The Left are waking up to the Libertarian threat

With the rise of Ron Paul the Left are beginning to wake up to the threat Libertarianism poses them. Why? Because we are more ‘liberal’ than them. And, importantly, we have a far stronger economic argument.

This fear is personified in the childish attacks of George Mombiot. And now Jeffrey Sachs… Yeah, I don’t know who he is either…

Here are some examples of the nonsense Jeffrey throws at us…

Like many extreme ideologies, libertarianism gives a single answer to a complicated world.

No it doesn’t. Libertarianism does not aim to answer the major problems of the world. It simply aims to give people the freedom to work out solutions for themselves. Because as we often point out, the State has done an awful job of working out ‘solutions’ for us.

Jeffrey continues…

Libertarians hold that individual liberty should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of other values or causes.

Again, no. Property Rights are just as important as Liberty. Damage my property and you lose your right to liberty. We’re Libertarians, not Libertines. In a Libertarian/Anarchist society an individual will not be free to do whatever they wish without censure.

And the most ridiculous argument…

Suppose a rich man has a surfeit of food and a poor man living next door is starving to death. The libertarian says that the government has no moral right or political claim to tax the rich person in order to save the poor person. Perhaps the rich person should be generous and give charity to the neighbor, the libertarian might say (or might not), but there is nothing that the government should do. The moral value of saving the poor person’s life simply does not register when compared with the liberty of the rich person.

So if another man is poor or hungry I should be forced to support him..?

Ok, but what if the man spent his whole life beating his wife? Or he was a drug addict? Or he spent all his money on whores? Or he touched children? Or he was Bernie Madoff? Should I still be forced to hand over my money..?

As is clear many of the arguments against libertarians come from a position of gross ignorance. But expect many more attacks like this because we’ve got the Left running scared.




Image credit: David Shankbone


  1. Here! Here!
    Great responses Rob to common misconceptions that people have about libertarianism. Such corrections should be made available to more people. Keep it up.




  2. All good points in general, but I have to take issue with use of the phrase “Libertarian/Anarchist society”.

    Like all political ideologies, Libertarianism has many branches, of which Anarchy is merely one. It is the purest form of Libertarianism, yes, but it is also the most extreme, which makes it the least appealing to mainstream audiences, especially because most people are ignorant of the true meaning of Anarchy and associate it with violent disorder. I would therefore argue that Libertarians should not associate themselves with Anarchy to avoid alienating potential supporters, at least until the true meaning of the word is recovered.

    On a slightly separate note, I would actually argue that, in a truly Anarchist society, an individual WOULD be pretty much free to do whatever they wish without censure. Certainly without censure from the state, although localised and unregulated “justice” may be meted out (this is a good example of why I would distance the broader Libertarian movement from pure Anarchy – people like having law and order).

    But, nevertheless, a good critique of Jeffrey Sachs, who appears bent on distorting Libertarian views. He states that Libertarianism gives a “single answer to a complicated world”, but he himself is applying exaggerated and unintelligent stereotype – a simple answer to a complicated movement, you could say. His scaremongering holds no more credibility than if I said the Labour Party is hell-bent on nationalisation and imposing a Communist state upon Britain.



    1. I read (from an Objectivist) that an Anarchist society would likely evolve a system of bonds/insurances against poor behaviour and it would be commonplace to present proof of holding such insurance to clubs, workplaces and upon entry to gated communities. As such, there might be more and more effective forms of censure than a society which relied on a single state-run police force. Such ideas prove Anarchy undeserving of being ostracised from the movement, but your point about the miss appropriation of the term is well founded.



    2. My use of Libertarian/Anarchist was more of a “Libertarian through to Anarchist”. Maybe I should have used Libertarian >> Anarchist.

      On a personal level I’m more of a Minarchist than Anarchist.



  3. The moral value of saving the poor person’s life simply does not register when compared with the liberty of the rich person.

    That paragraph is actually quite a good expression of one of the objections many people have to libertarianism. Of course libertarians would say that morality is a matter for each individual and should not be exercised, on their behalf, by the state and with money extorted from them by force.

    Yet how can it be right that the poor man starves?

    However, as well as freedom, most libertarians also believe in a code of personal responsibility and, in reality, the poor man would not starve.

    But because this individual morality, being personal, cannot be codified, we need a way to be able to convince others that our believe in individual freedom is not founded in selfishness but is based on a desire to allow everyone to have more meaningful, and personally satisfying, life. And that is a challenge.

    Objectivists may disagree, but I believe altruism is morally virtuous when exercised through the free will of an individual.



    1. Oddly enough, my own view is similar to how Rob expresses it above.

      Assuming the neighbour is at least somewhat decent though, I would do what I could to help, but I would not organise the state, and the lives of others, around that goal, just as I would not organise my own life around it.



    2. Ken my argument, like you suggest, was just to highlight that morality and altruism are far more complex than rich man poor man.

      We could add to the dynamic that there are two poor men and I only have the funds to help one. Who do I help? I make the decision on who I think is more deserving. It could simply be on who is poorest, or it could be on who I see as the most moral — whatever I decide.

      Or alternatively… the State could take money for both of them and we could all be poor…



  4. @ Mark Russell,

    “I would therefore argue that Libertarians should not associate themselves with Anarchy to avoid alienating potential supporters, at least until the true meaning of the word is recovered.”

    I understand the point you’re making, but we won’t gain credit by kow-towing to ignorance or malice-driven attacks on what libertarianism represents. Whether someone calls himself an anarchist, a minarchist, a classical liberal of whatever, the important thing is whether they are true to libertarian principles, i.e. principles of liberty, property, peace and free trade (at least these are how I’d headline libertarian principles). Plenty of the most important libertarian thinkers have considered themselves anarchist. The key issue is what their attitude to private property is. Until such a time as the state has been rolled back to 19th century limits, there is no reason for minarchists and anarcho-capitalists to fall out amongst themselves.

    “Like all political ideologies, Libertarianism has many branches…”

    A small point perhaps, but I would not call libertarianism an ideology. It is, rather, a political philosophy.

    As for the blog post, good work Rob. I have for a while believed that is very important for us to fight for ownership of the name ‘liberal’ from the collectivist scum who stole it and turned its meaning around 180 degrees. Let us do unto them as they did unto our predecessors. When it is again associated with the defence of property and free market capitalism, they will realise the game is up. Meanwhile all those who consider themselves liberal in one way or another will hopefully start thinking logically about the application of liberty, and how the old liberals like Bastiat and Cobden were right all along.



  5. Charity for the poor can be implemented in at least two ways in a (purist) libertarian society.

    The first is that all the left-wing people who believe the poor should be helped may voluntarily club together and pay their benefits. People do care, the existence of left-wingers proves it, and a libertarian society lets people spend their own money as they choose: including altruistically. To the extent that the left believe their views are held in common by a majority, that should be more than sufficient. They do think they’re a majority, don’t they?

    The second is what they used to do with ‘friendly societies’ which is for people concerned about destitution to take out an insurance policy against it. You pay in, and thereby pay the benefits for those currently poor, so that if it ever happens to you, you will be helped yourself. A free market in terms and conditions, means testing, and so on will buy you the right level of protection while excluding spongers. Policies with stricter conditions on need would therefore be cheaper.

    And to be honest, I suspect most minarchists would count saving the severely disabled and otherwise incapable from starvation on the street to be one of those functions that are justified for a minimal state. Think of it as a part of the common defence. And even if you have nothing else to give society, simple gratitude and respect should be considered ample repayment – as opposed to outright hatred of those who pay the bills for not paying more, which seems to be the standard set today.

    But most of all, the aim of a libertarian society is to make all such charity less necessary, by promoting general prosperity through lower taxes, less regulation, less wasteful subsidy, and taking education and training out of the incompetent and unaccountable hands of the bureaucrats. Many seek a free market precisely *because* they care about the poor. A free market is the most efficient way to reduce their number, by creating more wealth to go round.



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