Friday, January 7, 2011

The Republicans have hijacked libertarianism

I knew this blog was going to be necessary a couple of months ago when I mentioned to one of my yoga students that I am a libertarian, and she said, rather taken aback, "you mean - the Tea Party?!" "No - that is a new phenomenon. Libertarianism has been around for a long, long time." She looked at me blankly. But now it appears that this is what comes to mind when people hear the word.

Let me admit up front that I am, in an ideal world, sympathetic to anarchism and I don't like politics at all. I can't fully support any of the mainstream candidates, or as I call them, the "Republicrats." Nearly every election has been like, should I vote for Tweedle Dumb or Tweedle Dee? Or perhaps, Tweedle Dumb or Tweedle Dumber? Which one would be the lesser evil? Because I know the people I REALLY like (e.g. libertarian Mary Ruwart, or maybe one of the Green candidates) don't have a chance in hell of ever getting elected. It's bad enough that the guys I have voted for over the years have rarely won anything and usually get, like, 0.004% of the vote. But what is even worse is that my own party - Libertarian - has now been largely taken over by Republicans, so that "our" candidate is no longer "my" candidate and I simply cannot bring myself to vote for them.

The last few elections, the "Libertarian" candidates have been anti-choice (?!) Republicans whose main objective seems to be allowing Wall Street and the multinational corporations to run amuck while ignoring the liberty of individual citizens - whom we may marry, whether, when and with whom we will choose to have children, what jobs we are allowed to have, or even what types of plants, medicines or foods we may ingest. That is what libertarianism used to be about a long time ago, when I was a teenager: the liberty of ordinary individuals to live their lives as they please, so long as they do not harm anyone else in so doing. It was a utopian dream of people living in freedom and harmony, voluntarily helping one another because it was in everybody's best interest to do so. The role of government was to protect the innocent from those who would use force or fraud, to prevent the powerful from taking advantage of the weak, and to otherwise interfere in peoples' private lives as little as possible.

Nowadays, however, "libertarian" has come to mean the liberty of corporations, including the insurance companies, to rip people off to the fullest extent possible, while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class becomes poor. These faux "libertarians" want to "deregulate" the banks while continuing to regulate the living daylights out of ordinary (i.e. non-wealthy) people. Our lives have become more and more regulated and constrained - usually under the guise of "protecting" us or keeping us "safe" - to the point that we would not know what "liberty" was if it came up and bit us on the ass, while we are not actually any safer.

The politicians don't care what happens to us serfs so long as they can convince us to vote for them on the mistaken premise that they are going to somehow stand up for our individual rights and liberties, when in fact they have no intention of doing so, because they are in bed with the big corporations and they bow to the almighty dollar - just like all the other Republicrats. Please don't call this "libertarianism" because it really, really isn't. Just like the "Religious Right" is not really Christianity.


  1. Plutocracy run amok. And they say democracy is "mob rule." How about rule by whatever organized gang, with enough lawyers on retainer to keep their law-bending a step ahead of regulatory interpretation, enough lobbyists to set the agendas of our representatives, and enough dollars to monopolize venues of public discourse (google, social media)?
    Still, I've never agreed with academic libertarianism. It's rooted in some faulty metaphysical assumptions about identity, meaning, and individuality. Supposing a "veil of ignorance," as Rawls does, for example, may be rhetorically effective and convince the academician to think of all people (who meet the criteria of being worthy of consideration in virtue of their thought and behavior, e.g., being g "rational") as equal, or deserving of counterfactual equality. The reality is that the academic culture, language, and finance has been taking advantage of less privileged people for a long time. In fact, when the first universities started forming in Europe, it wasn't uncommon for a town to chase the academic retinue out since they tended to be socially parasitic and aimless in their studies. So the opinion that government should protect the weak is not realistic or authentic, as behavior and status of its adhere ts belie their own, human nature. And actually, the opinion cannot feasibly be carried out (not that matters to an academic in opining about what's best for the people who are actually affected by their declarations).
    And of course, I have to mention the exaggerated value placed on negative liberty by Western academics who advocate for libertarianism: freedom is only a point on a scale between two extremes, the extents of each being unknowable. What do they imagine really justifies their arbitrary lines in the sand?

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful contribution!

      I am interpreting your first paragraph as humor, since what you propose is pretty much the system we now have, the "organized gangs" being the Democratic and Republican parties, and their funding provided by the corporations.

      There are different forms of "libertarianism." Mine is rooted in Tolstoy, Goldman, Chomsky - the anarchosocialist variety which is purely democratic, voluntary cooperation among individuals for their mutual benefit. I should probably write an additional post clarifying this distinction.

      In any event, your criticism of libertarian philosophy (as you see it) actually makes the case for anarchism stronger. You said, "the opinion that government should protect the weak is not realistic or authentic." "not realistic"? Well, that is a valid criticism. Except in the world of Monty Python ("The Holy Grail"), it has not been accomplished historically, at least not on a large scale. It has been managed on a small scale, in cooperatives and collectives, and by the Zapatistas as described in Raj Patel's book "The Value of Nothing.” Of course, the fact that something has not been done before doesn't mean that it should not be attempted.

      But, if indeed you are correct in stating that government cannot perform the most basic function of preventing the strong from preying on the weak, then what good is it?!

      The basic premise of anarchosocialism (or "social libertarianism") really is not complicated, "academic" or mysterious at all. It is the simple, yet by today's standards, bizarre and heretical notion that people ought to have the positive liberty to live as they see fit so long as they do not harm others in so doing. YOU decide what is best for you - not the government, the academicians or anybody else. The ideal role of the State is to prevent force and fraud, NOT to be our Nanny, and certainly not to serve the interests of the privileged class at the expense of everyone else, as we see happening in America today.

      Thanks again for your interest in this blog!