Libertarianism: A Political Oxymoron
By: Marcus Perriello | Our Voice Contributor
“Give me liberty, or give me death!” The words of Patrick Henry from the Second Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775. This famous quote is the beating heart of the ideology behind Libertarianism; a political and economic philosophy that advocates for and promotes unfettered freedom and liberty across the board, from individuals to complex institutions. Admittedly, there’s nothing like the feeling of freedom from any kind of oppressive measures that impede one’s ability to move forward in life in the manner one best sees fit. Stress is reduced. Moods are elevated. Outlooks are more positive. At first glance, this seems like a kind of utopia of liberty and freedom. But that’s where the romantic notion of Libertarianism ends. Once you apply this philosophy in real life, it is a matter of historical record that eventually, all of society descends into chaos.
In addition to the upsides of Libertarianism, there are also the equally important downsides inherent in its premise. Little-to-no Government. No regulation. No oversight. No checks-and-balances on economic power. No justice. Part of the Libertarian ideology is based on the assumption that all people are inherently good and would operate in society with common sense. Libertarians argue that business people would never do wrong by their workers or clients because they would lose business as a result, so therefore there’s no need for regulation and oversight because the reasoning behind it is obvious. Again, the sounds of a utopian ideal, but based entirely in theory. Without the proper regulation, oversight and due process for administering justice in place, the more unscrupulous and dishonest actors in the field would be able to operate with impunity and the victims of their wrongdoing would have literally no legal recourse. This also leads to unchecked economic power translating into unchecked political power, giving the wealthiest capitalists in society the most sway over economic and political discourse in society, leaving the rest of the population to live with the consequences of decisions they had virtually no say over.
Does this sound familiar? It should. This is what happens when economies are left to be as authoritarian and dictatorial as they are in most places, particularly in the United States. Today, we might call this Oligarchy. Under such circumstances, eventually the mass of people recognize that it’s up to them to fix the problems they face because no Government, no agency, no one who doesn’t stand to profit from doing so, is going to help them. So the masses rise up and begin to fight back against the economic forces that have monopolized the economy and are dictating their quality of life. This is where Fascism emerges. The economic powers in society use their immense wealth and influence to harness their corresponding political power to suppress insurgencies and preserve the Free Market system that made them rich and powerful. Libertarians don’t support such measures, as this is a form of asserting control and therefore, compromising liberty and freedom. But it still happens, nonetheless, because it is inherent in the ideology itself.
Ayn Rand, the original Libertarian icon, had an outlook of society that was born out of her experiences in the Soviet Union, from which she immigrated to the United States. She had suffered a great deal at the hands of the Authoritarian regime of the Soviet Union and, like most people under their yolk, she internalized a correlation between Socialism and Authoritarianism. This led to her developing her philosophy of Libertarianism. Throughout the 20th Century, the rise of Communism in the East was almost unanimously depicted by strong-armed Authoritarian governments that engaged in violence against their own people to preserve and protect the power structure they were profiting so heavily from. Without a healthy, thriving democratic process at the grassroots to oversee and counteract these Authoritarian figures, the whole ideology of Socialism and Communism became synonymous with Totalitarianism. This was the result of unchecked power being concentrated at the top of society behind a veil of Left-Wing ideals. Again, the Libertarian philosophy at work, only wrapped in a different package.
From the onset of the Cold War up through Present Day, in response to the spread of Authoritarianism across the world, the Western democratic societies feared this influence and regarded it as a serious threat to Democracy and Western Civilization. When Ayn Rand published her book, many in Conservative circles latched on to her ideology as the best way to fight back against the growing presence emanating from the Eastern Block. By now, the United States was in the Golden Age of Economic Expansion. Unions were strong. Wages were livable. Homes were modestly priced. Goods and services were affordable to even the least well-paid workers. But there were some stark differences between what Libertarians and Conservatives claim is the best way to conduct economies and what was actually in place. Strict government regulation, oversight and due process for administering Justice were key components that contributed to the Golden Age of Economic Expansion. It was Capitalism kept in check. So in fact, contrary to what Americans have been led to believe, the Libertarian philosophy was more prevalent in the Eastern Block and contributed to the consolidation of wealth and power, resulting in the rise of Authoritarian regimes, than it was in the Western countries, where the true examples of Socialism were more pronounced and helped to keep the forces of Oligarchy at bay.
As is evident from these examples, Libertarianism is rife with contradictions and paradoxes. There is also a religious aspect of Libertarianism, and that is the unwavering belief and faith in Capitalism. To Libertarians, and most Conservatives, Capitalism is a religion; their unquestioned and undisputed prescription for life. Many old school/blue dog Democrats hold this philosophy true to their hearts, as well. At this level, almost everyone across the political landscape holds some degree of belief in the Libertarian philosophy. Today, it is those who actively participate in the Progressive ideology that call out this complex dichotomy for what it really is: Capitalism presented to the public through different self-pronounced brands. Democrats, by today’s standards, would be considered more Socially Libertarian and economically Centrist, whereas Republicans are both socially and economically Conservative, with their fiscal ideology more directly in line with that of full-fledged Libertarianism. This is partly why Libertarians tend to run in Republican circles, though they have stark disagreements on social issues.
Today, it is those who actively participate in the Progressive ideology that call out this complex dichotomy for what it really is: Capitalism presented to the public through different self-pronounced brands.
Progressives and Libertarians are practically identical on social issues, but almost polar opposites on fiscal policy. What Progressives have come to realize is that when the Libertarian philosophy is applied, the end result is freedom and liberty for the rich and powerful, and total subjugation for the masses. This is because when a laissez-faire Capitalist system is in motion, the endgame is Monopoly. This results in those who have monopolized the economy, and therefore all political power, being free to rewrite the laws of the land as they see fit, which always ends up being to their personal advantage at the expense of the public welfare. Most Progressives are not Post-Capitalist in ideology, but because of the inherent paradoxes within the Libertarian philosophy, Progressives understand (and promote) varying degrees of Social-Democratic measures that allow Capitalism to continue, but with the proper checks and balances in place to prevent the rise of Authoritarian regimes and/or society’s decent into total chaos.
The other problem with Libertarianism and its deep-seeded belief in laissez-faire Capitalism is that without proper government regulation, oversight and administration of Justice, literally everything is For Sale. Kyle Kulinski of the show “Secular Talk” did a 10-minute segment (Oct 8, 2014) laying out examples that highlight the fiscal contradictions and problems that arise within a purely Libertarian economy.
Richard Wolff’s segment on Fascism also lays out the ensuing consequences that result from the application of a Libertarian economy, as well. When everything is For Sale and the money supply continues to be funneled up to the top, in addition to the lack of minimum wage laws and anti-price-gouging laws, the economy collapses under its own weight because it quickly becomes too lopsided and unstable. The result is the mass of people separating into their own ideological groups working to improve their own lives by encroaching on the lives of other groups whom they deem responsible for their economic woes. In short, total chaos.
As well-intended as Libertarians are in their philosophy, the inherent drawbacks and consequences from applying their ideology cannot be understated. Capitalism is a system that is inherently unsustainable and unstable and therefore requires at least an equal amount of government oversight, regulation and administrative justice to the amount of commerce and capital being generated in society. Without such a balance present in an economy, individual liberty and freedom is eroded by the more expansive and powerful economic entities, and the end result is Economic Authoritarianism, or Oligarchy. It doesn’t matter where on the economic and political landscape one identifies. If the Libertarian ideology is applied to economics, regardless of the social ideology at work, society ends up with an Authoritarian infrastructure with the most wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations writing the laws and calling the shots. So when you hear about Liberty and Freedom, the more important question is: Freedom and Liberty for whom? The People… or the Rich and Powerful? Unlike what the Libertarian ideology says, this is an instance where we can’t have our cake and eat it too.