Posted tagged ‘Libertarianism’

A Bit of History

February 28, 2008

When I first heard the term “libertarianism” in the early 1950s, I mentioned it to Ayn Rand as a possible name for our political philosophy. She was suspicious of the term and inclined to dismiss it as a neologism.  “It’s a mouthful,” she remarked.  “And it sounds too much like a made-up word.”

          I answered  “Maybe so, but what alternative do we have?” 

          She said, “We’re advocates of laissez-faire capitalism.” 

          I answered, “Sure, but that’s kind of a mouthful too–it’s not a one-word name–and besides, it puts the whole emphasis on economics and politics and we stand for something wider and more comprehensive: we’re champions of individual rights. We’re advocates of a non-coercive society.”

       I suggested that “libertarianism” could convey all that by means of a single word–especially if we were to define “libertarianism” as a social system that (a) barred the initiation of force from all human relationships and (b) was based on the inviolability of individual rights.  

          Ayn considered this suggestion briefly, then shook her head and said, “No. It sounds too much like a made-up word.”  

          Later, when many advocates of laissez-faire took up the word, and some of them were anarchists (notably Murray Rothbard), Ayn felt vindicated at rejecting a term broad enough to include Objectivist advocates of pure capitalism, on the one hand, and “anarcho-capitalists,” on the other. She did not realize that the majority of people who called themselves “libertarians” were advocates not of anarchism but of constitutionally limited government (in essence, the Objectivist model), and that she could have fought for her interpretation of the term “libertarian” just as she fought for her interpretation of the word “selfish. “There was no good reason to surrender a much-needed word to the opposition.

        Later still, when she saw that libertarians often supported their position with aspects of her philosophy, without necessarily subscribing to the total of Objectivism, she became angrier still and decided that all libertarians were, in effect, and in her own inimitable style, “whim-worshipping subjectivists.”

       Being a more balanced and reality-oriented teacher of Objectivism than Leonard Peikoff, David Kelley addressed libertarian groups with the aim of persuading them that Objectivism was the best possible foundation for their political beliefs. For this he was denounced by Peikoff as a traitor to Objectivism. .

       In any event, today libertarianism is part of our language and is commonly understood to mean the advocacy of minimal government. Ayn Rand is commonly referred to as “a libertarian philosopher.”

          Ladies and gentlemen of an Objectivist persuasion, we are all libertarians now. Might as well get used to it.


Spiritual Needs

February 9, 2008

 This is part four of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy” which will be posted on 2/12/08.

            People have not only material needs, they have psychological needs, they have spiritual needs. And it is the spiritual needs that will have the last word. Until the libertarian vision  is understood as a spiritual quest and not merely an economic quest, it will continue to face the kind of misunderstandings and adversaries it faces today.

          So I’m enormously interested in what has to be understood if a free society is to survive and flourish. A free society cannot flourish on a culture committed to irrationalism. And 20th-century philosophy has witnessed a virulent worldwide rebellion against the values of reason, objectivity, science, truth, and logic — under such names as postmodernism, poststructuralism, deconstructionism, and a host of others.

         It’s not an accident that most of the people doing the attacking also happen to be statists. In fact, I don’t know of any who aren’t. You cannot have a noncoercive society if you don’t have a common currency of exchange, and the only one possible is rational persuasion. But if there is no such thing as reason, the only currency left is coercion. So one thing that libertarianism in the broad philosophical sense has to include is respect for the Western values of reason, objectivity, truth, and logic, which make possible civilized discourse, argument, conversation, confrontation, and resolution of differences.  

To view previous parts of this essay please click on the following  link – Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3 

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Toward A Free Society

February 6, 2008

 This is part one of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy.”

             Some years ago, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Empire, I was a speaker at a conference of company CEOs and presidents in Acapulco, Mexico.  Another of the speakers was Gennady Gerasimov, who you may remember was Gorbachev’s spokesperson to the West. I went to hear his talk, which he opened with a joke. And the joke went like this: The Soviet Union has invaded and successfully conquered every country on the planet, with one exception: New Zealand.  The Soviet Union has chosen not to invade New Zealand. Question: Why? Answer: So it would know the market price of goods. And everybody in the audience got the joke, and laughed, and I sat there stunned.             

       My mind went back 40 years to when I met Ayn Rand, who directed me to the works of Ludwig von Mises, the economist who first pointed out the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism and explained why a socialist system would have to end in economic collapse. And I thought of my first years at the University of California at Los Angeles, when I attempted to explain Mises’s argument, and the ridicule that I encountered. I recall one professor in particular, a professor of government, who told me, “The trouble with you is you’re just prejudiced against dictatorships.”  

             Now, 40 years later, a representative of the Soviet Union is acknowledging the truth of Mises’s observation in a joke, and it’s treated as self-evident.              

             So the world has turned. And at one level the battle between capitalism and socialism appears to be over. Very few people any longer take socialism seriously as a viable political form of social organization. At the same time, the battle for capitalism, in the laissez-faire sense, in the libertarian sense, is very far from over. It’s as if the enemies of capitalism in general and business in particular have a thousand heads. You chop one off and a hundred more appear, under new names and new guises.             

            A great deal of work is being done these days in one area after another, by such institutions as Cato and by scholars around the world, to provide an increasing mountain of evidence that no other social system can compete, in terms of productivity and the standard of living, with free-market capitalism. Moreover, there is an impressive amount of scholarship demonstrating why most government efforts to solve social problems, not only fail, but worsen the very conditions they were intended to address.            

            One has to be more and more committed to unconsciousness as a political philosophy to retain the belief that government can lead us to the promised land. At the same time, as a long-time advocate of the libertarian vision, I have been absorbed by the question of why the battle for a free society has been so long and so hard and seems to encounter new challengers every time one falls away.  

My Mission Statement

January 29, 2008


I have been asked, what is my mission in this Blog?  I want to share what I have learned about psychological well being and what it takes to achieve it. That is one of the reasons I focus so much on self-esteem  (although at some points I will be writing about ethics or culture or Objectivism or Libertarianism). 

            Most fundamentally, however, I will express my mission another way.  My mission is to inspire readers to honor their life and happiness, and to have the courage to fight for them.