Further Distortions of Libertarianism
In his essay "The Tea Party Jacobins," with its hyperbolic and besmirching title, Mark Lilla, whose The Reckless Minds: Intellectuals in Politics I once favorably reviewed, advances the notion that the Tea Party's "libertarian irruptions ... [attracted] individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone."
I am reminded of this point by Andrew Hacker's essay, "The Next Election: The Surprising Reality," in The New York Review of Books (August 18, 2011), which quotes Lilla favorably. But check this: Libertarians demonstrably do not believe what Lilla claims they do. Libertarians aren't "convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone." What they believe, instead, is that free men and women can do things much better than bureaucrats and politicians, mostly in voluntary associations. Teams, orchestras, clubs, corporations, choirs, and many other such associations aren't "individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves." No libertarian I have every known – and I have known a great many, having edited one of the first collections of essays by libertarians for Nelson-Hall Publishers of Chicago back in 1973 (The Libertarian Alternative) – is convinced of such an idiotic idea. None want to do things "themselves." What they want is not to be coerced into associations to which they may object, especially by the government. They don't believe people ought to be forced to contribute to Social Security, Medicare, and similar programs not of their own choosing. It is a complete non-sequitor to hold that this means they want to do things by themselves.
Comments like those by Lilla suggest to me that critics of libertarianism are running very low on bona fide objections to the position. Instead, they need to make it appear that the libertarian position embraces ideas that it clearly does not embrace or even remotely imply. Only that way can they come of up with criticisms of it.
This has been going on for centuries, actually. For example, Karl Marx argued that individualists, the libertarians of yesteryear, think they are self-sufficient and defend the right to private property so as to make use of what they own arbitrarily and selfishly. As he put it, "The right of man to property is the right to enjoy his possessions and dispose of the same arbitrarily, without regard for other men, independently from society, the right of selfishness." This line of criticism, along with the charge that free market advocates believe in atomistic individualism, has been repeated over and over again, not just by the Left but also by the Right. And it is bunk.
In fact, the main thing that the right to private property secures is the individual's liberty to choose how to dispose of his or her labor or resources. It is this choice that bothers the critics who all contend that they, not you or I, can decide best how we ought to use our labor and goods. Indeed, under socialism your and my labor is public property and to be allocated as the party leaders decide because they have the requisite knowledge, something you and I supposedly lack. (Why they but not we is an unanswered question!)
Anyway, Lilla and his ilk just don't want to deal with the bona fide libertarian viewpoint. They need the nonsense they impute to libertarians so as to make the position appear ridiculous. But contrary to what they suggest, it is not at all ridiculous. It does not hold that people are all isolated atoms who believe they can fend for themselves, all alone. No sane person believes this. But once you allege that some people do, they can be dismissed as nut cases, which is just what it seems Lilla & Co. would like to do with the Tea Party folks. One cannot help thinking that what these critics are after isn't to get it right about politics and economics but to secure for themselves the exclusive authority to call the shots for everyone.
Posted by Friend_of_John_Galt on 08/12/11 09:53 PM
The Objectivists (those who follow the philosophy of Ayn Rand), are atheists. But they, most assuredly, do not want to play God by telling everyone else how to live their lives.
Posted by Jeanna on 08/12/11 06:01 PM
Unfortunately, the left liberal/socialists are not the only ones who maintain these arguments. Their are many "conservative" Republicans who still argue with me that government is good, that surely they wouldn't really do that, would they? I can bring up fact after fact, prove to them the harm of a particular policy, or tax provision, or regulation. They have been so brainwashed by the government that government should be compassionate, or that government should watch out for our safety, or any other fear-based, government oversight policy, that they shake their heads and refuse to listen.
The government has succeeded in scaring the majority of Americans into a state of surrender. They do not even remember what individual responsibility feels like. The idea of standing on their own, without that government safety net, is just too much for them. They would truly prefer to be blind and led by the hand.
Posted by David_Robertson on 08/12/11 05:21 PM
I have found it impossible to have any kind of a discussion with those whose god is their belly, whose glory is their shame. In the end they are best left alone to wallow in the mire.
Posted by Adam on 08/12/11 01:49 PM
'The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. The wordsmith intellectuals are successful within the formal, official social system of the schools, wherein the relevant rewards are distributed by the central authority of the teacher. The schools contain another informal social system within classrooms, hallways, and schoolyards, wherein rewards are distributed not by central direction but spontaneously at the pleasure and whim of schoolmates. Here the intellectuals do less well. It is not surprising, therefore, that distribution of goods and rewards via a centrally organized distributional mechanism later strikes intellectuals as more appropriate than the "anarchy and chaos" of the marketplace. For distribution in a centrally planned socialist society stands to distribution in a capitalist society as distribution by the teacher stands to distribution by the schoolyard and hallway.'
Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism? by Robert Nozick
Click to view link
Posted by John Danforth on 08/12/11 12:55 PM
Telling you to leave them alone is telling you how to live your life?
Posted by flying_pig on 08/12/11 11:49 AM
This is a common trait in atheists. They spend all their time asserting that there is no God. And then they want to play God by telling everyone else how to live their lives.
Posted by R on 08/12/11 10:47 AM
Correction: Don't ask me how "Click to View link's" got into my feedback.
Posted by R on 08/12/11 10:46 AM
Or phrased another Click to view link's the same hackneyed attempt by left wing Statists to "redefine" those who value and demand Liberty & Freedom.
But their feeble attempts will not stand!
Posted by fabien_hug on 08/12/11 10:23 AM
These proponents of "the government is good and will save our day" can only open their mouth today because 30 years ago a woman from England said; I want my money back and a man from the US said; government is not the solution it's the problem. Since then, USSR collapsed and an era of prosperity emerged allowing the rise of a new breed of zombies. Since they squandered this hard won prosperity, my take is that it won't be long before they are kicked on the sidelines where they belong.
Posted by Libertarian Jerry on 08/12/11 09:51 AM
For decades,using the ideas inherent in Cultural Marxism,the Left has established it's hold on the power of government,especially the Central government. Any attacks on the ramparts of the citadel that has been established to protect those powers will be instantly fought off,not in any civilized debate,but in vicious personal attacks on the attackers. This is why the original Tea Party members,Libertarians and any one who questions the tax system,the money system,the welfare state or government solutions to social/economic problems is at 1st ignored and then ridiculed and finally vilified by the Collectivists in power. These tactics worked for years because the Elites controlled the Main Stream Media,Academia and the Public Schools. But because of the rise of the information age and especially the Internet these tactics are being successfully challenged. The losing of power is the real fear of the Elites and collectivists. Because by losing the War of Ideas,they,the Left,lose their ability to nurture and grow their Socialism and face the real possibility of a dismantling of their Social Welfare Empire. In other words everything that the Left has fought for over the last 100 years may be lost on the trash heap of history. We can only hope as much.
Posted by John Danforth on 08/12/11 08:10 AM
It's the same tactic as the charge, "You want to starve all the little children".