Introduction To Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
Libertarianism is a cacaphony of political ideas united only by a rhetoric of liberty and freedom. On this website, libertarianism refers only to the right-wing, capitalist versions. At this point, libertarian ideas have entered the mainstream media and are unavoidable. Some further description of the cacophony is available at What Is Libertarianism?
What Libertarianism Is NOT Considered On This Website?
Left-wing libertarianism's exist (mutualist, socialist, anarchist, etc.), but they are comparatively tiny and not big problems the way right-libertarianism is. The criticisms here are not aimed at authors such as Proudhon, Chomsky, and Carson; not because they are above criticism, but because they would need different criticisms.
Civil libertarianism, such as the activities of the ACLU, is also excluded and does not fixate on capitalism the way right-libertarianism does.
Nor are we discussing the ancient, nondeterministic, philosophical libertarianism concept that means free will.
Three Realms of Libertarianism.
Libertarianism can be divided into three major realms. (There might be unimportant others.)
Political libertarianism is the libertarianism that we are exposed to through the media, a mass market astroturf libertarianism.
Political libertarianism, like the media, is part of the class war controlled top-down by plutocrats and operated for the benefit of plutocrats. It is not about "liberty" or "freedom": it is about ownership. The plutocrats want to convince the populace that:
- Ownership of the vast majority of the world's wealth by plutocrats is legitimate and untouchable.
- Changing that distribution will result in assorted horrors for everybody, including loss of liberty and freedom.
The plutocrats objective is political change to get more wealth and prevent losing any wealth to taxation or other liabilities. This is part of a process of privatization of power through crony capitalism and massive deregulation.
Political libertarianism is dominated by public relations programs that have been around since at least the 1930's, reacting to Progressivism. The Mount Pelerin Society in the 1950's catalyzed a great expansion of these programs. The Koch brothers have largely organized or controlled the libertarian public relations programs, and they scored their first big successes in the 1980's under Reagan. Without the hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into public relations programs, right-wing political libertarianism would be just another fringe political belief as small as left-libertarianism.
For more on this, see the Political Libertarianism index.
Individualistic libertarianism is what the targets of political libertarianism believe. This is a huge morass of conflicting ideas with only one constant: the political libertarian idea that ownership should be sacred. Ask a libertarian what part of ownership they would give up to achieve any other social end, and they will say no part. It doesn't matter if some socialistic government (such as roads or defense) would benefit the lives of everybody; they despise it because it conflicts with their property, no matter how meager.
Individualistic libertarians are in large part shaped by the propaganda organs of Political Libertarianism. For example, the Libertarian Party, the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine and many other sources are parts of the Kochtopus, a huge number of organizations and publications founded, funded, or controlled by Charles and David Koch over roughly 40 years. These in turn direct recruits to a number of fundamental books that help indoctrinate the important propaganda themes.
Individualistic libertarianism is bottom-up: it is not controlled directly by political libertarians beyond manipulation by propaganda. These useful idiots can be relied upon to inject libertarian viewpoints into discussions that are not controlled by the mass media. They are as welcome as door-to-door evangelists from another religion.
Individualistic libertarianism ranges from the honorable and sincere to the vile and repulsive, with stops along the way for the immature, foolish, and intemperate. You've got your government haters, racists, sexists, pederasts, conspiracy theorists, tax evaders, exploiters and other socially repulsive types generously represented in this category. Especially because they are rejected by mainstream parties for obnoxious views. That's not entirely bad, as Noam Chomsky has observed: libertarians have great tolerance of diverse views as long as they denounce government and promote private property.
For more on this, see the Issues index.
Libertarian philosophy is mostly corrupt: much of it is funded by plutocrats to provide ideas and materials for their public relations campaigns. Hayek, for example, never held an academic position that wasn't funded by plutocrats. Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick might seem exceptions to this funding generalization, until you consider what class Harvard and the University Of Chicago serve (both are private universities relying on wealthy funders.).
Libertarian philosophy, even when not corrupt, has also in large part been subverted by two generations of promotion of libertarian propaganda terms. Hayek described this totalitarian practice as the complete perversion of language, and most libertarian philosophy is the victim of political libertarian subversion of English terms such as freedom, liberty, free market, classical liberal and many others.
For more on this, see the Philosophy index.
Why Is Libertarianism Important?
For the same reason why Fascism is important: it is a noxious ideology that would lead to great repression and suffering. It is an ideology that would roll back the progressive and social democratic policies that have diminished poverty and brought about the largest middle classes the world has ever known. It is an ideology that would diminish democracy and promote plutocracy.
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?""
Tens, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of millions of books, hundreds of journals, dozens of universities, tens of thousands of people and thousands of professorships, and so on in a network touching virtually everyone in the "Western Democracies" -- all of it centrally planned, all of it subsidized, none of it capable of existing by itself in the commercial marketplace or in the "marketplace of ideas" and all of it failing dozens of times until hooked into the river of cash produced by the simple subsidies of the rich designed to derail the "free" evolution of ideas as they were actually proceeding... is there any such example in all of human history of a "movement" so far at odds with its own self-proclaimed "principles"?
Anaxarchos (pseudonym), "Mr. Anonymous and the Not-So-Spontaneous Birth of the Libertarian Movement"
I wouldn't confuse conservative libertarianism with a genuine philosophy, open to considering reasoned objections. Bryan Caplan is a libertarian, because that's his job! It is a completely synthetic ideology, deliberately manufactured by a cadre of full-time professionals. And, I don't think their employers intend to make the masses any smarter about the economy or society. In short, libertarians are a product of increasing inequality; of course, they are in favor of increasing inequality, and would prefer that no one draw attention to its deleterious effects; libertarianism is one of increasing inequality's deleterious effects!
Bruce Wilder, "The libertarian solution to inequality"
As with much libertarian posturing what they say and how they act are two different things. The libertarians are owned (whether they know it or not) by a group of super wealthy capitalists (Scaife, Koch, Walton, Coors, Mars, etc.). They get their ideologically motivated followers to spew things about "free" markets and maximizing profits, but all this is a cover for their true agenda -- making them even richer.
Robert Feinman, commenting in "What obligation? Maximise what?"