Libertarianism: In the Pursuit of No Government

by | May 1, 2001

Q: What about the Libertarians? They seek the same role for government as people such as yourself. You cannot complain that there is not a party that is fiscally conservative and socially liberal when the Libertarians are present. A: Yes I can. Because the Libertarians are the classic example of how you cannot primarily pursue […]

Q: What about the Libertarians? They seek the same role for government as people such as yourself. You cannot complain that there is not a party that is fiscally conservative and socially liberal when the Libertarians are present.

A: Yes I can. Because the Libertarians are the classic example of how you cannot primarily pursue a negative value: that is, you cannot pursue the absence of something rather than the presence of something. Libertarians, like conservatives, primarily want to get the government out of our lives. But they are helpless to bring this about. Government controls continue to expand and grow, even under the new Bush Administration, who brags that its budget “only” grows the government by 4 percent a year. Libertarians, even if they managed to gain power, would get no further. Why? Because Libertarians, like conservatives, have no rational philosophy upon which to base their assertions.

If you’re going to favor a limited government — defined as a government which does nothing except uphold contracts and protect individuals from physical force — then you must have a rationale for doing so. This is especially true today, since this philosophy of limited government is as far outside the mainstream (especially the intellectual mainstream) as can be imagined.

The conservatives make some feeble attempt at a philosophic base, but it’s the wrong one: religion. Claiming that we must have a free country because God wants us to have one is not a rational case. It’s not convincing, even to people who are somewhat religious. Also, it’s a contradiction to favor a free country but then, for reasons of religious faith alone, oppose the legality of controversial sex acts between consenting adults, the legality of abortion, and even the legality of birth control, as some conservatives do.

The Libertarians are even worse, in a way, than the conservatives. It’s not that they support the wrong philosophic base for a free society. They don’t support any at all. They are, in effect, agnostic subjectivists. This is why their party and their movement are essentially going nowhere, even in times where (for a brief moment, here and there) there is more of an openness towards the idea of limited government. Why? Because people don’t take them seriously. You can’t take someone seriously if they don’t root themselves in any kind of serious philosophic rationale for what they’re doing. Libertarians come across as saying, “We don’t want Big Government, and that’s that.” Some of them are even outright anarchists, further harming the cause of rationally limited government. The conservatives at least make some kind of attempt to provide a philosophic and ethical base, contradictory and erroneous and ultimately unconvincing as it is. This is why they can hang onto some credibility, while the Libertarian party remains in the single digits decade after decade.

People such as myself are attempting to correct the Libertarian error, not expand it. It is a huge endeavor to first educate and eventually change the hearts and minds of the people. It might even take centuries. People such as myself recognize that there must be a philosophic basis for capitalism, individual rights, and a free country. The philosophic base cannot be religion, but rather an approach based upon reason, reality, and self-interest (as initially articulated by Ayn Rand, and expanded upon by the growing number of people who agree with her but don’t necessarily speak for her). This is the alternative which must be presented if we are ever to enjoy a truly free country. It’s a long-range approach, not a quick fix to seize power for a year or two; but it’s the only one which will work.

If you want a country which respects individual rights, then you must fight not primarily for individual rights, but for rationality, individualism, self-interest, and respect for objective reality. As a psychologist, I also stress the importance of sound mental health rooted in a rational philosophy of life. Until more people improve their psyches, they’re not even going to want freedom. The Libertarians, in my experience, tend to sneer at such an approach. Yet they do so at their own peril.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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