Libertarians Fight Back
I haven't whacked away at libertarians for a bit, but JT has just today commented on an ancient post of mine - a couple of blog years or so ago, so this gives me an excuse to repeat myself. First - my post:
The most pointed critique of social security and liberalism in general is the libertarian critique. The problem with libertarians, for a liberal, is that we have too much in common. We both believe in individual rights, tolerance of individual differences, and dislike government prescription of religion. The basic difference, it seems to me, is the different answers we give to Cain's (with thanks to the Captain - my original version had the corpse asking the question!) famous question: "Am I my brother's keeper?"
That's not really my basic bitch against the libertarians though. My real complaint is the same as my complaint against most religion - its premise is a fraud. For those who can't stand to wait for the punchline, I believe that trying to implement libertarian principles leads to tyranny or social disintegration. Demonstrating that takes some historical (and pre-historical) context.
For all but the last 15,000 or so of the 100,000 years the human species has existed, all humans lived in a sort of libertarian paradise - no government, no organized religion, and few social constraints on behavior. A few lived that way until very recently. In many places people were able to achieve a kind of equilibrium with their environment, with population naturally controlled through homicide, infanticide, and starvation.
Clearly, humans are well adapted to that kind of life, so its no wonder libertarians would like to recapture that. The catch - there's always a catch - is that they don't want to give up the comforts of civilization.
Hobbes and Jefferson had somewhat different ideas about the proper role of government in civilization, but I think we now have some historical perspective on actual as opposed to theoretical development, so that will be my approach. The serpent in the above described libertarian paradise appeared in the form of horticulture and the settled life it required. Hunter gatherers have no property but that which they can carry with them, so their wives and daughters are almost the only things they have worth stealing. Farmers have property - stored food, dwellings, and tools too big to lug around much. They also develop population densities large enough to become a menace to their hunter gatherer neighbors and each other. Thus, the necessity for organized defence.
It's doubtless natural to be willing to fight in defense of one family and property, but it's decidely unatural to lay one's life on the line for the neighbors. Consequently, tribal and larger societies develop an array of strategies to compel service in the common defense, including elaborate patriotic social structures, organized religion, professional armies, and, or course, the naked threat of violence against non-participants. Military organizations inevitably partially enslave their members.
I'm pretty sure libertarians oppose slavery in principle, but how can you have armies without it. The only good defence anyone has found so far is the republican form of government. Unfortunately, as the history of Greece, Rome, Florence and many others shows, the Republic is fragile. There are a number of diseases that afflict the Republic, as Adams and others among the founding fathers noted. One of the most pernicious is the concentration of wealth and power in a few dynastic families. Libertarians, at least our current Rand influenced version, seem unwilling to address this problem. Several times our ancestors found it necessary to attack this problem, by eliminating primogeniture, instituting the income tax, and inheritance and gift taxes.
As long as libertarians refuse to embrace this necessity, they are the enemies of freedom, and need to be treated as such.
Posted by CapitalistImperialistPig at 2/17/2005 07:51:00 PM Comments (4)| Trackback
Next, JT's critique:
CapitalistImperialistPig makes several assumptions here that are obviously flawed.
1.The assertion that hunter/gatherer societies were libertarian is fallacious. Hunter/gatherer societies were far more communal than any modern socialist state has proven to be.
2.The assertion that most libertarian ideas are hostile to a modern organized society. Libertarianism does not reject the idea of a strong state, it only wants that state to be very limited in it's inteference with individual citizens lives.
3.The assertion that it is unnatural to put one's life on the line for one's neighbors is completely false.
Steven Pinker and other evolutionary psychologist have asserted that neighbors are more likely to share more genes with each other and therefore sacrificing one's life for the good of the community is completely natural and common to all societies, be they hunter/gatherer, agrarian or modern industrial.
4.At to the many diseases that affect republics, the single greatest threat and the usual cause of the demise of a republic is the slow extinguishing of individual rights by the state. When the state starts using it's powers to siphon off the wealth and vitality of enterprising individuals is usually when a republic begins it's decline.
JT | 01.21.07 - 7:26 pm | #
And my response:
1. I didn't say that hunter-gatherers were libertarian, I said that they had a few traits that libertarians seem to cherish. The communality practiced by HG societies is in the form of traditional, familial, or purely voluntary alliances - there is no government to enforce communality. Do lbts object to those?
2. A state cannot be strong without interfering in it's citizen's lives. I believe libertarianism is mainly a stalking horse for an oligarchy that wants no interference in it's process of enslaving its fellow citizens. Exhibit A: The Cato Institute. I believe in individual liberty of thought, person and expression. Libertarians, so far as I can tell, mainly believe that the rich shouldn't have to pay taxes.
3. No. You are quite wrong and are abusing Pinker's ideas. I don't share any more genes with my neighbors than with random Americans or random Europeans.
Primitive societies are organized around family ties - but they don't engage in the kind of warfare civilizations do. If a group of, say, Yanomamo go out to kill their neighbors, they aim at stealing their women, or revenge, or prestige. There is no BS about patriotism or sacrifice - each man is out to make a profit. A man may fight in defence of his family or property or pride - not country.
4. Cite some examples please. What happened in Greece, Rome, Florence and others was that an oligarchy siezed control of the apparatus of the state for its own profit.
The same thing has been attempted in the US numerous times, starting with Alexander Hamilton's paying off the US debt to it's richest citizens (Hamilton's friends, who had conveniently bought up much of that old debt at 10 cents on the dollar.) by taxing some of the poorest. More recently, Reagan cut taxes on the rich while raising them on the average worker, with the predictable result of a vast transfer of American wealth to a tiny oligarchy. Bush's tax changes and reckless spending are designed to have the same effect, mainly by cheating current workers out of their Social Security benefits. (Many details can be found in Kevin Phillip's book Wealth and Democracy.)
I'm not buying what you are selling. Thanks for playing though JT.