Thought of the day

I think what I find most disturbing about libertarianism is just how often its adherents lack a social conscience. We should always make our moral and societal decisions on a rational basis, but I think there’s something wrong with a person who can’t be persuaded to even think about certain issues on an emotional basis.

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23 Responses

  1. I find it disturbing as well on those occasions where I meet a libertarian who lacks a social conscience. But then, I spend most of my time around conservative libertarians so that rarely happens.

    I get the impression, however, that you have a specific topic in mind. Care to share?

  2. Certainly the sort of libertarian who is more like Rick Santorum has a social conscience. Not that I agree with it in the least bit, but at least it’s there. I

    I was prompted to make this post after reading a comment from this guy. It may not be clear that he lacks all concern for morality on a social level from that post alone, but I’ve had more extensive interactions with him elsewhere, including this blog. I find him more and more despicable every time I read something he writes. (If you look at my “About” tab, you’ll see I had to ban him for spamming, making him the only person I have banned who wasn’t just a generic bot or mass spammer.)

  3. There is certainly a difference between allowing people to make bad choices and deal with the consequences and practically egging people on to make bad choices by the deliberate withholding of information, or similar practices.

  4. To clarfiy for those who didn’t click the “About” tab, Mr. Hawkins is referring to Mark, not me.

    The view expressed in this post never ceases to annoy me. You are missing something important.

    Most libertarians do want to help other people, including the poor of this world. We have the same goal, but we believe that government action is a poor way of reaching that goal.

    You’re free to disagree with us and say that the government can reach those goals better than limited-government strategies, but don’t keep saying what’s in our hearts isn’t there.

  5. As Hortensio said, there are libertarians out there with a social conscience. More often than not they’re Christian and their libertarianism is selectively applied to their wallets, but they’re there. Other libertarians, such as Lindholm or Ron Paul, have an every-man-for-himself stance. I find that thoroughly disgusting – and all too common.

  6. “More often than not they’re Christian and their libertarianism is selectively applied to their wallets, but they’re there.”

    Interesting. If you ask the average conservative he will tell you that libertarians are a bunch of secular hedonists who just want to smoke marijuana and make fun of Jesus.

  7. (Obviously Nate, Michael, and I are not of this brand of conservatism, but you get the idea. Big tent ideologies include strange bedfellows and all that.)

  8. What amazes me is the “progressives” out there who seem never to consider anyone’s wallet ever. For any reason.

    The only exception seems to be when someone’s wallet is “too big” which means they aren’t paying “their fair share”. (“fair share” being an intentionally nebulous term with no real meaning)

  9. Michael, please tell me what you are basing this on. You’ve stated from the get-go that specific libertarians often don’t care about the well being of the poor. What’s your evidence?

    As I’ve made it perfectly clear, saying they oppose government programs intended to aid the poor is not enough, as “our side” feels that will not actually benefit the poor. The burden of proof is on the claim maker.

  10. I’m not talking about the poor in particular, but the very core of libertarianism is to not help others. If that happens, as you contend with your economic preferences, it’s only incidental.

  11. That’s not quite right in my view either.

    “Help” is a crappy word for what is being asserted here. What we are talking about is benefits. In “our” view the poor, and everyone else receive greater benefits from more freedom as opposed to more security.

    And more correctly the very core of liberarianism is not forcing people to help others. There is nothing “noble” about providing benefits to people by holding others at “gunpoint”, eg. collect taxes from one and hand that money straight over to someone else.

    A libertarian likely would argue that a result of the government stepping in and using tax revenue for what I would call charity, it reduces or replaces altruism in the affected society. If the government is going to provide “help” to the needy in the country has everything they , than people are going to feel less like they have any kind of responsibility to help on their own.

    After all, if my taxes are paying for food stamps, I don’t feel like it’s a good use of my money to make donations to a soup kitchen. Whatever societal responsibility people might feel to “help” others is continually eroded by these sorts of programs that force one to help another.

  12. “And more correctly the very core of libertarianism is not forcing people to help others.”

    To be clear, we aren’t in favour of forcing people to hurt others either.

    Mr. H, before we go on with this, are you genuinely confused about the essentials of libertarian thought or are you just trying to push our buttons?

  13. I would oppose a government agency that simply made action movies and distributed them to the public. Does that mean I’m against action movies?

  14. In “our” view the poor, and everyone else receive greater benefits from more freedom as opposed to more security.

    Which is a purely incidental consequence of libertarianism. It isn’t particularly relevant to the philosophy what happens to others.

    A libertarian likely would argue that a result of the government stepping in and using tax revenue for what I would call charity, it reduces or replaces altruism in the affected society. If the government is going to provide “help” to the needy in the country has everything they , than people are going to feel less like they have any kind of responsibility to help on their own.

    I always find these arguments from libertarians disingenuous. You don’t care about the result something has to a society. All a libertarian cares about is whether or not something affects him. That’s it. Any other concern does not derive from libertarianism. It’s a callous, inherently selfish philosophy.

    I would oppose a government agency that simply made action movies and distributed them to the public. Does that mean I’m against action movies?

    Does that mean libertarianism is a philosophy designed to bring about the most effective way to produce action movies?

  15. I don’t think you care about results something has to society either. From your point of view, it’s best for everyone, if the government forces people to ____________.

    In my view it is better for everyone if the government stays out of the business of charity and doesn’t use the coercion of one to allegedly help others, and it’s pretty debatable about whether programs intended to help even do so. On the whole I would say no.

    Go ahead and stamp your feet and scream “boo hoo! libertarians selfisher than me is!” I don’t mind, but I do think you actually know what your saying is rhetorical nonsense.

  16. The biggest base forming my philosophy is utilitarianism. First and foremost, I care about what brings the greatest pleasure and least pain to people. In other words, my philosophy inherently expresses a social conscience. Yours, on the other hand, is about how you can do well. That is, it is imperative that, in my philosophy, others benefit. In yours, it is 100% incidental. If the entire world died off a la I am Legend, it wouldn’t matter in the least to you so long as you were okay. I’m having trouble imagining something more callous and selfish.

    I think you’re confusing the issue here, though. I’m talking about philosophy, not political ideology. I don’t care how libertarianism is applied politically. I’m talking about the very core of what the philosophy says. (In fact, I refuse to acknowledge such a thing as political libertarianism; it isn’t a political theory simply because it can be applied to politics. If it was, then it would also be a farmers theory because it can be applied to farming or a car owners theory because it can be applied to owning cars.)

  17. “I think you’re confusing the issue here, though. I’m talking about philosophy, not political ideology. I don’t care how libertarianism is applied politically. I’m talking about the very core of what the philosophy says.”

    Many utilitarians will identify as libertarians politically because they see it as the extension of their philosophy; this is practically the definition of bleeding-heart libertarianism.

    I’m glad you finally clarified what you meant, as it explains a lot. But it would have been more useful several posts ago.

  18. I’ve never said libertarianism isn’t compatible with good ethical theories. The problem is that by itself it has zero connection to anything resembling altruism or selflessness.

  19. By itself it is about not using force on people, in the vast majority of cases, regardless of the positives or negatives of doing so.

    If the world did end up in a “I am legend” sort of situation, I highly doubt that most libertarians would feel that was okay simply because they were not directly harmed.

    There is a reason that certain economic ideas tend to be found alongside many libertarians. I feel a fairly free market is the best system for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it benefits practically everyone in almost every way. The fact that it would benefit myself as well is more incidental than the benefits it confers on others, since that fact is central to why I favor it.

    I think something else that may be being confused here, is the idea that “we” feel that forcing people to “help” others is a worse situation for everyone than whatever that “help” was supposed to alleviate. It’s not as much a matter of lacking a social conscience as it is a matter of how one structures their hierarchy of bad things. I feel libertarian ideas would in fact result in the most pleasure and so on for the most people, you don’t agree, but that doesn’t mean I would be right to claim you are callous or self-centered.

  20. If the world did end up in a “I am legend” sort of situation, I highly doubt that most libertarians would feel that was okay simply because they were not directly harmed.

    I agree. I think their stated philosophy would take a significant back seat to their humanity.

  21. I don’t agree with that.

    “First and foremost, I care about what brings the greatest pleasure and least pain to people.”

    As do I, and I feel that freedom to make all your own choices without being forced to do this or that leads to the most pleasure and the least pain. You can disagree, but you can’t honestly say that because of that disagreement, libertarianism is a callous lens to look at things through.

    “To each according to need, from each according to their ability,” as the socialist dream world is often described, in my view produces more harm and thus more pain than my libertarian dreamworld. You assume that material security provides more pleasure and less pain than a world with less security where everyone is responsible for their own actions and the consequences (good or bad), it may be true, but I don’t think so.

    We are kind of at a dead end here, so this is probably it for me, unless something interesting pop’s up.

  22. Just one more thought.

    “Both free speech rights and property rights belong legally to individuals, but their real function is social, to benefit vast numbers of people who do not themselves exercise these rights.”
    ~Thomas Sowell

    That is the basis of how a libertarian views things. The idea that freedom itself is almost always more beneficial than the security provided by restricting freedoms. I know you are fond of saying, “freedom blah blah when you are dead”, but we, or at least I, see freedoms as the basis for which pleasure is maximized and misery minimized.

  23. I see liberty as a good pathway to happiness as well. But that isn’t the heart of libertarianism.

    I also don’t believe for a second that you’re a utilitarian at all, especially considering, for example, the general indifference to the welfare of the environment you have told me you have (even if we ignore global warming). As long as you get yours, that’s good enough for you. I very much place you in the same realm as Lindholm. Though you are far less scrotey.

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