Saturday, 28 July 2007

Criticism of Marxism of the Right

Firstly, what is libertarianism? The Wikipedia article on Libertarianism says "Libertarianism is a political philosophy maintaining that all persons are the absolute owners of their own lives, and should be free to do whatever they wish with their persons or property, provided they allow others the same liberty." In other words, do as you wish, so long as you allow others to do the same. Hence, having gay consensual sex is okay because the two parties to the sexual act consented. By having sex in private they are not harming anyone else. But if a man rapes another man then this is not okay because by raping you are not asking for the consent of the rape victim. Taking drugs is likewise okay under libertarianism because the person who takes drugs chooses to do so himself and because his action harms no one else. However, taking drugs like tobacco and then puffing the smoke onto an innocent bystander (passive smoking) is not okay because the bystander never consented to having smoke in his or her face.

Robert Locke wrote a criticism of Libertarianism in The American Conservative titled Marxism of the Right. I will criticize his criticism.

Libertarians rightly concede that one’s freedom must end at the point at which it starts to impinge upon another person’s, but they radically underestimate how easily this happens.
It may be difficult to draw a line between where some free act impedes upon other people's freedom, but just about every theory has difficulty once we apply it. For example, suppose we are building a door and wanted to make it two meters tall. We may measure this height using a ruler and then cut the wood, but how do we know we are getting precisely 2 meters? How do we know that when we cut the wood we are not achieving 2.00001 meters or 1.99999 meters? Libertarianism's strength is its logical consistency. What is commonly known as Left-wing or Right-wing has no logical consistency.

Consider pornography: libertarians say it should be permitted because if someone doesn’t like it, he can choose not to view it. But what he can’t do is choose not to live in a culture that has been vulgarized by it.
The reason why this is so is because by choosing to live in a pornless culture you are imposing your culture on others, which goes against the freedoms of others. This is like saying, "The problem with Libertarianism is that it claims to promote freedom and choice, yet someone who wants to murder in a Libertarian society can't choose to murder." Locke forgets that although Libertarianism allows freedom it places a limit on freedom because too much freedom can reduce other people's freedom.

Libertarians in real life rarely live up to their own theory but tend to indulge in the pleasant parts while declining to live up to the difficult portions. They flout the drug laws but continue to collect government benefits they consider illegitimate.
Locke has no evidence for this. Earlier he says "libertarianism offers the fraudulent intellectual security of a complete a priori account of the political good without the effort of empirical investigation." In other words, he criticizes theorists who have no empirical evidence to back up their claims. Yet he gives not empirical evidence to support his assertion that libertarians flout drug laws and collect government welfare.

Libertarians need to be asked some hard questions. What if a free society needed to draft its citizens in order to remain free?
If the society were libertarian then drafting is forbidden. If this means the country descends into dictatorship, then that is what will happen. Is this good? That depends on whether you are a consequentialist or not. As Wikipedia says, "Broadly speaking, there are two types of libertarians: consequentialists and rights theorists."

Empirically, most people don’t actually want absolute freedom, which is why democracies don’t elect libertarian governments. Irony of ironies, people don’t choose absolute freedom. But this refutes libertarianism by its own premise, as libertarianism defines the good as the freely chosen, yet people do not choose it. Paradoxically, people exercise their freedom not to be libertarians.
This is wrong. Locke claims people choose not to be free, but libertarianism suggests that "people" don't exist. We are all individuals. Instead of saying "people don't choose absolute freedom" he should say "most people in America don't choose absolute freedom." This is because there are people who want absolutely freedom (libertarians).

The political corollary of this is that since no electorate will support libertarianism, a libertarian government could never be achieved democratically but would have to be imposed by some kind of authoritarian state, which rather puts the lie to libertarians’ claim that under any other philosophy, busybodies who claim to know what’s best for other people impose their values on the rest of us.
This is actually wrong. Locke claims "no electorate will support libertarianism." It all depends on how you define the electorate. If you take an electorate that consists of only libertarians then if the political system used to elect leaders is, say, pure democracy then a libertarian government will be established.

Locke claims that even if a libertarian government were established non-democratically, libertarianism would be a contradiction because most people choose not to have the freedom forced upon them. However, even if freedom were forced upon people, they have the freedom to reject the freedom. Hence, they are no worse off than they were before.

Libertarianism itself is based on the conviction that it is the one true political philosophy and all others are false.
Not really. Some people think non-coercion is a moral universal, yet others (like me) just find it aesthetically pleasing.

There is not the space here to refute simplistic laissez faire, but note for now that the second-richest nation in the world, Japan, has one of the most regulated economies, while nations in which government has essentially lost control over economic life, like Russia, are hardly economic paradises.
Here Locke confuses libertarianism with anarchy. Libertarianism wants government to protect rights, property, etc while anarchism wants government to do nothing at all.

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