Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"

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Matt Yglesias wrote a very poor article at ThinkProgress, but many of the comments provided great insight into the nature of libertarianism.

Quotations

"What was the worst libertarian outcome?" The Irish Potato Famine. Medieval Feudalism. That’s why libertarianism hasn’t been taken seriously. It’s not that it has been tried and only found to need a few adjustments at the edges. It’s that no one wants to live like that unless, of course, they’re the one who just happens to the wealthy person in the scenario, in the same way that everyone fantasizes that living in a monarchy would be great because they envision themselves as being part of the royalty.
'Tyro', "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
See, Cato Institute types that have huge blindspots when it comes to things such as the limited liability corporation (a creation of government), “intellectual property” (ditto), absentee land ownership (impossible without government enforcement), the range of voluntary exchange and cooperation (they assume that it begins and ends with for-profit business) and labor (they seem to think only one side of the labor/capital equation can organize for its self-interest) are wonderful for right-wingers to point at when they need a wonkish sounding justification for the status quo.
'b-psycho', "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
Libertarianism is not an intellectual movement, it is a cultural movement. Libertarianism is essentially: individualism, good; property, good; commerce, good; government, bad. It’s a historically/sociologically related set of sentiments.
Keith Ellis, "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
A more accurate version of libertarian theory is that it is based upon an idiosyncratic view of inherent (and arguably metaphysical) individual human rights that is strongly oriented to property rights and is extremely American in historical origin and flavor. Sitting atop this view of individual rights—which itself is sufficient and requires no utilitarian elaboration—is a whole bunch of utilitarian justification for a libertarian sociopolitical organization built around the notions that said organization results in the greatest overall material and psychological benefit. This theoretical basis has three great weaknesses: first, the notion of inherent individual rights is eminently contestable. Second, the almost exclusive emphasis on individual property rights is idiosyncratic and myopic. Third, the utilitarian arguments for the benefits of the resulting sociopolitical organization are extraordinarily simplistic and are as often as not disproved by empirical fact. In practice, libertarianism is a political philosophy which emphasizes the notion of virtue in selfishness and has as its historical genesis the exceptional American experience. As such, it appeals mostly to white American males who are moderately above-average in intelligence, economically secure, independently-minded, and prefer simplistic theoretical constructs for making political and moral decisions. It validates their own affluence/privilege not by group affiliation, but by inherent individual merit; and it likewise superficially validates the poverty and lack of privilege of others not on the basis of group affiliation, but inherent fault. In this it mimics a meritocratic view, which allows the libertarian to congratulate himself on his lack of bigotry; but, in fact, it is a facade behind which his true bigotry hides. In my opinion, sociologically it functions the same way that class-based theories of self-justifying privilege have functioned outside the US. It appropriates the American ideal of egalitarianism—indeed, that egalitarianism is so deeply buried in the American psyche is exactly the reason why libertarianism, and not a class-based theory of privilege, is dominant—as an integral portion of its self-rationalization of privilege. And, of course, it appropriates the American notion of individual human rights for the same purposes and then builds from this a theory that argues that the accumulation of wealth through commerce is the ultimate expression of human nature. It is the apotheosis of middle-class merchant political philosophy. It is, therefore, aggressively and without self-awareness deeply middlebrow and so very, very American in all the worst senses.
Keith Ellis, "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
BTW, libertarianism and Objecvtivism deeply intersect because they are two sides of a brightly-colored cereal box (with a prize inside!): epistemology on one side, political philosophy on the other. They’re intellectualism for bright twelve year-olds.
Keith Ellis, "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
The problem with libertarianism is that they tend to conflate liberty with possession of property. This made sense 200 years ago, when owning a small farm or business meant that you were secure in the means of your livelihood. This enabled you to be yourself. Longfellow’s village smithy, standing tall under the spreading chestnut tree, looking every man in the eye because he owes not a cent to any one, exemplifies this ideal. ( Contrast this with today’s world, where employer’s conduct drug tests; creditors demand credit reports, and everyone generally must be yes-man to the boss and conform to the PC opinion. ) This doctrine was encapsuled in Locke’s “Life, Liberty, and Property. However, due to economic shifts since then, owning property does not mean you therefore are secure in the means to your livelihood. Indeed, large property holders such as medical insurers are very much in the business of interfering with others’ means to their livelihood. This means that libertarianism now is, in practice, a misguided and often cranky ideal.
Duncan Kinder, "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
My summation: free-markets, free love, and the underpants gnomes will take care of the poor.
'David', "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
Most libertarians have benefited enormously from the modern liberal democracy and it’s institutions, but it hurts their pride too much to admit that to themselves. Their program is not only to pull the ladder up behind themselves, but to deny that the ladder ever existed in the first place. The true philosophy of most libertarians is that they should be the last people ever to benefit from the institutions of modern government, now that it’s time for them to chip in a few coins to help the next generation along.
'Craig', "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
Libertarians believe that the universe ought to reward and promote individual liberty and property rights as a first principle. The fact that it does no such thing changes nothing.
'Christopher', "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
The supposed intellectual underpinnings of libertarianism are ex post facto rationalizations of a cultural ethos that is in every sense, pure Americana.
Keith Ellis, "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
The “liberal” solution to the depredations of the wealthy and powerful is to seek redress through the law and the government. The libertarian will argue that the wealthy and powerful will just twist the law and government to their own ends. Maybe so, but the libertarian then doesn’t offer any solution to how to maintain human freedoms that the liberal offers.
'Tyro', "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
People have, and will, construct elaborate intellectual edifies rationalizing their favored political philosophy but, in practice, the larger group of people who hold that philosophy will adopt beliefs and positions largely independent of that rationalization and, more to the point, they will be quite often inconsistent beliefs and positions. Coherent theory has utility at some rarified level where the intellectuals and the powerful intersect—occasionally at pivotal moments—but, generally, comprehension of the politics of the matter is more greatly limited by ignorance of the sociological context of the political philosophy than by its theory. Those who write and talk about libertarianism (as distinct, I think, from those who merely adopt libertarianism as a felicitous set of political beliefs) are the type of people who have a great fondness for simplifying abstract theory and naturally expect the world to conform to it. In this they are quite like, say, Marxists. I am not like this. I have a great love for, and facility with, theory of all kinds but I see the world as a messy, complex place with theory as only the best approximation for something we probably don’t understand very well, anyway.
Keith Ellis, "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""
More to the point, the Randians/Paulites and the vast number of people who casually call themselves “libertarians” form almost the totality of libertarianism -- Cowan’s utilitarian academic economist version, or Chomsky’s s-called “Left-Libertarianism”, or any number of idiosyncratic micro political philosophies which self-identify as libertarian or libertarian influenced are, well, inconsequential.
Keith Ellis, "Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?"Comments at Matt Yglesias' "What Is Libertarianism?""