Give Me Liberty and Give You Death: The Me-First Philosophy of Libertarianism (Part 1 of 2)

Most Libertarians I meet share some common traits (besides being white men). The American Libertarian is usually very unhappy with the direction of the country; he values individual freedom above all else; he places supreme importance on the well-being of himself and his family; he is often a gun owner; and he does not expect the government to help people, other than providing military and police protection (to keep safe oneself, family, and individual property).

I admire Libertarians for two reasons: (1) They want to remain involved with the political discourse in our country, and (2) They recognize the inconsistencies between libertarian ideals and Republican policies. For example, Libertarians do not approve of the Republican practice of deficit spending, a practice that has run rampant since the Reagan Administration. Libertarians also vehemently disagreed with the Republican-driven Patriot Act, and they disapproved of George W. Bush’s wiretapping and warrantless surveillance practices. For these reasons, Libertarians are automatically higher than Republicans on my hierarchy of political groups. However, I take issue with Libertarians on a host of other issues. Here is my list:

(1) Libertarianism is a very me-oriented political philosophy. From what I can tell, Libertarians appear to have two egocentric goals. The first is to form a society where no one bothers them. In other words, no one asks them for money and no one infringes upon their rights. The second goal is for everyone to be completely self-reliant. While I understand the desire to achieve these goals, they strike me as rather empty and self-serving. I would hope that we as a society could strive for better.

(2) Libertarians argue that helping others should not be mandated by the government. They believe the poor should receive assistance from churches and generous individuals who choose to give voluntarily. Rather than debate this point, I would simply ask Libertarians to kindly point out a country that has ever employed this practice successfully.

There was a very interesting piece written on this exact topic by blogger David Atkins. Atkins points out that although the Libertarian ideal has been attempted many times in many countries, the dream has never been realized. Libertarians explain away each example by saying that either the country wasn’t ready for Libertarianism or there was too much political unrest for Libertarianism to take root. Atkins appropriately compares this to the “No true Scotsman fallacy,” which goes like this:

Person #1: No true Scotsman wears underwear under his kilt.

Person #2: I’m a Scotsman, and I wear underwear under my kilt.

Person #3: Then you are not a true Scotsman.

 

When applied to Libertarians, the fallacy looks something like this:

 

Person #1: Libertarianism is the only path to economic and social prosperity.

Person #2: Somalia tried Libertarianism, and it failed miserably.

Person #3: They didn’t apply true Libertarianism.

 

This very much harkens back to the old Communist saying: “Communism cannot fail. It can only be failed.”

(3) It bothers me that Libertarians heartily embrace the philosophy that people deserve what they get, and they get what they deserve. Libertarians tend to have a very black and white view of the world. That is, if you work hard, you will be rewarded. If you are lazy and choose not to work, you should be poor and do not deserve the benefits of the American dream. Libertarians do not like to think about people who lose their jobs because of injuries, illnesses, layoffs, or downsizing; and they really don’t like talking about the Americans who work hard their entire lives but never scrape their way out of poverty. This does not fit well into their black and white worldview.

(4) One notch past Libertarianism on the political spectrum is anarchy (a not-so-distant notch for many Libertarians); in other words, no laws, the freedom to do whatever you want, and zero government regulation on anything. What some people describe as ultimate freedom sounds more like chaos and mayhem to most, a recipe for paranoia and violence.

(5) Finally, this leads me to a disturbing aspect of Libertarianism. Many of the people I have met who identify themselves as Libertarian don’t just think America is on a downward spiral to destruction…they hope America is on a downward spiral to destruction. This hope is born not just from the desire to have their prior political rants vindicated, but also because they see themselves thriving in a post-apocalyptic America where it’s every man for himself and only the strong survive. These individuals are typically well-armed, well-trained, and well-stocked on food, guns, and ammo. They see the American wasteland as the perfect canvas for showing off their skills as real Americans. No more worries about being politically correct; no more distribution of wealth; and no more “Kum-ba-yah” crap about villages raising children. It’s every man for himself. For the man who is only concerned about himself and his family, this is heaven on earth (unless of course they want any semblance of their old life). This does not describe every Libertarian…just an alarming percentage of Libertarians.

In my estimation, Libertarianism offers an incredibly simplistic platform (I want my rights) and lays it upon an even more simplistic and mythical worldview (good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people). All of the other important issues (e.g. education, healthcare, foreign policy, nuclear proliferation, economic policy, etc.) will somehow take care of themselves. With talk of the 2016 Presidential Election already upon us, the name Rand Paul is being hoisted unwillingly upon the American people as a viable candidate with a viable political philosophy. I’d like to nip that idea right in the bud.

Part 2 to follow…

– Nathan

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One Response to “Give Me Liberty and Give You Death: The Me-First Philosophy of Libertarianism (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. Enjoyed reading your impression of Libertarians. I’m far from an expert, but feel the need to present some opposing points.

    (1) Libertarians are not “me-oriented” they are individual oriented. I want to protect your liberties just as much as I want you to protect my liberties. It’s as much “you-first” as it is “me-first”. We are all in this together.

    (2) Correct, the government should not FORCE individuals to be charitable. This really is a cornerstone. It doesn’t imply Libertarians are not charitable. It means that the government should not force me to be charitable at the point of a gun. Taking my money and giving it away does not make you charitable, does not imply you care more than I do and does not give you any moral high-ground. I will choose to support the charities that I see fit. Your retort of “kindly point out a country that has ever employed this practice successfully” is a nonsensical question to a Libertarian. Show me a government that has eliminated poverty through taxation and welfare. The difference between a Liberal and a Libertarian is that the latter isn’t promising Utopia.

    (3) “If you work hard, you will be rewarded.” Yes! “If you are lazy and choose not to work, you should be poor.” No! Who said that? Again, just because I believe the government is not a charity does not imply I am not charitable. If you are lazy, you will be poor. If you are poor, I will help you whether the government forces me to do it or not.

    (4) Libertarians do not asymptotically approach anarchists. There is no freedom in chaos. Just because I want limited government, does not imply I want zero government. Government and law are essential for protecting individual liberty.

    (5) I don’t know about most Libertarians, but I hope America is NOT on a downward spiral. I hope overspending, overbearing, oversize government is on a downward spiral to destruction and indeed that seems to be the case. It is simply unsustainable. “America” is not the US Federal Government.

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