Yesterday’s post, which called socialism a political cult, generated a tremendous amount of discussion on Facebook, with many people calling libertarianism a cult. In today’s post, I am going to agree. Libertarianism can be a cult. Really, any ideology that is stretched to its logical conclusions will fall apart, and start to sound cultish, and that is true no matter how perfect the ideals in question might be. The ideals behind libertarianism are as perfect as are any set of ideals ever created, but in order to work in the extreme, the people living under libertarianism would have to also be perfect. People, being imperfect, are incapable of building utopia, and as such, any set of ideals dragged to a utopian extreme will collapse.
Socialists love to argue against libertarianism by calling libertarianism ‘naïve’. What socialists forget is that their ideology also falls apart if dragged to its logical extreme.
The ideals behind libertarianism are freedom and liberty. Libertarians believe that each of us should be free to live our lives however we see fit, provided we do not infringe upon the rights of others to do the same. This is almost the opposite of socialism. Socialism says that the hive is more important than the individual, and that we should all be willing to sacrifice our own best interests to work for the interests of the hive.
People are not bees. We all have individual needs and desires. We have individual interests. We are no more capable of living in a bee hive than bees are capable of living in a free market society.
When people say that free markets do not work, they are correct: if people are left completely free, some will oppress others. Anarchy is not a form of societal organization, but a transition point between societal organizations in which one form of society falls, and is replaced by warlords. When Rome fell, it did not usher in libertarianism across Europe, but 1500 years of continuous war.
The dirty secret of libertarianism, that many libertarians don’t want to admit, is that libertarianism can only exist within the confines of a nation state, and that this nation state must have the power to prevent anyone from violating the Non-Aggression Principle. In other words, the only way to build a society that lives by the Non-Aggression Principle is to have a government that has the power to enforce the Non-Aggression Principle. It is foolhardy to follow libertarian ideals to the point of rejecting government. Government is like salt in that once you add too much, it ruins the dish, but some government is necessary. The trick is to figure out exactly how much government is necessary, and that is a fair subject for rational debate.
The dirty secret of socialism, that many socialists don’t want to admit, is that socialism is based on the violation of the Non-Aggression Principle. Under socialism, some group has absolute power over every aspect of society. Under a soviet style of socialism, a single person (with the help of a politburo) has absolute power. Under a democratic style of socialism, the majority has absolute power over the minority. Unless someone can provide a reason to believe that having one thousand tyrants a mile away is better than having one tyrant a thousand miles away, we should reject socialism outright.
Power under a free market economy is diffused among the people. Those with more wealth tend to also have more power than do those with less wealth, but the power of the wealthy is still limited. Bill Gates had a tremendous amount of power over Microsoft, until he retired, but he had no control over Dow Chemicals, or over Apple. Andrew Carnegie had a tremendous amount of power over Carnegie Steel, but he had no power over anything else. Transactions in free markets are voluntary, and as such, so too is power. An employer has some power over employees, but only to the point that employees are still willing to work for that employer, rather than a different employer. Power, in a free market, is limited, and diffused.
Power in a socialist system is centralized, and absolute.
Whereas under free markets, people pursue their economic interests to get by, under socialism, the only way to improve one’s lot in life is to pursue one’s political interests. Those who pursue economic interests have to create goods and services other people want, and as such, in a free market, one earns wealth by benefitting other people. Those who pursue their own political interests do so by banding together with others who share those political interests, in competition with everyone else. Under socialism, one makes nothing by producing goods and services (wealth being communal), but can make a great deal by pursuing their political interests, and producing nothing. People who pursue their economic interests grow the economy. People who pursue their political interests are engaged in a true zero-sum game.
Unless someone can show how it is somehow nobler to pursue political self interest than to pursue economic self interest, we should reject socialism outright. To the degree that work creates the wealth society needs, we should all prefer systems that encourage work over systems that do not. To the degree that free markets may allow some to live at a lifestyle society deems too low (which is a purely political distinction), we should still prefer a system in which each person earns what they can. It is infinitely better to help a working person out by giving them pennies, than to help someone who is not willing to work, by giving them dollars. Each person who is capable of working, but who chooses not to, is refusing to help provide for those who are truly in need. Is it not more moral to provide for oneself, and in doing so to enrich society, than to demand that others provide instead? Being poor is a condition we all want to help reduce. Of course we do! Staying poor is a choice, and sadly, a choice socialism forces people into. Free markets will not make everyone rich, at least not in a relative sense, but they do make all groups richer over time than they were before. Socialism keeps everyone poor, other than those who have political power. Socialism makes the politically powerful as wealthy as they wish to be.
Libertarianism, if taken to its logical extreme, is cultish. ANY ideology, if taken to its logical extreme, is cultish. The advantage libertarianism has over other ideologies is that, to make libertarianism cultish, you have to take it to it’s logical extreme. Socialism is cultish right out of the gate.
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