A brief philosophical examination of Libertarianism and Collectivism
By Seth Richardson
It is the claim of Collectivists that Libertarians are greedy, heartless misers interested only in their own profits. Cast as the ultimate Scrooge, the Libertarian is attacked at every turn for having insufficient empathy and concern for the poor and downtrodden.
Let’s examine this claim.
The natural instinct of most people is to help the helpless and wish for the prosperity and success of all, and this is as true of the lumpen Collectivist proletarian as it is of the Libertarian, and indeed almost all Americans, regardless of their political ideology. If you place the philosophical goals of Collectivists like Socialists, Liberals and Progressives side by side on a list with those of Libertarians, they are practically identical, at least insofar as the idealistic goal of securing the health and happiness of the average citizen is concerned. In this, we are not at all so far apart as it might seem sometimes. But there are some important fundamental differences.
Libertarians believe in almost all of the ultimate goals that Liberals, Socialists and Progressives do; they believe in justice and fair treatment and economic prosperity and a laundry list of other ideals that align with the propagandistic idealist arguments of the competing Collectivist political ideologies.
What differs is how the two sides attempt to achieve the goals.
The libertarian seeks to achieve the goals of universal prosperity, happiness and equality through a strong, free-market economy made up of competent, mutualistic adults engaging in altruistic and charitable acts as a function of their natural propensity to do so in a free, fair and voluntary association and contract with others. In short, Libertarians trust their neighbors to act with rational self-interest just as they themselves do.
Libertarians feel that equality of opportunity along with the natural free-market’s potential for unlimited success unconstrained by excessive government interference is the best way to achieve fundamental fairness and prosperity for all. They believe that vibrant free-market economies are a tide that raises all ships, even the poorest of the poor, which principle is proven by the fact that even the poorest of the poor in the U.S. enjoy a much higher standard of living than the poor of other, third-world nations.
But unlike Collectivists, Libertarians also believe in the value of consequences and the virtue of personal responsibility, and they believe that the natural consequences of an individual’s failure to act mutualistically and with rational self-interest inevitably results in negative consequences generally sufficient to amend bad behavior. Therefore Libertarians do not seek to intervene in the lives of individuals who exercise bad judgment, bad faith, or who engage in force or fraud against others. Libertarians believe that people should suffer the consequences of their malfeasances, including the consequences of sloth, idleness and lack of personal industry and willingness to work. They view this as a natural progression that the person must suffer through if he is to learn, grow and become a better person. They believe that saving people from the consequences of their actions, particularly through government intervention, actually harms them in the long run and causes them to become dependent and damages their self-esteem and therefore their ability to improve themselves and find true prosperity and happiness.
But this is not to say, as some do, that Libertarians are heartless cads who would watch children starve in the gutter, it just means that they do not approve of mitigating the consequences of bad judgment or bad acts. For those who are helpless or damaged by circumstance or disaster, Libertarians are as compassionate and altruistic as anyone, if not more so, as is amply demonstrated by the existence of a healthy private charity system in the U.S.
Moreover, Libertarians act in rational self-interest when it comes to the poor because for the Libertarian, every person is a potential customer, and those living in poverty not only are poor consumers, they are a drain on the community, so it is in the rational self-interest of the Libertarian to help these people to rise from poverty and find gainful employment, so that they can become both productive members of the community, as well as consumers of the merchant’s products. Libertarians are no more anxious to see the gutters filled with the corpses of the starving than Collectivists are, and it’s preposterous to presume that they do.
Libertarians differ in their desire for peace, prosperity, justice, health, welfare and safety from collectivist ideologies not in their equal desire for the conditions of liberty and community, but in how those goals can be best achieved.
Collectivists believe that the tyranny of the majority and the forcible redistribution of wealth by the State is the only way to achieve fairness and equality in society. These collectivist ideologies take a jaundiced view of human nature and hold that individuals are selfish and cupidinous and cannot be trusted to act altruistically or mutualistically, and therefore must be controlled and guided and forced into service to others by the State. Therefore, socialists do not shrink from taking that which belongs to one by force and giving it to another whom the State deems more worthy of the benefit.
Libertarians believe that economic prosperity and equality are a function of individual industry, unlimited opportunity, and the lessons of consequence, and that it is the duty of the individual to put forth that industry which is required to create economic and social success on his own, without the interference or support of government, but not necessarily without the support of one’s fellow citizens, acting in voluntary, mutualistic rational self-interest.
Another distinction, and it’s a major one, is that socialists believe that social equality and prosperity are a zero-sum game; that the success of one person requires the oppression of another; that there is only so much “opportunity” to go around, and if one person has an “unfair” share of opportunity (by inheritance for example) that this is oppressive to those who do not enjoy an equal “opportunity” to be wealthy without working, but this is not equality of opportunity that they seek, it is equality of outcomes, something that is not and cannot be guaranteed by any Constitution or social system. Collectivists do not understand that there is no limit on the opportunity to succeed, and so they do not shrink from taking from the person who is deemed to have an “unfair” opportunity in order to provide a “fair” outcome for others.
But Libertarians know that opportunity is unlimited and economic prosperity is available to anyone who applies sufficient industry and has a will to succeed. Libertarians are always seeking out those with industry and good ideas in order to help them to achieve their dreams, because libertarians know that innovation and hard work are rewarded and by investing in the success of others, their own success is enhanced as the economy improves. Thus, Libertarians do not believe that success is a zero-sum game that requires oppressing anyone, rich or poor, in order to provide opportunity, which is there waiting to be plucked by those who care to reach out and grasp it.
It is this fundamental divide, the divide between collectivism, tyranny of the majority and collectivist redistribution and individualism, free-markets and unlimited opportunity for economic and social advancement that is the nut of the dispute between the two camps. And it’s one that will likely never be resolved, because the innate distrust of Collectivists in the better parts of human nature make it impossible for them to comprehend the fact that people can work together altruistically and mutually in enlightened and rational self-interest without the blunt force of government bludgeoning them into submission at every turn.
© 2009 Altnews