For those of you who have being reading the blog thus far, you have quickly come to realize that I am an avid fan of libertarianism and the degree of freedom and liberty that it allows to its followers. This freedom is not “assigned” or “granted” but, rather, each person is recognized as having unalienable rights endowed upon him or her by the Creator. Alas, I have often asked myself what would happen in the real world if a purely libertarian system was put into practice. After all, many things sound good in theory but their reality is starkly different. Libertarians tend to be intellectuals, quite civil-minded and peaceful. Society, however, is a creature starkly different from this mold, and this analysis is predicated on two assumptions: (1) mankind is inherently predisposed toward evil; and (2) human beings pursue paths that are self-serving as opposed to ones that are altruistic.
Take, for instance, the concept of individual property rights. If everyone respected the fact that each person has a right to his or her own personal space and property, and therein retains the right to defend the said property from harm or from the threat of harm, most non-aggressors would find comfort knowing that other non-aggressors would not infringe on their space. But what happens when regular people (who not rational) ignore the said rules and begin to show aggression towards their neighbors? The obvious answer is that the authorities (public or private) would then come into play and enforce the law on the troublemakers. This paradigm does not differ from our current societal model, but the difference arises when, en masse, restrictive rules and regulations are lifted in the pursuit of individual freedom. All those who are libertarian-minded (which represents the minority of people) would rejoice and find comfort that they will be left alone, in turn bothering none of their neighbors. The majority of people, on the other hand, would test the limits of the law and come as close as they can to encroaching on another in order to maximize personal gain—this creates a society with two large factions: Team “Leave me be” and Team “Agitators”.
Most governmental bureaucrats would disagree, but indeed, morality cannot be legislated for and libertarianism makes no qualms that it does not bear judgment on what is moral as long as individual rights are not violated. Simply put, people have the “right” to do what is right and what is wrong. This, unfortunately, results from placing so much weight on the realm of liberty with the result that morality is sacrificed. As an example, I would encourage the reader to pick up Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty and read the chapter on the rights of a child. The dilemma then arises as to how any society can flourish in the absence of any strong moral (e.g. “I believe that …”) foundation. Some people suggest that even the most selfless person acts that way in the pursuit of selfish interests, that is, that their sacrifice will be paid back as a reward now or later in some way, shape or form. Consequently, all human action is rooted in some motivating force, and this motivation requires an eventual return on its investment. When an individual has a clearly defined set of morals, he is able to formalize a sense of self without insecurity or doubt. Therefore, when faced with difficult choices, he is able to make clear, consistent decisions in the midst of strife and in a society flourishing with different races, cultures, religions and customs. Ethical behavior (e.g. “I will do because I believe that …”) subsequently flows from morals, and allows the person to act in accordance with their core values without variance. A difficulty arises in human interaction if we all say one thing and then do another (i.e. “You can’t build nuclear weapons or have nuclear energy—only we can do that and bomb you if we so choose”).
The context in which many daily dilemmas present themselves, or how life’s choices are “framed” also provides an interesting conundrum. Libertarianism is primarily a dry economic and political philosophy, so when it is applied to moral dilemmas, a dry political and economic approach does not always yield the best results. Human beings are more complex than that. Here is a case in point: you are in Times Square in New York and see a toddler about to wander out into traffic and get hit by a car. John Doe (a libertarian) sees the whole scene and then rationalizes to himself that he has no positive duty to help the child, nor does anyone else have the right to tell him how to act; furthermore, the child also has “no right” to elicit help from a third party (in my view, John Doe is a moron). Any rational adult would immediately scoop up the child and return him to safety. I would also then recommend slapping John Doe in the face while he sits there pontificating.
Hence, healthy human relationships, and thus healthy human societies, cannot excel in the absence of shared core values. This moral foundation leads to peace of mind, civility, and constructive interpersonal relations. One of libertarianism’s shortfalls is that is offers no common prescription for the necessity of morality—and without becoming overly intrusive, a foundation of at least some common principles are mutually beneficial for all.
Finally, if libertarianism is so great, then why have not more countries adopted this philosophy? I will answer this question with more questions: If governments were given the option of having more power or less power, which option do you think they would take? If the average citizen is given the option of receiving some form of social welfare or receiving no government benefit, what are they more likely to go for? If a nation can stay still and remain at peace or declare war on its weaker neighbors, thereby securing access to cheaper oil, land, labor, precious metals and other natural resources, what do you think they would choose?
The further anyone goes back in history, the more libertarian the society becomes. Centralization breaks down and massive nations within clearly defined borders dissolve into nomadic tribes and bands of people wandering the landscape looking for food. In fact, as recently as the year 1500, only 20% of the world was marked off by bureaucrats into states. Today, the entire world is marked off, with the exception of Antarctica. In Jared Diamond’s exceptional book, Guns Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, the author describes why people inevitably organize themselves from small egalitarian groups into larger, more complicated, more centralized, more authoritative, States or “Kleptocracies” (which are defined as states which transfer wealth from commoners to upper classes). He provides the following reasons: conflict resolution between an expanding group of unrelated people, the concentration of power and the right to use force bestowed upon a select group of people, disarming of the populace, the redistribution of wealth, food production, competition within the society, war (and the threat of), and the adopting of a state religion to promote the kleptocracy. So why did people choose the more centralized forms of government? The data does not demonstrate that the change was free and voluntary (Rousseau’s “social contract”) with the potential reward of a “better” society; instead the size of the regional population remains the strongest predictor of the complexity of a society—the larger the number of people, the greater the problems, and hence the greater the need for more organization and control.
I think it is wise for everybody to evaluate their own allegiance to their personal political philosophy. Libertarians tend to think of themselves of having discovered the truth or the answer but, to blindly proclaim this mantra without recognizing the philosophy’s downfalls makes us all no better than the red war hawks or the blue redistributionists who try to push their agendas as the path to salvation. In the end, no secular ideology can ever provide all the right answers, and recognizing this fact is the first step toward genuine wisdom and understanding.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal