Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Libertarianism: a cry for hindrance

Like Chris Rock, I find people who brag about doing things that most people already do irritating. So it is with libertarians and their continual droning about how much they love freedom. Whether it's addressing each other with turgid phrases like "fan of liberty" or presumptuously titling their websites using eye-rollingly obnoxious names like "Online Library of Liberty," libertarians never tire of announcing their discovery that freedom is, indeed, good as if it were revealed wisdom.

Now, if you're like me, you tend to assume that, until you hear otherwise, most people you meet like freedom--and probably ice cream and cute kitties as well no doubt. When people tell you that they like this stuff, they are not really relaying any useful information for the most part--indeed, it would only be noteworthy if someone told you they did not like this stuff. So why do this? What's the ulterior motive? In the case of some high profile libertarians like the notorious Koch brothers, the motivation is obviously cynical and unprincipled--they own a large oil company and, of course, find pollution legislation to infringe on their oil companies' freedom to pollute. 

Of course, not all libertarians have such shamelessly crass reasons for clinging to this philosophy. And there are a wide variety of version of libertarianism, from the libertarian socialism of Noam Chomsky, to the property-centric vision of thinkers like Robert Nozick. What all of these strands of libertarianism share is a near fetishistic focus on the state--or analogously abstract and distant organizations like large private corporations--as the ultimate root of all limitations on freedom. 

The state is, among other things, an attractive foil to those who have a very abstract, diffuse, and ultimately symbolic view of oppression. It is not a coincidence that libertarianism tends to skew young, white, male, and rich--precisely the individuals least likely to experience any concrete limitations on their freedom and for whom freedom is thus most likely to be an abstract, academic concept. The state has many of the same features as the problems of the awkward teenage boy--both are vague, diffused, and nebulous notions whose representatives are numerous to the point of omnipresence. Freedom, then, is a good name for a solution to a problem that does not exist, the state a good name for the cause of a problem that has no cause. As with the lamentions of actual adolescents about their various imagined hindrances, the protestations of the eternally adolescent may not so much represent a genuine cry for freedom, but a cry for that which the adolescent truly needs: adult supervision. 

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