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Introductory Citation

Nick Gillespie:

"I find this entirely in keeping with the central analytical failure of libertarianism as a worldview: a total and disqualifying inability to measure or account for power as it exists in the real world. When libertarians argue endlessly about the tyranny of paying taxes and the poor, oppressed state of enormous, multinational corporations, while remaining consistently silent on the plight of the urban poor (on the material dimensions of their freedom), they reveal an ideological framework that is stunningly incapable of reflecting the world as it is rather than as ideal theory would prefer it. They have no vocabulary of power as experienced, so even if they were inclined to help those on the bottom, they would lack the understanding capable of doing such a thing. They have nothing to say on the issue." (


Paul Treanor [1]:

" I have avoided a futile redefinition. Libertarianism is described here through its values, claims, and effects.


The values of libertarianism can not be rationally grounded. It is a system of belief, a 'worldview'. If you are a libertarian, then there is no point in reading any further. There is no attempt here to convert you: your belief is simply rejected. The rejection is comprehensive, meaning that all the starting points of libertarian argument (premises) are also rejected. There is no shared ground from which to conduct an argument.

The libertarian belief system includes the values listed in this section, which are affirmed by most libertarians. Certainly, no libertarian rejects them all...

  • "process legitimises outcome"

This is an underlying belief in all forms of liberalism. All liberal societies include some form of interactive process or procedure. In turn, that has an outcome, which at least partly shapes the society: liberals see this shaping of society as legitimate. Libertarians emphasise this principle primarily in their rejection of (government-enforced) distributive justice. To libertarians, there is no such thing as distributive justice in the usual sense, what Nozick calls a 'patterned distribution'. To them, the outcome of a fair and free market is just. In fact, most libertarians believe that it derives this quality of justice, from its being the outcome of a special process (the free market, or a comparable process).

  • revealing of order / perfection

One of David Friedman's books is called 'Hidden Order: the Economics of Everyday Life'. The idea of implicit order is common in libertarian philosophy. The simplest claim is that a hidden order or logic in the world is revealed, through the workings of the market. To varying degrees, this order is then considered sacred: and indeed it is originally a religious doctrine. It comes to libertarianism through the conservative-liberal tradition in Europe, and it has its origins in mediaeval philosophy. The most famous metaphor of the free market, Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' is part of this tradition. In the original religious version, the hidden order is seen as the work of God, and it is revealed in the social world of human interactions. Modern secular versions do not see order as pre-existing, in this sense. They speak of 'self-organising' or 'emergent' orders, but the quasi-religious emotion is still there - the sense that something more perfect is revealed. This aspect of libertarianism has cross-connections to New Age and spirituality.

  • world of emergence

Libertarians attach great value to the outcome of process: it defines the ideal libertarian world. The liberal tradition generally is hostile to utopias, seeing them as attempts to enforce an ideology. Liberals share this aversion with some postmodernists, who see a direct line from European utopian thought to Auschwitz. However, libertarians are an exception to this pattern of hostility. They often have a utopian political style, not hesitating to describe their 'ideal society' (at least, a version set in the USA). This society is usually seen as the result of libertarian process, not the process itself. For example, the libertarian utopia is not simply 'less government', it is what emerges after 25 years of less government. It is not relevant to say that libertarians have 'got their predictions wrong', and that something else would happen. The point is, that libertarianism does have an ideal world, which it intends to substitute for other possible worlds. Inherently, it must then defend this world's existence. And if the absolute free-market had totally unexpected effects (such as a Bolshevik world government), then most libertarians would interfere with its workings, to reinstate their intended ideal world. In other words the libertarian utopia is not a prediction of the effects of libertarian politics, it is a stand-alone utopian vision. It is defined as emergent (or in similar terms), and perhaps it is emergent, but the relevant fact is that libertarianism generally operates under the equivalence "the emergent = the good". By being 'emergent' it is for libertarians a world more perfect, than any ideal city of the European Renaissance. And therefore, it "must" come to existence, and it "must" exclude other existence. Libertarianism can not be understood without understanding this preference, and its emotional depth.

  • Darwinism

The Darwinism of libertarians is an example of their preference for a particular future world. Most libertarians support competitive interaction in a Darwinist form - Darwinist in the sense that some entities may disappear, in the process of competition. In the free market, products which fail to secure a market niche, are no longer produced. A short pro-libertarian essay by David Friedman is about 'bad trucks' - trucks made in the Soviet Union. As Friedman says, "The capitalist truck was built under a system of institutions in which people who build bad trucks are likely to lose money". So in the end, no more 'bad trucks' will be built, and Friedman sees nothing wrong with that. For him, and many other libertarians, it is self-evident that certain things are 'bad': they deserve no existence, and society should be designed to punish them out of existence. Selective competition is the instrument, disappearance of 'bad trucks' is the result, and this result is explicitly desired. Even without an explicit reference to Darwinian evolution, this obviously leans on the success of Darwinism as a social metaphor. This is an important issue for the philosophical legitimation of libertarianism. If the market has evolutionary effects, or indeed any predictable selective effects, then it can no longer claim to be a 'neutral set of rules and procedures'.

  • utilitarianism:

Many libertarians are social utilitarians. Simply stated, they believe that the benefits for the many outweigh the disadvantage for the few. Phrases like "most people would prefer" are common in libertarian texts. Libertarians may concede that poverty will not disappear, some concede that the poor will be much worse off, or even starve. They justify this in terms of classically utilitarian approaches. The 'trickle-down effect' is a familiar example - the claim that "if the rich get richer, then some of the money will reach the poor eventually". Here too is a specific philosophical belief, in this case the very clearly defined philosophy of utilitarianism. Libertarians who propose a society on this basis, would necessarily impose their ethical doctrine on others. It is not possible to have a 'value-neutral utilitarian society', any more than a 'value-neutral Catholic society'. Libertarians who insist on utilitarianism as a social value, can not claim to support individual freedom with respect to philosophical beliefs.

  • collectivism:

Despite the claimed horror at 'collectivism', libertarians share the general liberal preference for collective forms of decision-making - above all, the market. This is often legitimised by a claimed universal necessity, to 'balance' or 'weigh' preferences. This is an ancient metaphor, and very popular since Newton, but the 'necessity' is not self-evident. No-one can show why preferences should be balanced, or weighed: to want them weighed or balanced is a preference in itself, and by definition a preference for collectivism. In practice, free-market decisions are always collective: supply of one product, by one maker, to one customer is not a free market. A free market in the libertarian sense needs at least three parties: with only one buyer and one seller there is no competition. In a free market with multiple parties and mutual competition, all parties influence the final state of affairs. No individual can decide that outcome alone. While claiming to reject autocracy, libertarianism has in fact abandoned autonomy.

  • 'interarchy': are libertarians minarchists?

Some libertarians describe themselves as anarcho-capitalists, or simply anarchists, or minarchists. Anarchy means literally 'no rule' and minarchy implies minimal rule, minimal government. Robinson Crusoe, alone on an island, could claim to have a truly minarchic and anarchist system: absolute autonomous self-government. However, isolation is not what libertarians mean when they use these terms. The political structures proposed by libertarians allow any person to interact with another, in any non-coercive way. Libertarianism, and liberalism in general, recognise no 'right to be a hermit'. But most libertarians not only allow interactive society, they positively value it. They claim it allows knowledge to be shared: they value this input of others. Not just in their own life, but as a general social precept. This high-interaction society, of collective decision making, already has a name: Hayek suggested 'catallaxy'. However, the term 'interarchy' seems better. It indicates that no-one in such a society is 'self-governing' in the Crusoe sense. Others affect their lives: in a global economy, about four billion other adult consumers, and millions of business firms. If minarchy means minimal outside influence on the life of the individual, then libertarians are not minarchists. By the same token, they can certainly not be anarchists.

  • connectionism

This term is used in cognitive psychology, for a model of the mind based on neural networks. However there is also a normative connectionism, familiar from early Internet activism - the idea that connections are good in themselves. That ideology of the fully interconnected global society, the 'wired world', inspired many activists. (Ironically, it often inspired them to demand government action to wire the world). However, connectionism in itself pre-dates the Internet. Probably every improvement in communications technology over the last 200 years, has led to connectionist declarations. In libertarianism, connectionist beliefs underlie the libertarian preference for a global (trading) economy.

  • syncretism

The syncretism of libertarianism is also best visible among cyber-libertarians. Syncretism means literally a belief in the value of fusion and intermixture, especially between religions. For some liberals (in the general sense, including libertarians) the mere fact of connection is not enough, - they value the cultural and social fusion it produces. Religious and ethical syncretism have existed for thousands of years, although they never produced a global religion. The early Internet hype led to a minor revival of syncretism, which had been confined to a New Age minority. One particular form form of syncretism attracts support among libertarians: organic pan-syncretism - the ideal of human society as a global organism, fused from existing societies. This obscure ideal was dramatically revitalised by claims that the Internet could make a 'global brain' technically possible. It apparently has a deep emotional appeal for some libertarians: they see in the interactive nature of the free market a forerunner of a planetary organism. The theorist David Friedman, a hard economic libertarian, links from his homepage to the SF novel Earthweb, which in turn credits him as an inspiration. Alexander Chislenko's Hypereconomy is an example of how free-market 'individualism' can imply extreme organic collectivism.

  • unity

Even for those who do not dream of immersion in a global brain, unity has political appeal. The importance of a global economy for almost all liberals (not just libertarians), is an indication of that. "One world!" is an immensely powerful slogan: it appeals to left and right - even to people who support all kinds of secessionist movements. Again, the libertarian version of global unity is generally the options-exchange version: global financial trading, absolute free trade, and sometimes free global migration. (However, US libertarians are cautious, evasive and non-emphatic, about free immigration). But certainly, most libertarians would reject the idea of a divided world: a libertarian half-planet is not enough for them.

  • expansionism:

Most libertarians want to live in a libertarian world: unfortunately, they think that the rest of us should also live there. Most liberals take a similar view. Unlike libertarians, mainstream liberal-democratic governments have armies to enforce it. Libertarians believe that to impose freedom is not an imposition. For them, anything which can legitimately be described as 'freedom', may legitimately be imposed. The Libertarian FAQ, for instance, says "America's free press is envied by freedom-starved people everywhere": implicitly, to allow any other press would be a denial of freedom. In this logic, imposition of a political ideology is a generous response to the suffering of others, who are 'starved' of it. The climate of global politics is increasingly interventionist anyway. If US libertarians become less isolationist, they might demand that the US Marines bring the 'gift of freedom' to Africa and Latin America.

the claims and self-image of libertarianism

Libertarians tend to speak in slogans - "we want freedom", "we are against bureaucracy" - and not in political programmes. Even when they give a direct definition of libertarianism, it is not necessarily true.

  • non-coercion:

The principle of non-coercion, or non-initiation of force, appears in most self-definitions. It is the equivalent of the liberal concept of 'negative liberty' and some libertarians use that term. Libertarians say they are against coercion, but they support the free market. The introduction of a free market in Russia after 1989, lead to an excess mortality of about 3 million people. I call that force (and not defensive or retaliatory force): libertarians do not. Some US employers require their employees to smile at all customers, or lose their job. I call that coercion: libertarians call it freedom of contract. There is no point in further discussion of these issues: they are examples of irreconcilable value conflicts.

  • moral autonomy:

Libertarians claim to value the moral autonomy of the individual. However, in the free market which they advocate, there is no connection between individual action and social outcome. A one-person boycott of meat will not stop the slaughter of animals. In reality, the individual is powerless in the face of the market - and without some decision-making power there is no real moral autonomy. The implicit position of most libertarians is that this must be accepted - that the outcome of the market is morally legitimate, even if it does not correspond to the conscience of the individual. Certainly, all libertarians distrust even limited interference with the market: many reject it entirely.

  • political freedom:

Libertarians say they favour political freedom. But even to simply enforce the outcome of the market, the apparatus of a state would be necessary - an army to prevent invasions, a police force to suppress internal revolt, a judicial system. Most libertarians go much further: they want a libertarian regime. Some of them have written complete and detailed constitutions. But like any state, a libertarian state will have to enforce its constitution - otherwise it will be no more than a suggested constitution. Even if the state is founded on the planet Mars (as some libertarians suggest), someone else with different ideas will probably arrive sometime. The libertarian constitutions might work in a freshly established libertarian colony, inhabited only by committed libertarians. But sooner or later there will be an opposition, perhaps resolutely hostile to the founding principles. States, which fail to enforce their own political system against opposition to the state itself, ultimately collapse or disappear. If libertarian states want to survive in such circumstances, they will use political repression against their internal opponents.

In the case of libertarianism within existing states, the position is much clearer. There is no question of a fresh start with a fresh population. The Libertarian Party of the United States, for instance, seeks to impose a libertarian system on the United States. It is an imposition, and can not be anything else. Unless they are prepared to accept the division of the country, they will have to deal with millions of anti-libertarians, who reject the regime entirely. They might call the riot police the Liberty Police, they might call the prisons Liberty Camps, but it's still not 'political freedom'.

  • instrumental claims:

Libertarians often make many instrumental claims - claims that their system would produce desirable results. Arguing from results is not generally considered sufficient to justify a political philosophy. (The attitude of British and American fascist sympathisers was caricatured in the expression "Mussolini made the trains run on time"). Most libertarians favour a drastic deregulation and full privatisation of the economy, and this is typically where the instrumental claims are made. The libertarian reforms will, they claim, improve education and medical services and make better and cheaper products available. Similar claims are made by almost all liberals. However, like David Friedman's 'bad trucks' argument, they rely on a value judgment.

There is no neutral common standard of what is good and bad, in consumer goods or education. Different economic systems and different societies produce different types of goods and services. Libertarians implicitly claim that their preferences are the right preferences, and that the economic system itself should be chosen to produce their preferred goods and services. They don't want Soviet-style goods in the shops, so they want a non-Soviet system. Perhaps you don't want Soviet-style goods in the shops either. The point is: did they ask you?

All instrumental arguments are paternalistic. The fascist sympathisers who praised Mussolini's train timekeeping, assumed that was the most relevant factor to judge Italian fascist society. For themselves - but also for their listeners. Libertarians assume everyone wants an American-style economy directed to consumer goods. Some people do. But other people have different tastes, and different priorities. Libertarians ignore these differences, and simply assume that everyone wants exactly the same, from the economy, from health care, from the educational system. That paternalism is incompatible with the moral autonomy and economic freedom, which libertarians claim to promote.

That is an inconsistency in libertarian claims to political power. It is a separate issue from the accuracy of their predictions about the wonders of deregulation and privatisation. If libertarians say, for instance, that global deregulation will lead to increased electricity production in Ghana in 2050, there is no point in discussion. No-one knows anyway. The instrumental arguments of libertarians are untested, since no country has a fully libertarian economic system. There are partial neoliberal and libertarian 'experiments' - deregulation and privatisation. But, as the Californian electricity crisis showed, if the experiment fails, its supporters will simply claim that it was not sufficiently neoliberal or libertarian. So even the evidence for the instrumental claims of libertarians is a matter of interpretation and preference: it would be futile to use it as a basis for discussion.

  • "choose us or choose Hitler":

Perhaps it is no more than a style of argument, but a 'dual world' is a feature of many libertarian texts. On one side is libertarianism, on the other totalitarianism and dictatorship. The historic examples cited are almost always Nazism and Stalinism, the historic figures are Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. If it is not just a style of argument, then it is a specific from of utilitarianism: the legitimation of libertarianism by the (presumed) prevention of the horrors of totalitarianism. That would imply a libertarian claim, that even if libertarian society is unpleasant for everyone, they should accept it - to avoid the Gulag. As a style of argument this is very common, but it is hard to judge whether its users seriously think that there is a 'two-way switch' built into recent history.

  • specific position in the USA:

Here too, it is hard to judge how far libertarians have identified themselves with the USA. Certainly libertarianism is a largely North American phenomena, and European libertarians are usually Atlanticist. But the question is, whether the USA is the promised land for libertarians - the only possible location of their libertarian revolution. And if it is, would they accept a strategy of 'libertarianism-in-one-country'? Libertarianism is ultimately a universal ideology: that implies that a libertarian USA would become a vehicle for global libertarianism. In other words, when the USA went libertarian, libertarians would proceed to an expansionist war of conquest. However, I have never seen such a proposal: in fact US libertarians seem only vaguely aware that there is anywhere outside the USA.


The effects of a libertarian world flow from the values it enforces.

  • conformity:

A free market (or the comparable electronic structures envisaged by techno-liberals) exercises social forces. It is true that individuals can offer some resistance to social forces, but absolute rejection of all values and trends in the surrounding society is impossible. So there is always some reduction in individual freedom through 'interarchic' effects. In a free market, the individual consumer does not have 'freedom to choose': the freedom can only be exercised collectively. However, those consumers whose choice coincides with the outcome of market forces, are rewarded. The others are not only the losers on the market, but then also face market pressure to adapt their choice. In general, average-taste choices benefit. Free markets are not simply collective, but do have a centring effect.

This quote from Eric Raymond (original now offline) sums up the libertarian attitude:

As for whether open-source is 'techno-libertarian' -- well, I invite you to note that there is no coercion in it anywhere. It's a pure example of voluntary cooperation in a free market. The fact that open-source development leads to mostly cooperative rather than mostly competitive behavior is consistent; market economies are the most marvelous cooperative engines ever.

That is why markets are wrong: they produce social and technological uniformity. They 'centre' society. However, for some libertarians, that is exactly what makes them right.

  • imposition of a specific world order

As libertarian constitutions emphasise, a libertarian world is not a free-going world. It is an extremely specific world, in fact a specific world order of states of a specific type. (Most libertarian constitutions assume a world of multiple states). Libertarians may call these states 'minimal', but their individual specification would be extremely rigid. So too, probably, the relations among them, although I know of no proposals for a libertarian UN. In other words, if the Martians landed, they would know at once that they were on a libertarian planet. (Probably, they would be charged a landing fee). Libertarians can not see this specificity as a defect: because it specifies the world that they want, that they believe to be right. And indeed for them it is no defect: but for non-libertarians it is.

  • "process legitimised this outcome"

Since libertarians generally believe that process legitimises outcome, a libertarian society will tend to accept any outcome as legitimate. Specifically, a libertarian society will tend to see itself as legitimate - since it guarantees libertarian process, and is itself the outcome of that process. This is a potential licence for injustice. It is already common practice in liberal societies to legitimise social inequalities, by reference to the 'equal opportunities' which were available. (Usually they were not, but this political tactic forces critics to first prove they were not).

  • glorification of the order revealed through process

For libertarians, the social order which comes into existence through market process (and comparable process) has a special value. In cyber-liberal terms, it is the 'emergent order'. In a fully libertarian world, the veneration of this order would be an important cultural feature, at worst amounting to sacralisation. Certainly libertarians vehemently reject attempts to interfere with the wealth distribution resulting from the market. They clearly feel that something valuable would be destroyed. If this sort of veneration or sacralisation applied to the society as a whole, it would have a paralysing conservative effect. It would equate innovation with sacrilege, creating a taboo on destroying the 'sacred and perfect' order.

  • exclusion of entities from the post-emergent world

The perfect libertarian world would contain only entities which were the product of market forces: it would be post-emergent. Nothing would exist which had not been through the filter of emergence. The more libertarian the society, the more closely it would approach this state of affairs. In general, in a libertarian society, only goods and services would be available which conformed to market forces. Primarily, those would be the products of private enterprise. Some charities might also exist, but only if they successfully marketed themselves.

In other words certain entities will be permanently missing from the libertarian world. To libertarians, that is an advantage: they think of these entities as wrong: wrong as a product of coercion, or just plain wrong, like David Friedman's 'bad trucks'. Not just bad trucks will be missing, but an entire range of 'bad' entities, from 'bad' pencils, to 'bad' organisations, to 'bad' cities.

Urban planning theory has an established rhetoric of rejection of the 'Soviet City', the 'bad city' which is contrasted with the US city. It is a specific example of the contra-utopianism of liberal thinking. Sometimes you can imagine the theorist shouting at, for instance, Kaliningrad: "Such a city must be forbidden!" The point is that not everyone shares this preference of mainstream urban theory: and not everyone shares David Friedman's conviction that American trucks are self-evidently good. The entire range of 'bad entities' in this sense, is no more than a list of the personal preferences of libertarians.

  • Darwinistic society generates evasion:

Attempts to introduce intermediate stages, on the road to a libertarian society, emphasise privatisation and competition in government. Libertarians generally favour this approach. However, introduction of markets or quasi-markets may not produce the predicted aggressive goal-oriented competition. Students know this well: a university is the most competitive institution most of them will ever experience. And students know what they do, or at least what other students do, in such circumstances. They cheat. So do cadets at military academies, which make a cult of performance under pressure. So do Olympic athletes. If society was run to the high-achievement standards of the international derivatives market, one probable result is a new mass culture of evasion." (


Paul Treanor:

"With the values and effects listed above, the general characteristics of libertarianism can be summarised.

Firstly, libertarianism is a legitimation of the existing order, at least in the United States. All political regimes have a legitimising ideology, which gives an ethical justification for the exercise of political power. The European absolute monarchies, for instance, appealed to the doctrine of legitimate descent. The King was the son of a previous King, and therefore (so the story went), entitled to be king. In turn, a comprehensive opposition to a regime will have a comprehensive justification for abolishing it. Libertarianism is not a 'revolutionary ideology' in that sense, seeking to overthrow fundamental values of the society around it. In fact, most US libertarians have a traditionalist attitude to American core values. Libertarianism legitimises primarily the free-market, and the resulting social inequalities.

Specifically libertarianism is a legitimation for the rich - the second defining characteristic. If Bill Gates wants to defend his great personal wealth (while others are starving) then libertarianism is a comprehensive option. His critics will accuse him of greed. They will say he does not need the money and that others desperately need it. They will say his wealth is an injustice, and insist that the government redistribute it. Liberalism (classic liberal philosophy) offers a defence for all these criticisms, but libertarianism is sharper in its rejection. That is not to say that Bill Gates 'pays all the libertarians'. (He would pay the Republican Party instead, which is much better organised, and capable of winning elections). Libertarianism is not necessarily invented or financed by those who benefit from the ideology. In the USA and certainly in Europe, self-declared libertarians are a minority within market-liberal and neoliberal politics - also legitimising ideologies. To put it crudely, Bill Gates and his companies do not need the libertarians - although they are among his few consistent defenders.

Thirdly, libertarians are conservatives. Many are openly conservative, others are evasive about the issue. But in the case of openly conservative libertarians, the intense commitment to conservatism forms the apparent core of their beliefs. I suggest this applies to most libertarians: they are not really interested in the free market or the non-coercion principle or limited government as such, but in their effects. Perhaps what libertarians really want is to prevent innovation, to reverse social change, or in some way to return to the past. Certainly conservative ideals are easy to find among libertarians. Charles Murray, for instance, writes in What it means to be a Libertarian (p. 138):

The triumph of an earlier America was that it has set all the right trends in motion, at a time when the world was first coming out of millennia of poverty into an era of plenty. The tragedy of contemporary America is that it abandoned that course. Libertarians want to return to it.

Now, Murray is an easy target: he is not only an open conservative, but also a racist. (As co-author of The Bell Curve he is probably the most influential western academic theorist of racial inferiority). But most US libertarians share his nostalgia for the early years of the United States, although it was a slave-owning society. Libertarianism, however, is also structurally conservative in its rejection of revolutionary force (or any innovative force). Without destruction there can be no long-term social change: a world entirely without coercion and force would be a static world." (


Chomsky's critique of libertarianism

From an interview by Michael S. Wilson:

"Chomsky: Well what’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else — a little bit in England — permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society. Actually that has been believed in the past. Adam Smith for example, one of his main arguments for markets was the claim that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would lead to perfect equality. Well, we don’t have to talk about that! That kind of ... libertarianism, in my view, in the current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. Anarchism is quite different from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny. Including the kind of tyranny that’s internal to private power concentrations. So why should we prefer it? Well I think because freedom is better than subordination. It’s better to be free than to be a slave. It's better to be able to make your own decisions than to have someone else make decisions and force you to observe them. I mean, I don’t think you really need an argument for that. It seems like … transparent.

The thing you need an argument for, and should give an argument for, is, How can we best proceed in that direction? And there are lots of ways within the current society. One way, incidentally, is through use of the state, to the extent that it is democratically controlled. I mean in the long run, anarchists would like to see the state eliminated. But it exists, alongside of private power, and the state is, at least to a certain extent, under public influence and control — could be much more so. And it provides devices to constrain the much more dangerous forces of private power. Rules for safety and health in the workplace for example. Or insuring that people have decent health care, let’s say. Many other things like that. They’re not going to come about through private power. Quite the contrary. But they can come about through the use of the state system under limited democratic control … to carry forward reformist measures. I think those are fine things to do. they should be looking forward to something much more, much beyond, — namely actual, much larger-scale democratization. And that’s possible to not only think about, but to work on. So one of the leading anarchist thinkers, Bakunin in the 19th cent, pointed out that it’s quite possible to build the institutions of a future society within the present one. And he was thinking about far more autocratic societies than ours. And that’s being done. So for example, worker- and community- controlled enterprises are germs of a future society within the present one. And those not only can be developed, but are being developed. There’s some important work on this by Gar Alperovitz who’s involved in the enterprise systems around the Cleveland area which are worker and community controlled. There’s a lot of theoretical discussion of how it might work out, from various sources. Some of the most worked out ideas are in what’s called the “parecon” — participatory economics — literature and discussions. And there are others. These are at the planning and thinking level. And at the practical implementation level, there are steps that can be taken, while also pressing to overcome the worst … the major harms … caused by … concentration of private power through the use of state system, as long as the current system exists. So there’s no shortage of means to pursue.

As for state socialism, depends what one means by the term. If it’s tyranny of the Bolshevik variety (and its descendants), we need not tarry on it. If it’s a more expanded social democratic state, then the comments above apply. If something else, then what? Will it place decision-making in the hands of working people and communities, or in hands of some authority? If the latter, then — once again — freedom is better than subjugation, and the latter carries a very heavy burden of justification." (

Non-Libertarian values worthy of application

Paul Treanor:

"The descriptions of libertarianism above are abstract, and criticise its internal inconsistency. Many libertarian texts are insubstantial - just simple propaganda tricks, and misleading appeals to emotion. But there are irreducible differences in fundamental values, between libertarians and their opponents. Because they are irreducible, no common ground of shared values exists: discussion is fruitless. The non-libertarian alternative values include these...

  • coercion not an absolute wrong:

The libertarian claim, that freedom from coercion is the supreme social value, is simply wrong (leaving aside their own inconsistency about force and compulsion). Non-coercion is not the absolute good: other values override it. For instance, other things being equal, it is not wrong to secure justice by coercion. And when the alternative to coercion is non-innovation, then coercion to secure innovation is also legitimate.

  • ideals should not be abandoned simply because they involve some coercion:

The European Union and the Council of Europe have both prepared spatial plans for Europe. I don't agree with their versions, but a plan in itself is a good idea. They are wide-ranging documents, shaping the future of 700 million people on 10 million square kilometres. Inevitably, some people will suffer compulsion, in the implementation of such a comprehensive plan. For instance, although no-one will be sent to the Gulag, their land might be compulsorily acquired. Libertarians reject even that level of coercion. They reject the whole idea of such a huge plan: they think that any state planning is wrong. So, they say, the idea should simply be abandoned: "leave it to the market". But there is no reason to simply abandon any broad and complex ideal of the future of Europe. Grand ideals are not inherently wrong - and they are not made wrong, simply because their fulfilment requires a degree of coercion.

  • redistribution of wealth is not wrong:

Libertarians argue as if it was self-evidently wrong, to steal the legitimately owned property of the rich, and give it to the poor. But it's not wrong, not wrong at all. Redistribution of wealth is inherently good: in fact, it is a moral obligation of the state. Excessive wealth is there to be redistributed: the only issue is what is 'excessive'. And of course this is coercion, and of course Bill Gates would scream 'Tyranny!' if the government gave his money to the poor of Africa. But it's still not wrong, not wrong at all.

  • people are not absolutely entitled to keep the money they earned:

Labour creates no entitlement to property. The claim that is does is merely a culturally specific preference: the labour theory of value - ironically a pillar of Marxist theory. Other cultures might claim that God's grace, or piousness, or filial devotion, or patrilineal descent, or status, create the entitlement to property and wealth. There is no objective standard by which these claims can be ranked. On this issue, you say what you choose to believe. I say the state should tax those with more than an acceptable minimum income. But what if they are the creators of wealth, and they refuse to create when they are taxed? Well then let us all live in poverty, and let us imprison them, for trying to blackmail the state into lowering their taxes. It's simply political bluff, for a particular group to claim that they are the 'creators of wealth', and that the rest of the population owes them obeisance for this reason. In all probability, not much will happen to the Gross National Product, if the self-styled 'creators of wealth' lose their privileges.

  • the State is not wrong:

Anti-statism is a central element of libertarianism, but it rests on no foundations, other than the libertarian principles themselves. Often, libertarians suggest that 'The State' (the government, in American usage) is inherently wrong. But even if they say that explicitly, it is simply their belief, that's all. By its nature, the state uses coercion of the type that libertarians oppose, but that is not inherently wrong either (see above). In return, the state can end coercion of the type that libertarians tolerate and welcome, especially in the free market. And the State is, almost by definition, the only means to implement large-scale change and innovation in society - as opposed to simply letting market forces shape the future.

  • moral values are above the law:

US libertarians often complain that "the government is above the law": they oppose an entity with this status. The most extreme libertarians see the government (tax officials especially) as a gang of armed robbers: they see the courts as the remedy for this. In fact, most liberals support the 'rule of law', the Rechtstaat-liberals see it as central to liberalism. In practice, the rule of law would probably mean the rule of lawyers and judges: the courts would become the State, and exercise its functions. But the principle is wrong in itself. Certainly, if libertarians flatly state that "nothing should be above the law", then they are flatly wrong. The law is not the supreme moral value: it is not a moral value at all. The law must defer to moral values: they are indeed 'above the law'." (

Libertarianism as a philosophy of property

Marvin Brown:

"If you want to understand the foundation of libertarianism, there is no better place to look than Adam Smith’s view of property relations.Laced throughout Smith’s book, The Wealth of Nations, one finds the Enlightenment doctrine of the four stages of history: the evolution from a hunter society through herding and agriculture to a commercial society. These stages were also about the development of property and the development of government. At the commercial stage, ownership of property had become the basis of free enterprise and government’s role was to protect property.

I think that libertarianism fits squarely on this legacy of property relations. Freedom is the right to do what I want with what I have, with my property. What is especially irritating to libertarians is for the government to take from the “haves” and give it to the “have-nots.” What is equally irritating to non-libertarians is the practice of treating the people and the planet as property, and of ignoring how everyone is interrelated and interconnected in social and economic systems. In contrast to the Anglo-American property-based tradition, the philosophers of continental Europe based human freedom on the moral will and human dignity. This has given them a framework for seeing people related to one another as a moral community. The Anglo-American tradition of property relations does not have the same resources. In fact, if we want to create a political economy that would move us toward justice and sustainability, we will need to move beyond Smithian economics and libertarianism. We will need to create a global civil society that includes all as members, instead of a property-based society that separates us into the haves and the have-nots." (

Libertarianism as a philosophy of sovereignty, not freedom

By Andrew Dittmer:

"After reading a number of libertarian authors, such as Hayek, Friedman, and Nozick, it started to seem to me that libertarianism is not a theory of freedom at all. Reader Marat cited an example by libertarian Walter Block, in which a person is hanging for dear life to a flagpole protruding from the 15th floor of a high-rise. Block says that if the apartment owner demands that the person let go, and the flagpole hanger attempts instead to climb down into the balcony, then if “the occupant shoots him for trespassing… the answer is clear. The owner… is in the right, and the trespasser is in the wrong.”

In my experience, libertarians often enjoy citing examples like this, in which the freedom of the flagpole hanger to survive is trumped by the right of the owner to maintain sovereignty over her apartment. Is is possible that libertarianism is a theory of sovereignty, and not a theory of freedom?

If libertarianism is a theory of sovereignty, it is natural to wonder whether libertarian sovereignty can be just as tyrannical as the kind of governments that libertarians dislike. If libertarianism defends the rights of corporations to govern themselves as they see fit, will some people end up signing contracts that effectively make them quasi-slaves? Many libertarians specify that no one will be allowed to sign a contract to make themselves a slave. However, what if people sign contracts that effectively make them into slaves without doing so explicitly? Then they could be slaves in a rights-respecting manner – would that be okay? If not, what is the alternative? Should the government be allowed to police every possible contractual arrangement and annul the ones that it thinks could lead to effective slavery?

John Holbo of the blog Crooked Timber made an argument along these lines, arguing that a certain form of libertarianism can become something close to feudalism.

On the other hand, Widerquist has written an interesting article (A Dilemma for Libertarianism) taking this observation in a slightly different direction. He points out that the same arguments that libertarians use to defend the sanctity of property rights can be used just as easily to defend the rights of governments to tax individuals and to regulate businesses – or the rights of a hereditary, unconstitutional monarch.

At this point it becomes to seem like libertarian ideas of sovereignty can justify many different possible societies. Some of these societies would not be considered very free by normal definitions of the word." (

Why Would a Libertarian like Thiel Support an Authoritarian Candidate like Trump

Ben Tarnoff:

"In a 2009 essay called The Education of a Libertarian, Thiel declared that capitalism and democracy had become incompatible. Since 1920, he argued, the creation of the welfare state and “the extension of the franchise to women” had made the American political system more responsive to more people – and therefore more hostile to capitalism. Capitalism is not “popular with the crowd”, Thiel observed, and this means that as democracy expands, the masses demand greater concessions from capitalists in the form of redistribution and regulation.

The solution was obvious: less democracy. But in 2009, Thiel despaired of achieving this goal within the realm of politics. How could you possibly build a successful political movement for less democracy?

Fast forward two years, when the country was still slowly digging its way out of the financial crisis. In 2011, Thiel told George Packer that the mood of emergency made him “weirdly hopeful”. The “failure of the establishment” had become too obvious to ignore, and this created an opportunity for something radically new, “something outside the establishment”, to take root.

Now, in 2016, Thiel has finally found a politician capable of seizing that opportunity: a disruptor-in-chief who will destroy a dying system and build a better one in its place. Trump isn’t just a flamethrower for torching a rotten establishment, however – he’s the fulfillment of Thiel’s desire to build a successful political movement for less democracy.

Trump is openly campaigning on the idea that American democracy should belong to fewer people. When he talks about deporting 11m immigrants, or promises to build a database of Muslim Americans, or praises FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war, or encourages violence against black protesters at his rallies, he’s making an argument about who counts as an American (native-born whites) and who doesn’t (everyone else). “Real” Americans get to enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship; racial outsiders and internal enemies do not.

This is certainly racist, and possibly fascist. It’s also profoundly anti-Democratic. It’s debatable how many of Trump’s campaign promises he could actually fulfill if elected, and how many he would even want to. But one indisputable effect of a Trump administration would be to diminish American democracy by lending credibility and resources to the forces of white supremacy and ultranationalism.

Such an outcome would fit Thiel’s purposes well. For Thiel, a smaller, more easily manipulated mob is preferable to a bigger one. If democracy can’t be eliminated, at least it can be shrunk through authoritarianism. A strongman like Trump, by exploiting the racial hatred and economic rage of one group of Americans, would work to delegitimize and disempower other groups of Americans. He would discipline what Thiel calls “the unthinking demos”: the democratic public that constrains capitalism.

Limiting democracy isn’t the same as limiting government, however. And this distinction matters to Thiel, who believes that government has an important role to play. Unlike most libertarians, Thiel recognizes that only the state can provide the public goods on which private profit-making depends. He often speaks of his admiration for the Apollo space program, which he considers the crowning achievement of a golden age of federal funding for science. Since then, as he explained in an interview with Francis Fukuyama, “an ossified, Weberian bureaucracy and the increasingly hostile regulation of technology” have crippled government’s capacity to foster technological innovation.

Following this logic, what’s needed is a state that bankrolls scientific research at midcentury cold war levels – without the comparatively high tax rates and social spending that accompanied it. Corporations would mine this research for profitable inventions. The public would foot the bill and ask for nothing in return.

The problem with traditional conservatives is that they’re too anti-government to fulfill this vision. Fortunately for Thiel, Trump is no traditional conservative. One of his talking points is a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, which he openly compares to the New Deal. But if Trump is heretical enough to support public spending to stimulate growth, he’s orthodox on the question of who should benefit from that growth. Federal spending is fine so long as its benefits flow to the rich: Trump’s proposed tax reform would slash rates for the top 0.1% of American taxpayers.

Thiel’s preferred political future isn’t hard to picture. The government shoulders the research costs for capitalists but makes no demands and sets no conditions. An authoritarian leader uses racial anger to set one portion of the population against another, and cracks down on those he sees as alien or illegitimate. The state becomes even more responsive to the needs of capitalists and even less responsive to the needs of workers and citizens. What Thiel calls the “oxymoron” of “capitalist democracy” is resolved – by jettisoning democracy.

This may sound like dystopian science fiction, but it’s also a perfectly reasonable political objective for someone of Thiel’s class position. It’s easy for liberals to dismiss Thiel as a “comic-book villain”, but this caricature obscures the fact that Thiel is a sophisticated thinker – and a perceptive one. His central observation, that American capitalism is facing a crisis, is unquestionably correct." (

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