Libertarianism: the indefensible dream

Conservatism, especially today’s brand of conservatism which is more of a radical populism (aimed at the nostalgic older white male who happens to own a confederate flag), is only the second most provably wrong headed political philosophy circulating in the idea pool today. Libertarianism has always struck me as the least credible, least defensible, most nonsensical philosophy, wielded by smug pseudo intellectuals who confidently, and generally soooo humorlessly, find that they can analyze every issue to within an inch of its life in order to prove that both the conservatives and the liberals are, sadly,  fatally flawed in their thinking about everything. Which leaves them, the humble libertarian, the only ones with the real answers. God bless them they are always the smartest person in the room (and we all know from “Broadcast News” how awful that is) despite the stupid fucking things they say.

Michael Lind in Salon asked the big question (no, not the “When did you decide to be straight?” question that lays homophobes to waste): if libertariansm is so bloody wonderful, why is there no country on earth that has ever tried it

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?

It’s not as though there were a shortage of countries to experiment with libertarianism. There are 193 sovereign state members of the United Nations—195, if you count the Vatican and Palestine, which have been granted observer status by the world organization. If libertarianism was a good idea, wouldn’t at least one country have tried it? Wouldn’t there be at least one country, out of nearly two hundred, with minimal government, free trade, open borders, decriminalized drugs, no welfare state and no public education system?

Ooh, ooh I know why. Because when libertarianism comes up against the reality of governing nobody in their right mind chooses it open borders, no public schools, deregulation. They might choose the free decriminalized drugs, but that’s about it. Business people might like it because it would allow them to accumulate whatever wealth they can by the abundance of wit and the absence of conscience.

Lacking any really-existing libertarian countries to which they can point, the free-market right is reduced to ranking countries according to “economic freedom.” Somewhat different lists are provided by the Fraser Institute in Canada and the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Libertarianism is so seductive to the simplistic thinking of youth – minimal government, economic freedom (does this sound familiar?) but it discounts the community, the unfortunate, the disenfranchised. What do you do with them?  “Let ’em die!” as a GOP debate audience shouted at Ron Paul?  

E.J. Dionne looked at Lind’s article and saw the similarities with the tea party and their hypocrisy.

The strongest political support for a broad anti-statist libertarianism now comes from the Tea Party. Yet Tea Party members, as the polls show, are older than the country as a whole. They say they want to shrink government in a big way but are uneasy about embracing this concept when reducing Social Security and Medicare comes up. Thus do the proposals to cut these programs being pushed by Republicans in Congress exempt the current generation of recipients. There’s no way Republicans are going to attack their own base.

But this inconsistency (or hypocrisy) contains a truth: We had something close to a small government libertarian utopia in the late 19th century and we decided it didn’t work. We realized that many Americans would never be able to save enough for retirement and, later, that most of them would be unable to afford health insurance when they were old. Smaller government meant that too many people were poor and that monopolies were formed too easily.

Right. We got as close as we’ll ever get (fingers crossed) to a libertarian utopia in the Gilded Age and it was the injustices and inequalities caused by those policies that gave rise to the Muckrakers, the progressives, the Wobblies and labor unions, the New Deal and the Great Society. They were the answers we came up with in our democracy to rectify the rampant problems in society caused by conservative/libertarian policies.

This matters to our current politics because too many politicians are making decisions on the basis of a grand, utopian theory that they never can — or will — put into practice. They then use this theory to avoid a candid conversation about the messy choices governance requires. And this is why we have gridlock.

Actually E.J. you’re being generous. Much of what libertarians and tea party conservatives espouse had been tried, not on purpose really, but as part of past, less civilized, less enlightened societies. Because while today’s libertarians portray themselves as sophisticates, their ideas are derived from the savage, dog eat dog world of the exploiters and the exploited that we evolved away from. These ideas were deemed to be excessively cruel and inhumane, wanting in the areas of justice and humanity and incompatible with the spirit of our democracy. They were discarded for the social democracies of today, as we discarded gas lamps, whale oil, buggies and outdoor privvies.

Libertarinism should likewise be flushed down history’s crapper.