Why Leftists Can’t Understand Libertarians

Originally I posted this as a comment to Constant’s question about reasons that lefty bloggers give for rejecting libertarianism. Below I will argue that what they are really supporting is also a rejection of liberty for those who don’t share their vision

They think they all libertarians worship Ayn Rand

They think libertarians are against environmentalism.

They think libertarians are selfish and don’t support the greater good.

They don’t understand how markets via diffusion of power protect individuals and increase the greater good.

They don’t know the historical lessons and the present ill effects of collectivism.

They think the reason government fouls up all the time is because the wrong political party is in power.

They think a far left government would not be beholden to special interest groups. Smart people with effective plans would take over and justice would prevail.

Some libertarians come across as whacky, whimsically junking all previous non- market constructs in favor of strict anarchy.

Some lefties see libertarians as cold heartless persons who are nerds. They are Nerds who see persons only as mathematical entities living their lives in game theory. Leftists on the other hand are warm puppy loving altruists.

Everyone thinks he knows what ideal liberty is but there are several mutually contradictory definitions. The following is an abbreviated discussion of various ways of thinking about liberty. A lot of these ideas are presented in much greater detail in a book I was reading Global Bioethics, especially the chapter by Mark Cherry

The dismissive tone toward those who question the leftist party line has always irritated me. How come they all believe the same things in such detail? This book makes it clear that by dogmatically pushing their one vision of liberty, they are tacitly in favor of taking away massive amounts of it from everyone else. This book, a series of philosophical essays on bioethics, subtly opens the whole ugly can of worms.

It turns out libertarians are the real champions of libertarians liberty which is not really available without robust free market activity of a type that is an anathema to the left.

Today’s cosmopolitan internationalist leftists define liberty as the ability to realize ones potentials. Since persons may differ in their fortunes through no fault of their own, there is an ethical duty that we should just feel, which tells us to make right this inequality. Thus people who are sighted are obligated to make blind people live lives equal to theirs even if it diminishes their own lives. If someone is not able to or does want to do productive work, all are obligated to care for these persons so that they flourish equally to others. Coercion is legitimate in order to bring into line anyone who does not agree with this imperative. This extends worldwide and is not satisfied until it is all equally realized. In other words leftists define liberty as fair equality of outcome for each individual without regard to luck, innate ability, effort or societal position.

Another way liberty can be defined is a correct ideal. In other words lives are lived as determined by ethical standards that are discoverable and are based on natural law which may be imposed from the top down by national law or international treaty. Life is not lived according to individual choices but as determined by rightly reasoned moral principles. These might include such things as justice, proper conduct, human dignity, autonomy. If you propose that there is a God the principles would be commanded by God but if you are atheistic they would just have to be what the anointed wise persons (see Thomas Sowell’s “Vision of the Anointed”) felt in their heart. Once this was determined, anyone who disagreed would have to defend their deviancy against the majority opinion. It would be rule by the philosopher kings. I think we tried this in the middle ages. It was called Scholasticism, Fascism or something.

A third idea about liberty is that life is to be lived is to be lived in a way as to maximize humanity as a whole; the greatest good for the greatest number. Here the individual is of no account but the community is everything all must conform to what is decided is best to accomplish this. One way of accomplishing this is the Confucian ideal. It is hierarchical, family oriented and paternalistic. Instead of relegating the family and its elders to the dust bin as the potential breeding ground for socially incorrect, behavior and attitudes, it is the basis an orderly society which transcends the individual. Obviously there is a conflict between this way of looking at things and the first two. Who is to dictate the way worldwide society will evolve?

Fourth is libertarianism as freedom from interference. Here individuals are free to do as they want as long as they do not interfere with others, but are able to venture with others in markets. If they fail, they have to find their own way out. This way is truly multicultural and systematically excludes no one as it operates mostly by voluntary exchange, contracts and limited democracy in which government acts as a referee but is not Santa Clause, God or dictator. This is thin libertarianism but since we are talking about forms of government the thinner the better.


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Two minor points about URLS. First, Google and Amazon and other sites often give you much more complex URLs than you strictly need, containing mostly unimportant information. Experimental trimming often yields a much shorter usable URL. Here is a shorter version of the URL that you gave:

( http://books.google.com/books?id=qKlO84jueb8C )

Second, URLs can be made into links. I suspect you already know this and are just having trouble with that - my main point was the trimmability of URLs from Google and Amazon, which not everybody knows about and comes in handy.


For someone complaining about being misrepresented you make a very strong effort to misrepresent liberal ideas about equality. Liberalism does not advocate Harrison Bergeron style equality of outcome. Reward effort, go ahead. What Rawls and other social-justice advocates are against is people being rewarded and punished for things outside their control like being born taller, or to an affluent family, etc. Effort is within the control of the person and can be justly rewarded.

Please avoid such blantant hypocrisy next time please.