Posted by & filed under Alternatives to Political Systems, Consumerism, Economics, Society.

Part II of a seven part series. Read Part I here.

Copyright 2010 by Ernest Partridge. Published here with permission of the author.

Perhaps the fundamental dispute between libertarians and liberals resides in the ontological status of “society” and “the public.”

Social atomism might well be the foundational doctrine of libertarianism, upon which all other planks of the libertarian platform – market fundamentalism, privatism, minimal government, spontaneous order – are supported. Refute this doctrine, and quite possibly the entire theoretical structure of libertarianism might collapse. Accordingly, the doctrine of social atomism deserves careful critical scrutiny.

The social atomism of the libertarians was starkly expressed by Margaret Thatcher when she wrote: “There is no such thing as society – there are individuals and there are families.”1  And Ayn Rand: “There is no such entity as ‘the public’ … the public is merely a number of individuals.”2  Now admittedly, Baroness Thatcher is not a political philosopher, and Ayn Rand insisted that she was not a libertarian. So let’s look further.

Consider first, this passage from Frank Chodorov:

Society is a collective concept and nothing else; it is a convenience for designating a number of people… The concept of Society as a metaphysical concept falls flat when we observe that Society disappears when the component parts disperse… When the individuals disappear so does the whole. The whole has no separate existence.3

Next, David Boaz of The Cato Institute:

For libertarians, the basic unit of social analysis is the individual…. Individuals are, in all cases, the source and foundation of creativity, activity, and society. Only individuals can think, love, pursue projects, act. Groups don’t have plans or intentions. Only individuals are capable of choice…

[At] the conceptual level, we must understand that society is composed of individuals. It has no independent existence.4

Does Margaret Thatcher truly believe that “there is no such thing as society”? If so, one must wonder what this former British Prime Minister must make of Lord Nelson’s charge to his officers at the Battle of Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” And for what did the magnificent aviators in the Battle of Britain sacrifice their lives? For England? But “England” is an alleged “society,” and according to Baroness Thatcher, there is “no such thing.” Thus we encounter a curious evolution in Tory philosophy, from Churchill’s “there will always be an England,” to Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as England.”

And recall David Boaz’s account of “spontaneous order:” “order in society arises spontaneously, out of actions of thousands or millions of individuals who coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes.” And he continues: “The most important institutions of human society… all developed spontaneously … Civil society … is another example of spontaneous order…”5 (my emphases, EP). Interesting, isn’t it, that the same libertarians who deny the existence of “society,” seem unable to articulate their doctrines without the use of the words “social” and “society.”

The implications of social atomism are radical in the extreme, for if there is no such thing as “a public,” it follows that there are no “public goods” or “public interest,” apart from summation of private goods and interests. Moreover, if there is no society, it follows that there are no “social problems,” there is no “social injustice,” and there are no “victims of society.” The poor presumably choose their condition; poverty is the result of “laziness” or, as the religious right would put it, a “sin.” There are further implications. Since there is no such thing as a “public,” taxation for the support of such “so-called” public institutions as education, libraries, the arts, parks and recreation, is coercive seizure of private property, or “theft.”

The liberal replies that this denial of the very existence of “society” and “the public” is reductionism, plain and simple – what the Brits call “nothing-buttery.” It is comparable to saying that Hamlet is “nothing but” words, that Beethoven’s music is “nothing but” notes, that the Mona Lisa is “nothing but” pigments on canvas, and that the human brain is “nothing but” cells and electro-chemical events.

This sort of reductionism commits the elementary logical fallacy of equating necessary conditions with sufficient causes. Granted, without words there is no Hamlet, and without notes there is no Eroica. So too, without individual persons, there is no society. But Hamlet is not a random collection of words, and the Eroica is not a random collection of notes. In addition, these words and notes have been organized by geniuses. Similarly, without delegates there would have been no Continental Congress of 1776 or Constitutional Convention of 1787. But without the genius and the common purpose of the men convened at those meetings, there would have been no founding documents of our republic. And so it is with “societies” and “publics.” These are collections of individuals united by law, custom, shared history, institutions, common purpose and, in the case of nations, governments and constitutions. And thus they, like works of genius, are more than the mere sum of their component parts.

Good for each, bad for all.

Further refutation of social atomism, the keystone of libertarianism, is simple and straightforward. If we can cite cases in which self-serving behavior (“good for each”) can cause collective harm (bad for all), and conversely cases in which imposed constraints upon individuals (“bad for each”) can result in collective benefits (“good for all”), then, by thus distinguishing “each” and “all” we will have demonstrated the existence of an “all-entity,” “society,” with unique properties that are distinct from a mere aggregate of individuals. By this account, “the liberal view,” society is what philosophers call “an emergent entity.” Like chemical compounds such as water and table salt, the combination of elements produce a substance with properties distinct from those of the component elements. In more familiar terms, society is “more than the sum of its parts.” Here are four such cases:

The Paradox of Sex Selection. In the cultures of India and China, male children are much preferred to female children. First of all, a girl born to a family incurs the eventual financial burden of a dowry. But even more significantly perhaps, sons are cherished because they will carry on the family name.

For all time, the outcome of a pregnancy, a boy or a girl, has been a lottery – until now. With the advance of medical science, it is now possible to know whether a fetus is male or female. Accordingly, it is reported that to avoid the birth of a girl, many pregnancies in China and India are being “terminated.” In addition, of course, there is the more ruthless option of female infanticide. If these practices of sex selection were to become widespread, it is obvious that there would be many more males than females in the coming generations.6

Thus an intriguing paradox emerges. The attempt by each couple to produce an heir that will “carry on the family name,” results in fewer potential wives in the population, and thus a decreased opportunity for the sons to fulfill their filial duty of “carrying on the family name.”

The upshot: the ability of each couple to achieve the benefit of a male child, diminishes the opportunity of all couples to have grandchildren, and thus “carry on the family name.” In sum: what is good for each family is bad for all families.

An obvious solution would be to outlaw female feticide and infanticide, so that the sex ratio on the population would return to an approximately normal 50-50. Bad for each, good for all.

The paradox of “good for each, bad for all,” and its reciprocal “bad for each, good for all,” far from being accidental consequences of this particular bizarre case, are arguably the very foundation of social life and the fundamental justification of government. Furthermore, the failure of libertarians to acknowledge this paradox, renders their doctrines politically untenable and morally indefensible.

Antibiotics: The over-use of antibiotics “selects” resistant “super-bugs,” decreasing the effectiveness of antibiotics for all. But just one more anti-biotic prescription for a trivial, “self-limiting” bronchial infection won’t make a significant difference “in general,” while it will clearly benefit the individual patient. But multiply that individual doctor’s prescription by the millions, and we have a serious problem. “Good for each patient, bad for the general population.” The solution: restrict the use of antibiotics to the seriously ill. Individuals with trivial and non-life-threatening ailments must “tough it out.” “Bad for each, good for all.”

Traffic laws: We all agree that traffic laws can be a nuisance. But if you believe that traffic lights constrain your freedom of movement, try to drive across Manhattan during a power outage! In the blackouts of 1965 and 1977 in the eastern United States and Canada, traffic began to move only after the police and a few citizen volunteers stood at the intersections and directed traffic. (I was in Manhattan during both events). The decision of each driver to accept constraints worked to the advantage of all. So too with the traffic lights and stop signs that we encounter daily. We are all freer to move about only because we have collectively agreed to restrict our individual freedom of movement. “Bad for each, good for all.”

The Tragedy of the Commons. The principle of “good for each, bad for all” was forcefully brought to public attention in 1968 by Garrett Hardin, in his essay “The Tragedy of the Commons”7 – which was, for a while, the most widely reprinted scientific essay of the time.

Hardin, a biologist, cites as an example, a pasture owned “in common” by the residents of a village. The pasture is at “carrying capacity” – the number of sheep is such that the villagers can, with that number, use the pasture indefinitely without reducing the productivity of the land. However, any additional sheep will degrade the pasture and thus its capacity to support livestock.

It thus becomes immediately apparent, that any individual who adds a sheep to his personal flock will gain in personal wealth, while, at the same time, by degrading the common resource and the value of the other sheep, he slightly decreases the wealth of every other villager. Each villager is similarly situated. Absent common agreement and enforcement thereof, it is “rational” for each individual to increase his personal flock, even though, in Hardin’s words, “ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons.”8

In other words: “good for each, bad for all.”

The solution? Hardin prescribes “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon,” which means the rule of law enforced by government. Each individual agrees to a curtailment of liberty (“bad for each”) in behalf of the common good (“good for all”).

It is all too easy to overlook the profound “tragedy” in the “trap” faced by the villagers in Hardin’s example – “tragedy,” in the sense of “the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.” (Here Hardin quotes the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead).9 For so long as there is no protection of the commons through government regulation and law, the certain fate of the common pasture is destruction. Accordingly, under these circumstances the only “rational” course for each herdsman is to increase his herd and take what he can while he can. If he altruistically volunteers restraint all by himself, he is a fool for his restraint will in no way preserve the commons. Thus restraint (aimed at preservation) is punished and greed (contributing to destruction) is rewarded.

If the “tragedy” applied only to a village of herdsmen surrounded by a “common” pasture, it would be of little interest. The power of the tragedy of the commons is its enormous scope of application: not only to pastures, but also to the seas, the atmosphere, rivers and lakes – any and all resources available to all and owned by none.

Accordingly, an industry that volunteers to scrub its smokestacks or purify its water outflow, assumes costs that will put it at a disadvantage with competitors. The irresponsible industries win out in a “race to the bottom,” and the common atmosphere and watershed degrade, along with the health of unconsenting citizens in the vicinity.

So too with the whaling industry, prior to the adoption of international agreements to impose limits. (“Mutual coercion mutually agreed upon”). The whales were then clearly being hunted to extinction. Yet the only result of individual restraint was to leave the whales for others to catch: “they’re done for anyway – let’s get what we can now before they’re gone.” A similar tragedy has caused a radical reduction in the fishery “catch” in the North Atlantic.10 Now, at long last, international limits have been imposed.

The libertarian-right solution? Privatize the commons. In many cases, this is a wise and effective remedy. For example, when “open range” is fenced-off and divided into private tracts, each rancher-land-owner has an economic incentive to preserve the productivity of his land. However, some domains simply cannot be privatized – notably the atmosphere and the oceans. (More about the privatization solution in the next essay of this series).

Catalytic Converters and the Limits of Volunteerism. Next, an application of the tragedy of the commons that might be more salient to those like myself, who live in or near urban centers, where automobiles are many and sheep are few.

Libertarians often tell us that voluntary restraint is a morally preferable solution to commons problems than government coercion. Sure enough! The trouble is, it doesn’t work.

Consider the catalytic converter as a solution to the problem of air pollution. (The numbers are “made up” as accuracy is not important. This is a hypothetical “model” based roughly on generally known technology and demographics).

The catalytic converter is a device placed on a vehicle’s exhaust system which eliminates (let us assume) 90% of exhaust pollution. Assume further that purchase and installation of the unit costs $200. In the Los Angeles airshed (near my residence) are ten million vehicles.

Would I be willing to pay $200 to clean up the air in my neighborhood? In an LA minute! Will I clean up the air by volunteering, all by myself, to install a catalytic converter? No way! If I do, I will reduce the pollution by slightly less than one ten-millionth. In effect, no help whatever. And I will be out $200. To put the matter bluntly: volunteerism is not only futile, it is irrational. The solution is obvious and compelling: require that all vehicles have working catalytic converters. Result: the air pollution in LA has been dramatically reduced, to the relief of the vast majority of Angelinos, and at an individual cost acceptable to that majority.

If a proposition to repeal the catalytic converter requirement were put on the ballot, it would be soundly defeated (assuming the public was correctly informed). The solution is straightforward, rational and popular: “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon.” Imposed and enforced by “big government.”

It costs (“bad for each”), but the “social benefit” is well-worth it (“good for all”).

I have referred above to “material” or “resource” commons – air, water, oceans, pastures (“open range”), etc. But there are also “non-material” commons that are equally, if not more, important to the quality of social life and the justice of a political order. These include the rule of law, the quality and level of education in the community, trust in the government and the prevailing sense among the citizens of that government’s legitimacy, the degree of civility and the “moral tone” extant in the society. When unscrupulous individuals act to their own advantage and heedless of the consequences to others, they can degrade “the moral commons” – the mutual respect and constraint that is implicit in every well ordered society. For example, when outlaws are unpunished, the rule of law suffers. Worse still, when corrupt politicians and government officials put themselves above the law and betray the citizens by accepting bribes from special interests, they erode the trust that is essential to good government. And when there is reason to believe that the ballot has been compromised and there are no offsetting procedures to assure the accuracy of the ballot, the very legitimacy of the government and of legislation is diminished.

In a just political order, based on the principles of our founding documents, government and the rule of law are the common “property” of the citizens at large, and of no class or faction in particular. This principle is stated explicitly in the Declaration of our Independence: “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I will have much more to say about “the commons” – both material and non-material – as this series of essays progresses. (The concept, “good for each, bad for all,” is elaborated more extensively in the chapter with that title in my Conscience of a Progressive).

The Liberal Alternative to Social Atomism: The Moral Point of View.

To sum up: “society” is not, as the libertarians would have us believe, simply autonomous private individuals “doing their own thing,” from which activity somehow, “as if by an invisible hand” (Adam Smith), benefits for all accrue without foresight or planning – a “spontaneous order.”. On the contrary, the liberal insists, a society is more than the sum of its individual parts. A society is, as John Rawls puts it, “a cooperative venture for mutual advantage [which] makes possible a better life for all than any would have if each were to live solely by his own efforts.”11 As these examples illustrate, common goods are achieved through individual constraint and sacrifice. “ Bad for each, good for all.” Conversely, unconstrained self-serving behavior by each individual can harm society as a whole. “Good for Each, Bad for all.”

The liberal does not deny that self-serving individual behavior, for example by scientists, entrepreneurs and artists, often or even usually results in benefits for all. (“Good for each, good for all”). Instead, the liberal insists that this is not a universal rule. In innumerable instances, such as the five presented above, it can be clearly shown that social benefit requires individual constraint and sacrifice.

More generally, as every sociologist, psychologist and anthropologist well knows, human existence, including human consciousness, thought, evaluation, history, and culture, including private property and markets, is inconceivable without society. A human infant is not like a sea turtle or a mackerel, wholly independent and autonomous upon “hatching.” All uniquely human life, thought and culture has its origin and sustenance in the uniquely human mode of communication articulate language, which can only be acquired in social life. We define ourselves, and are in turn defined, first by the society and culture in which we find ourselves as we mature, and possibly later on by the societies and cultures that we seek out and adopt, or in the case of geniuses, transform. “The self,” writes the economist Herman Daly, “is in reality not an isolated atom, but is constituted by its relations in community with others – the very identity of the self is social rather than atomistic.”12  (For an extended argument in defense of the social origin and nature of human personality, see “How is Morality Possible?,  Chapter 12 of Conscience of a Progressive).

Furthermore, as many moral philosophers have argued (with significant support from “game theory”), morality can only be understood, and moral problems cogently solved, from the perspective of a hypothetical observer of the human interaction – the so-called “moral point of view.”  From this perspective, the group of interacting individuals is the irreducible unit of moral deliberation. Moral problems can no more be analyzed from the point of view of the individual, than strategy and rules of a team sport such as hockey can be analyzed from the point of view of a single player, or a chess game successfully played in disregard of the opposing player. Finally, as the history of warfare repeatedly affirms, the best means of achieving the selfish end of personal survival on the battlefield is to subordinate one’s concern for personal survival to a shared willingness to sacrifice one’s life in behalf of others. Thus morality, at its foundations, is paradoxical: it is often in one’s best interest not to seek above all one’s self interest. This paradox can only be resolved from “the moral point of view” – from the perspective of the ideally informed and disinterested observer of human interaction. (For an elaboration, see The Moral Point of View, Chapter 6 of Conscience of a Progressive).

To the libertarian, morality is founded in individual rights. In contradistinction the liberal, while acknowledging individual rights, goes further. By adopting “the moral point of view,” the liberal also recognizes “social goods” such as economic justice, domestic tranquility, and communal loyalty, all of which flourish under a system of laws, regulations, and enumerated welfare rights, which are best enacted, executed and protected by the institution of popular government – “of, by, and for the people.”

These, then, are the contrasting moral perspectives of the libertarian and the liberal:

The Libertarian: From the point of view of the individual (“the egocentric point of view,” “the mind’s I”). “Good for each.” From this perspective, the individual is enjoined to “live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” (Ayn Rand).

The Liberal: From the perspective of an unbiased benevolent spectator of society (“the moral point of view”). “Good for all.” Furthermore, the liberal acknowledges a loyalty toward the social and political institutions that are the foundations of one’s liberty, security and well-being, and that this acknowledgment entails a moral obligation to support and defend these institutions.

Thus the libertarian (who, recall, denies the very existence of “society”) advocates the maximum liberty for each individual. The liberal, on the other hand, seeks to maximize the amount of liberty extant in the society.

The liberal further argues that, paradoxically, the egocentric point of view can not accomplish the libertarian goal of maximizing individual liberty. It fails, because individual liberties, and especially the liberties enjoyed by the privileged, powerful and wealthy, constrain the liberties and diminish the welfare of others. In other words, egocentric perspective violates the “like liberty principle” that the libertarian nominally supports: namely, that each individual is entitled to the maximum liberty consistent with the equal liberty of others. (Much more about this claim in the following essays).

Furthermore, the libertarian’s egocentric perspective fails because political and economic problems are not problems of individuals, they are problems of groups (i.e., of “all”), and therefore the interests of all affected individuals must be taken into account. The liberal proposes that these interests are best “taken into account,” fairly and equally, from the perspective of a hypothetical individual who is unbiased and benevolent – seeking the best result for all while respecting the inalienable rights of each.

In fact, no such neutral observer is actually necessary, for each moral agent, and the agent’s surrogate, the government, is quite capable of adopting the point of view of the hypothetical “unbiased benevolent observer.” Indeed, we did just that as we found solutions to the aforementioned problems, the sex selection paradox, the use of antibiotics, traffic control, and the tragedy of the commons, whereby constraints upon each resulted in benefits to all. There we found that the astute moral agent would, as a “the unbiased benevolent observer,” perceive that all would benefit from constraints upon each.

The perspective of the “unbiased neutral observer” has a name – in fact, numerous names, since it is one of the most familiar concepts in the history of political theory and moral philosophy: “the impartial spectator” (Adam Smith), “the ideal observer” (John Stuart Mill), “the general will” (Rousseau), “the view from nowhere” (Thomas Nagel), “the original position” (John Rawls), and my personal favorite, “the moral point of view” (Kurt Baier, Kai Nielsen and many more).

And who or what is most appropriately entitled to adopt the perspective of the “unbiased, benevolent observer,” and to codify and enforce the rules derived therefrom? What else than an agency selected and acting by the consent of the people, an agency that enacts and administers laws to the benefit of all, an agency constituted to “establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”

That agency has a name: “democratic government.” And in case you didn’t notice, the above quotation is from the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

We will have much more to say in Essay Six regarding the necessity and justification of government.

Public Goods and The Public Interest.

If my argument has succeeded, I have proven the existence of “public goods” and “public interest” that are distinct from the mere summation of private interests. Consider again the case of antibiotics which, medical practice has clearly demonstrated, lose their potency the more they are prescribed. The widespread use of antibiotics is clearly to the advantage of each patient, though the resulting loss of potency is to the disadvantage of all patients. Thus it is “in the public interest” to discourage the use of antibiotics by non-critical patients. It is to the advantage of each vehicle owner not to purchase and install a catalytic converter, thought this results in an increase in air pollution. But it is in the interest of all citizens when these devices are required by law. Clean air is thus a “public good” achieved through the imposition of “personal bads.” Clearly “the public interest” and “public goods” are in these cases, as well as the others cited above,” distinguishable from the summation of private interests and goods.

For a political scientist or a sociologist to deny the existence of public interests and goods should be analogous to a geographer denying a round earth, an astronomer denying Copernicus and heliocentrism, a chemist denying Boyles Law, a physicist denying thermodynamics, and a biologist denying evolution. Each of these principles are the foundations of these various sciences. And yet, the libertarian, by denying the “real existence” of the entities “society” and “the public”, denies the existence of social needs and benefits and of public interests and goods as it proclaims that voluntary associations, privatization and the free market always yield superior results to government “coercion” of private citizens.

The coordinate principles, “good for each, bad for all” and “bad for each, good for all,” resound throughout the history of political thought — from Aristotle, through Thomas Hobbes, Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson, on to the present day. Indeed, the practical applications of these principles are implicit in successful communities, from the present extending far back into pre-history. They are the key to the survival of communities of social insects such as bees and termites, and of social animals such as wolf packs, wherein evolution, not argument, provides their validation.

And yet, amazingly, those who presume to call themselves “conservatives,” reject these principles, in favor of another: “good for each, good for all.” This libertarian principle of the political right, exemplified by “trickle-down economics” and the assurance that “the rising [economic] tide raises all boats,” is immediately appealing. Who would not desire that collective “goods” should result from the achievement of personal well-being? And in fact, the progressive will readily admit that many human endeavors that achieve individual benefits, also benefit society at large. “Good for each, good for all” is true in particular and identifiable cases, such as artistic creation, technological invention, and yes, business entrepreneurship.

Is there a simple and unfailing means to distinguish “the invisible hand” (good for each, good for all), from “the back of the invisible hand” (e.g. the tragedy of the commons, “good for each, bad for all”)? When I posed that question to my late friend, Garrett Hardin, he replied “that is a Nobel Prize winning question.” Until that Nobel Prize winning genius comes along, we must continue to do what the empirical and pragmatic liberals have routinely done: if individual behavior appears to have socially destructive results, try out a meliorative policy or law, and if it “works” for society — if we find a device that benefits society at an acceptable cost to individual citizens — then fine, we’ll keep it. If not, try something else. And if it becomes clear that the best policy is for government and the law to leave well-enough alone (good for each, good for all), for example, maintaining the separation between church and state, or refusing to prohibit sex acts between consenting adults, then let non-interference be the government policy. Right-wing propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, progressives are not eager to expand government interference and control over the private lives of its citizens. It is not the progressives, nor, to be fair, the libertarians, that are demanding Constitutional amendments against gay marriage, abortion, and flag burning.

The error of the libertarians resides in their embrace of the principle “good for each, good for all” as dogma, applied a priori to society and the economy, virtually without exception. By rejecting, implicitly, the principle of “good for each, bad for all” and vice versa, the libertarian recognizes no personal price that must be paid for the maintenance of a just social order, and pays no heed to the social costs of one’s personal “pursuit of happiness.”

For the libertarian, the only legitimate functions of government are the protection of the three fundamental rights of life, liberty and property.13  Hence, the only legitimate disbursement of tax revenues is for the military (protection from foreign enemies), the “night watchman” police (protection from domestic enemies), and the courts (adjudication of property disputes). Because there are no “public goods,” compulsory tax payment for public education, research and development of science and technology, medical care, museums, promotion of the arts, public and national parks, etc., is the moral equivalent of theft.

According to this account of human nature and society, with the exception of the just noted protections of life, liberty and property, there is nothing that government can accomplish that private initiative and the free market cannot achieve with better results. As Ronald Reagan famously said in his first inaugural address: “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” No regulation, no governmental functions beyond basic protection of life, liberty and property, no taxes except to support these minimal functions. Any governmental activity beyond this should, in Grover Norquist’s words, be “drowned in the bathtub.”

Let the free market reign without constraint, allow all “capitalist acts between consenting adults” (Robert Nozick). As each individual, in Adam Smith’s words, “intends only his own gain,” then each individual will be “led by an invisible hand to promote … the public interest.”

Good for each, good for all.

In contrast, the progressive views society as more than the sum of its parts; it is what philosophers call an “emergent entity,” with properties and principles of the whole distinct from those of its components just as, analogously, chemical compounds (e.g. water and salt) have properties distinct from their component elements. In this sense society and its economy is like a computer, an engine, an ecosystem, the clarity of a living language. If the system malfunctions, there are innocent victims — the poor, the oppressed, the addicted, the uneducated — and the system is thus in need of adjustment or repair or even overhaul and redesign. These corrections are best diagnosed and treated when the system is examined and analyzed, as a system, and not as an amalgam of distinct individual parts. And diagnosis, adjustment, regulation, repair, overhaul, redesign of the community-entity are legitimate functions of a government established to act in the interests of all and “deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The alleged limitations of “the free market” deserve a more extensive examination. We will turn to that task in the following essay.

Continue to Part III

Notes and References:

  1. Thatcher, Margaret, The Downing Street Years, Harper Collins, London. p. 626.
  2. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, New York: Signet, 1964, p. 103.
  3. Quoted by David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer, New York: Free Press, 1997 p. 96).
  4. Ibid., p. 95.
  5. Ibid, 16-17.
  6. As a segment of the April 16, 2006 CBS program “60 Minutes” showed, this is today a serious problem in China.
  7. Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, 13 December 1968, pp. 1243-1248.
  8. Ibid., p. 1244.
  9. Ibid, 1244. The source from Whitehead is Science and the Modern World, (Mentor, 1948, p. 17.)
  10. Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Scales Fall,” The New Yorker, August 2, 2010, pp 70-73.
  11. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 4.
  12. Herman Daly, "Free Market Environmentalism: Turning a Good Servant into a Bad Master," Critical Review, Vol. 6, No. 2-3, 171-183.
  13. William W. Bayes, William W. 1970). “What is Property?,” The Freeman, July 1970, p. 348

7 Responses to “A Dim View of Libertarianism, Part II: The Myth of Social Atomism”

  1. Øyvind Holmstad

    I’ve not read too much of this yet, and I will need time to absorb it both because of the advanced language and thinking. But I feel sure it will save Craig a lot of time discussing these issues, because all the answers will be to be found in these articles. This way he can spend his time better in maintaining this unbelievable fantastic website, and write more phenomenal articles himself!

    Reply
  2. JBob

    Of course libertarians can use the word “society,” just like we can use the word “family,” “flock,” or “gang.” The word is a collective noun denoting a group of individuals.

    This guy’s “logic” is almost entertaining. Libertarians supposedly maintain that traffic laws are “bad for each” and should be abolished? That’s a joke right?

    Anybody interested in what libertarianism actually says about “society” could look here and text search for “Society and the Individual” http://mises.org/rothbard/newlibertywhole.asp#p37

    Reply
  3. Craig Mackintosh

    The point is pretty clear JBob – that there needs to be mutually agreed upon top down enforcement in areas where your actions affect others. This is in contrast to the ‘simply remove government and everything will be alright’ concept you keep sharing with us.

    As mentioned before, without top down democratically determined enforcement, with grass roots involvement in the decision-making and actioning stages (a fully collaborative community effort – not individualistic and self-interest oriented), the positive example of the Loess Plateau could never have happened.

    http://permaculture.org.au/2010/08/06/a-call-to-large-scale-earth-healing-and-lessons-from-the-loess-plateau-video/

    Reply
  4. Sam Jones

    “…libertarianism is a grave threat to the very existence of the American system of justice and representative democracy as we have come to know it…”

    All I can say is WOW. What a statement. Have you or anyone else studied the founders of our country or tried to understand the very documents that created this REPUBLIC. They sound very “radical” and very “libertarian” a better would would be a constitutional republic or a constitutionally limited republic. We are not a democracy. There is a big difference between a republic and a democracy. Do some research on this subject. The word democracy is not found in the constitution. The whole foundation of what makes us great was the fact that we were able to limit the government. We have nothing close to a free market now. Don’t be fooled.

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  5. JBob

    I’ll let Robert Heinlein say it: “‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.”

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  6. Øyvind Holmstad

    What I really don’t like about libertarianism is all the talk about property. What we should is to give land back to nature. Geoff Lawton estimates we have the possibility to return 97 percent of the land we now held, to the nature, if we introduce permaculture design everywhere.

    Actually, this means the soon 9 billions of us must minimize our property as much as possible, including the state. But I’m sure we’ll need a kind of government to make sure we’re not grabbing from the 97 percent of the surface of this planet as we actually don’t need for our survival.

    See: http://eartheasy.com/blog/2010/03/from-ownership-to-relationship/

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