The Libertarian viewpoint more fantasy than reality

September 03, 2010|By ALLAN POWELL

There appears to be a resurgence of interest in what are an aggregate of ideas classed as "Libertarian" and now formalized by a party carrying that name. They have a platform and candidates running for office who profess to be in support of the values and principles openly stated in that document.

Without questioning their right to join and promote these statements of belief or doubting their sincerity in proposing them as the basis of policies if elected, we need to examine these statements with a clear mind. Since my critique classifies much of what is in their platform as "fantasies," a definition is in order. The American College Dictionary will be the source.

Fantasy: "imagination -- especially unrestrained, a daydream, a hallucination or a visionary idea" are just a few of the more mild ways of defining the word. However, a read of the Libertarian platform actually does permit one to use the term and be reasonably on the mark. Fairness requires that it be recognized that much of the document is an expression of admirable ideals.


There is no reason to quarrel with their interest in a "respect for individual rights," to "challenge the cult of the omnipotent state," "support of an individual's right to make choices ..." and the desire for "an America at peace with the world." It is when the Libertarian goes beyond these laudable generalities that legitimate issues begin.

From this official statement of their values and proposals as to what policies they would pursue if elected, it can reasonably be said that they are out of touch with the real world in which we live. Modern states, housing modern populations, facing modern problems of pollution, terrorism and environmental spoilage would be totally unmanageable under a Libertarian regime.

A would-be party that will oppose "all laws at any level of government requiring registration of, or restricting the ownership, manufacture or transfer of firearms or ammunition" is not responsible enough in judgment to vote into office. Even more unacceptable is "... the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution." This would freeze the government into a posture adequate only for 1787. This is not rational.

When it comes to "monopolies and corporations," there is little to be found. There is no concern about size, power to get funds from foreign sources without limits to political campaigns and, if they happen to be banks, "they should be free to use as money any mutually agreeable commodity or item." Those who drafted that clause must have been out to lunch during the last financial meltdown.

There are more objections to be found, but there is a need for space to present the basis of the early complaints against a Libertarian view of government. The attempt to defend a concept of government which makes that government incapable of performing the minimum expectation of a modern government does not deserve to be considered. Governments must be able to adjust to the needs they face as situations change. A Libertarian perspective does not permit such adjustments.

The idea of holding a modern government to the conditions existing in 1787 is unrealistic because it does not take into account a societal fact: the land-man ratio. By this is meant that a Libertarian view of government might very well serve the needs of a small, homogenous aggregate of people because the setting is simple and order can be maintained by intimate, informal restraints. But as the number of bodies increases per square mile, expectations and demands increase apace.

As population, technology and social interaction increase in complexity, more and more rules and regulations are needed to control deviancy, make commerce safe and orderly and provide for the health and well-being of the disadvantaged. If huge populations are permitted, then more rules and regulations are inevitable.

One final note should be made -- namely about human nature. In a complex, diverse, dynamic society, the stage is set for a wide display of the best and worst human conduct. James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," was painfully aware of the human capacity for "devilment." In Federalist # 51, he wrote: "It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices (checks and balances) should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature. If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself." A Libertarian approach to government cannot ignore the wisdom of James Madison.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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