The libertarian problem with fluff of society

Critics of libertarian philosophy spin libertarians as pretty antisocial.  For example, Alex Patton, blogging at, describes libertarian philosophy as:

  • Selfish;
  • Splitting or potentially splitting on social issues;
  • Cruel;
  • Supporting markets that will move toward monopoly; and
  • Lacking coherent arguments for getting society to libertarianism

Writing for, Will Moyer believes that libertarianism fails by not addressing the nuances of human interaction; how power and exploitation affects us.  Getting rid of the state should only be the first step.  Other forms of hierarchy predicated on race, gender, class, and sexuality will have to be addressed.  Falling behind a “property rights and non-aggression” argument won’t be enough.

Mr. Moyer was pretty transparent about the type of world that he’d like to see; a flatter world that not only gets rid of hierarchies, but one that addresses racism, class, and the role of religion and superstition in society.  Mr. Moyer wants to see a good society and in order to get there, libertarianism will have to actually get more radical by moving away from its strict, political ethic, view of the state and society.

Yes, I believe that libertarianism opens itself up to criticism as a philosophy that promotes a “Wild, wild west, winner take all” view of social interaction.  This perception underlies Mr Patton’s view of libertarianism as cruel and uncaring.

In my view libertarianism or any other political thought or ideology isn’t responsible for being caring.  Caring is left up to us humans.  We decide how humane and cooperative we are going to be to each other.  What libertarianism as a tool should be used for is to help maximize the benefits an individual hopes to enjoy as members of society. To determine those benefits we need to look at what society is in its most basic form.

In my opinion, society is a mechanism for spreading the costs an individual incurs for protecting himself against the threats to his physical safety and emotional well-being.  The individual wants the greatest access to the cooperation and protection that alleviates these threats at the least possible cost.  Only the individual can determine what those costs are.

In identifying these costs, the individual may determine that he will only tolerate so much racism in order to live in a society.  She may determine that tolerating the separation of church and state may not be too high a cost in exchange for the law and order a society provides.  A society’s acceptance of alternative lifestyles may be an attractive feature for someone deciding whether to subject themselves to a society’s culture, mores, and rules. Libertarianism, to increase its acceptability by a wider audience, may have to explore how best to incorporate these societal concerns into its philosophy.

Libertarian preference to avoid issues outside of the “political ethic” is understandable because at the core of libertarianism is the right of free individuals to pursue their own paths without interference by others including the State.

But if libertarianism is to have any influence on American politics, the philosophy will have to find a way to address these aesthetic, fluffy, social concerns.  It may simply boil down to a better articulation of how varying views, lifestyles, and value judgments are maximized via a framework that focuses on rights in the person and their property.  We may find that it may not take that much of a leap.

About Alton Drew

Alton Drew brings a straight forward and insightful brand of political market intelligence. Alton Drew graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can also follow Alton Drew on Twitter @altondrew.
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