January 10, 2014

Liberalism, Libertarianism and Neo-libertarianism

Or how an otherwise intelligent segment of American society has swallowed hook... line and sinker

Our Founders intent was to create a society based on their personal belief that human happiness was intimately connected with personal freedom… and joined at the hip with personal responsibility. Thus we find as the basis of our Constitution the “twin pillars” of limited government and the protection of individual rights. This author is fond of our Founders’ work, which would make me a classic liberal. The authors of our Constitution were called liberals. Folks just like them in Continental Europe are still called liberal. Over here we're often called “libtard” and “socialist”.

It is just unfortunate that the definitions of some words change across educational and political spectra to end up meaning whatever uninformed folk want them to mean… kinda like what they do with the Qur’an or the Bible.  

In this country to be known as liberal is to be branded with a sinful belief in big government and the welfare state… while folks calling themselves libertarian tend to claim the mantle of what was classically known as liberalism… and they do so with a distinctly draconian twist.

In fairness, the other political descriptors have suffered similar meaning morphing. Neither “conservative” nor “liberal” mean what they once meant. But It isn't those “wings” this author wishes to chap. The deluded neo-libertarian is in my sights tonight.

From this author’s perspective, contemporary libertarianism (neo-libertarianism) is a pie-in-the-sky hallucination of a thankfully tiny segment of the population that they should be allowed unfettered individualism even at the expense of our others... and even though the blood, sweat and tears of those very others helped pave the way for our deluded neo-lib to get where he wants to go and gain whatever he wants to get without having to pay his share of societal maintenance. 

It doesn't matter to the neo-con that the contribution of civil society in the form of taxes paid have funded the paved roads, water and sewer systems, public safety, health and education… because we knew those things would bring benefit and progress to our society.

These things don't matter to our neo-con, because yes indeed… he certainly *did* build it himself… and by gawd his kids have already graduated so why should he have to pay taxes to school those grubby urchins churned out by the dozens on the other side of the tracks?

Hell! That’s socialism!

Unfortunately, this *is* modern libertarianism… or more accurately… neo-libertarianism. These selfish fools strive so mightily to take on the mantle of Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Morris and Henry, yet they haven't a clue as to just how offensive that idea would be to those men. 

Our neo-cons know not what they do and certainly don’t know what they are saying. They want so badly to keep what they've got that that they are willing to sacrifice the future of society and even that of their children. They expend copious fallacies in their quixotic effort to justify nothing less than base selfishness.

The inverse of neo-libertarianism is classic libertarianism… which actually agrees with our neo-con in the belief that every individual has the right to live life in any way they choose up to certain limits. But depending on which of the various definitions to which you subscribe, that pretty much is where the comparison diverges. 

Unlike the neo-con, the classic libertarian cares for the safety and security of society and of the individuals from which that society is composed. A classic libertarian would be willing to defend the right to life, liberty, and property-rights for all individuals. The classic libertarian recognizes the need for a government to protect and provide security of society, while interfering in individual liberties to the least extent possible. The classic libertarian has no argument with a government established “safety net” for folks falling on hard times under circumstances not of their own making... because they recognize that society is composed of individuals and that at any given time it might be them needing that safety net.

The classic libertarian recognizes the need for the rule of law yet feels that individuals should be allowed the freedom of opportunity, and allowed to form relationships without the interference of law.  They wish the law to confine the use of force by the government to very narrow structures, as it might be when wielded against miscreants who have themselves employed force… as in the case of murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, fraud and a few other cases.

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Lets look at a few “dictionary” definitions of libertarianism…

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
'The heart of liberalism is the absence of coercion by others; consequently, the liberal state's commitment to protecting liberty is, essentially, the job of ensuring that citizens do not coerce each other without compelling justification.'

The Libertarian Reader edited by David Boaz (Free Press, 1997)
'It is easier to define libertarian ideas than to agree on a proper name for those ideas. The advocacy of individual liberty against state power has gone by many names over the century . . . In the first years of the 19th century the term liberalism came into widespread use in France and Spain and it soon spread, but by the end of that century the meaning had undergone a remarkable change. From the leave us alone philosophy, it had come to stand for advocacy of substantial government intervention in the marketplace. Eventually people began to call the philosophy of individual rights, free markets and limited government - the philosophies of Locke, Smith and Jefferson - classical liberalism.

For classical liberals, liberty and private property are intimately related. From the eighteenth century up to today, classical liberals have insisted that an economic system based on private property is uniquely consistent with individual liberty, allowing each to live their life - including employing their labour and their capital - as they see fit.'

What it means to be a Libertarian by Charles Murray (Broadway Books, 1997)
'The American Founders created a society based on the belief that human happiness is intimately connected with personal freedom and responsibility. The twin pillars of the system they created were limits on the power of the central government and protection of individual rights . . . We believe that human happiness requires freedom and that freedom requires limited government.
The correct word for my view of the world is liberal. "Liberal" is the simplest Anglicization of the Latin liber, and freedom is what classical liberalism is all about. The writers of the nineteenth century who expounded on this view were called liberals. In Continental Europe they still are . . . . But the words mean what people think they mean, and in the United States the unmodified term liberal now refers to the politics of an expansive government and the welfare state. The contemporary alternative is libertarian . . .'

Social Justice: Fraud or Fair Go? edited by Marlene Goldsmith, chapter by Andrew Norton (Menzies Research Centre, 1998)
'Classical liberals have a strong commitment to individual freedom. This commitment has, I believe, two sources. First there is commitment to freedom as an intrinsic value, as something important in itself. One idea here, an idea that finds support in the psychological literature, is that well-being is associated with a sense of being in control of one's life. Being coerced to do something, even if it is something you would do anyway if you had a choice, is bad for your well-being.

The second source of classical liberalism's commitment to individual freedom comes from its recognition of freedom as an instrumental value, as a value that leads to well being even if it does not of itself provide it. This is mostly an argument about institutions, and especially the claim that the market, a device which coordinates action by facilitating voluntary interaction, has enormous power to enhance well-being. ...'

On Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism by Norman Barry (Macmillan, 1986)
'The classical liberals, from Hume and Smith through to Hayek, are concerned with the construction of a social order in which individual liberty can be maximized; social order and liberty do indeed develop conterminously. Principles and processes emerge (almost accidentally) from individual action but the individual is never abstracted from social processes, whether as a rights-bearer or, even, as a utility-bearer.'

Free to Choose by Milton Friedman (Penguin Books, 1981)
'Our society is what we make it. We can shape our institutions. Physical and human characteristics limit the alternatives available to us. But none prevent us, if we will, from building a society that relies primarily on voluntary cooperation to organize both economic and other activity, a society that preserves and expands human freedom, that keeps government in its place, keeping it our servant and not letting it become our master.'

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Pretty much a scatter shot of definitions speaking to just how difficult it is to pin political or philosophical labels on others. In the end it comes down to a great debate much like the contest between the philosophies of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine… between the politics of progress and that of conservation... with neither fully addressing the real threats faced by our society.

But it is probably too late in the progress of this nation to turn our sights on the real threat, regardless of political bent. Our thoroughly liberal Founders, particularly Jefferson, were never so confused. They knew exactly from whence the biggest threat to our society would come. Their fears and predictions have materialized, and just as they feared, American society is suffering dramatically because of it.

Our modern neo-con is the real life… in your face representation of that fear.