Commentary

Why Radical Libertarians Are the New Communists

A toxic strand of a political ideology

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By Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu

Most people would consider radical libertarianism and communism polar opposites: The first glorifies personal freedom. The second would obliterate it. Yet the ideologies are simply mirror images. Both attempt to answer the same questions, and fail to do so in similar ways. Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.

Let’s start with some definitions. By radical libertarianism, we mean the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values. By communism, we mean the ideology of extreme state domination of private and economic life.

Some of the radical libertarians are Ayn Rand fans who divide their fellow citizens into makers, in the mold of John Galt, and takers, in the mold of anyone not John Galt.

Some, such as the Koch brothers, are economic royalists who repackage trickle-down economics as “libertarian populism.” Some are followers of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose highest aspiration is to shut down government. Some resemble the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has made a career out of trying to drown, stifle or strangle government.

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Yes, liberty is a core American value, and an overweening state can be unhealthy. And there are plenty of self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance. These social libertarians aren’t the problem. It is the nihilist anti-state libertarians of the Koch-Cruz-Norquist-Paul (Ron and Rand alike) school who should worry us.

Human Nature

Like communism, this philosophy is defective in its misreading of human nature, misunderstanding of how societies work and utter failure to adapt to changing circumstances. Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution. It 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. And it is fanatically rigid in its insistence on a single solution to every problem: Roll back the state!

Communism failed in three strikingly similar ways. It believed that humans should be willing cogs serving the proletariat. It assumed that societies could be run top-down like machines. And it, too, was fanatically rigid in its insistence on an all-encompassing ideology, leading to totalitarianism.

Radical libertarianism, if ever put into practice at the scale of something bigger than a tiny enclave, would also be a disaster.

We say the conditional “would” because radical libertarianism has a fatal flaw: It can’t be applied across a functioning society. What might radical libertarians do if they actually had power? A President Paul would rule by tantrum, shutting down the government in order to repeal laws already passed by Congress. A Secretary Norquist would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and progressive taxation, so that the already wealthy could exponentially compound their advantage, as the programs that sustain a prosperous middle class are gutted. A Koch domestic policy would obliterate environmental standards for clean air and water, so that polluters could externalize all their costs onto other people.

Radical libertarians would be great at destroying. They would have little concept of creating or governing. It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression.

Extreme Positions

Some libertarians will claim we are arguing against a straw man and that no serious adherent to their philosophy advocates the extreme positions we describe. The public record of extreme statements by the likes of Cruz, Norquist and the Pauls speaks for itself. Reasonable people debate how best to regulate or how government can most effectively do its work — not whether to regulate at all or whether government should even exist.

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.

If the U.S. is to continue to adapt and evolve, we have to see that freedom isn’t simply the removal of encumbrance, or the ability to ignore inconvenient rules or limitations. Freedom is responsibility. Communism failed because it kept citizens from taking responsibility for governing themselves. By preaching individualism above all else, so does radical libertarianism.

It is one thing to oppose intrusive government surveillance or the overreach of federal programs. It is another to call for the evisceration of government itself. Let’s put radical libertarianism into the dustbin of history, along with its cousin communism.

Republished with the permission of the authors.

2016 June 21


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  • Aleksei Carrión

    1) So… Are human beings wired for cooperation or are they free riders? Make up your mind.

    2) Wouldn’t the FIRST place that free riders turn to be the one institution where failure isn’t punished — the government?

    3) much as communism is a failed ideology, this article presents an even worse understanding of what communism is, than what libertarianism is.

    • Micah Geni

      humans are wired to what you wire them too.
      These days, its the shortcut. Are people becoming happy by it ? No. Because they have lost contact with their spirituality. With their consciousness. They are unwired and unhappy, yet they are deluded enough, to think they are on the right train. Like the nazis. Like the stalinists/bolsjeviks also believed.

      I well connected human, will have a balance of three parts. The answer is written in the structure of pyramids.

    • Brandon McGee

      Freerider is an economic term used to describe those who benefit from positive externalities. A main cause of market failures. Not free rider in the context you are thinking.

      • I know that, but I like to point out that government attempts to solve the problem of one kind of free riding while creating a whole new category of free riding, likely at a net loss to the economy as a whole.

      • zack

        the government creates free riders no matter what because in a tax base you have 2 classes of people: net beneficiaries and the net payers. the ones who benefit more than they pay are all free riders, no matter what. they just obfuscate it by not releasing detailed data.

    • drklassen

      How has communism failed? It’s never existed. Short of smallish enclaves of indigenous peoples or the early Christian church.

    • Government creates free riders through subsidies to business, wealth transfers fro poor to wealthy (defense contracts), and welfare.

      There’s no such thing as market failure, only the failure of political interventions to make the world better.

  • I have wanted to like this blog much more than I’ve actually been able to like it. This article’s approach of “we csn find a few folks who say X” so we’re justified in treating that as representative,” especially when those few people are not politicians and political activists so that the authors are ignoring the Intellectual foundations of libertarianism, is indicative of why I find this blog consistently disappointing.

    • Jim Hultman

      May I recommend Chris Hedges on “TRUTHDIG?” Or some of his independent articles?

      • jkantor267

        Yeah – read the rantings of the beady-eyed scumbag.

    • jkantor267

      Watch Mad Max. That’s a Libertarian world. I hope you get it. Not only do you deserve it – I’ll be a lot better at surviving in it than you will.

      • You’ve no idea. All you know about libertarian ideas is what somebody told you.
        Mad Max expressed no libertarian ideology, but was a good representation of the urge so many people have to follow a strong leader and his minions. Hierarchy and that’s what the heroine and the other women were trying to escape. That’s the closest you’ll find to libertarian in the movie, a desire to escape arbitrary (political) authority.

        • Silence Dogood

          Libertarians are a funny lot. Just like Marx, they believe that Utopian ideals of human nature will keep everything running smooth in a stateless society. It’s all utter nonsense. In a stateless society, flawed human nature rules.

          That means that without a check on power, charasmatic bad humans that will always be around will take control of vital resources and lord over and dominate other people in an extremely oppressive way. It is the fatal flaw of both communism and libertarianism.

          By contrast, the Founding Fathers were brilliant with their philosophy of keeping a limited government (but not a stateless society) that was always pitted against each other to keep human nature and corruption in check. Libertarianism and Marxist stateless communism, though they sound great on paper, are complete nonsense because they ignore flawed human personalities.

          • There you go exhibiting your clueless take on libertarianism. Libertarians espouse no utopia, there is no one utopia. Libertarians oppose the utopianism of socialism, that is the idea of a perfectible society through political means. Libertarianism proposes individual liberty because no human is worthy of ruling others. There are no “right people” that can be trusted with power over others, but so-called progressives believe exactly that. That always claim that attempts at socialism fail because “it wasn’t done right” and if only “the right people” could be put into power socialism would work well, or as the Marx put it, once communism was put into place, it would work so well that “the state would whither away”.

            “hat means that without a check on power, charasmatic bad humans that
            will always be around will take control of vital resources and lord over
            and dominate other people in an extremely oppressive way.”

            There’s your utopian theory, that the right people could be put into power to check the bad humans, but guess what kind of people seek power over others?

            Those bad humans.

            High functioning sociopaths are able to present themselves as good people, they are able liars, and natural manipulators.They know how to fool enough people to get themselves into positions of power. And they aren’t the worst. The really smart ones aren’t even visible to us. They make their way into intelligence agencies and they have access to the information to control politicians. Hoover demonstrated this ability and used it for his own ends.

            There is no one who seeks political power that can be trusted to use it for the benefit of all. That’s utopian thinking, and your are engaging in it.

          • Nathaniel

            But you would agree that reverting to a truly libertarian society now would empower those with the most wealth and resources over everyone else, and that they could, in practice, exploit those with less since there is no government or other group strong enough to rein them in, and any attempt to do so would be considered a violation of their rights.

            And while I didn’t agree with the article, I do have the creeping suspicion as the author that alot of libertarians think they are the fairest of them all and that they will be the ones whose super-special awesomeness will enable them to amass more wealth, more resources (and thus more power) than anyone else.

          • Do you believe voters control the government?
            Who has the resources to run for political office?
            Who has more influence over political government?
            Average people, or the wealthy and influential.

            Any system based on a hierarchy of power will have some dominant over others. Political government is the product of conquest. The structure of the system is geared toward maintaining conquest and legitimizing it.
            Almost every candidate seeking higher office has been vetted by a matrix of political influence. Government and media resources are devoted to digging up dirt to be used against anyone that does not embrace the existing power structure.
            During his life in power, J Edgar Hoover was one of the most powerful people in the US because he had the goods on all the politicians.

            I just don’t see that happening in a system of distributed power…at least not the the extent it will occur in a system of hierarchy.

            BTW, Silence Dogood is a firm believer in political power and hopes to someday participate in exercising power over others.

          • “By contrast, the Founding Fathers were brilliant with their philosophy
            of keeping a limited government (but not a stateless society) that was
            always pitted against each other to keep human nature and corruption in
            check.”

            But they aren’t pitted against each other. Sure, there’s partisan squabbling, but together they have given us a government that subsidizes and protects corporation, intelligence agencies that spy on everyone, vast bureaucracies enforcing hundreds of thousands of rules and regulations that are beyond the ability of anyone to understand, perpetual undeclared wars, military bases in over 100 other countries, a war on drugs that has made an industry out of incarceration, schools that indoctrinate children into conformity and obedience, millions of bureaucrats that produce nothing of value, a dollar that’s worth a small fraction of what it was even fifty years ago, and at last, we have Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the two main candidates for president.

            I learned that same crap in elementary school over fifty years ago, and I tell you, it’s not working as claimed.

            The idea that political government can be contained in perpetuity is utopian and the history of our government proves it.

    • SocialFacts

      James, could you sum up the most important Libertarian Intellectuals? And if possible could you give (any) examples where Libertarianism based (gov or business) policy has worked?

  • Micah Geni

    If you sqeeze in the ends of a normal distribution. Think of a rubber stick or some soft stick you bend inwards. What do you get ? Earth. Half the globe. And that is the ideal. Today the norm-distribution is almost flat. Like a z-dist, or t-dist with many “n”‘s to go. No unity. “The earth is flat”, as they say. Less “roundness”. Fewer dimenssions left. Just think of 1 specie of flower or animal, as 1 dimension. We are dying. Unless we do something

  • Matej Pankovcin

    Why is this whole blog so obsessed with libertarianism? The idea of looking at economics through evolutionary lenses is great, but what we get most time is just progressives trying to argue against libertarianism – and doing so poorly. Most of the articles could very well be found at Salon.
    I am de-following the whole project at this point. Hopefully in the future it will be able to come up with someting interesting. Right now it is more like an intelectual embarassment.

    And yes, you are arguing against strawmen. Most libertarians do not say that people should not cooperate, but that cooperation is most efficient in a system with strong liberties. Bu I doubt you really care what they say….

    • jkantor267

      Libertarians are like amnesiac Amish. They want everyone to help build their barn – and then they take the credit for it.

    • Henrique Brenner

      I second Matej as well. I’m very disappointed with the lack of solid content in the recent articles. De-following now.

    • FredPierre

      I don’t think you understand the rigged market. When the 1% own more than half of the market, they control pricing and manage financial news. So an unregulated market is not a free market – it is a market that is strictly controlled for the benefit of a few.

  • frrolfe

    Thanks for excellent article. Perhaps extreme libertarian looks very like anarchy to me, without the altruism. To claim that libertarianism has a stronger “intellectual foundation” than selfishness and the penny dreadfuls of Ayn Rand is risible and credible only to socially stunted teenage boys who like the rape scenes.

  • Samwise Houghton

    This article is full of fallacious and unsupported argument.

    “Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.”

    This is known as the argument from ignorance fallacy, it is also begging the question.

    “These social libertarians aren’t the problem. It is the nihilist anti-state libertarians of the Koch-Cruz-Norquist-Paul (Ron and Rand alike) school who should worry us.”

    Again this is begging the question. It is also an argument ad hominem. At no point does the writer evidence their claim that these individuals are nihilists or their philosophy nihilistic.

    “Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution”

    This is factually inaccurate to my knowledge. Regardless, onus probandi would require more from the writer here. i.e. What source is there for saying that radical libertarians believe this? How reliable is it? And so on.

    It 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. And it is fanatically rigid in its insistence on a single solution to every problem: Roll back the
    state!”

    Again the article is inaccurate in what it says about libertarians. This is definitely a proof by assertion fallacy. This is becoming a straw-man argument (fallacy).

    “We say the conditional “would” because radical libertarianism has a fatal flaw: It can’t be applied across a functioning society. What might radical libertarians do if they actually had power? A President Paul would rule by tantrum, shutting down the government in order to repeal laws already passed by Congress. A Secretary Norquist would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and progressive taxation, so that the already wealthy could exponentially compound their advantage, as the programs that sustain a prosperous middle class are gutted. A Koch domestic policy would obliterate environmental standards for clean air and water, so that polluters could externalize all their costs onto other people.”

    This passage contains a proof by assertion fallacy, an appeal to the stone fallacy/ argument from silence fallacy. It is then a diabolical sequence of appeal to fear fallacies grounded in the rapidly developing straw man argument.

    “Radical libertarians would be great at destroying. They would have little concept of creating or governing. It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression.”

    The appeal to fear and straw man arguments continue, adding
    in a false comparison for flavour. (For the record, the war-torn areas of Somalia
    are divided into small dictatorships, NOT libertarian societies.)

    “Some libertarians will claim we are arguing against a straw man and that no serious adherent to their philosophy advocates the extreme positions we describe. The public record of extreme statements by the likes of Cruz, Norquist and the Pauls speaks for itself. Reasonable people
    debate how best to regulate or how government can most effectively do its work — not whether to regulate at all or whether government should even exist.”

    No extreme positions have been described, only statements about what will happen if government in the US is run by some individuals who have been given the “libertarian” label but who, I know for sure in the case of the Pauls, are far from libertarian let alone radically so. In fact the author does not seem to be able to distinguish between liberal and libertarian. The last sentence is also one of the most egregious appeals from incredulity I have ever come across.

    “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.”

    What is this “true citizenship”? The writer is totally unclear, failing utterly to define this terminology except to say it has something to do with the willingness to change policies. The writer claims that radical libertarianism (which they seem unable to distinguish from other
    forms of political ideology such as liberalism) has an unrealistic concept of humanity. However, this is based in their claim that libertarians are somehow anti-cooperation, a claim anyone with even a passing knowledge of libertarianism would realise is wrong.

    “If the U.S. is to continue to adapt and evolve, we have to see that freedom isn’t simply
    the removal of encumbrance, or the ability to ignore inconvenient rules or limitations. Freedom is responsibility. Communism failed because it kept citizens from taking responsibility for governing themselves. By preaching individualism above all else, so does radical libertarianism.”

    If libertarianism is the advocacy of self-government, claiming it prohibits the same without any support, sources or logical inference is beyond the pale. This is another weak appeal to the stone, based on nothing more than the writer’s say so.

    “It is one thing to oppose intrusive government surveillance or the overreach of federal programs. It is another to call for the evisceration of government itself. Let’s put radical libertarianism into the dustbin of history, along with its cousin communism.”

    Actually there are libertarians who would argue that opposing the extremes of the state and opposing the state in general are exactly the same thing, as the state will always seek power in the most extreme way it can, and can only be held in check by those it tries to laud it over.

    Obviously, however, the writer did not want to discuss actual libertarian philosophy, preferring instead vacuous and unfounded rhetoric, presumably with the aim of dissuading others from educating themselves with regards to alternative political ideologies.

    • Silence Dogood

      I can boil it down quite simply–

      *Karl Marx’s End Goal- Stateless Utopia

      *Libertarianism’s End Goal- Stateless Utopia

      *Founding Father’s Goal- Limited Government, owing to the fact that ALL humans throughout history to the present are flawed, and will become tyrants in either a Large Government, or in a free-for-all Stateless Society.

      Utopianism is a sham and a folly of the foolish.

  • freethinker

    You can always spot who or what is a threat to liberals. They only attack those who they deem to be a threat to their ideology. Libertarians are growing in number and thus power. That is a direct threat to democrats and to establishment republicans. Thus you will see more hit pieces put out by both sides trying to vilify those who do not think as they dictate. They are correct in assuming that Libertarians are the polar opposite of communist. They fail to make the connection that today’s statist are more like communist in practice. They also expose themselves as liberals with the blanket attack of successful capitalist that support the right wing, while failing to attack the successful capitalist who support and fund the left wing. Both sides are more interested in control of the masses through strong arm ideology than any meaningful reform. The rise of libertarians and the basic love of individual freedom is a direct threat and must be squelched. How dare you question them or think for yourself. Shame on you.

    • Brandon McGee

      Yes. Bad ideas, when it comes to public policy, can be damaging and deserve to be attacked.

  • Rick Johnson

    This could have been an interesting article if the authors had some idea of the topic they were writing about. A couple of Leftists with no real understanding of liberty are a poor choice to write on this topic.

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  • C James Townsend

    article is too two dimensional and rings like a hammer on tin. it is verbal chop suey. straw men are riddled throughout and the most shallow analysis of the issue is proffered.

  • “If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.”

    The first is based on empirical observation, the latter, mere supposition.
    Also, the division you attribute to Ayn Rand is a hyperbolic straw man.

    Also, theoretically, under communism, the state is supposed to whither away.
    The Soviet Union was a socialist state as they found communism completely unworkable.

    The authors really need to do some studying of economics rather than of caricatures.

    • drklassen

      It wasn’t even socialist in economy. It was capitalist. With the caveat that only the oligarchs could own and control the means of production.

      • Oligarchs? That came after the collapse. There actually was a central government and there was no private ownership of the means of production, which is necessary to have capitalism.

        • drklassen

          There was on societal ownership (needed for socialism) or worker ownership (needed for communism). Ownership passed from the aristocracy to the oligarchs.

          • Who were these oligarch’s?
            Of course there was no communism, communism works like a plane without wings.

            Socialists NEVER find fault with socialism, therefore, the USSR was not socialist. Whatever was wrong with the Soviet experiment, it was due to the attempt to establish a socialist economy.

            The only thing that enabled many people to survive under soviet rule was the black market.

            BTW, what the hell is societal ownership?

            Also, all political governments are oligarchical. See: Iron Law of Oligarchy

          • jblacka

            “Socialists NEVER find fault with socialism, therefore, the USSR was not socialist.”

            In exactly the same way libertarians never find fault with free markets therefore the modern day free market economies aren’t free market.

            That whole corporatism argument is exactly the same logic, the idea is perfect, it just wasn’t implemented purely enough. Ever considered the far more likely scenario that the reality reflects problems in the theory?

          • Actaully, libertarians do not expect perfection because humans are fallible, what we commend a free market for is the ability to correct and grow.

            Modern day economies aren’t free market because:
            1 there is a government established central bank and credit monopoly
            2 there is government established corporate law, markets aren’t about corporations.
            3 there are many thousands of laws and regulations governing economic activity, including licensing, regulatory boards, permitting, etc.
            None of these would exist in a free market.
            4 government subsidizes and protects corporations from competition, there can be none of that in a free economy.

            So obviously, we do not have anything like free markets, particularly in the modern economies. That’s why libertarians so often criticize existing arrangements, because they preclude free markets.

            I must conclude that you have no idea what the term “free” means in political terms.

          • What aristocracy? Do you even know what that means?

  • This article is awful.

  • Matt Baen

    Another way libertarians are like communists: a group of Marxists, the Leninists, concluded that communism could only be enacted by a dictatorship run by an elite. Leninism became synonymous with communism. In recent years a number of mostly ex-libertarians (and a few left wing anarchists), the neoreactionaries, concluded that libertarianism is incompatible with democracy and so advocate corporate rule or monarchy. (A similar turn occurred in Italy with revolutionary syndicalists to fascists.)

    When political zealots find their uncompromising ideologies frustrated by reality, some of them turn to totalitarianism.

  • David Burns

    Inaccurate and ineffective sophistry.

  • Yazdy Rusi Palia

    I do not agree with the author. I agree with Ayn Rand, that the only function of the government should be to “protect individual rights”. I believe that if the primacy of individual rights is established, most of the immoral laws enacted would be redundant. Most of them, in fact should go as they are unjust. The primacy of individual rights, means that every individual (man or woman, gay or lesbian) is free to live his/her life as he/she pleases, without coming in the way of the rights of other individuals. Only then, will we have a moral society.
    The function of the elected representatives is to protect individual rights and have the authority to enact laws that are based on the primacy of individual rights. They do not have the power to dilute liberty and individual rights.
    I would say, there is no need to attach labels. Radical Libertarianism or otherwise. Just let people be free to live their lives as they please, without coming in the way of the rights of other individuals. The best will thrive. Those who fail will realize that they have gone wrong somewhere and correct themselves.
    Society is an aggregate of individuals and should not have any powers over the individual. Society has no rights, Individuals do. We do not need someone to govern us, we need society leaders who just guarantee our rights to live as we please, without interfering in the rights of others. The market will take care of the rest.

  • Jason Brennan

    This site consists of two types of articles. 1: Constructing and beating down straw men. 2. Misrepresenting the field of economics to outsiders. I do wonder whether the authors believe their own bullshit.

  • Steven Horwitz

    Congratulations on writing the the longest sustained strawman of 2016. You have my deepest sympathies for your inability to understand the arguments of your interlocutors and treat them with any modicum of charity. You are a model for the Donald Trumps of the world.

  • drklassen

    ARGH! More of this silly “USSR = communism” crap…

    NO, that was oligarchic capitalism.

  • BlueCollarCritic

    This article reads as little more than a poorly contrived attempt to associate libertarianism with communism presumably with the intentions of painting libertarianism as something undesirable.

    The world portrayed in either the recent MAD MAX film is not representative of a libertarian based society. .

    Libertarianism is the idea that the rights of the individual are greater than the desires of the few or even the wants of the many. Libertarianism believes that nothing decided on by the many can be done at the peril or cost of the few or the one. Every individual is equal regardless of ethnicity, sex, religion or any other classification that other forms of government use to keep people separated and fighting amongst each other. So long as we are focused on what each other has, does or may do the true criminals, those in government are able to get away with whatever they please.

  • Kyle Brown

    Stalinism is not representative of all communist thought, and is a poor example of what communism is meant to be.

    Terrible understanding of communism. I feel like if the writer had a better understanding of communism, or maybe put a bit more effort into it, they could have made a good point.

    If you want a decent reflection on how dictatorial state capitalism (Bolshevik communism) and intense corporatism (“radical libertarianism”/fascism) tend to benefit the same masters I’d recommend reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.

    This whole blog post sums up whyour our country is so screwed up, even this apparently lefty blog uses the right wing approved speech. Conflating the failed ideas of Bolshevism with communism as a whole, and insinuating that there is a NON-extreme version of right wing Libertarianism.

    Also, no mention of the origins of the term libertarian, on the left?

  • Henrique Brenner

    I thought I would find real content in this article as to why radical libertarians are the new communists, but all I found was (wrong-)labeling and us-against-them, so typical of radical thinking.

    First, libertarians do believe in a cooperative society, otherwise a stateless society wouldn’t be possible. Interventionists are the ones who don’t trust cooperation and because of that justify the reduction in the freedom of all citizens. Second, libertarians recognize the fragility of societies and that’s the very reason why they’d be better off without the intervention of economists who still use bell curves to study human relations (such as the authors of this article, apparently) and are themselves promoters of free-riders.

    Third and most important of all, the authors use a comparison of things in different levels to characterize libertarianism as a fanatical stand, comparing the position of not having a state at all with designing policies and improving the state. Discussing each regulation and improving the state is an alternative to interventionists only because they assume the state must exist. In that sense, isn’t defending the use of the state to solve society’s inefficiencies “a one single solution to every problem” as well?

    • Silence Dogood

      Utopianism is pure folly and madness. The fact that you guys agree with Marx’s end goal of a stateless society says everything, and proves the point that Libertarianism really is just another form of radical Leftism with a “carve out” for trade and business purposes.

      • Adam Perry

        I would assume that your definition of stateless society is the oversimplified “no rules, man” version people think of when they’ve done exactly zero studying of the subject. The ancap society is in no way utopian.

        • Silence Dogood

          Yes, I did simplify my point about a stateless society, and yes, I am aware of the differences between Marx’s view of it and Libertarianism’s view of it.

          It is still Utopian in nature because it makes far reaching assumptions about human nature “if we only had xxxx system.”

          Human nature, speaking in mathematical terms, is a constant throughout history.

          There is no system which will perfect it. It will ALWAYS be flawed.

          This was the brilliance of the Founding Fathers. They recognized that a system with some teeth behind it that intentionally pitted man against each other (branches of govt, states rights vs federalism, etc) was superior to all other forms.

          They also rightly recognized that without Judaeo-Christian morality, our Republic would quickly descend into tyranny and anarchy. Once again, Libertarians foolishly reject this and agree with Marxists on this view.

          So I stand by my original post. Libertarianism is a utopian philosophy that was created from the skeletons of 19th Century Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Capitalism. It is NOT the pragmatic, small governmentalism espoused by the Founders.

  • Liberty_First

    “Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution.”

    This misses the core value of libertarianism entirely. Libertarians believe that people peacefully cooperating through voluntary market exchange are cooperating more effectively and more rationally than people attempting to achieve the same social ends through state programs. Indeed, the Austrian School’s influence on modern libertarianism revolves in large part around Mises’s “economic calculation problem” argument in which he essentially asserts that bureaucratic planning is fundamentally irrational because it lacks the dynamic market pricing functions of capitalism that are necessary for optimal coordination for the satisfaction of human needs.

    GMU economics Prof. Pete Boettke’s blog is called “Coordination Problem” for this very reason: http://www.coordinationproblem.org/

  • Jim Tessier

    People really need to realize that Libertarianism and Objectivism are two completely different political and economic ideologies.

  • zack

    the market is where the most complex cooperation in human history is found.. all voluntarily. thousands collaborate to make something as simple as a pencil in the most efficient manner possible. not by force. you see, cooperation is the most productive way to save on labor, therefore those who cooperate will win competitions. the competition exists because without it theres no safeguard against price gouging, wastefulness, abuse, etc. but the vast majority of the market economy consists of cooperation. i dont need to read much further into this essay which is obviously trying to create a caricature with pejoratives but you would get dominated in a debate

    • Nathaniel

      You VASTLY underestimate how “voluntary” the free market is. I don’t think the children working in sweatshops or the slaves on fishing boats (no I’m not exaggerating many of the people who make yours and my pets’ food are actual slaves) are there because they want to be there. No it’s because their governments don’t protect them and since they don’t have the money to improve their situation, they’re at the mercy of companies who can easily short change them and who will (in the case of the slavery example) even go so far as to hire armed gangs to capture them and And even when workers consent to a job fully, the lack of value in their work leaves them trapped in a cycle of poverty that they can’t get out of. Force makes the market move as much as it does any other system.

      Oh yeah and libertarianism ALWAYS leads to corporatism and a lack of competition, because once companies become successful enough and mange to purchase enough resources from willing sellers, it becomes effectively impossible for new companies to enter the market, and even if the overwhelming majority of consumers want what the startup offers the larger, more established company in that industry will prevent the smaller, better company from effectively distribution its goods/services.

      And finally, libertarianism elevates greed to the most important virtue one can have in society. Without government or even the concept of the “public good” it all becomes how much money you can make, which in turn encourages people to be as ruthless and frankly evil as possible if it means it will give them the edge over their competitors. Even the concept of what is objectively true becomes for sale, as without any laws regulating news agencies they can lie and lie with no consequences; in fact, they can tailor their lies to people’s biases, making them more successful and making it even harder to solve problems. We are already seeing a version of this in the world now.

      • zack

        This rebuttal of yours has some major problems.
        -theres never been a free market monopoly observed to persist. For all intents and purposes in the modern day, the problem of monopoly centers around regulatory capture, gov protectionism. Even at the beginning of anti trust standard oil had less than 70% marketshare. Tom dilorenzo austrian economist is the source on that.
        -force makes the market move as much as any other system? Impossible. Just because some people have crappy alternatives to choose from doesnt mean communism or socialism or democracy would improve their spot. The fact is that economic freedom is highly correlated with prosperity to the degree its allowed and millions have been rising above poverty to the degree its allowed.
        -your arguments about things being for sale is totally moot. Because the government itself is always and forever up for sale, in fact every inch of its already been bought, which grants the evil men far more power than they would otherwise have if their source of income was all voluntary transactions from willing consumers. You painted a cheap caricature of liberty as propagated by the government regulated school and media systems.
        My original comment about cooperation still stands. Newsflash the state is just a corporate monopoly. Any rules they set are produced by the wolves theyre supposed to watch. The government is the ultimate accountability shield for the most ruthless theives and murderers humanity has ever known.

  • Locke Wiggin

    You seem to posit the false premise that only by force, will people cooperate, and that it is impossible to solve the free rider problem. The former is demonstrably not true, as evidenced by the myriad of mutual aid societies that existed before government regulation and the welfare state crowded them out. The latter can be solved (in one way) with use fees for “free riders” to trade with those who pay for non-excludable services (like border security). Say I have a store and I pay for security because I have a lot to lose in an invasion. I can add the cost of that security to the prices of my goods. Many of my fellow business owners do the same. Only those who wish to take advantage of the division of labor and trade with us have to pay for that security. Those who don’t pay, suffer the penalty of not being able to trade as easily; their transaction costs rise.

  • FredPierre

    The USA is associated with the value of freedom. Freedom has many interpretations. Freedom can be throwing your trash over your fence, into your neighbor’s yard, with impunity. If your neighbor complains, you always have your gun. Or freedom can be lifting up the poor and needy and giving them opportunity. When we talk about the “American Dream” or the “Land of Opportunity” we aren’t talking about the triumph of the billionaire, and the right to pour pollution out into impoverished minority communities. Instead we are talking about a society that values education for all, opportunity for all. Not just for those whose dad gives them a million dollars to start their business. Not just for those who can pay to avoid regulation. For a black man in America, you can lose your life for selling cigarettes or walking in the street. Who is the “taker” when a billionaire can pump radioactive fracking waste under my aquifer? Freedom is not freedom for one, it is freedom for all.

  • Brian Gladish

    If Evonomics expects to achieve its stated goals–to build a new economic framework–it will have to actually engage with the actual frameworks that exist, as opposed to childish representations of them. Like, say, how Mises dealt with socialism.

    • Adam Perry

      You were right until Mises. He perfectly explained why socialism is shit.

  • Bil Wood

    LOL well done I have never seen so many butthurt Libertarians in one comment thread before… lol lol the responses are hilarious exercises in Libertarian angst over what was said. Great entertainment… well worth the click.

  • Silence Dogood

    The author’s heart is in the right place but didn’t study enough Marx and Engels and the origins of Libertarianism before writing this article. I’ll be blunt– Libertarianism is basically Marxist communism with another name. The true goal of communism and libertarianism are stateless societies run on Utopian human cooperation. There’s a reason why “Libertarianism” used to be called “Anarchist Communism” a hundred years ago. Libertarianism is nothing more than a left-wing controlled opposition political movement meant to convert unsuspecting conservatives into embracing the vast majority of Marx and Engels’ philosophy without them even knowing it. It has been a smashing success from my perspective.

    • No, he’s talking about Anarcho capitalism, which is distinct from True Communism, that is stateless communism.

      • Silence Dogood

        Clint, it all has roots in a stateless society. You also missed my point in that modern Libertarianism has it’s roots in 19th Century Left-wing Anarchist movements. That’s why it’s a damaged/flawed philosophy. Utopianism is madness, regardless of where it comes from.

        • Adam Perry

          No, it doesn’t. It has its roots in the enlightenment. Modern ancap is relatively recent. It’s derived from a completely different set of axioms and principles than left-anarchism. It’s also not utopian.

          • Silence Dogood

            Adam, you’re engaging in semantics.

            For those that don’t know what the “ANCAP” that Adam is referring to is, here is Wikipedia’s description:

            Anarcho-capitalism
            From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

            Anarcho-capitalism is a political philosophy and school of anarchist thought that advocates the elimination of the state in favor of self-ownership, private property, and free markets. Anarcho-capitalists hold that, in the absence of statute (law by centralized decrees and legislation), society tends to contractually self-regulate and civilize through the discipline of the free market (in what its proponents describe as a voluntary society).[3][4]

            In an anarcho-capitalist society, law enforcement, courts, and all other security services would be operated by privately funded competitors rather than centrally through compulsory taxation. Money, along with all other goods and services, would be privately and competitively provided in an open market. Therefore, personal and economic activities under anarcho-capitalism would be regulated by victim-based dispute resolution organizations under tort and contract law, rather than by statute through centrally determined punishment under political monopolies.[5]

            It is Utopian in nature, and it does advocate for a stateless society. In reality, a system like this would quickly devolve into warlordism owing to flawed human nature.

            The Founders knew this, which is why they didn’t advocate for it.

            I rest my case.

          • Silence Dogood

            NOTE: This part of Anarchist-Capitalism virtually mirror’s Marx’s argument- “Anarcho-capitalists hold that, in the absence of statute (law by centralized decrees and legislation), society tends to contractually self-regulate and civilize through the discipline of the free market (in what its proponents describe as a voluntary society).”

  • Samaway

    Reading these comments is hilarious. Libertarianism is such a tautology — e.g., we don’t expect a libertarian society to be perfect because humans are fallible, the so-called free market societies of today are not “true” free markets so we can ignore their problems, etc. What a convenient position from which to argue

    • Adam Perry

      How the hell is that a tautology?
      No Libertarian says we can ignore problems. We merely offer alternative explanations for why they occur instead of the lazy “muh evil free markets” cop-out which appeals to the bigotry inherent in modern society against free enterprise.

  • MMatic

    “Communism failed in three strikingly similar ways. It believed that humans should be willing cogs serving the proletariat.”

    Do you know what “proletariat” even means? So humans should be serving themselves? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

    “Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny.”

    Mostly the highest growth rates in the countries it was tried were under communism. It is also the system which has most successfully eliminated extreme poverty. These are easily verifiable facts. But whatever, let’s completely ignore the facts. It’s not like economics is a science, anyway. It’s just a propaganda tool of the ruling class.

    • Show me the data, please!

    • Adam Perry

      This is the most retarded, afactual and downright terrifying comments I’ve ever read.
      Tens of millions starved under Mao. Likewise under the Soviets.
      Since freeing up their markets a bit, the Chinese have raised over a billion people out of poverty. I wish you were alive in the Ukraine during Soviet rule so we could be spared your pernicious idiocy today.

  • David Brin

    Interestingly, both libertarians and marxists squint at the same desired, ultimate outcome! A world without coercion, in which free individuals make their own deals to pursue whatever interests them. Both assume this will happen in a context of vast, technologically delivered wealth. They differ only in how to get there.

    Leftists believe the path to get there is for capitalists to complete their historic class role of forming capital, then pushing them out of the way with a state directing the final stages of equality, before withering away.

    libertarians foresee this withering away of the coercive state as absolutely necessary first.

    Liberals also share the same long range fantasy, witness the society envisioned in Star Trek. Only Liberals see the state as a necessary bridge enabling maximum equal opportunity without having to equalize outcomes, but ensuring that capital formation by capitalists happens without them tumbling into cheating and other feudal failure modes denounced by Adam Smith.

    The problem with marxists and libertarians is that their fantasy approaches are simplistic and have zero track record or ever having accomplished their stated goals, even once, ever. Liberal mixed society, in contrast, as out produced all other combined, by orders to magnitude. Path three, while unsatsfyingly murky and complex, simply works. The Roosevelt compact.

    Alas, this article oversimplifies libertarian thought. I can offer more in-depth looks at what lies under simplistic Randism. It’s still wrong! But more interesting. See:
    My general political essay in four parts – about the insipid/lobotomizing left-right “axis”- how history betrayed competitive creativity, and what libertarianism might look like, if it ever grew up.
    http://tinyurl.com/polimodels

    With cordial regards,

    David Brin
    http://www.davidbrin.com

    • Michael D.

      How do you attribute to communism a world without coercion yet it runs on the premise that a collective (state) runs everything? You must conform to the collective (state) if not by free will, then by force by the collective (state). Libertarians want to take over the world in order to leave everyone the Hell alone.

      • Silence Dogood

        Michael, you obviously haven’t read Marx. Marx’s ultimate goal was a stateless society. The dictatorship phase you mention was a tool prescribed by Marx to ultimately dissolve both state power and the power of the rich to reach a stateless utopia.

  • Silence Dogood

    *Karl Marx’s End Goal- Stateless Utopia

    *Libertarianism’s End Goal- Stateless Utopia

    *Founding Father’s Goal- Limited Government, owing to the fact that ALL humans throughout history to the present are flawed, and will become tyrants in either a Large Government, or in a free-for-all Stateless Society.

  • Adam Perry

    I love it when people who know absolutely nothing about a philosophy opine on it.

    • Silence Dogood

      You mean like those who criticize, like you, who do not have an adequate understanding of the source of Utopianism and how it directly compares with the pragmatism of the Founding Fathers?