.

The progressives may have abandoned the racist reasons progressives originally gave for their social policies, including support for the minimum wage, but they have not given up the social policies whose original intentions were to harm racial minorities and others progressives considered to be "undesirable" (eugenics was also a progressivist idea, and was only abandoned after their policy was adopted by Hitler, who demonstrated to the world what the eugenicists really wanted). It should be obvious to everyone that the libertarian opposition to government interference in people's lives would extend to racial, gender, and reproductive choices. There is nothing more un-libertarian than eugenics. Indeed, the early progressives' support for eugenics was an integral part of their opposition to classical liberalism in general, and free markets in particular.

I would also like to address the absurd dualism proposed by opponents of classical liberalism/libertarianism -- individualism vs. collectivism. Opponents of liberalism argue that if you support individualism, you oppose all forms of social living. This is reasonable if the only choices are individualism or collectivism. But this is simply not true. Yet, this is perhaps where a real division occurs between classical liberals and libertarians. Classical liberals reject the radical individualism that leads to collectivism of Rousseau and the progressives and postmodernists whose ideas derive from his. However, the libertarians are in fact rational constructivists, just like the progressives and neoconservatives. Rational constructivism can in fact lead one to support for free markets (Ayn Rand), fascism (Heidegger), or communism (Saretre). However, Hayek demonstrated the weakness of this position for classical liberalism. The strain of classical liberalism that emerged from the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers sees people as social individuals -- we are always already a social species, and our individualism emerges out of our social interactions.

Classical liberals believe humans are social mammals and that collectivism in fact undermines society in all its aspects. Where classical liberals support the peaceful co-existence of the economy, democratic self-governance, religion, science, technological innovation, the arts, philosophy, philanthropy, etc., both neoconservatives and progressives seek to reduce all social interactions to the solitary collectivism of government control. All of the different orders listed are to be subsumed into the government -- with some of those orders utterly destroyed if necessary (i.e., the anti-religious tendency in progressivism or the anti-science tendency in neoconservatism -- and progressivism, when the science is inconvenient to their ideology). Too many libertarians, following this logic, tend to subsume everything into the market economy. They tend equally toward reductionism, only into the market order rather than the democratic one.

If we return to the issue of the Confederacy, we can see the problems with libertarians supporting it if we take a Gravesean view. The southern states were not liberal, but rather were aristocratic in nature. Thus their recreation of serfdom in slavery. This would put their psychosocial level as authoritative (4th level, or blue, for those who know the patterns), whereas classical liberalism would be 5th level (orange), and libertarianism/progressivism/neoconservatism/Existentialism/postmodernism would be egalitarian (6th level, green). I have argued before that the integrationist (2nd tier, 1st level; yellow) level is where you find bleeding heart libertarianism.

To return to the topic at hand, the aristocratic (and, thus, anti-liberal) south took on liberal rhetoric in order to try to make a case for their position (much the same way the progressives, to mask their support for racist policies, adopted the term "liberal" and much liberal rhetoric). Some of the collectivist arguments of the authoritative level are in fact attractive to those in the egalitarian level (thus, much neoconservative thought), and this is true of the postmodernist libertarians as well (the postmodernist element of libertarianism is why they have a tendency toward conspiracy theories, vs. classical liberals and bleeding heart libertarians, who reject such notions). This is no doubt why we can find supporters for neo-Confederacy ideas within libertarian circles.

This hardly means that, because one can find a few kooks in a movement that everyone in the movement are kooks. I mean, communists and socialists have hardly considered Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al as black stains on their ideas and movement. They even proudly wear shirts with the image of a sociopathic mass murderer and racist -- Che Guevara -- without a second thought. This is not a defense of our kooks; rather, it is to point out the utter hypocrisy of libertarianism's leftist opponents. Libertarians would do well to reject the kooks. I myself reject the idea of a "big tent" if by "big tent" that means welcoming apologists for the Confederacy and conspiracy theorists. Those people should not be welcome. Those people harm the movement and prevent it from being taken seriously by many more people. I would like to argue that those people aren't even libertarians. In the case of Confederacy apologists, I would argue they are not. Sadly, the conspiracy theorists -- a group we share with the postmodern left and neoconservatism -- are, as least in the postmodernist sense, libertarians. But they are not classical liberals -- nor bleeding heart libertarians. If I am any of the above, I would consider myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Or, perhaps, more complex than that -- a complexity realist.
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