Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Rejection of Libertarianism

As those of you who know me are aware, there is relatively little love lost between me and libertarian political philosophy. Most of the time, this becomes apparent in random snide remarks and short comments in response to articles/actions of the day. So, I thought I’d try to define my rejection of libertarianism in the United States more thoroughly and, perhaps at the same time, grow to understand it a bit better myself.

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Perhaps it is easiest to begin with what was one of the scandals du jour: Rand Paul’s comments on how businesses should have been permitted to discriminate in deciding to whom to provide their services. Essentially, his argument was that the marketplace would deal with such behavior itself—these companies would lose the opportunity to have, say, business from black people, and white people would find the company to distasteful to use, causing it to fail. Prejudice would be excised as business interests came to dominate personal preferences. Any attempt by the government to enforce a change not supported by all the people—thus trampling on what some would regard as the right to discriminate—is illegitimate, because in promoting the rights of some it would be limiting the rights of others.

Effectively, Paul, and most—but not all—libertarians would seek to promote the constraints imposed by the “marketplace” as the method by which a society governs itself internally. Government can provide for common defense from external threat and enforcement of contracts between individuals, and, maybe, fire departments, but that is about it. Social standards would develop in response to, and personal behavior would be constrained by, the ability of other people to refuse to interact with you based on your preferences. Intervention, for what could be regarded as positive or negative reasons depending on the individual, is to be prevented, since it would necessarily place an unnatural—i.e. non-marketplace-induced—restriction on personal freedom. While this may describe a consistent system of thought, at least for the most part, it is not a desirable one—consistency cannot be our sole measure of desirability.

Indeed, libertarianism in this sense is actually quite reprehensible. In substituting the “marketplace” for the ability of the government to promote or discourage certain behaviors, it leaves a society with little else other than to suffer under the tyranny of the majority belief in any particular area. Functionally, in a community where there is an established majority mindset, any behavior that is detrimental to the lives of the resident minority (short of, say “natural crimes” like murder) could not be acted against or expected to disappear—the government would not be permitted to intervene, and an established majority would, naturally, not feel any economic pain from accommodating its own views.

In reality, the very idea of eliminating minority discrimination would only gain traction in accordance with either the growth of that group’s economic power or the potential slow evolution of a more accommodating mindset among the majority. Such majoritarian rule is precisely in opposition to what the United States was created to be—a pluralist state with respect and equal treatment for all people, not a state in which the lives of its citizens were subject to the whims of the dominant social group of the time.

Of course, I do not mean to suggest that government intervention can be unerring—policy as implemented or conceived can be just as wrongheaded as the views of any individual. However, maintaining a government charged with actively protecting the rights of minority groups, in whatever form they take, I regard as vastly preferable to living within a state that leaves the determination of social policy to the “marketplace,” a creative term meant to obscure the essential reliance on majority tyranny that forms a crucial leg of libertarian political philosophy.