Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Nature of Libertarianism

Discussions with blog commenters and non-commenting e-mailers alike, about recent blogposts on The Political Compass – where CdeH sits well into the economically neo-liberal / socially libertarian quadrant - and the labels attaching to various positions on the economic and social spectrums, prompt Clameur de Haro to elaborate at greater length on the “libertarian” label.
It’s a label frequently directed towards him, and usually from the Green Left, from where it’s intended to be pejorative much more often than not. So, and especially from the CdeH viewpoint that differences on the left-to-right economic scale have become secondary to the truly great political divide of our times, namely that between those who favour collectivism and those who favour individual freedom, it’s apposite to elucidate the libertarian philosophy in a bit more detail.
For that, it’s hard to improve on this recent exposition by the American libertarian writer (and blogger) Bella Gerens.
Picking some randomer from some other part of the political spectrum who advocates a single vaguely libertarian idea in isolation and therefore calling him a libertarian, does not, in fact, make him a libertarian.
Meanwhile, spouting your interpretation of libertarianism as only “Hands off my Lexus, you socialist taxer/green hippy”, or only “freedom from taxation” does not, in fact, mean that is what libertarianism is. I don’t even own a Lexus, and the tax I personally pay is not overly onerous.
The truth is that advocates of freedom are found all over the political spectrum, but the only true libertarians are the ones who advocate it at all times, in all circumstances, from the bedroom to the wallet – who believe that ‘freedom from’ is the only state of being consistent with the dignity and majesty of humankind.
‘Freedom from’ is the most important part of that ideology. Freedom from coercion: freedom from interference: freedom from oppression.
‘Freedom to’ is where the misunderstandings enter.
People on the authoritarian right choose to think that libertarians are advocating freedom to burgle, rob, rape, murder – because they choose to read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’ People on all of the left choose to think libertarians are advocating exploitation, pollution, callousness, and the primacy of making (and keeping) money above all else – because they also choose to read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’
And both sides think that libertarians consider the laws we have prohibiting these activities to be a restriction on freedom.
When will they realise that they don’t understand?
Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and also that you must not coerce anyone else.
Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and also that you must not interfere with anyone else.
Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and also that you must not oppress anyone else.
Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.
For the libertarian, there is no ‘freedom to.’ Freedom represents an absence, the absence of force and fraud. It does not represent a licence to do anything, or a right or entitlement, except the absolute human right not to be forced or defrauded.
"Freedom to’ is where conflict enters the system. ‘Freedom to’ often becomes assumed to be a right: a right to a family, a right to cheap healthcare, a right to a job, a right not to starve. In this way non-libertarians argue that poverty constitutes a lack of freedom, because poor people are not, to use the most extreme example, free to eat. And so, a non-libertarian may say, their right to eat must override someone else’s freedom from coercion.
A libertarian may say: “are the poor victims of coercion, interference, or oppression?” If so, it must stop – and then they may be able and allowed to provide themselves with food. Thus not only are the freedoms of the poor restored, they are helped without obviating anyone else’s freedoms.
No conflict exists; the principles of freedom are not only maintained, they are extended.
And for holding this principle, for advocating it, and for trying to practise it in their daily lives, libertarians are vilified as believing only “Hands off my Lexus, you socialist taxer/green hippy”. Libertarians, who are concerned primarily with the heights of dignity and achievement all humans could reach, if only they were freed from coercion, interference, and oppression, are called ’selfish’ and ‘misanthropic.’
It’s hard to see how self-professed Green-Leftists can position themselves as being inclined towards libertarianism socially.
Greenism is fundamentally an authoritarian and egalitarian-collectivist creed. In the name of an allegedly overarching necessity - nothing less than the preservation of our planet – Enviro-Leftists demand that governments coerce and forcefully organise all populations into collective compliance with their will. The very salvation of the Earth itself is only possible, they say, if their remedies are applied through the force of the authoritarian state. We must all, they insist, henceforth live, work, play, travel, dress, eat, and house ourselves only as they order us to if we are to survive. Never has there been such a gift of an excuse as that comprised by enviro-fanaticism for collectivists in power to coerce, oppress and interfere with the rest of us.
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