Libertarianism = anachronism

As any respected social psychologist or anthropologist could tell you, libertarianism is a false and naive construct for contemporary society.  In fact, it is antithetical to society in the first place. It espouses what is none other than social Darwinism masquerading as freedom.

Since man gathered in groups, some 3 to 5 million years ago, there have been ‘governments’.  Governments provide structure and regularity fundamental to the orderly conduct of human activities.  Such structures are even seen in the animal kingdom.

Libertarian philosopher Roderick Long defines libertarianism as “any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals”, whether “voluntary association” takes the form of the free market or of communal co-operatives. The U.S. Libertarian Party promotes individual sovereignty and seeks an end to coercion, advocating a government that is limited to protecting individuals from the initiation of force.


To deny the need for a muscular, functioning, albeit lean government at this particular time, still awash in the aftermath of the recent Depression, shows either ignorance or cruel indifference to the needs of working Americans. Libertarianism is just a form of nihilism, giving a heady rush to those who are drunk with the power of saying no.

Popular with a segment of our electorate who would characterize themselves as rugged individualists is the idea that your fate is in your own hands and what befalls you is almost exclusively under your control.  This is patently false.

Furthermore, the freedoms that would be required to practice this concept in its purest form are simply not afforded to anyone in any civilized society.  For example, we cannot just go squat and subsist in isolation anywhere we like.  Unenfranchised territories simply do not exist any longer on this globe.

One of the reasons the concept is so alluring for those who have not studied human society properly, is the belief that there are private entities that will supply us with all our needs for a price or, we will simply create the resources to meet those needs ourselves.  And if others stumble, we will let them fall.  If they reach out a hand, we will step on it.

Really?  How many of us can feed ourselves from our own provisions, grown and maintained on our private property?  How about our air? Roads and bridges, dams, electrical needs, protection from those who would harm us if there were no guardians at the gates in so many areas?  What about emergencies, like fire, earthquakes and floods? How many ordinary libertarians have the funds to provide all of this from private enterprise?

And bartering or exchange of resources.  Are libertarians ready to forego the use of the national and international monetary system?  No more credit cards, currency, vouchers, bank accounts – these are all interdependent systems built of regulated cooperation and limited foundational standards, like the full faith and credit of our securities market or commodities markets.  If they do plan to use any of these systems and tokens, all are governed, internationally almost to the one, by binding arbitration! Whether public or private, ‘government’ is ubiquitous and non-optional in human society, worldwide.

I agree that the Thoreauan utopia of the 19th century is a seductive notion and I would like it to materialize the way I would fancy unicorns and nectar and ambrosia.  But, I am a realist above being an idealist and therefore have to reject these puerile concepts, out of hand.

The very definition of government as coercive and restrictive is to misunderstand the need for structures that provide strength against chaos and anarchy.  We have 300 million people in this country with 300 million ideas of what their individual rights should be.  If you put any two people together, they form a group and that group will evolve a structure. One person may dominate the other at any given point in time, to accomplish x,y,z ends and that is ‘coercion’ if you look at it one way, or ‘division of labor’ looked at another way.

I like order and predictability, even if I am not the one devising it. When I come to a stop sign, I do not feel coerced (even though it impinges on my freedom), I feel reassured that I can proceed through the intersection without reasonable threat from another moving object at that time, because collectively sanctioned conventions govern the order of movement and enforce infractions.  One needs to be able to extrapolate from that kind of concept to the polity at large.  Take things to their logical conclusion.

Yes, an overreach and excess of power or coercion leads to fascism.  We know the consequences of such a system as they are fresh in our global memories (or should be). The opposite must also be true, liberty taken to its logical extreme is license and we can only look to recent episodes to understand what the consequences of the loosening of social boundaries produces.

I was in Los Angeles for the Rodney King riots.  It was remarkable to me to see how quickly societal norms broke down.  It happened within minutes.  There was nothing, save the national guard, standing between law abiding citizens of Los Angeles, and rioting mobs, ad hoc insurrectionists.  But it also vivified how astonishing it is that those limits are respected during normal states of social functioning.  What really stands in the way of an angry mob storming the affluent neighborhoods throughout this country and plundering them?  Think about the Russian revolution. Those LA riots were Sociology 101 brought to life.


The idea that this would all be provided by private interests is ludicrous.  Take a look at the debacle in Iraq under the contractors hired by our neocon (read neophyte) government at that time.  Do you trust the x-ray machines at the airports not to cause cancer in twenty years?  Really, you can thank Chertoff for ramrodding that through – via his private, profit-making company.  Are you glad that tamiflu was universally forced on the American people?  Thank Mr. Rumsfeld for that coercion.

This is a particularly egregious lapse of judgment when it comes to the abysmal notion of denying affordable private healthcare to 30 million Americans, many of them elderly or disabled, by this thinly veiled mock ceremony of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Even the Catholic church believes in providing healthcare to the needy as a God-given right.  To reject it, would be a symptom of Aquinas’s duality of malice or moral weakness.

Like it or not, government, properly functioning, strong and efficient, is an absolute necessity of human group interaction.

A tragic example of how government failed to act was in the case of the family that lost a second child to illness because they refused medical help for first one, in 2009, and then the second just this week.  Where does the parent’s freedom and liberty to neglect a child stop and society’s responsibility to step in and stand for the child’s rights begin?  This concept of collective responsibility is the basis for the social worker role in our communities.

Democratic systems with multiple protagonist (and even antagonist – it is really a di minimis distinction but one I like) parties have historically been the most successful and enduring.

I will leave this for now with a memorable excerpt, I think all of us will recognize:

Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!

–A Few Good Men

When you read ‘walls’, think ‘structure’, not just physical, but mental, emotional, psychological, moral, ethical, political and yes social and societal.  The most successful societies through history have established efficient and stable modi vivendi. Think government.

In contrast, I cannot think of one country, nation, state that has ever used the libertarian model successfully over any sustained period of time.

Why not just call libertarianism by its real name:


7 Comments on “Libertarianism = anachronism”

  1. You write a lot of things to which I totally agree but feel like you’ve said it all, so i can’t think of anything to say except “I agree!” Which is all I can think of to say here as well. LOL.


    • Ugh, I do tend to ramble on. I was trying to cover every one of their arguments, lol. It will make up for my shorter posts when I can’t think of a thing to say :-)!


      • Nah it wasn’t a criticism! I do not have a strong ability to articulate complex thoughts without loads of work, which I’m not willing to do for the blog. I appreciate that you can. I can just refer people over here when they ask me what I think about political or sociological issues 🙂


  2. Def, I got that you were being nice, I was just feeling guilty. I guess what is happening is that I am tired of us sitting and yelling at the tv at home. We just have to turn it off and bury ourselves in our tablets, otherwise we get so frustrated. I am getting my thoughts out onto the ‘internets’, hee hee, instead.


  3. Pingback: Semper free! | Beth Byrnes

  4. The most pertinent part for me in this, Beth, is that, where even two come together, a society forms and regulations and standards are adopted, hopefully, for mutual benefit. Although, even where two are gathered, there can be disparity in ideas. As it is, as it should be. What one would hope for is that, even between two, compromise and concensus can be reached in order to make life functional.
    I wish I could remember the name of a book I once read that concerned itself with the rebuilding of society after its collapse due to some sort of germ warfare I think it was. Pockets of humanity began to converge and rebuild, promising themselves that they would never allow government to rule their lives and jeopardise humanity’s future on the planet.
    Of course, government evolved as it had to because of some incidents of anti-social behaviour offensive to the majority and in order for shared distribution of labour and benefits. It started off as minimal and began to grow as those elected to hold responsibility for ensuring safety took advantage of their desire for power for its own sake. It pretty much ended there as I recollect. I took from it that, while government was essential for society to function, the danger was in citizens abrogating all responsibility to those elected and not questioning the purposes of laws or in discussing compromises that would perhaps have served better.
    The quote from ‘A Few Good Men’ brought immediately to mind the scene where Jack Nicholson (fantastic actor that he is) practically spits his venom and distaste for those who, as he perceives, hide their heads in the sand to what is necessary for the military/government to function. I remember my reaction to his diatribe and the shock on the faces of the courtroom as he basically said that he and his cohorts were above moral law in order to satisfy safety. I think this was a perfect example of the truth that if we do not question what others do in our name or question the morality of actions taken for the supposed good of all then we are equally culpable of what governments do to advance one society’s aims.
    There is no doubt that government is intrinsic to social creatures and is to be valued as a vehicle to support society and to build infrastructures that one by oneself could never achieve. Our responsibility is to ensure that it does not get out of hand by those who value power more than society’s or humanity’s well-being.
    Another thought-provoking article, Beth. And I only linked here from a later one!


    • Thank you for that thoughtful and well articulated response, Anne-Marie.

      The issue here in the US now is that a faction of the right wing seeks to privatise everything that the government does on the specious premise that private enterprise does better serving the public interest than does the Federal government.

      However, this is a false notion. There are works that only a national government can undertake, such as infrastructure, a minimum education system, delivering the mail to every tiny hamlet, defence, etc.

      They are just advocating greed, Social Darwinism and free marketeering, which has not served the US well. It started with Reagan and the US economy has been reeling ever since. These people are irrational and ignorant of history. They simply look at the near-term and what they believe is best if there were to be no restrictions on behavior whatsoever. Each man/woman/child for him/herself. The weak or those in need be damned, is their philosophy.

      We can’t hold the good hostage to the perfect. Our Federal government is flawed, but the alternative is impracticable. We would be a Banana Republic, and with the way people are pouring over our southern borders from two-class societies, you would think the Libertarians would see that the logical extension of their philosophy is a failed state!

      I truly appreciate your reading this, when you are I am sure, so busy. It is good to have an analytical mind looking at my thoughts. I need opinions from people like you and you in particular — a sympathetic soul. 😀


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