Tag Archives: Politics

The Flaw(s) of Libertarianism

Libertarianism is a flawed doctrine, from the viewpoint of general public well-being.  At least some of its support comes from the partial awareness of a very real phenomenon:  there are spheres of power, and government is one of them.  Government power can act as a limit and constraint on the power and actions of individuals, business, etc.  Libertarians are usually either very naive or very disingenuous in focusing on how government can constrain individuals (usually framed as curtailing their liberties and freedom), while ignoring the way that other forms of power, such as that arising from business, can also constrain individuals (and government, etc., for that matter).  The result is that a few intelligent but nefarious operatives use these doctrines to try to build support for the concentration of power in the hands of business/finance/etc., bringing along a rabble of “useful idiots” who want individual freedoms but lack an understanding of the full range of constraints on individual freedoms (not to mention that some of the particular individual freedoms that come up again and again, like a right to be a bigot, carry little moral authority on their own).  This critique of libertarianism arises from something like a hybrid of the sociological analysis that people like G. William Domhoff advance (the class-domination theory of power) and the economic analysis that people like Simon Patten advanced, which said reducing one monopoly merely frees resources to be captured by another (economic rent capture).  It also draws on the field theories of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (Loïc Wacquant has applied that approach to neoliberalism in a similar fashion).  But a similar critique has been astutely summed up by Corey Robin, who has written that what most libertarians want is not feedoms and liberties, but rather the maintenance of a particular social hierarchy–with particular men (always men) at the top of some node within it, of course.  Robin notes that these people are reactionaries because they seek to suppress emancipatory movements from below (Wacquant goes further to say neoliberalism is a revolution from above).  This is what distinguishes them from anarchists.  But the most superficially irksome flaw in the discussion of libertarianism in today’s context is not the political choice of inequality, per se (that topic is omitted entirely from mainstream discourse), but rather the hypocrisy that lies in obscuring that political choice behind rhetoric that speaks of liberty and freedom without explicitly admitting that it is advocacy of freedom and liberty for some at the expense of others.  This dissipates any credibility that libertarian advocates might otherwise have, but also explains their apparent inconsistencies and selective, limited application of doctrines that are usually stated as if universal.  It is the false appeal to universal principles, while always limiting their application to the maintenance of particularized hierarchies (making property ownership the only fundamental issue), that libertarians use to feign the support of a popular majority with policies that are plainly only in the interests of a minority.  It is a kind of political arbitrage, making a play against being called out for the underlying lies by the media or simply an uninformed public realizing the scam on their own.  For that reason, a captive and submissive media is essential for these flawed policies to have any chance in the public sphere.  Of course, eliminating hypocrisy does not prove or disprove libertarian theory.  However, doing so is a first step in debating its real merits, if any, as a political program.

Gareth Porter – Robert S. McNamara and the Real Tonkin Gulf Deception

Link to an article by investigative historian Gareth Porter:

“Robert S. McNamara and the Real Tonkin Gulf Deception: Pushing LBJ Into War”

It is interesting to consider Porter’s perspectives on this in light of the late sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the “bureaucratic field”.  That is, Porter does not view the “state” as a monolithic entity, but a field established by and through its agents (and groups of agents) struggling amongst each other for authority.

Loïc Wacquant – Crafting the Neoliberal State

Link to an article on the substitution of prisons for social welfare programs in the USA by Loïc Wacquant, author of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (2009), which came out around the same time as Michelle Alexander’s similar (but more well-known) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010).

“Crafting the Neoliberal State: Workfare, Prisonfare, and Social Insecurity”