Friday, June 20, 2014

Hobbesean and Non-Hobbsean Libertarians

Human beings are a species of social mammal. 

It may seem odd to have to say that, but this seems to be a foreign concept to too many. Both the left and the right tend to think that human beings are only social if there is a government around to force people to be social. Otherwise there would be a war of all against all, and people would live in isolation. The fact that all of the evidence from anthropology, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, primatology, and the social sciences demonstrate that human beings are not just naturally social mammals, but are in fact hypersocial, is not taken into consideration at all. The fact that we are naturally hypersocial means human are going to be social no matter what. Legislation will not make it so.

It is the belief that humans are naturally social and that our social rules emerge naturally from our interactions that underlies classical liberal thought. The right tends to take the position that rigid hierarchies are natural and that rules come from the top-down – typically from God and His representatives on Earth. The left tends to take the position that everything can be developed through human reason, that humans are a blank slate on which those rules developed through human reason can be written. Both tend to deny the fact humans are naturally social and that our rules emerge naturally and evolve over time. Both groups thus tend to be anti-evolution when it comes to the human mind and to human society.

Among libertarians, there are those who support the libertarian world view precisely because it is the most pro-social world view. Such libertarians view government legislation as being fundamentally anti-social in nature. Legislation tends to make the law more rigid and, thus, less able to adapt to changing circumstances.

Take, for instance, the laws surrounding marriage. Many states in the U.S. continue to prohibit same-sex marriage, and both major parties have opposed same-sex marriage until recently. The legislation in many states is lagging far behind social views on the matter. In other words, the naturally emergent laws surrounding marriage – regarding whether or not same-sex couples can marry – is well ahead of changes in legislation. Legislation does not necessarily change with changing circumstances, and when it does, it is typically well behind where the rest of society already is.

However, there are also libertarians who support the libertarian view because they think it is a fundamentally anti-social world view. In this sense, they in fact agree with the left and right that it is government which makes us social. These libertarians favor libertarianism because they want to be free to do any number of things that are currently illegal and may or may not be unethical. You can typically identify these libertarians by the fact that they will complain not just about government legislation, but about social pressure against unethical behavior. They want the world to fall into disorder, and view libertarianism as the pathway to that end.

 But the world is not a Hobbesean jungle just waiting to happen the moment governments disappear, as these latter libertarians, the right, and the left would all have us believe. This world view is not supported by any of the evidence we have about human beings. It is only the classical liberals who truly believe in our evolved human nature. That can, of course, give rise to a wide variety of beliefs about the proper role of government, from a basic income guarantee welfare state to anarchy, but such discussions are at least discussions of real human beings as hypersocial primates. And that is how all discussions about the economy, culture, government, philanthropy, and all other social interactions ought to proceed.

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