Amidst our dichotomized political climate, there are many unsatisfied with the lack of choice we have. We have democrats and republicans that both carry philosophies and values that are at extreme ends of one another, and offer no middle ground, or chance to mix up policies. So as a result of this, we have different subgroups under each party offering either overarching republican values, with democratic philosophies that they find attractive, and vice versa. One of these political ideologies is titled “libertarianism.” It is a rigid ideology that defines itself in its protection and implementation of civil liberties for all citizens. I would like to analyze and critique a new, contemporary model of libertarianism, that I will be calling “American libertarianism.”
On the surface, American libertarianism is very attractive; I know, I was one once, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever, just like many who are do. When you discover libertarianism, you act as if you rediscovered electricity, because it seems like the blend of the greatest economic and social policies on planet earth: you have the social freedoms offered by liberals, while maintaining fiscal independence by conservatives. On the surface, the whole thing sounds fantastic: you have complete and utter freedom to do with your life as you see fit, with no state obligations or fiscal limitations.
I mean, who doesn’t like freedom?
After all, American libertarians, at least at first, seemingly have something to their outrage when people question them, because it’s hard to respond when someone says to you “so you’re against individual freedoms?”
They will tell you, while donning their “Ron Paul r-love-ution” tees that it offers the most freedom, which will lead to the greatest benefits for everyone. However, American libertarianism does not promise such a utopia - well, maybe it does, but it certainly won’t.
First, let me distinguish between Libertarianism in America, as compared to Libertarianism around the world as it has been since its origins in the enlightenment.
The perverseness of American culture has allowed the word libertarian in America to become something that it’s not. In fact, I will argue that American libertarians are the exact opposite of what they claim to be. True libertarianism, the libertarianism of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, is anti capitalist; they advocate markets only under the condition that perfect liberty follows perfect equality. That is the only case in which markets should be allowed, if they bring forth perfect equality. True libertarianism calls for liberty and equality for all - American libertarianism calls for total unaccountable tyranny.
The only equality offered by American libertarians are that both the rich and the poor are equally prohibited from pissing in the privately owned streets, or sleeping under a privately owned building, or driving on a privately owned road without paying the rightful owners.
One fantastic example of this are roads. American libertarians will argue that we need not taxes for roads we might never drive on, but if we wanted to go anywhere, we should build a road there, and charge anyone who uses it. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
What society could function like that? Try generalizing that on a grander scale. What a terrible place that would be. You couldn’t even kill yourself without worrying about burdening your family with the costs imposed on them by the people who privately owned the river you drowned yourself in.
American libertarianism calls for tearing down all boundaries that protect from private tyranny - a worse form of tyranny than state tyranny, because at least the people have ownership in that. It calls for a completely regressive approach to society, advocating that we eliminate everything that we have worked so hard for to erect civilization. It would be going back in time to a more lawless age. It would be the Wild West all over again. It would be everyman for himself, and any man with a gun for anything you have.
In the workplace, this would be disastrous. It would be a return to everything federal labor laws and standards were created in the first place to protect against. De regulated private institutions will tell you that you cannot work there for X discriminatory reason, simply because they say so. It’s their privately owned land, their privately owned company, and there are no federal laws prohibiting them from making discriminatory hiring procedures. It’s their freedom to hire who they want. Private economies justify slave wages for the same exact reason. This type of tyranny justifies the destruction of natural resources because “they paid for it.” It’s theirs to do what they will if they purchased it. Not only that, but this sort of tyranny that is masked behind something as enticing as liberty is totally destructive to humanity.
This is the tyranny that J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and john d. Rockefeller monopolized at the turn of the twentieth century. They hired children, paid them slave wages, and subjected their workers to conditions that threatened their very lives. They treated their empire of workers as means, and were enabled by a market that allowed them to do this, because there had been no federal regulation laws yet to stop them.
The American libertarian stance that power in a society be put in the hands of private owners is a stance that just as well means giving the power to unaccountable villains. This sort of system does not exist in any developed nation, but it does exist in the third world… which is why the third world looks the way it does. By placing the public interest in the hands of private owners, you subject them to their potential ( and I use the word ‘potential’ lightly, for we all know history shows us, that given the chance, individuals will take advantage of systems that allow them to pursue their own interests by any means necessary ) for fraud, coercion, manipulation, and exploitation. It doesn’t make sense to give power to something so capable of committing atrocities in a system that enables it to without accountability. It’s like giving the only gun in the room between you and your family to the known radical religious terrorist.
It also depends on virtues that do not exist. When the question “what about the poor?” comes up, it is usually followed by traditional conservative rhetoric, stating that if they don’t want to be poor, they’ll just work hard. Now that’s an argument for another time, although I hope it is easy to see that it can easily be dismantled. A fun thing for libertarians to say is that churches will take care of the poor. If not churches, the private society in general will help those in need.
As if the philanthropic interests of the corporations, churches, and other private institutions exist in the first place, but left to their own devices, they could do better than a welfare state. Another issue with this is that it assumes that given the freedom to choose to contribute to the welfare of others, people will. Their chief argument against Social Security and other entitlement programs is that they shouldn’t have to take their own hard earned money, and “give” it to other people. If they just want to take care of their own, and not care about the suffering of others, that’s fine, but that is the position they take when arguing against entitlement programs. So, one of their solutions is that you can start your own charity to help out anyone in need. The alarming problem with this though, is that if people are against using their money “against their will” to aid the needy, so why on earth would they do it on their own will in a private fundraiser?
It’s complete and total abandonment of the underprivileged and disenfranchised to be left in the hands of the institutions that helped them get there.
If someone should die because they don’t have insurance, or can’t afford a private healthcare system, it would be a tribute to everyone’s liberty that they should.
American libertarianism is more adequately put, anarcho capitalism. it calls for total, unchecked control for ruling corporate entities, and masks this with promises of unlimited and total equality, without mentioning that the system it calls for encourages institutions that would have the power to subvert any and all liberty that may follow.