I recently engaged a left-libertarian (oxymoron) in the comments section of “What Is Libertarianism.” The exchange prompts me to offer a condensed treatment of true libertarianism vs. pseudo-libertarianism. The former is really a kind of conservatism, which is why I call it Burkean libertarianism. The latter — which is the kind of “libertarianism” much in evidence on the internet — rests on the Nirvana fallacy and posits dangerously false ideals.
A “true” libertarian respects socially evolved norms because those norms evidence and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?
If socially evolved norms include the condemnation of abortion (because it involves the murder of a living human being) and the rejection of same-sex “marriage” (because it mocks and undermines the institution through which children are born and raised by an adult of each gender, fate willing), the “true” libertarian will accept those norms as part and parcel of the larger social order — as long as it is a peaceful, voluntary order.
The “pseudo” libertarian — in my observation — will reject those norms because they interfere with the “natural rights” (or some such thing) of the individuals who want to abort fetuses and/or grant same-sex “marriage” the same status as heterosexual marriage. But to reject and reverse norms as fundamental as the condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage” is to create strife and distrust, therefore undermining the conditions upon which liberty depends.
The pseudo-libertarian looks down upon society as a self-appointed judge, then swoops in to admonish society when its members do not embrace his particular views about rights. How a pseudo-libertarian, who is usually an atheist, can do this has long been a mystery to me. He cannot refer to Divine writ; his religion-substitute is “natural rights,” whose composition is known to him, but not to lesser beings. The source of his knowledge of “natural rights” is either innate in his superior intellect (how convenient) or else it arises from a strained interpretation of human evolution. The latter, somehow, has yielded up a set of inborn natural rights, the contours of which the pseudo-libertarian is privileged to perceive. (None of this is meant to denigrate Judeo-Christianity, the foundational tenets of which foster liberty.)
The pseudo-libertarian, in other words, is afraid to admit that the long evolution of rules of conduct by human beings who must coexist might just be superior to the rules that he would arbitrarily impose, reflecting as they do his “superior” sensibilities. I say “arbitrarily” because pseudo-libertarians have not been notably critical of the judicial impositions that have legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, or of the legislative impositions that have corrupted property rights in the pursuit of “social justice.”
All in all, it seems that pseudo-libertarians believe in the possibility of separating the warp and woof of society without causing the disintegration of the social fabric. The pseudo-libertarian, in that respect, mimics the doctrinaire socialist who wants prosperity but rejects one of its foundation stones: property rights.
A true libertarian will eschew the temptation to prescribe the details of social conduct. He will, instead, take the following positions:
- The role of the state is to protect individuals from deceit, coercion, and force.
- The rules of social conduct are adopted voluntarily within that framework are legitimate and libertarian.
* * *
The foregoing is a terse summary of the detailed analysis of liberty and rights that I have offered in many posts, including these:
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Democracy and Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Principles of Actionable Harm
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
Rawls Meets Bentham
More about Consequentialism
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Nature Is Unfair
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Left’s Agenda
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Peter Presumes to Preach
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Empathy Is Overrated
The Left and Its Delusions
Corporations, Union, and the State
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Crimes against Humanity
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
The Arrogance of (Some) Economists
What Is Libertarianism?