I can’t make this stuff up: A couple of ill-informed Bloomberg columnists published an article online that made the absurd claim that “Libertarians Are the New Communists.” How exactly did they manage to take libertarianism, the philosophy that asserts the non-aggression principle as its central tenet, and equate it with communism, the philosophy that denies individuals the right to property, from which all other rights come from? By not reading any actual libertarian literature, no doubt.
Anytime an article mentions Ted Cruz as a premier libertarian and mentions Koch, Ron Paul, Grover Norquist, and other highly public figures in similar veins, you can pretty much chalk the article up as being filled with nonsensical and imbecilic content. It is destined to be the same kind of fear-mongering that Chris Christie did that has no real criticism other than asserting that it’s dangerous, somehow. Nonetheless, I think it useful to point out a few things. The article asserts:
By radical libertarianism, we mean the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values…Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution.
Well, right off the bat we can see the only thing the authors might have read that is at all libertarian is maybe the Ayn Rand novel, Atlas Shrugged. Even if they did manage to read it, it’s clear their reading comprehension skills are abominably lacking. One of the most basic libertarian assumptions regarding civilization is that self-interest is the driving force that ensures cooperation. As Adam Smith said almost 250 years ago, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” A libertarian recognizes that self-interest is the cornerstone of cooperation which, in turn, is the cornerstone of civilization. Any number of other libertarian thinkers would say the same thing, which the authors would know if they bothered to do any research. If they wanted to make the assertion that self-interest does not ensure cooperation, that would still be an argument doomed to fail, but at least it would be a legitimate attempt and not a straw man.
Next, the authors state “[Libertarianism] assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers.” That’s funny, because for there to be society, it presumes the necessity of rules and enforcement. The authors make the mistake in assuming that less government or no government means no rules and no enforcement. On the contrary, libertarians advocate for less government because it eliminates the arbitrary laws and enforcement that consider non-violent actions to be punishable offences, which tend to cause a deterioration of civil society and peaceful cooperation. Likewise, they believe that government has a greater comparative advantage in denying rights to civilians than in protecting the rights of civilians, ie. in fostering chaos rather than in promoting order. (In societies with a government, rights may be more properly called privileges since the state tends to revoke these privileges whenever it drums up real or imagined crises that “require” such measures).
What libertarianism does argue is that societies are governed by certain rules and mechanisms that lead to more efficient outcomes than when a government intervenes and creates arbitrary mechanisms that distort the natural processes encouraging order.
“Communism failed because it kept citizens from taking responsibility for governing themselves…so does radical libertarianism.” Again, the authors make absurd generalizations that have no basis in the philosophy of libertarianism. If the authors believed that libertarianism was a philosophy based in individualism like they say, than they are essentially arguing that individualism involves not taking responsibility for self-government, a self-contradictory statement if there ever was one.
I guess libertarians should take it as a complement that so many individuals want to attack the philosophy, since it represents a threat to the status quo of the welfare-warfare state which so many individuals have an emotional and financial attachment to. But in all seriousness, the thought that individuals can write such thoughtless pieces and get published is beyond me.