One of my favourite blogs is P.Z. Myers pharyngula, although I rarely agree with much of what he says when it’s not about atheism. He write a doozy of a post entitled “Libertarianism defined”. Here’s the money shot.
“Libertarianism. A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.”
That is perfectly in line with my own sentiments. Libertarianism isn't so much a political and economic movement as it is a widespread pathology.
That’s A-grade intellectual discussion right there. Head on over to the post and you won’t find much in the way of justification, nor will you find any at another post he links to. It’s interesting to see such nonsensical primitive denunciations of a whole system of belief from someone who is undoubtedly fed up of hearing the same from religious people. Does he think that when he makes a simplistic dismissal of libertarianism that it’s okay? When a creationist says that atheists “don’t believe in anything” or “they just want to live consequence free lives”, does P.Z. breath a sigh of annoyance at how ignorant and uninformed they are? Well this proves he’s really not that different from them, change the subject but the attitude remains the same.
Now what of the substance? What substance? There’s really no point trying to address such a mess but there is one point there that makes me cringe.
“Libertarianism. A simple-minded right-wing ideology”..
I’ve heard this charge levied against Libertarianism often. When you hear someone make this claim then you can be sure that they’re quite ignorant of the etymology of political terms and the meaning of libertarianism.
Let’s start at the beginning, with a little help from Wikipedia of course.
The terms Left and Right have been used to refer to political affiliation since the early part of the French Revolutionary era. They originally referred to the seating arrangements in the various legislative bodies of France, specifically in the French Legislative Assembly of 1791, when the king was still the formal head of state, and the moderate royalist Feuillants sat on the right side of the chamber, while the radical Montagnards sat on the left. This traditional seating arrangement continues to be observed by the Senate and National Assembly of the French Fifth Republic.
Originally, the defining point on the ideological spectrum were the attitudes towards the ancient regime ("old order"). "The Right" thus implied support for aristocratic, royal and clerical interests, while "The Left" implied support for republicanism, secularism and civil liberties. At that time, support for socialism and liberalism were regarded as being on the left. The earlier "left-wing" politicians were advocates of laissez faire capitalism and the "right-wing" politicians opposed it, until the early nineteenth century when anti-capitalism gained favour among the leftists due to the rise of socialism.
The terms “left” and “right” are very nebulous. Leftism and conservatism have no political content to them, in that the radical imam who wants the society to remain under the rules of Shariah is conservative but he is very different to an American or British conservative. The political content of the conservative is dependent on the society he or she wished to conserve.
The same is true for people on the left. Being left means that one wants to move society towards a goal or new order. In this sense we can see that Libertarianism is left based. It has a societal ideal that it wants to achieve. If you don’t know what this ideal is then hit Google and do a bit of research. Libertarians often call themselves “classical liberals”, in that they adhere to the liberalism of yore, the free market kind that existed before it became synonymous with diluted socialism.
People mix up libertarianism with the right because of the similarities between libertarianism and conservatism in the western world, which is where much of the discussion happens. Libertarianism overlaps with conservative in America because conservatives want to conserve a society which has been conducive to freedom whereas Libertarians follow a political philosophy grown out of the American experience and hold freedom as a value. Therefore they follow the same policies much of the time, such as smaller government, smaller taxes, etc.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 11:05 AM