The Delusion of Libertarianism


Libertarianism is basically the Marxism of the Right. If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one can run it purely on selfishness and individualism. Society in fact requires both individualism and collectivism, both selfishness and altruism, to function. Like Marxism, libertarianism offers the fraudulent intellectual security of a complete a priori account of the political good without the effort of empirical investigation. Like Marxism, it aspires, overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to economics. And like Marxism, it has its historical myths and a genius for making its followers feel like an elect unbound by the moral rules of their society.–Robert Locke–The American Conservative


The Tea Party, that amorphous movement created by the news media, fancies itself Libertarian. In fact, the Libertarian Party, “America’s Third Largest Political Party,” claimed in April 2009, that it was the progenitor of the Tea Parties. Libertarianism enshrines individual liberty and property ownership as the highest ideals of a free society. If only government could be restrained, goes the Libertarian creed, true freedom and equality would emerge. The absence of laws and regulations would create peace and prosperity for all, without annoyances like taxes, public schools and social welfare programs. Everyone would be rich, because everyone would be able to work, invest his or her earnings, and live in big houses on Lake Murray. Government programs, like “Obama-care,” are unconstitutional abridgements of the inalienable rights of man. Utopia is only out reach because Big Government wants it so.

Libertarians insist, with the certainty of religious conviction, that they are the true inheritors of the mantle of liberty, the living descendants of the Enlightenment, the Magesterium entrusted with interpreting the divinely inspired words of the Constitution. That’s why Libertarian and nominally-GOP Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul expressed his opinion that the Civil Rights Act was wrong when it prohibited businesses from discrimination. “[T]his,” Paul said, “is the hard part about believing in freedom.” The public outcry caused Paul to back-pedal, but he was not, in fact, expressing anything except what Libertarians believe: government should not tell corporations what to do, it should get out of their way and let them make money.

But the Rand Tempest in-a-Tea-Pot revealed Libertarianism’s true philosophy: government exists (when it exists at all) to protect the unrestricted movement of markets and individual freedom. If  a corporation (or an individual business owner) is infringing on your rights, then you sue. That’s why we have tort lawyers and courtrooms. It’s why Rand called President Obama’s scolding of British Petroleum “un-American.” BP should stop the oil spill and clean it up, so that it can make money again. If it doesn’t, then the people who are harmed by its actions should sue the hell out of it. Sounds fair, until you realize that’s not exactly how the system works. Tort limits protect corporate liability and the ability of an individual to seek redress is limited by the ability to afford those expensive lawyers. Currently, oil companies don’t have to pay more than $75 million in fines, no matter how much damage they do when their products fail.

The Tea Party’s ennui is a result of a sense of dread, coupled with hysteria, layered over with a fine dusting of paranoia: America is being ruined by illegal immigrants, corrupt bankers, traitorous politicians and immoral media elites. The movement drifts towards Libertarianism, except when it doesn’t. The South Carolina Tea Partier who screamed “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare!” has become an iconic reference to the self-parodying nature of the Libertarian insurgency. When Rand declared that he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act, even though it was unconstitutional, it becomes clear that the Libertarianism, like every other human utopianism, is doomed to die in the womb.  Which is a good thing.

When GOP leaders, claiming Libertarian-Tea Party street cred in one breath, while demanding that the Obama administration “do something” to stop the oil spill in the next, it is all too clear how silly the movement is. We have tough problems in this country, at home and abroad. But the delusions of Libertarianism will not deliver us from the delusions which caused it.

One thought on “The Delusion of Libertarianism

  1. That's exactly it, Deacon Tim. The libertarians want only two branches, the executive, which controls the military, and the judicial, which resolves disputes. What they miss completely is the reason we want a congress, which our founders made as article I. The congress pre-resolves disputes so that they needn't go to the court on a one at a time basis.

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