Orange is the new black. Tropes are the new memes. And libertarianism is the new communism. What? Statists Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu have recently published a Bloomberg piece entitled “Libertarians Are the New Communists.” Hanauer is a venture capitalist and Liu is a former speechwriter in the Clinton White House. Given that both these individuals depend upon big government and corporatism to make their bones, it is no surprise that they would decry freedom.
Hanauer and Liu rightly claim that wherever communism was adopted, it has led to “misery, poverty and tyranny.” They then argue that if “extremist libertarians” ever came to power, the results would be the same. They refer to these “extremist libertarians” as “nihilist anti-state libertarians” who are allegedly aiming to shut down the state. They identify the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, Ted Cruz, Ron Paul, and Rand Paul as such libertarian nihilists.
Creating a straw man by relying upon a tortured interpretation of Ayn Rand’s objectivism and applying it to all libertarians, they claim that radical libertarianism “assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish.” They also argue that radical libertarianism “assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers, when, in fact, they are fragile ecosystems prone to collapse and easily overwhelmed by free-riders.”
They further contend that not only would radical libertarianism be a disaster if it ever became the philosophy of the leaders of the federal government, but that radical libertarianism would in fact be impossible to apply to a functioning society. In their fevered imaginations, they see: “A President Paul [who] would rule by tantrum, shutting down the government in order to repeal laws already passed by Congress.” Of course, these unoriginal thinkers could not possibly write a hit piece on libertarianism without playing the Somalia card: “It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression.”
Hanauer and Liu’s solution is uninspiring and unoriginally communitarian:
The alternative to this extremism is an evolving blend of freedom and cooperation. The relationship between social happiness and economic success can be plotted on a bell curve, and the sweet spot is away from the extremes of either pure liberty or pure communitarianism. That is where true citizenship and healthy capitalism are found.
True citizenship enables a society to thrive for precisely the reasons that communism and radical libertarianism cannot. It is based on a realistic conception of human nature that recognizes we must cooperate to be able compete at higher levels. True citizenship means changing policy to adapt to changes in circumstance. Sometimes government isn’t the answer. Other times it is.
Hanauer and Liu do say something correct about libertarianism. It is “the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values.” This is undeniably true because all other values are dependent on freedom. Unless one is an autonomous and has the ability to exercise natural rights to life, liberty, and property, then no other values can take root, let alone be enjoyed. Natural rights are possessed by human beings in virtue of their humanity. The government does not grant natural rights and may not take them away. To deny the existence and paramount nature of natural rights is to deny humanity itself.
Is it impossible for “extreme libertarianism” to be the governing philosophy of the nation? It certainly was not impossible for the first century of the existence of the Republic when by and large the federal government was a minarchist state—particularly when compared with the bloated warfare/welfare “communitarian” state so loved by corporatist statists like Hanauer and Liu. With minimal federal regulations, no welfare state, and no income tax, the United States grew from a weak agrarian former British colony into the world’s greatest economic power. How had libertarians such as Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe managed not to turn the United States into a failed state? There was hardly “misery, poverty, and tyranny.”
The radical libertarianism of the individuals named by the authors is a form of Constitutional minarchism. Those such as Ron Paul seek to shut down only the parts of government that are unconstitutional. This is akin to an oncologist treating a patient with cancer. Such a physician is anti-cancer cells, not anti-healthy cells. Not all libertarians are objectivists and most do not hold that psychological egoism is true. Statists such as Hanauer and Liu believe that the only kind of cooperation that is possible is collectivist “cooperation” at the barrel of a gun. Coerced cooperation is not cooperation at all. Coerced altruism is not altruism at all. The idea that libertarians do not believe in cooperation is the most disingenuous variety of straw man argument. Libertarians believe in the freedom to cooperate with those whom one chooses to associate. This is the very backbone of civil society. Libertarians accomplish things by forming businesses, PACs, nonprofit organizations, and all manner of informal cooperative and voluntary associations. Libertarians are anything but solitary dog-eat-dog Hobbesians or Social Darwinists. The kind of cooperation that Hanauer and Liu have in mind is no doubt phony forced cooperation—draconian taxation and regulation, corporatist wealth redistribution, Nanny State “nudging,” etc.
The notion of President Paul (whether Ron or Rand) ruling by tantrum is ridiculous. Unless, of course, “ruling by tantrum” is what the cool kids are calling ruling by the Constitution these days. President Paul would likely veto many unconstitutional or wasteful bills. It is also likely that President Paul would refuse to enforce some legislation passed by Congress. However, the President takes an oath to defend the Constitution. This oath is violated if he or she enforces unconstitutional legislation. Would Hanauer and Liu wish the President to enforce laws that brought back slavery or segregation? Laws that made homosexuality into a capital federal offense? Hopefully not, but perhaps if these racist and homophobic laws were for “the greater good.”
The old Somalia canard hardly deserves addressing. However, here goes. Somalia is anything but a libertarian state. The organization Freedom House ranks the Somali government as among the most repressive in the world. While perhaps it is a weak despotic government, it is despotic nevertheless. A minarchist libertarian government would be a limited government that safeguarded the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. It would be far closer to the early American government minus the racist scourge of statist slavery than it would to the government of Somalia.
What Hanauer and Liu fail to understand is that the communitarian “sweet spot” of which they fantasize is a pipe dream. If government is given an inch, it takes a million miles. The government they worship is the one which supported slavery, herded Japanese-Americans into concentration camps, experimented on African American men without their consent, and spies on each and every American citizen as if they are traitors and criminals. Ultimately, freedom wanes unless centralized government is chained down by the people using the Constitution. But the truth is that such statists do not fear the government. What they fear are the people. This is indicated by their disdain for the concept that “societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers, when, in fact, they are fragile ecosystems prone to collapse and easily overwhelmed by free-riders.” They clearly must believe that human beings are evil and require a police state to rule them when in fact all evidence is to the contrary. They view others as “free riders” when it is the progressive corporatists and courtiers who are the true “free riders.” What they are suggesting is an Americanized version of fascism.