Libertarian Countries and Libertarian Societies

by Fred Foldvary

Michael Lind in the 4 June 2012 salon.com in his article “The question libertarians just can’t answer,” asked, “Why are there no libertarian countries?”  One answer is simply that there are very few pure libertarians. But another answer is that most folks are libertarian enough that they establish libertarian societies, by which I mean not just organized clubs but also informal social gatherings and happenings.

The essential libertarian proposition is “live and let live.”  In a libertarian society, there are no restrictions on peaceful and honest human action.  Most people believe that it is morally wrong to coercively harm others, and they have been brought up to have some sympathy for others, so that they don’t want to hurt others.  Therefore most gatherings such as concerts, athletic events, and street traffic is peaceful. Thus much of the world operates in a libertarian way, without governmental direction. If you host a party in your house, you seldom need a government official there to keep the peace.

This social libertarianism has limits, as those who do not conform to cultural standards such as dress codes would encounter some intolerance.  Nevertheless, there is an almost universal agreement that assault and theft are evil, and a widespread aversion to such anti-social behavior.  When most folks are pro-social in their behavior, they demonstrate a wide and deep level of libertarianism.

Why does the US government impose restrictions such as prohibiting trade with Cuba?  Most Americans probably favor free trade with Cuba. But a minority special interest opposes trade with Cuba and has the political clout to stop it. So the basic reason why the US does not have full freedom is the inherent dysfunction of our system of selecting the chiefs of state. That system is mass democracy.  The failures of mass democracy have been documented and analyzed by the branch of economics called “public choice.”

The two basic reasons why there are no libertarian countries are:

1. Very few people understand or even know about the ethics, economics, and governance of pure liberty.  Pure freedom is not taught in schools, and it is not in the predominant culture.

2. Mass democracy enables special interests to skew policy that favors a few at the expense of the many.

However, the general concept of “freedom” and “liberty” is universally admired.  People have a genetic dislike of being controlled. But their moral views have been skewed by thinking their religious and cultural views are universal.  Ignorance is therefore the ultimate reason why libertarianism is not more widespread.

In another essay on 13 June 2013 Lind says, “Grow up, Libertarians!”  It shows that Lind does not know the meaning of the word “freedom.”  He writes that fighting evil requires limiting the “freedom of employers to buy and sell slaves.”  He has a physical definition of “freedom,” rather than the ethical meaning of there being no restrictions other than on coercive harm to others.  The ownership of a slave is not ethical freedom.

He then says that libertarians propose “the replacement of all taxes by a single regressive flat tax that would fall on low-income workers.” Anyone who advocates such as tax is not a pure libertarian. Lind confuses libertarianism with conservativism.

Michael Lind concludes with the statement, “libertarianism as a philosophy is superficial, juvenile nonsense.” Wow – perhaps he has never read freedom philosophers such as John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and John Hospers. We need a serious explanation of why the basic libertarian idea – live and let live – is superficial nonsense.

There seems to be a simple explanation for Lind’s views on libertarianism – he simply does not understand it.

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3 thoughts on “Libertarian Countries and Libertarian Societies

  1. Well said, Fred. I would add that a libertarian society requires long-term thinking. There has to be a substantial number of people willing to forego short-term gains (grabbing what you can via theft or government coercion) for the sake of longer-term gains from cooperation and trade. A critical mass of such people was reached at the time of the American revolution, but has dwindled since then. Libertarian societies may not appear until our species becomes wiser and more rational.

  2. Thanks, Fred. I am glad you got this ball rolling. Yet, I wonder if any measure of understanding was ever gained, any action prompted by blaming the great unwashed masses for their ignorance or for their narrow mindedness. PS I am the one who added “unwashed.” Fred suggested nothing of the sort.

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