John Stuart Mill

Libertarianism is like the new communism, dude

Michael Hamilton is a libertarian writer living in Washington, D.C. His main interests are economics, drug legalization, immigration, and land-use policy.

Libertarianism is the new communism, at least if you ask 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.

This colorful lede suggested they might offer a new critique of libertarianism, but my hopes were quickly dashed. The authors end up retreading old arguments—seemingly unaware that others had done so many times before. Their failure to offer a substantive appraisal of libertarian ideas may stem from low familiarity with libertarianism itself.

Hanauer and Liu start with a decent definition of libertarianism, namely that it is “the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values.” This is fairly accurate characterization of the moral beliefs held by many libertarians. Unfortunately, the authors struggle to trace these moral foundations to basic philosophical  or policy positions held by actual libertarians.

The Perpetual Battle for Natural Rights

With all the scandals today – namely, at the IRS, AP, and NSA – many believe our government’s actions are violating our natural rights: mostly, our freedoms of speech, press, due process, and privacy. These “natural rights” are fundamental basic human rights, not based on man-made positive law. Many of these rights were codified by our founders in the Bill of Rights… but not without tumult.

There are those today - even within the liberty movement - willing to compromise on many issues that would infringe on the natural rights of others, in both domestic and foreign policy. I think they are wrong. In this brief history of how our Bill of Rights came about, I encourage you to look for parallels between today’s struggles and our country’s founding.

A Constitution Without Rights

John Locke, regarded as the Father of Classical Liberalism, grounded the premise for his 1690 Second Treatise of Government on the idea of natural rights. This idea, while revolutionary at the time, provided a template for subsequent political theory. Merging Locke’s idea with the British Bill of Rights of 1689, George Mason, a member of the Virginia delegation, penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights in May of 1776 - preceding both the Virginia State Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In its Article 1, he penned these words:

Three Cheers for Autonomy

Written by Trevor Burrus, research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. Originally published on Monday, March 25, 2013, it has been cross-posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

In today’s New York Times, philosopher Sarah Conly gives “Three Cheers for the Nanny State,” specifically, NYC’s famed big soda ban. Invoking aspects of the theory of “nudge,” made popular in a book by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, Conly argues that, sometimes, the government can rightfully save us from ourselves.

The popularity of “nudge theory” is closely tied to the recent spate of popular science books on the foibles of the human brain. Books such as Predictably Irrational and A Mind of Its Own are part of a new self-help fad: the idea that scientists studying the error-prone human brain can help us understand why we are unable to quit smoking, lose weight, and many other common problems.

Jim DeMint is wrong

The list I have to choose from for president in 2012 is steadily shrinking. The latest name to be scratched off the list? Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). While appearing last night on Special Report w/ Bret Baier, DeMint said, “you can’t be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative”:

Now, this is something he has said before. At the Value Voters Summit in September, DeMint said, “it’s impossible to be a fiscal conservative unless you’re a social conservative because of the high cost of a dysfunctional society.” I was hoping it was a moment of pandering, but it looks like I was wrong.

In responding to DeMint and other social conservatives shortly after comments made in September, David Boaz, executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, wrote:

Quote of the Day: John Stuart Mill

“The third, and most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power. Every function superadded to those already exercised by the government, causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused, and converts, more and more, the active and ambitious part of the public into hangers-on of the government, or of some party which aims at becoming the government. If the roads, the railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government: if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now devolves on them, became departments of the central administration; if the employés of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherwise than in name. And the evil would be greater, the more efficiently and scientifically the administrative machinery was constructed—the more skilful the arrangements for obtaining the best qualified hands and heads with which to work it.” - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

H/T: Cafe Hayek


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