Utopia in the Gunsights

If you can’t abandon your ideals the moment better ones come along, you’re insane.

There are three types of libertarian. The first, which I  call Double L Libertarians, or LLers, are both socially and economically libertarian. LLers believe that government involvement in the personal and business lives of the people should be kept to the barest possible minimum. Ayn Rand would be such a libertarian, a cops, courts, and the army, type.

The second kind I call Business Libertarians, or LBers. These libertarians desire an unfettered laissezfaire free for all economy. How a man makes his crust is nobody’s business, and if he is going to die in a gutter or in bed at home on giant pile of riches, is up to him. Life is dangerous and unfair. Tough. However, these same libertarians are socially conservative. They believe the government has a role in preserving traditional values and behavior.  Glen Beck and the Tea Party are LBers.

The third kind of libertarian I call Social Libertarians, or LSers. These libertarians believe government should play a large role in shaping the economic life of the people. They believe in a safety net for those who might fail in their endeavor to feed themselves, and that in no way does a business have “rights” in the same sense a person does.  However, the LSers are socially liberal. They believe the government has no place in the cultural discussion over traditions and values. If forced to choose, I would be an LSer.

What all three types of libertarian share is that individual liberty is paramount. However, the LBers and LSers believe that in some contexts more collectivist thinking results in the greater good.

Alright, now that the floorboards are nailed in tight, we can begin.

*

Ideology is an ugly word. The notion that a person should look to a code to define their actions strikes at our deepest integrity. For what do we have if not our capacity to think for ourselves? Are books of religion or philosophy there to think for us or to inform and facilitate? If one does not, in an instant, abandon a belief as soon as they can no longer reconcile it with new information, then one is deluded, and by definition. Nothing is so holy that it cannot be trashed.

In a debate between brands of libertarian, a simple yet salient point is often forgotten. The LBer will shout at the LSer “Businesses are made up of people, and people have rights.” To which the LSer will respond “But businesses are subsidized by the people. We train the workforce, build the infrastructure, and defend the business with the army, therefore, we have the right to stick our beak in.” Then the LBer might say “Yes, but businesses pay taxes too.” Then the LSer says “New businesses haven’t yet paid taxes, they couldn’t have gotten their start without the efforts of people. Why should I subsidize a new business if I don’t get a say in how it’s run?” And so on and so on.

The point they have forgotten, is that the goal of political discourse is not to defend a philosophical position… to put ‘individual rights’ on some sort of pedestal and thwart all attempts at tearing it down. The goals must be to inform the decision making process, to build a state that… what?

There’s the rub. We all recognize before a political discussion starts that for a political philosophy to count, it has to translate to policy. That, ultimately, pragmatism rules. However, pragmatism to what end? What imperfect but best real life scenario, independent of whatever philosophy informs it, is the goal?

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris argues that if someone thinks an action resulting in “the maximum possible misery for all sentient creatures” can be called moral, then “I don’t know what you mean by moral, and don’t think you do either.” If you agree with Harris, then it simply follows that morality is no longer solely in the domain of personal opinion. The natural inference, is that anything that maximizes happiness in sentient creatures, is moral.

Harris achieved a meaningful definition of morality, but what is lacking in the political philosophy discourse is a similar, ideologically independent, real world semi-ideal to strive for. Sure, a LLer can describe a Libertarian Utopia, where the rules are designed to keep rules to a minimum, but such a definition says nothing about human well being, happiness, prosperity, thriving etc. Can we borrow from Harris’ thoughts on morality and agree that any political ideal that results in negative well being, happiness, prosperity, and thriving, can and should be discarded? That to continue to believe in such an ideal is deluded?

Clearly, most LLers, LBers, and LSers, are not ravenous ideologues eager to stamp out any hint of contrary sentiments. I am sure the rank and file libertarian of any stripe is eager to maximize well being, happiness, prosperity, and thriving, and that they see their political ideals as just the way to do that. What I am unsure of, is if they are capable of being convinced of radically contrary fundamentals that might go against their core beliefs, no matter how compelling.

To end, ask yourself this question. Which is more dear: Free Speech, or the maximum possible human happiness? If it was demonstrable that in order to maximize human well being that it was necessary to introduce severe speech laws, would you vote in favour of such laws? If the answer is No, I think you are crazy.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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2 Responses to “Utopia in the Gunsights”

  1. Ben Says:

    “These libertarians believe government should play a large role in shaping the economic life of the people. ”

    Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Isn’t a libertarian by definition someone who believes that governments shouldn’t shape economic life?

  2. rockrobinoff Says:

    a libertarian believes in individual rights. however, many libertarians believe the government has a right to tell you who you can and cannot marry. hence, i defined my terms, and set up three distinct types.

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