The following link is to a Post, actually both much longer and much more theoretical than anything I have written, about the philosophical underpinnings of "Libertarianism". I know nothing at all about the gentleman discussed in the article, but it was interesting and made me think.
My first reaction was that I think that the onset of political movements and philosophies may not be so neat, and that the roots of modern Libertarianism in American political thinking certainly go back at least to Barry Goldwater.
The second thought that the article triggered was a question: Why do Libertarians seem to see "liberty" in primarily economic terms? They seem to focus on the right of the individual to be free from governmental interference in his or her economic life? They want fewer taxes and fewer governmental restrictions on how a person carries out his or her economic activity, and seem to view a free market as the best and only "regulation" of such activity. As readers of this Blog will know, I find the idea that the market is somehow perfect or even rational or free to be somewhat silly, but be that as it may, let's even assume that that is true. My question is why focus on economic activity? What about sexual activity? Moral activity? Reprehensible religious practices? Crime (either economic or non-economic)?
It seems to me that all of us (with the possible exception of Ayn Rand herself) are willing to say that we, through our government, should be able to theoretically limit our citizens' behavior for the common good. Why place a higher value on economic liberty? Well, I can think of some possible reasons, namely: First, the market does (at least for some people) exist as some "higher power" in the economic arena, whereas in other areas we must create rules for ourselves. Second, there is a cogent argument that has been made that the right to private property and to economic liberty is at the foundation of other liberties, and that without that right, other rights may be less than meaningful. Third, the economic area is always one where it can be argued that many people are competing for the same resources, and that some people will "naturally" have a motive to use the government to get them a bigger share of those resources (money) than the market would give them? Still, none of these arguments are entirely convincing, particularly when used as a theoretical justification against government "interference" with economic activity. And this is coming from me - and I consider myself to have some sympathy with libertarians.
Third, it occurs to me that the Libertarians have actually adopted ideas normally associated with the radical "left", at least historically. The idea of economic activity, rights and relationships being at the center of human society is straight out of Karl Marx. The idea that Government is not necessary - that people will voluntarily organize to undertake whatever common activities are necessary - is classic Anarchism - straight from Pierre Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin, although the Anarchists would eliminate the State, not just its ability to govern economic activity.
I would go back to a familiar theme of mine; anyone who tries to put the complexities of modern civilization into an ideological box that will always govern what we should do is misguided, arrogant, nuts, not-too-bright, really focused on being elected or re-elected or some combination of the above. (For a more detailed rant on this point, see my Post of October 22, 2010) Conditions change (as the Article points out). New data comes in. In short, stuff happens, and we should try to learn from it. It seems to me that ideologues in general could be said to be always "preparing to fight the last war."
Anyway, here is the Link I promised you at the beginning of the Post.
The Liberty Scam
By Stephen Metcalf