The American Conservative offers up some interesting observations in two articles about libertarianism.
In Marxism of the Right, Robert Locke observes that:
...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.
I think the Republicans would disagree, what with their attempt to dismantle Social Security and their successes at things like passing, at the behest of the banks and insurance companies, protectionist legislation that prevents ordinary citizens from declaring bankruptcy ... presumably because that would inconvenience the wealthy, who paid for the Republicans' campaigns.
The most fundamental problem with libertarianism is very simple: freedom, though a good thing, is simply not the only good thing in life. Simple physical security, which even a prisoner can possess, is not freedom, but one cannot live without it. Prosperity is connected to freedom, in that it makes us free to consume, but it is not the same thing, in that one can be rich but as unfree as a Victorian tycoonâ€™s wife. A family is in fact one of the least free things imaginable, as the emotional satisfactions of it derive from relations that we are either born into without choice or, once they are chosen, entail obligations that we cannot walk away from with ease or justice. But security, prosperity, and family are in fact the bulk of happiness for most real people and the principal issues that concern governments.
Libertarians try to get around this fact that freedom is not the only good thing by trying to reduce all other goods to it through the concept of choice, claiming that everything that is good is so because we choose to partake of it. Therefore freedom, by giving us choice, supposedly embraces all other goods. But this violates common sense by denying that anything is good by nature, independently of whether we choose it. Nourishing foods are good for us by nature, not because we choose to eat them. Taken to its logical conclusion, the reduction of the good to the freely chosen means there are no inherently good or bad choices at all, but that a man who chose to spend his life playing tiddlywinks has lived as worthy a life as a Washington or a Churchill.
Furthermore, the reduction of all goods to individual choices presupposes that all goods are individual. But some, like national security, clean air, or a healthy culture, are inherently collective. It may be possible to privatize some, but only some, and the efforts can be comically inefficient. Do you really want to trace every pollutant in the air back to the factory that emitted it and sue?
It's thinking like this that will get you unceremoniously booted out of the GOP.
[L]ibertarianism has a naÃ¯ve view of economics that seems to have stopped paying attention to the actual history of capitalism around 1880. There is not the space here to refute simplistic laissez faire, but note for now that the second-richest nation in the world, Japan, has one of the most regulated economies, while nations in which government has essentially lost control over economic life, like Russia, are hardly economic paradises. Legitimate criticism of over-regulation does not entail going to the opposite extreme.
Ah, but you miss the point, which is that the plutocrats are making a lot of money in Russia! Mass poverty and unemployment aren't supposed to count.
Joseph McCarthy strikes a different pose with In Defense of Freedom:
Libertarianism is a political philosophy, not a complete system of ethics or metaphysics. Political philosophies address specifically the state and, more generally, justice in human society. The distinguishing characteristic of libertarianism is that it applies to the state the same ethical rules that apply to everyone else. Given that murder and theft are wrongâ€”views not unique to libertarianism, of courseâ€”the libertarian contends that the state, which is to say those individuals who purport to act in the name of the common good, has no more right to seize the property of others, beat them, conscript them, or otherwise harm them than any other institution or individual has. Beyond this, libertarianism says only that a society without institutionalized violence can indeed exist and even thrive.
One might wonder, then, why libertarian Republicans (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) voted for the neo-fascist administration who has been, yes, seizing the property of others, beaten people and even tortured them, conscripted soldiers long since retired to go off and fight in a war justified by lies.
Any power that the state assumes typically comes to be seen in retrospect as absolutely essential. America long got by well without a Federal Reserve or a Food and Drug Administration, yet today it is almost unthinkable that they could be abolished.
Apparently this libertarian was raised by libertarians who did not believe in public education, or he would have learned that the FDA, a creation of Republican Teddy Roosevelt, was called into being after rising numbers of deaths and dire illnesses caused by unsafe medicines and unhealthful foods. (Then again, now the FDA seems to ensure that we have plenty of deaths and dire illnesses caused by unsafe medicines and unhealthful foods, so maybe he's right.)
Once, conservatives really did intend to repeal the New Deal. Now a Republican president talks about saving Social Securityâ€”albeit with a phony â€œprivatizationâ€? planâ€”as if society would collapse in the absence of mandatory savings or government social insurance. Conservatives complain about the mediaâ€™s erstwhile tendency to label Soviet hardliners as Russian â€œconservatives,â€? but itâ€™s hard to escape the conclusion that if Communism were a government program, the Republican Party would be trying to save it, too.
I think they call that, "Go team!"
Economics is of some help here, showing both that government is not necessary for prosperity and that in fact state intervention into the free market hurts the very people itâ€™s supposed to help. Rent control makes affordable apartments scarce....
...Or maybe rent control makes affordable apartments affordable, and their scarcity is because people need to be able to afford their housing -- especially if it's all going down the toilet in rent.
...The minimum wage exacerbates unemployment....
...Right, don't you wish your local McD's had 40 miserable people working for two bucks an hour rather than 20 miserable people working for 6? Them minimum wage jobs are just so hot that everyone's losing sleep over how to snap one up. I wonder if Mr. McCarthy thinks $11,500/year gross is comfy living.
And a basic law of economics is that you get more of what you subsidize: doles encourage unemployment.
...Hmm, I thought doles were so that the people who were already unemployed could eat. What should they do instead? Sell crack?
Social conservatives have long faced an apparent paradox. No matter how Christian the president and members of his party claim to be, no matter how many â€œsolidâ€? conservatives are elected Congress, the fabric of the social order continues to fray.
Yes, it continues to fray because certain people are wont to villainize entire sectors of the American people -- the evil homosexuals, the evil welfare mothers, the evil pregnant teenage girls, the evil AARP, the evil liberals, the evil reporters, the evil teachers, the evil academics, the evil Jews, the evil Hollywood producers, the evil cartoonists, the evil children's television programmers, the evil Arabs, the evil union workers, the evil non-union workers, the evil atheists, the evil government workers, the evil Vietnam veterans, the evil feminists, the evil French, the evil whatever....
Yeah, fabric tends to fray when you do your best to rip it to shreds.