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Libertarianism never ends well A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear: An experiment in living without restrictions couldn't survive some hungry bears

What if you want to feed the bears, but your neighbour is scared of them? Brenton Oechsle / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

What if you want to feed the bears, but your neighbour is scared of them? Brenton Oechsle / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images


December 23, 2020   5 mins

We’ve heard a lot about freedom in 2020 — from both politicians taking it away and protestors riled by the loss of it. The former are trying to manage a deadly pandemic, the latter arguing that we need more personal responsibility, rather than coercion. So as the year draws slowly to a close and we (hopefully) begin to emerge from this nightmare, my pick for essential reading is also, indirectly, about freedom. Mostly, though, it’s about bears.

Published in October, A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear is subtitled The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears). In it, Matthew Hongolz-Hetling describes the real-life story of a group of libertarians who plotted to take over the town of Grafton in New Hampshire. They put their idea into action by moving there en masse, in 2004, and campaigning (in some ways successfully) to liberate the community from statism, taxes, intrusive regulation and all constraints on individual freedom.

Full-bore libertarians are more an American than an English thing; the English national temperament is perhaps better-suited to libertarianism’s more understated cousin, ‘classical liberalism’. But America’s talent for being extra, for super-sizing everything from burgers to limousines, shouldn’t blind us to the overlap between our individualistic, freedom-loving Anglo cultures.

Hongolz-Hetling’s characters, and their adventures, take many forms: the cultist, the gun-toting granny, the advocate of bum fighting, the bear-hunting gubernatorial candidate, the inaudible hilltop preacher, even an unexpectedly aggressive llama. The chapter on the compulsive goat-collector alone is a gothic masterpiece:

Police, following a trail of dead goats that spanned four states, finally caught up with Goat Man in West Virginia. When he was arrested, he had sixteen goats in his possession (including one in the freezer).

But along with being a joyous romp through American weirdness, the book is also about the flipside of the West’s individualism: virtue and common values. Both tend to be overlooked nowadays, in our freedom-loving cultures either side of the pond; and yet both have were increasingly bandied about this year, as Covid-19 cases ascended to crisis levels.

The Founding Fathers drew a direct line between virtue and the healthy functioning of a nation as the guarantor of freedom. As James Madison put it in 1788:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”

That is, in order for government to support a free and flourishing society, everyone needs to share at least a general idea of what a good person looks like. For as the English political theorist Edmund Burke pointed out around the same time: “Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.” That is, the less virtue you have, the more official rules you’ll need.

In 2018, Matt Hancock was calling for everyone to take more personal responsibility for managing their own health; in 2020, the health secretary has been forced to view coronavirus case numbers as the state’s problem. And in pivoting from promoting controls within to those without, in the form of compulsory lockdown, Hancock tacitly conceded the moral vacuum at the heart of the modern Conservative Party.

That is, the Tory Party may pay lip service to freedom and personal responsibility. But when it came to a crisis where collective action was needed at speed, that same party has proved (probably rightly) unwilling to gamble on the British public’s commitment to doing the right thing.

Hancock ought to read A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear. It would help him to justify his policies — if only to himself. Take the story of John Babiarz, one of the first libertarians to settle in Grafton and subsequently its one-man volunteer fire service. After extinguishing a fire on someone else’s property, Babiarz is ostracised by other libertarians for ‘statism’ — which is to say, taking any sort of coercive action in the public interest. But these obsessive opponents of state authority seem unable to address the question of how to protect the public interest if no ‘statism’ is allowed. They have no framework for considering those consequences of individual actions that ricochet far beyond one individual.

And for the Graftonites, the chief spanner in the works of self-organising freedom wasn’t even the risk of wildfires. It was another force of nature, one hungry not for flammable matter but garbage: bears. One Grafton resident wishes to feed doughnuts to the neighbourhood’s bears, but her next-door neighbour is terrified of being attacked by them. Should they both be left to do their thing? The instinctive libertarian answer to this is ‘yes’.

The libertarians apply their anti-statist principles to the growing problem of bears raiding bins, loitering around houses and eating cats, resisting any gesture at public bear management, because such things imply taxes. And their conception of liberty goes further still: they resist even socially-enforced bear management efforts such as rules about bear-proof rubbish bins. The consequences become increasingly, er, grisly as the book goes on.

In effect, then, they dream of a society that needs no ‘controlling power on will and appetite’, as Burke put it, either within or without. Albeit in slightly more constrained form, this was also the Cameron-era Tory stance: economic liberalism plus an aversion to giving people moral lectures of any kind.

But for Grafton at least, it transpires that the outcome of this maximal freedom is not a flourishing community of self-organising individuals. Instead, it’s one in which neighbour disputes triple over the six years following the libertarians’ arrival, while public infrastructure crumbles and bears grow bolder and more numerous. Anyone who has lived in the increasingly shabby and rancorous UK over recent years may be seeing certain resonances by now.

2020 has raised some pointed questions for us, about the political scope within our individualistic culture for coordinated public response to a force of nature. For us this has taken place on a scale more horrifying even than a plague of bears. But in one respect our dilemma echoes Grafton’s: one ‘side’ calls for ‘personal responsibility’, ignoring the fact that in the absence of strong shared values this will not produce enough cooperation to rein infections in. The other ‘side’ calls for more stringent top-down controls, raising alarms about whether basic freedoms we took for granted only a few months ago will ever find their way back.

If we’ve had enough of state micromanagement, but it also turns out that, in the absence of shared values, ‘personal responsibility’ is just code for ‘I’m alright Jack’, then it may be time to reflect on the piece that’s missing for us as much as it was for Grafton’s libertarians: civic virtue. As the vaccine is rolled out into 2021, we might consider the question Hongolz-Hetling leaves hanging: is it even possible to rebuild a shared moral framework?

If we don’t, we could continue along the road toward the total state we lived under in lockdown. Such a state would follow the Chinese template, assuming maximal responsibility not just for infrastructure, security, healthcare, law and justice but also our wellbeing, moral choices, even our happiness — and therefore claim the intrusive powers necessary to execute those duties.

Inasmuch as this vision is resisted, it tends to be by ‘classical liberals’ or libertarians who are less keen to make positive pronouncements on the nature and obligations of the good life than they are to defend our freedom to pursue it. But this isn’t enough. For Grafton’s church serves as metaphor for what will happen if we claw our way out of the Covid-era’s maximalist state, toward a polity with scope for personal autonomy, only to slump back into the indifferent embrace of an individualism without virtue.

Already declining due to the fading of Christian belief, Grafton’s church was in disrepair before the libertarians arrived. Purchased by a libertarian and subsequently the focus of a years-long dispute over its tax status, the building grows more dilapidated before catching fire. Because the fire service in Grafton is by then so underfunded, the fire cannot be extinguished. What was originally built as architectural expression of the community’s shared religious views declines first to white elephant, then political football, then death-trap. At last it’s left a charred and collapsing hulk, emptied of use as gathering-point for anything larger than nesting birds.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

The author fantastically misunderstands libertarianism. Hard to even know where to begin, this article is so completely off base. She confuses anarchy with libertarianism.

Let’s start with feeding the neighbor’s bears. One person wants to feed bears that her neighbor is terrified of. Libertarians would say that the federal government cannot tell you not to feed bears that you keep on your own property. It very much CAN tell you not to feed bears on federal land or your neighbor’s property. Spot the difference? In addition, your NEIGHBORHOOD can tell you no bear feeding because you have the choice whether or not to live in that neighborhood.

Libertarians are not anti-tax, they very much understand taxes for constitutionally or locally provided services such as the military, public education, police, fire departments, nor is the goal to move to some hippy dippy commune as described in the article. The author describes a community embroiled in anarchy, not libertarianism.

Nor are libertarians against all constraints on human behavior. They do not believe for example that you should legally be able to beat your spouse or rob a bank or burn down a church.

Libertarianism is not about personal responsibility. There are libertarians who are deeply responsible personally and those who are less so.

Peter Ian Staker
PI
Peter Ian Staker
3 years ago

Although I enjoyed the article I think it was a straw man example. Libertarianism still requires a complex understanding of the limits of individuality. As with anything complex, if you don’t understand what you are dealing with, you can do more damage than good. Perhaps they will learn from their mistakes and learn the nuances of their philosophy so they can apply it, to the extent they want, in the real world.

Harvey Johnson
HJ
Harvey Johnson
3 years ago

Ever heard of the Free State Project? They’re avowed libertarians. They put the tag on themselves, it hasn’t just been imposed on them either by this author or the author of the book she’s reviewing.

Joe Blow
JB
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  Harvey Johnson

Yes, and as we are told ad-nauseam in respect of islamists, claiming a title does not make one an authority on the full panoply of meanings of that title.

Annette is right; the author is wrong.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Harvey Johnson

Sure. It’s a non profit organization that believes governments role is to protect life, liberty and property. They promote reduced taxation and regulation.

I’ve also heard of CHOP in Seattle. Again, not libertarianism, it’s anarchy. They are not the same. If your point is that like the author, lots of people confuse the two, I agree.

Bob Kemp
Bob Kemp
3 years ago

If you look more closely you’ll find that the relationship between libertarianism and anarchism is more complex than you assume. The separation is not at all clear-cut. This article is informative: https://www.libertarianism….

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
3 years ago
Reply to  Harvey Johnson

Not only have I heard of the Free State Project, but I’ve met some of the people involved in it back in 2003. They were not all libertarians”some were avowed anarchists who eschewed the idea of *limited* government in favor of *no* government.

Harvey Johnson
HJ
Harvey Johnson
3 years ago

Well, it employed game theory through an assurance contract for all migrants and also was aimed at ‘creating a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property’. These two points alone mean it wasn’t an anarchic project. The fact that you knew some people involved who were also anarchists doesn’t mean that the project itself was anarchist. It was clearly libertarian in theory and in attempted practice.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Harvey Johnson

Putting a tag on oneself is not how tags are made accurate.

Harvey Johnson
HJ
Harvey Johnson
3 years ago

Nope, but the project was set up with clearly libertarian intentions. To say otherwise is to misunderstand what anarchism actually means.

There was an assurance contract for all people to sign upon arrival (itself an anti-anarchic act) that stated: “I hereby state my solemn intent to move to the State of New Hampshire within 5 years after 20,000 Participants have signed up. Once there, I will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of individuals’ life, liberty, and property.”

Anarchists don’t want to ‘create a society’ in any shape or form, or have the state exert ANY role whatsoever, including the protection of your “life, liberty, and PROPERTY”. Hence, they are libertarians – in theory and at least in attempted practice.

Aidan Collingwood
AC
Aidan Collingwood
3 years ago

What is the primary difference between Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism?

John Mann
JM
John Mann
3 years ago

The way they are spelled.

David Redfern
David Redfern
3 years ago

Not too many years ago there was no such thing as a ‘labour party’. There were Liberals and Conservatives, another strange mix but allegedly, Liberals were a smidge to the right of Conservatives economically, but with a humanitarian approach.

Todays ‘Liberals’ simply abandoned the natural restrictions of fiscal policy, and bowed to unfettered humanitarianism, when the ‘caring, sharing workers’ party pitched up.

If Classical Liberalism turned up now it would be incorrectly branded ‘Far Right’ Libertarianism by the left. In my opinion a big mistake as it might possibly be the means out of the mess this country, and much of the western world has got itself into by not outlawing socialism.

(One can’t of course outlaw an ineffectual and dangerous Cult, one must beat it to a political pulp. Eventually people will come to their senses, but not before they are confined to the Gulag, where many saw the light.)

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

"Liberals were a smidge to the right of Conservatives economically, but with a humanitarian approach.

Todays 'Liberals' simply abandoned the natural restrictions of fiscal policy, and bowed to unfettered humanitarianism, when the 'caring, sharing workers' party pitched up.

If Classical Liberalism turned up now it would be incorrectly branded 'Far Right' Libertarianism by the left".

Yes yes yes!

John Mann
JM
John Mann
3 years ago

Or, if you want a longer answer: words tend to have elastic meanings, and libertarianism is defined in many different ways.

Basically there are many shades of libertarianism – and classical liberalism is one form of libertarianism – but not the only one.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago

The bears thing isn’t very helpful. The person concerned was feeding the bears on her own property. The trouble was that, once attracted, the bears roamed further. So, according to your view of libertarianism, she was doing no wrong and shouldn’t be stopped.

I believe the problem is that all extremes tend to veer off into anarchy. Even Communism claimed that its utimate aim was to wither away and leave society to run itself. Yeah, right. And Ayn Rand openly expressed her admiration for a child killer because he didn’t recognise rules. Again, yeah, right. You wonder with some of these people whether they would ever be capable of examining where their reasoning had led them and asking “Did I get this entirely right, seeing where I’ve ended up?”

Mike Hearn
Mike Hearn
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Libertarians would say the neighbours could have simply shot the bears, or formed a company to go and kill the bears until they stopped coming, charging residents for the bear protection services on their property.

I agree with Annette. The description of libertarianism in this article is bizarre and doesn’t reflect any description of libertarianism I’ve ever encountered. The libertarian solution to collective problems is non-state collective action, not no action at all. A libertarian fire service looks like employees or sub-contractors of an insurance company that sells fire insurance going around and putting out fires. In other words it looks much like today, except they aren’t employed by the government. And in fact, in some parts of America, there is already such a thing as a fire service that won’t directly put out fires if your house starts burning but you weren’t paying for protection – they’ll fight it just enough to stop it spreading. Risky but a largely theoretical concern given that basically everyone does pay.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

On the bears thing you missed a critical word. Keep. And of course, nowhere did I say she shouldn’t be stopped.

There is no such thing as extreme libertarianism. It doesn’t become anarchy. They are two completely separate philosophies.

David Redfern
David Redfern
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

The answer is of course, to shoot the bears, no matter whose property they are on, as it’s personal choice, and responsibility to protect oneself.

And if this absurd Libertarian (anarchistic) society ever could exist, there would be no Police, so shoot the neighbour as well.

As Annette Kralendijk points out, this is not Libertarianism. A government is expected, and required to fulfil certain criteria including defence of the nation and the maintenance of law and order, this requires taxation.

Libertarianism would also be open to the prospect of a government imposing emergency legislation, when absolutely necessary, assuming it was properly, and fully debated in Parliament.

What is unacceptable, are Bills, Motions and Laws on Brexit/Covid etc. being simply waved through Parliament by compliant and cowed MP’s.

Al M
AP
Al M
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

If it’s genuine anarchy and therefore no consequences for anything, shooting the idiot feeding the bears is DEFINITELY the solution. Shoot one bear and another will take its place if food is available. Shoot the idiot and the bears won’t come because nobody is feeding them and the idiot won’t do any more dumb stuff.

But then I like all things ursine and would say that. The bears are being bears and it’s not their fault.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

Shoot one bear and another will take its place if food is available.

Does this Free Town have an infinite supply of bears and therefore immune to the effects of culling wildlife?

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

The bears are being bears and it's not their fault.

Ditto psychopaths.

The people in Free Town feeding the bears seem to like the bears too, but I’ll take a bet that none of them wanted to be eaten by them.

Al M
AP
Al M
3 years ago

Incorrect analogy: you can’t dissuade psychopaths (whether or not you mean homicidal ones) by disrupting their food supply. You can stop them via incarceration or the death penalty, but this requires processes of law enforcement and judiciary.
If food isn’t there, wild animals will look elsewhere as the alternative is starvation. If you continue to provide food, they will turn up, regardless of the death of others of the same species. So, to address your other point below, your solution is to eradicate the entire bear population?

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

Incorrect analogy: you can't dissuade psychopaths (whether or not you mean homicidal ones) by disrupting their food supply.

My analogy isn’t wrong; I just haven’t taken it as mapping exactly on the literal situation as you have.

My point is that acknowledging the facts that bears are being bears and psychopaths are being psychopaths doesn’t solve practical problems caused by those facts.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Al M

So, to address your other point below, your solution is to eradicate the entire bear population?

No; you said:

“Shoot one bear and another will take its place”

I challenged the implicit claim that there is an infinite supply of bears.

I am pointing out that culling animal populations reduces those animal numbers. I have no opinion on whether or not it should be done.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

I believe the problem is that all extremes tend to veer off into anarchy. *Even Communism claimed that its utimate aim was to wither away and leave society to run itself*.

Err but communism did not (strategically) ‘wither away’, so its purported aims and hypothetical actions are not evidence for your claim that ‘all extremes veer off into anarchy’. You might as well say plumbers tend to join the circus because you know a plumber who proclaimed he would become a ringmaster one day.

Ayn Rand openly expressed her admiration for a child killer because he didn't recognise rules

However, < Ayn Rand’s opinions > and < libertarianism> are not the same thing. The whole point of libertarianism is that humans have fundamental rights to personal freedom, and that, naturally, no one has the right to infringe on those freedoms. Child killers don’t fit the ideology.

Edit to add:

How would you define extreme, as in “all extremes tend to veer off in anarchy”? I’m not singling you out for this question”constant reference is made to extremism and extremists. I wonder what the parameters for moderate are that libertarianism could be extreme. They must be arbitrary. It’s exactly like people calling Veganism extreme, as if leaving animals and other people alone is a dangerously disruptive and precarious concept, and harming other people and animals are sedate and sober activities.

Nick Wade
Nick Wade
3 years ago

Hear hear. I read this article with confusion, because I’ve always considered myself to be libertarian in outlook. By that, I mean that I think the government should be restricted to doing the bare (no pun!) minimum, and leave the rest to people’s choices and private enterprise. People on the whole should be allowed to do what they want provided their actions don’t negatively impact others.

That doesn’t mean anyone can do what they like, because if people do whatever they like – feed the bears, take drugs, play loud music, drive too fast etc. then those things can result in bad things happening to other people . This is the fundamental mistake some liberal-minded people make with things like drug policy. The misery drugs can inflict on whole (often poor) communities is not considered – they smoke a bit of dope at their dinner parties, and think that’s OK, because they’re not harming anyone, so let’s legalise drugs.

Similarly, as far as I know, libertarians are not against organising things, such as bin collection, fire fighting, policing or defence. If it turns out your local or national government is best suited to doing that, then you’re going to need some taxes, and some form of governance. Why would a libertarian not want his bin emptied, or house fire dealt with?

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago
Reply to  Nick Wade

There are some people who wrongly think they can fight any fire which engulfs their property themselves. People like that should be protected from themselves. The Libertarians detailed in this book would seem to have a large degree of people of that stripe.

The guy who was the fire service wasn’t, those who would not help provide the necessary equipment were.

Note I have a small domestic CO2 extinguisher and a fire blanket on the wall of my kitchen. I have see a fire blanket be deployed successfully on an alcohol fire in a plastic beaker in the lab.

I was also, twice trained in selecting the appropriate extinguisher and have let off ones to put out safely lit fires.

But we were also taught to assess the situation and our escape route should the fire prove unmanageable. That beaker was placed in a deep stainless steel sink before the fire blanket was deployed. It was labelled and placed atop a cabinet as a salutary lesson. Working practices changed as a result of the incident as well.

My precautions are thus there with those provisos, they do not make me a reckless hero. I would rather escape unscathed and call the fire brigade (after closing the door and denying the fire oxygen).

I am also insured. Back in NZ the fire brigade was largely funded by a levy on any insurance policy with a fire element, so buildings, contents, vehicles etc. Do US Libertarians buy insurance?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Muscleguy

The book does not detail libertarians. It details anarchists. The two are not the same.

Yes of course libertarians buy insurance. Insurance has zero to do with libertarianism.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Muscleguy

There are some people who wrongly think they can fight any fire which engulfs their property themselves. People like that should be protected from themselves.

“People like that should be protected from themselves” is a socialist/collectivist idea. Libertarians would disagree with you for two reasons, both to do with the term ‘should’. The first reason is that it restricts the genuine personal freedom of the idiots you mention. The second is that it imposes on other people a burden to give of themselves to others. Libertarians may and do give of themselves to others, but it is a choice to do so and not coerced.

I tend to agree with you, which is why I’m not completely libertarian.

James N
JN
James N
3 years ago

“The first reason is that it restricts the genuine personal freedom of the idiots you mention”

Actually, it first assumes that “other people” are idiots that “the right people” need to control. The potential truth of this does not lessen the danger in this mindset.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  James N

Actually, it first assumes that "other people" are idiots

I was operating on the hard-to-argue-with premise that ‘There are some people who wrongly think they can fight any fire which engulfs their property themselves’.

In libertarianism, of course, people are free to behave idiotically if the consequences of the idiocy are borne by themselves. A person does not get kicked out of libertarianism for being or acting like an idiot. In fact, that is part of the very point of libertarianism.

The potential truth of this does not lessen the danger in this mindset.

I agree, but I have largely avoided making political value statements here ” I’m just following Annette’s lead in trying to correct misunderstandings about libertarianism.

Muscleguy I personally think is right about the fire idiots, but is muddying the difference between what libertarianism is, and whether we ought to practise it.

This is all about the is/ought distinction.

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
3 years ago

Thank you for saying what needed to be said. I was just about to write the same comment. This article is excellent proof of the general ignorance re libertarianism, but to see a journalist so unwittingly merging it with anarchy is unsettling.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

You’re welcome. I hadn’t thought about whether it was unwitting. To me it looked quite pointed and I occasionally see such attempts to create confusion between libertarianism and anarchy. Perhaps I should give the author the benefit of the doubt that it was simple ignorance.

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
3 years ago

I debated that part about unwitting”you’re right about calculated efforts to smear libertarianism with the stain of anarchy. Whether by accident or by design, however, this journalist is in a bad place. She’s either ignorant or deliberately misleading, and neither is where a journalist wants to be.

Greg Eiden
Greg Eiden
3 years ago

Do you think this author is trying a not-so-effective and not-so-sly argument in favor of statism? By showing how her alleged opposite is so bad? Just curious.

But I agree with others here: this article is bats. It does nothing more than show how the “educated” are so ignorant of even the most basic differences between big ideas.

We see all the wonders and progress of the modern world alongside massive bureaucracies, states and corporate, and may think the two are linked. But maybe we’re just not seeing the road not travelled. How much more wondrous would our accomplishments to date be had we chosen a more libertarian balance between statism and liberty?

If anyone can figure out how to illustrate that, as in prove its truth, in a way that people who don’t think about this stuff much can understand, they will have done a great service to mankind!

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
3 years ago
Reply to  Greg Eiden

Greg, I really don’t know what to think about this author’s motives. On the one hand, it’s a given that most people have no clue what they’re talking about when it comes to any of the -isms. On the other, libertarianism is deliberately likened to ‘extreme right,’ probably due to that Tea Party movement having been co-opted by Sarah Palin types way back when.

What I find interesting is that the libertarian model of Choose-Your-Own-Beneficiary (as opposed to forced redistribution through taxation) seems to have been working very well this year for the left-leaning types. Just look at all those crowdfunding campaigns that raise millions of dollars.

David Redfern
David Redfern
3 years ago

I really wish someone would describe ‘The Extreme Right’ to me.

Commonly characterised as bovver booted skinheads, with swastika’s tattooed on their faces, these are throwbacks to 1930’s socialist Germany and nothing to do with right wing politics.

The farthest right one can reasonably get is Libertarianism, probably the most peaceful of all political movements as it is very much based on live and let live.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

Do not think Libertarianism resides on the political spectrum, the unscrupulous on the right claim it as a liberty token to legitimise their free market gouging.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Teo

The unscrupulous anywhere will do or say whatever or masquerade as anything including libertarian or right wing.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

The farthest right one can reasonably get is Libertarianism

Yes! I have no idea why it is often said that the further right one goes, the more racist they get.

I’ve also heard that the further right one goes, the more authoritarian one gets. In keeping with calling righties (including Trump) fascist.

Dr Sowell mentions the idea that is wanting to keep all of one’s own money is selfish but feeling entitled to others’ money is not. So I guess libertarians are just totally authoritarian about their own liberty, the bastards.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago

Yup. Libertarians at the extreme end still intend there to be forces to protect personal freedom. So the police would not be disbanded and people would not be allowed to attract predators to their neighbours, which is a not a negative right (ie genuine right) but a positive right (ie not a genuine right but instead an imposition on others, which libertarianism does not permit).

Alex Mitchell
AM
Alex Mitchell
3 years ago

Take anything to an extreme and it is likely to fail. Society is complex. Complex systems require adaptive management. At some times central management can be beneficial. At other times, not so much. The key is to recognize which is which and implement the most effective at the time based on evidence instead of dogma. We don’t make this any easier for politicians (who rarely get my sympathy) by criticism when they don’t listen and further criticism of u-turns when they do.

Robert Forde
RF
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

Quite. Increasing freedom in the UK since Thatcher unleashed her version of class war has led to a huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. I believe the US situation is similar. The end result of this is not freedom for most people, but apparently transferring the wealth back again would be state interference. Hmm. The end result of this trend is revolution, which I would hope to avoid.

The idea that a society contains a balance of interests, none of which is intrinsically superior to the others, seems quaintly old-fashioned. But when the state takes no responsibility for achieving this balance, we get the present situation: every group claiming to be victims, and demanding rights which others don’t recognise.

Terry M
Terry M
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

“led to a huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.”

Rubbish. The enhanced freedom led to a huge increase in the total wealth produced. Those ambitious, honest, self-reliant, and hard-working managed to increase their wealth quite remarkably – think IT companies – while those who lacked these virtues also experienced a substantial improvement in their standard of living by the new products, processes, and opportunities that arose. Poor people are far, far better off in 2020 than they were in 1980 in any measurable way.

Alexis de Toqueville said it about as well as it can be said:

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

“The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

“Those ambitious, honest, self-reliant, and hard-working managed to increase their wealth quite remarkably while those who lacked these virtues also experienced a substantial improvement in their standard of living by the new products, processes, and opportunities that arose.”

So that’s why the highly respected CEO of the company I worked for was paid 2.4m Euro pa, while his successor was paid 21million pa – and finally forced out as a result of spectacular destruction of shareholder value through his poor business decisions. Naturally, he was paid considerable compensation for being forced to leave because he was useless. Meanwhile, at one point the company was announcing reductions in the total remuneration package of the rest of us every six weeks for a prolonged period. I guess the vast increase in the wealth accumulating to failed CEO #2 relative to successful and respected CEO #1 was because the former was ‘ambitious, honest, self-reliant, and hard-working’, while the rest of us deserved to be on the downward escalator because we were merely generating the wealth he awarded himself without being sufficiently ‘ambitious’ to claw our way up the greasy pole of management?

Or perhaps the rhetoric falls apart when exposed to what happens in the real world?

Arnold Grutt
AG
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

“So that’s why the highly respected CEO of the company I worked for was
paid 2.4m Euro pa, while his successor was paid 21million pa – and
finally forced out as a result of spectacular destruction of shareholder
value through his poor business decisions. Naturally, he was paid
considerable compensation for being forced to leave because he was
useless.”

Isn’t that merely an example of the system working? He was forced out. Alright, they were forced to honour a contract. That seems to me quite in order. Moral: don’t sign potentially silly, damaging contracts. Choose your managers more wisely. Build in traps to the contract to avoid future embarrassments. Experience helps with these regrettable occurrences. They now know better.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

I tend to agree although very few people can run a large company and to get them, you have to pay them well. Employment contracts are standard practice to get someone to move from their current position to your company. If you could just walk out on the street and grab the next person and make them CEO, this would not be a problem and you wouldn’t need such agreements.

The argument that people should not be paid fantastically well or have lucrative contracts depends on the idea that it’s easy to find and employ someone who can run a really large company. Warren Buffett has made a fabulous career proving that wrong and investing in companies based on the talents and strength of their management,

James N
James N
3 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

Define “working”.

Bill Brewer
Bill Brewer
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

Sounds a familiar story. Sickening. Some of these “high flyers” have merely developed a highly honed ability to extract money from corporations (which means ordinary people) rather than add value. I have no problem with CEOs earning even billions if they are benign to their staff and producing something of value for all.

William Cameron
William Cameron
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

Or if you owned assets you did well. If you didnt you didnt.

Walter Brigham
Walter Brigham
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

“and finally forced out as a result of spectacular destruction of shareholder value through his poor business decisions.”

Your post indicates the free market worked. Did people suffer yes, but this is one example. The much more common story is innovators creating widely shared wealth and increased societal well being.

My question – why do supporters of government wealth redistribution fail to see the gross inefficiencies, distorted incentives, and outright corruption in their preferred ‘solutions’? These are systematic and almost entirely resistant to correction.

And how do supporters of government income equalization explain the massive wealth acquired by the government ‘equalizers’ of income? How do the Clintons, Biden’s, Gore’s, Bernie’s and Obama’s get so stinking rich serving the ‘public interest’?

In Government I do not trust.

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Walter Brigham

“the free market worked”

A fat cat who had screwed up walked away with ballpark 100 million Euros.

Employees who hadn’t screwed up had their terms and conditions continuously reduced.

Since free-market-worshippers tend to be crusaders for corporate executive greed and hostile to ordinary employees, I suppose in that sense it may be argued that the free market “worked”, but not on any commonsense reading of the word “worked”. And the sky-high executive pay was perpetuated for the CEO’s successor (CEO #3), and the reduced terms and conditions were perpetuated for the employees, contrary to the suggestion above that lessons would have been learned.

Bill Brewer
Bill Brewer
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

Whilst there is nothing wrong with great wealth sometimes how it is gained and how it is used is unhealthy. Hard to differentiate fairly though.

William Cameron
WC
William Cameron
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

He is right . I am a Thatcherite but her approach did enrich the very wealthy at the expense of the majority. Basically the model has shoved up asset prices- so if you own assets or can borrow a lot to buy them you did well. This has nothing to do with how hard you worked.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
3 years ago

Asset prices increase because of fickle borrowing, that’s why Thatcher was so keen on balancing the books. The same is happening right now with extraordinary borrowing, which has to be reigned in rather sooner than later. Just look at the gold and Bitcoin bonanza. Asset rich people become richer by the day. Seems countries with lots of money printing were up to now mostly socialistic dictatorships and have the poorest people in the world.

Nick Lyne
Nick Lyne
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

Absolutely right! The poor are poor because they are feckless and have too many children.

Teo
T
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Nick Lyne

A feckless mutter.

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Nick Lyne

Or because they or their partners fall ill.

Ian Gribbin
Ian Gribbin
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

You’re wrong Terry. In relative terms still worse off than 1970s: because household debt is so much higher, while real wages have collapsed over the past 40 years.

Monopoly, oligopoly, monopsony are rife as is incredible rentierism.

The plutocracy and corporatism have turned liberal democracy into a farce.

Terry M
Terry M
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Gribbin

In 1980 who had cell phones, plasma TVs, two cars, air conditioning, endless variety of foods in the shops, 100+ channels on TV, high speed internet, etc.? The fraction of a person’s income going to the necessities of life – food, shelter, clothing – has declined steadily, leaving more for other desires. If you compare a poor person to the richest, of course they will seem to be ‘suffering’, but in reality they have many things that even some of the richest did not have in 1980.

If people have debt that is their choice. Who was ever forced at the end of a gun to sign up for a mortgage? People today are spoiled, they immediately want what took their parents decades to obtain, rather than saving for the future.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

If people have debt that is their choice. Who was ever forced at the end of a gun to sign up for a mortgage?

Further, people without that debt have roughly the same costs in rent, except that rent will never be paid off.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Gribbin

In relative terms

In relative terms Mark Zuckerberg is poor. Or rich. Get any answer you like about his relative financial status”just keep shifting the goal posts (which is what the concept of relative wealth and relative poverty does).

When poverty is relative, it must by logical necessity always exist unless everyone has exactly the same as everyone else, even if that is nothing. Oh joyous equality.

nicholasmartinez
NM
nicholasmartinez
3 years ago

Nailed it.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago

☺️

Walter Brigham
WB
Walter Brigham
3 years ago

By standard understanding 1/8 of the population at any given time is ‘poor’. This varies slightly during economic cycles but it is a useful way to quantify those living below the ever increasing commonly accepted average standard of living.

Consider how the quality of life of those in the bottom 1/8 has changed over time. Arguably they have seen more improvement relatively than the top 1/8.

Also consider that the people in the bottom 1/8 changes. Many families do better over time. Some do worse. And we have a pretty good idea which characteristics compose those in the former verses the latter.

Any effective public policy must encourages success characteristics while acknowledging that the threshold of poverty will shift to include new members.

Paul Marks
PM
Paul Marks
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Margaret Thatcher did not unleash “class war”. As for artificial inequality – no one is defending Credit Bubble banking. It has been known for some 300 hundred years (since the work of Richard Cantillon) that Credit Money expansion tends to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. To someone like Margaret Thatcher lending should be from REAL SAVINGS not Credit Money expansion.

nicholasmartinez
NM
nicholasmartinez
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

The poor spending their money and the rich taking profits isn’t a “wealth transfer”. This is communist quackery.

William Cameron
William Cameron
3 years ago

Not so. Shoving up asset prices with cheap money transfers wealth upwards.

nicholasmartinez
nicholasmartinez
3 years ago

No, its doesnt. It simply inflates fiat paper. The share is still the share. Sure, its regressive, but its not a transfer. As we transition into the hyperinflationary curve, all of this will become obvious. “Wealth” is a meaningless term unless you are trying to invent problems. Which, of course, anyone claiming that “inequality” is the problem, always does as its all they have.

Chinese “inequality” has over 10x’d in two decades, but nearly half a billion people have left subsistence. Inequality is not the problem, hell, its not even a problem. Its a boogeyman used to vilify entire groups of people. A certain German political sect did the same thing in the 1930s.

Russ Littler
RL
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

Government should be like good butler. Hovering quietly in the back-ground, waiting for instruction to serve. Until then, shut up, and we’ll let you know when we need you.

Adrian Maxwell
AM
Adrian Maxwell
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

You misspelled butter.

mark taha
mark taha
3 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

He didn’t .

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

What extreme? The writer presents no evidence or real arguments.

Ted Ditchburn
TD
Ted Ditchburn
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

It used to be called commonsense..when it was both very common…and commonly held widely. Of course that’s derided now and so we have the nonsense of the example in this article, Critical race Theory, Defundign Police, and the rest of the stuff that is such obvious nonsense (usually padded by sate benefits and the whole apparatus of delivering food and everything else people need to stop the average age of death reverting back to 35 …

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
3 years ago

“Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.” That is, the less virtue you have, the more official rules you’ll need.

What a great quote. I think Brexiteers are in part reacting against government, and EU, control of areas of life that should be guided by a shared sense of virtue.

Nick Whitehouse
NW
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

I find it a very bad quote.
Think of the implications:
Who is the controlling power?
Who decides on what is virtuous?
As, I am – self evidently – virtuous can I be the controlling power?

In fact, I believe in democracy – one man one vote. I am that man and none of you need to worry evermore as I will be the controlling power!!

I believe that people need to agree on how a society works, that is very different to a controlling power.

PS Burke is a very bad example of democracy, having voted against his electorate’s views, he then becomes elected in a rotten borough.

Terry M
Terry M
3 years ago

You are being obtuse. Burke’s quote doesn’t define the ‘controlling power’ without. The questions you raise are legitimate and important, but just because a single sentence from Burke doesn’t answer them does not delegitimize his statement.

Nick Whitehouse
NW
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

I realise Burke is very popular, however to me he is no democrat. As such I understand him in a different way to you.

Greg Eiden
Greg Eiden
3 years ago

“Controlling power?” The Founders had a pretty good answer that worked well up until FDR.

“What is virtuous?” we of course will struggle with that one forever, or we should. But we only started really struggling with it, even abandoning the notion of it, since the Marxists started doing everything they could to discredit traditional religion. Not that the latter is without sin, but those who look at the sins of a church’s leaders and dismiss the whole as a result aren’t being too understanding of the human condition.

Root out the Marxists in all our institutions once and for all and virtue might once again have a chance.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
3 years ago

Hi, thanks for the information about Burke. Once people have agreed about how a society works, does that become the controlling power?

Bill Brewer
Bill Brewer
3 years ago

I’d like to think you’re right and you might be. Having polled a number of “blue collar” Brexiteers at the time, their reasons were never racist and quite simple; the impact on salaries from an influx of east Europeans and distaste for European bureaucracy and diminishment of democracy.

David Redfern
David Redfern
3 years ago
Reply to  Bill Brewer

With very few exceptions, Stephen is 100% right.

And having completed your polling, I trust you kick remainers in the nuts every time they mentions racism as anything to do with wanting to be out the EU.

None of we Brexiters mind, and recognise the need for, legal and controlled immigration. Nor is that anything to do with Refugee status and policy; an entirely different and noble endeavour.

Remainers branding us thick and racist reveals their own inability to think through the problems uncontrolled immigration invites.

Aidan Collingwood
AC
Aidan Collingwood
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

The problem with refugee status being a “different and noble endeavour” is that Africa and parts of the Middle East are chock full of potential refugees, almost all turning their eyes north, to Europe and the UK. If they are all genuine refugees how can one prevent any of them from immigrating into Europe and/or the UK?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

If you accept the idea that anyone who asks for refugee status is entitled to it, you can’t prevent anyone from migrating to Europe. This is where Merkel failed. So defining “refugee” becomes critical.

Aidan Collingwood
AC
Aidan Collingwood
3 years ago

Yes indeed. I agree with you that the definition is critical. Unfortunately it seems clear that potential immigrants into Europe/UK are aware that our governments are unable (or unwilling) to define “refugee” in a way that excludes the bulk of people determined to come here. It seems that almost any immigrant from Africa or the Middle East will de facto, if not de jure, be considered to be a refugee of some sorts, and so be allowed to stay. And there is virtually no limit to the numbers of people finding themselves in that situation. You cannot have “controlled immigration” when every immigrant appears to be a refugee of some sort, and when refugees have a separate status that allows them almost unlimited rights to remain in the European country of their choice.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Yes, European leaders, at least some, seem to be unable to take their own side in any immigration argument. And those leaders who did question the wisdom of granting everyone who asks for it refugee status were called racists and simply overridden by Merkel.

Much the same happens in the US, with asylum suddenly meaning merely the state of wanting to come to the US. Actual asylum seekers are people subject to persecution by their own government. They are not people seeking safety from gangs (Chicagoans would qualify in that case) or domestic violence victims or job seekers.

Voting for people who do believe in the right of free people to control who enters their country is the only way to create change.

Aidan Collingwood
AC
Aidan Collingwood
3 years ago

“Voting for people who do believe in the right of free people to control who enters their country is the only way to create change.” Too right! Pity that type of politician is a rarity.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

It is indeed.

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Bill Brewer

While I’m in favour of Brexit, for the sake of integrity I must record the views of a voter I canvassed during the 2017 election who told me:

“Brexit is fantastic…… next thing we need to do is round up all the immigrants and throw them out….. there’s this Polish girl at work – I go up to her and say “why haven’t you left?” ” – this from an aggressive, low-IQ, 25 stone bloke whose interaction with the Polish girl in question must have been highly physically intimidating.

David Redfern
DR
David Redfern
3 years ago

It’s taken you 5 years or so to figure that out?

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

Better late than never!

James N
James N
3 years ago

Yes, although bureaucracy also grows in response to complexity. People need rules to help coordinate complex interactions. That doesn’t mean they lack virtue.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

“In 2018, Matt Hancock was calling for everyone to take more personal responsibility for managing their own health; in 2020, the health secretary has been forced to view coronavirus case numbers as the state’s problem. And in pivoting from promoting controls within to those without, in the form of compulsory lockdown, Hancock tacitly conceded the moral vacuum at the heart of the modern Conservative Party.”

How utterly trite. Would Harrington expect Hancock to choose either between anti-smoking campaigns (take more personal responsibility – look after your lungs…) and NHS treatments for lung-cancer? This is not a moral vacuum, it is nuance. It is the complexity that pervades the real world. There is NO contradiction here.

Libertarianism in the US is not about freedom from all law, not about total freedom from the state. It is about boundaries on the state, a propensity (not an absolute requirement) to have the state leave people alone to get on with your lives as they see fit. I suspect this is simply another example of an English journalist failing to grasp the nuances and complexities of American culture and politics.

Mike Hearn
Mike Hearn
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

The writer is a “reactionary feminist” according to her Twitter, who (once?) was “Eastern Secretary for the Social Democratic Party”. So it’s not a big surprise that she’s no fan of the Tory party.

Hancock has ‘tacitly conceded’ nothing of any note because at all points during 2020 government actions have been controlled by SAGE and their foreign equivalents. The moment they try to do anything representing conservative morals, a bunch of academics turn up with a pile of buggy maths and start yelling the word exponential until nobody can think straight anymore. Trying to generalise from this to vague statements about politics and morals is a very dubious move indeed.

Jennifer Britton
Jennifer Britton
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

As with all political ideas, libertarians, at least in the US, hold a spectrum of ideas about libertarianism. At one end of the libertarian spectrum are those who hate all government; at the other end of the spectrum are those who hate social programs (especially welfare, social security, and healthcare) but support a robust military.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

This is incorrect. Libertarians, by definition, do not hate all government. That would describe anarchists which is quite different. Neither do libertarians hate social programs. Libertarians very much recognize a proper role for government, they simply believe that it’s not to control every aspect of our lives.

Greg Eiden
Greg Eiden
3 years ago

And how do you define and enforce those limits, a “proper role for government”? Again, I think the American Founders had a pretty good answer, but we have deviated from that answer and allowed government at all levels to grow to the point that we have now tipped. More people are getting money or benefits than are paying in. And now they are importing millions more voters who want the same.

The ideas of the US Constitution are over and those who have done it in are not apologetic about it. There is no “sorry, World, we just killed the golden goose”.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Greg Eiden

I’m a little bit more sanguine about the situation. I do agree with you that government at all levels has grown to the point where too many things in our lives are now controlled by it. But there is huge pushback, certainly Brexit and the election of Trump were pushback regarding who should be controlling what in our lives. Statists saw them as giant middle fingers which is a pretty good indication that they were libertarian moves.

Anywhere free speech is truly allowed, such as sites like this, you’ll see a good number of people with libertarian views. Where speech is more confined, such as The Guardian, the NYT, you’ll get the feeling that statism is far more popular than it really is.

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago

When people get to vote, you get an idea how much support there is for what you call ‘Statism’.

British people vote for the NHS.

US voters evicted Trump in favour of Biden.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

And yet you seem unhappy with the NHS. As do many other commenters here.

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago

My only unhappiness with the NHS is its underfunding by your ideological chums in the British Conservative party.

Given the very strong British public support for the NHS, contributors to this thread are not representative of the public as a whole, however disappointing that may be to Americans who welcomed the election of Trump as you did above. BTW, you must be pretty appalled by his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, up to and including his proposal to Bill Barr to impose Martial Law in Georgia, Arizona and the Northern swing states in order to rerun the election? I mean, you do know what the letters F-A-S-C-I-S-M spell, don’t you?

jmskennedy9
jmskennedy9
3 years ago

In 1788, when Madison wrote that line, virtue was classic virtue. That is “selflessness.” In order for most any form of government, people must have some degree of selflessness or there is no cooperation. Democracy demands it, to counter the natural forces of our own desires. The US is pushing over the cliff of me-tooism, (or us versus them), and I am afraid virtue is gone and we will not last. I would say I am a libertarian, but even that requires cooperation, and yes some basic laws.

Paul Marks
PM
Paul Marks
3 years ago

This is not a good article. The example of Grafton ignores property rights – a person should, of course, have the right to shoot a bear that attacks them or their property.

As for the idea that the British government’s Covid policy has been a success (either in economic, social or health terms) I do not thing any Classical Liberal would agree with the author. Indeed the writer presents no arguments or evidence at all that the government policy of lockdowns and so on has been success.

Nigel Farrah
NF
Nigel Farrah
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Marks

I’m not at all sure what the exact narrative of the author is in the majority of this article (once the American town is extracted).

stephen f.
SF
stephen f.
3 years ago

Absurd to use this community of cranks as an example of libertarianism-trite and not convincing-surely you can do better than this…

neilyboy.forsythe
neilyboy.forsythe
3 years ago

Are you confusing libertarianism with anarchism?
Aside from the left/right axis on the political compass, the other one is the authoritarianism/libertarianism axis. Are you seriously advocating for more authoritarianism?

nicholasmartinez
NM
nicholasmartinez
3 years ago

Of course the author is INTENTIONALLY doing this. This is how they strip nuance from the debate.

Simon Humphries
Simon Humphries
3 years ago

The author may well be right. But you certainly wouldn’t know it from reading this article, because I don’t think the author understands what libertarianism is. It is not the freedom to do whatsoever you wish, since the concept is constrained by the fact that such freedom is available to all. Unless she analyses how this constraint plays out, she will not understand the issue. The fact that the inhabitants of a certain town were self-described as libertarians is really neither here nor there.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
3 years ago

Oh dear, oh dear. this has to be the worst article I have read in a long time – and particularly on Unherd. It is deeply partisan and badly researched .It seems designed to spark outrage and a resultant long list of comments – which is hardly a measure of worth. Talk about a lack of virtue!!

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago

“Instead, it’s one in which neighbour disputes triple over the six years following the libertarians’ arrival, while public infrastructure crumbles and bears grow bolder and more numerous. Anyone who has lived in the increasingly shabby and rancorous UK over recent years may be seeing certain resonances by now.”

This gets to the nub of Harrington’s argument. Well, if it’s ‘shabby and rancorous’ she wants, she should have been around in the Britain of the 1970s. The ‘Winter of Discontent’ put the tin hat on a decade of, apparently, intractable economic and industrial problems. That’s why joining the EEC (as it was) was so popular: we doubted our ability to solve our problems, or even to govern ourselves. There was much speculation that Britain had become ungovernable. We sorted ourselves out, of course – and no thanks at all to the EEC/EU.

And Annette Kralendijk (below) is quite right. Harrington thinks she is criticising libertarianism. In fact, she is criticising anarchy

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

Agree. it was Thatcher who sorted us out, not the EU.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes, look what wonders the EEC/EU has done for Italy and Greece. Both would have been better off had they been able to devalue their currency, something Germany prevents because it doesn’t help Germany.

Andy Nimmo
AN
Andy Nimmo
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

I look out of my bedroom window, which overlooks a golf course and see hordes of SUV’s with personalised number plates. 50% of the owners are now retired personnel from the local Petro-Chemical complex enjoying the capitalist good life thanks to the excellent pension and benefits secured for them by a powerful union while looking down their noses and sneering at those who, thanks to Thatcher, are unable and powerless to enjoy these same benefits.
I am sometimes so disgusted with my fellow humans brainwashed into being so selfish and shallow.

David Redfern
DR
David Redfern
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Nimmo

It was Thatcher who empowered those Oil executives to become wealthy. It was Thatcher who de-nationalised the UK and empowered new business to compete for the public’s hard earned cash.

Excellent pensions from private businesses are bought and paid for by the individual, there may be company contributions, but the bulk is personal savings. You talk like these things are somehow handed out free gratis.

Even public sector pensions are paid for by the individual, it just so happens they are also subject to employers contributions, the whole thing underwritten by Taxpayers money. Your Oil Executives never had that guarantee.

There is risk and reward. Earn big bucks and pay big bucks into a pension scheme (Robert Maxwell et al notwithstanding) but take the risk of being out a job at a moments notice. Or accept the guarantee of a civil service life, with longevity of employment virtually guaranteed, and a modest (for some) pension on retirement.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  David Redfern

“It was Thatcher who empowered those Oil executives to become wealthy”

And Thatcher who, by crippling the trade unions, ensured that while the oil company executives became wealthy, the oil company employees found that their pay barely kept pace with inflation or in some cases actually fell behind it, and their non-salary benefits were progressively withdrawn.

Because, hey, spiralling inequality is always a good thing, right?

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago

Well said.

The thing that would be needed for a libertarian society would be a willingness of libertarians to sit down, shut up and behave themselves without being forced to do so. The actual behaviour of libertarians, conversely, is the best possible argument against libertarianism. The last thing any sane person wants is to give unchecked freedom to the sort of person who has zero regard for other human beings, and that is the only sort of person I’ve ever hard declare themself a libertarian. There is such a thing as mild-mannered church-going conservatives who I’d trust with personal responsibility, but libertarians? Forget it.

Control yourself, or be controlled. It’s really that simple.

steve eaton
SE
steve eaton
3 years ago

I have no idea of what you must think a libertarian is. But you couldn’t be more ridiculously wrong. I am a libertarian and I promise that I am the best neighbor you ever had.

The rules are simple in spirit.
1) Do what you want to do
2) Don’t do it in my yard
3) keep your hands off of my wallet.
4) I(f we absolutely must have a tax to accomplish a community need, ask nicely, don’t spend the money on something else, and take just enough to accomplish the agreed task.

It seems to me that the people who need a check on their misbehavior are the Progressive and woke zombies whose idea of freedom and personal responsibility seems to require burning down other people’s businesses and the like.

Fix your own tribe before you accuse mine.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  steve eaton

Thank you. I may not always be in line with libertarian thinking, but I don’t rely on caricatures like this article for broadbrushing the entire group.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Control yourself, or be controlled. It’s really that simple.
Find the libertarian who disagrees with that sentiment. That person will look much different than the straw man you built.

The last thing any sane person wants is to give unchecked freedom to the sort of person who has zero regard for other human beings, and that is the only sort of person I’ve ever hard declare themself a libertarian.
so you have never met an actual libertarian. Because none believe in ‘unchecked freedom’ since at some point, that’s going to infringe on the rights of someone else, violating the non-aggression principle that is boilerplate libertarian thought. “Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff” is the opposite of having zero regard for others.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

The libertarians apply their anti-statist principles to the growing problem of bears raiding bins, loitering around houses and eating cats, resisting any gesture at public bear management, because such things imply taxes.
That sounds more like anarchists than libertarians. The latter dislikes big govt but necessarily the concept of govt itself. There’s even a non-aggression principle that someone would have to enforce. But better to use a caricature than something more akin to the simple idea of “live and let live, don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.”

Resisting any attempt at facing a genuine danger, such as bears, sounds like what an earth-first group would do. The average libertarian would co-exist with bears right up to where life and belongings were threatened, and then the guns would come out.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

But better to use a caricature than something more akin to the simple idea of “live and let live, don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.”

Don’t forget the main principle of libertarianism. Free people who CHOOSE what government intervention into their lives they will accept. Libertarianism is more about the relationship between free people and government intervention than it is between free people and other free people. Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff would be part of libertarian accepted government intervention through laws (and enforcement) against assault and theft.

Paul Marks
PM
Paul Marks
3 years ago

“collective action was needed at speed” – you provide no evidence or rational argument for that statement Mary Harrington, indeed every country that did NOT lockdown has a lower (lower – not higher) death rate from Covid 19 than the United Kingdom.

You also point to a decaying church as evidence of the failure of liberty. In reality that is evidence of lack of property rights. And if the people of Grafton have failed to create a fire brigade (many towns their size have a volunteer one) that is not evidence against anything. Since 1819 churches in New Hampshire have been voluntarily funded – are you saying that this was mistake, and that towns should go back to a Church Tax?

Sadly I have read many very bad articles. But this article was one of the worst I have ever read.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Marks

Totally agree. Find me a libertarian against fire departments and property rights.

Christina Dalcher
Christina Dalcher
3 years ago

Wow. This journalist is either as clueless as the rest of the population when it comes to understanding the fundamentals of libertarianism (or any -ism), or she is deliberately confusing limited government with no government. Either way, an unfortunate place for a journalist to be.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago

Where Libertarianism is concerned, as is the case with most things, the poison is in the dose. Too much and it tips over into a sophomoric solipsism — a dash is helpful to curb the worst collective excesses.

We are pack animals. Any social arrangements that forget this fundamental feature of our being exposes us to all manner of ills, and as the bears of Grafton remind us, nature bats last …

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Colin Haller

We are not all pack animals. That is why, there over a thousand sheep for every Shepherd.

Pagar Pagaris
Pagar Pagaris
3 years ago

As others have pointed out, the writer has erected a straw man to knock down. She demonstrates little understanding of libertarianism.

I have met a lot of self defined libertarians and I have to say most of them are a little quirky if not downright strange. I think I must be too.

But having people who value freedom is an essential counterweight to the appalling state coercion we are currently experiencing. And if the writer does not believe in the virtue and morality of individuals, she needs to explain the charitable sector and the volunteer fire departments in the US.

John Riordan
John Riordan
3 years ago
Reply to  Pagar Pagaris

“And if the writer does not believe in the virtue and morality of individuals, she needs to explain the charitable sector and the volunteer fire departments in the US.”

Those are the obvious examples of positive acts by individuals, but what of the acts of omission which also prove the point?

We have laws against theft and murder, but do we really suppose that those laws are instrumental in preventing the descent of society into chaos? Of course not: remove those laws, and most people would continue not thieving and killing, because we believe those things are wrong. What those laws do achieve, is to establish a commonly accepted and understood set of consequences for the breaking of those laws which are consistently applied, so that individuals who are victims of those crimes do not have to enforce justice themselves.

This is actually a Liberal argument against religion, turned against the Religion of the State itself. We’ve all seen the straw man argument between the Liberal atheist and the religious devotee in which the religious person says “But if we have no taboos against sex crimes and murder, what’s to stop you going out raping and killing as much as you want?”, to which the Liberal Atheist replies: “I already rape and kill as much as I want, which is to say not at all, ever.”

If you can use this argument to defeat the need for the Church, then you can also use it to defeat the need for the State, which as a Libertarian (or classical liberal), is why I like it.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Libertarians do not believe there is no need for a state, by which I believe you mean a government. It’s much simpler than that. Libertarians believe that people should be left alone by their government (which presumes that there is one) for the most part but they also believe that government has a purpose, just not what it has become today, cradle to grave management of our lives.

Laws are necessary for an ordered society. The idea that you could simply depend on the goodwill of people not to commit theft and murder, not to mention property crimes, is not a libertarian idea. Libertarians expect laws to guard their rights and enforce public order.

Annette Kralendijk
AK
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Pagar Pagaris

Valuing freedom is not the same thing as believing in the virtue and morality of individuals. Because libertarians have a more realistic view of humanity, they don’t trust government to manage every facet of their lives. It’s because they don’t take virtue and morality for granted that they’d rather run their own lives. Libertarianism is not as trusting as statism.

The fire dept issue is bizarre. Libertarians are not against fire departments whether they are paid positions or volunteer.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Pagar Pagaris

Hear hear.

Ceelly Hay
CH
Ceelly Hay
3 years ago

It seems today that often the importance of context is overlooked. In many modern philosophies such as Libertarian-ism, the focus is on the individual perspective is closest to reality rather than a group consensus. Even the scientific method overlooks the importance of context. There is no examination of what could the limit of understanding of individual perspectives. In complex systems the small details are linked to large outcomes described in the recent article ‘How a one-man protest in Tunisia led to Brexit’ by Douglas Murray.

The world is complex. We face complex problems that require several levels of the phenomenon to be examined and linked together to gain an understanding and possible solutions. Modern philosophies do not provide a motivation or framework to do this.

Aidan Collingwood
Aidan Collingwood
3 years ago
Reply to  Ceelly Hay

Ceelly, when you say that modern philosophies don’t provide a motivation or framework to face complex problems, can you elucidate which philosophies you think do provide such a framework?

Dennis Boylon
DB
Dennis Boylon
3 years ago

Voluntaryism and the non agression principle are libertarian philosophies. This is anarchism, incompetence, and anecdotal. Many people do just fine living outside society. Spend a couple months in the outskirts of Idaho and Montana. Plenty of small libertarian minded communities getting along in this world just fine.

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Presumably “the outskirts of Idaho and Montana” are pretty deserted places with very low population densities and little scope for interaction with others. Interesting, but not very applicable to anywhere else (even, perhaps, the towns and cities of Montana).

This kind of chimes with a theory I have, that the thinking of the US Right in many cases is still stuck in 1820 when people headed off to the Frontier and made their own fortune by logging, trapping or farming without anyone else being involved (except their own families) and therefore it was meaningful to have a “get your hands off my property” ideology. But transferring that ideology, unchanged, to a world in which the company owner employs 50 people and they do most of the work in return for pay, doesn’t work.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

Have you even been there? Most of Washington, Oregon, and large parts of rural California are very similar. People do just fine. The Urban “elite” need to get out of their cities and explore a bit. LOL.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago

….unfortunately, “the State” have become those marauding bears. We. the people are not afraid of any virus, we are more scared of this totalitarian government than any Gates sponsored flu bug. I didn’t need government permission to be born free, I don’t need permission to think for myself, I don’t need permission to say what I like, when I like, and I how I should be thinking. I don’t need permission to see who I like, when I like, and how far I need to travel to get there. I’m intelligent enough to recognize bullshit when I see it, and I’m astute enough to see through lies and propaganda. If that makes me a freedom loving libertarian, then I accept the charge. Give me libertarian over communism any day, and every day.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

“I don’t need permission to see who I like, when I like, and how far I need to travel to get there.”

Even if you are carrying an infectious disease, and infect others on your way.

“…..any Gates sponsored flu bug”

Indulging in that kind of silly nonsense rather undermines your rant about “I’m intelligent enough to recognize bullshit when I see it, and I’m astute enough to see through lies and propaganda.”

Your comments are important because they illustrate a fundamental problem with Libertarianism: the desire to uphold the ideology means that inconvenient realities which undermine it must be denied.Otherwise the ideology is threatened!
Killer virus: assert that it’s a myth.
Limits on the ability of the planet to absorb the emissions from burning tens of millions of years accumulation of fossil fuels within a few decades: ignore the science.

Russ Littler
RL
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

I’ve only got one question for you Chris. Present to me the scientific study which identifies, and isolates Covid-19 in human beings. When you can produce that evidence, then I will concede that you are far more intelligent than I.

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
3 years ago

If you want to know what virtues should be encouraged in a democratic society, look no further than Aristotle and / or the Seven Virtues espoused by the Church. They require a great deal of self control and regard of oneself as part of a group, society or state. And it has to start with the young.

nicholasmartinez
NM
nicholasmartinez
3 years ago

“Constitutions are either ineffective or unnecessary.”

Even in a society of laws, shared values are more important than the law. Eventually a society of laws that are not agreed upon by a VAST majority of the people will fail or become more authoritarian.

The Untied States isn’t failing because there are not enough laws to compensate for the lack of shared values, it is failing because there are a lack of shared values.

Both sides of the political debate in the US are authoritarian, but both sides believe they are freedom fighters. There is no way out of this now other than violence.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Ironically in the US, the same people who once hailed multi-culturalism are the ones hurling accusations of “appropriation” when something cross-culture occurs. Recently, a white chef was attacked by the twitterati outrage mob for daring make a dish with Korean origins.

Appropriation is a feature of a multi-culti environment, not a bug, and in a second piece of irony, multi-culti runs headlong into identity politics.

nicholasmartinez
nicholasmartinez
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The wokeists don’t want openness. The want a top-down, command and control, authoritarian dictatorship, they want a “revolution”. I wish people would take them at their word rather than pretending they have shared values.

Jeremy Smith
JS
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

Confusing article and the picture is wrong. NH has black bears which are smaller and less aggressive/dangerous than the brown ( aka grizzlies/kodiak) bears.

“..shouldn’t blind us to the overlap between our individualistic, freedom-loving Anglo cultures.”
What about the Dutch? Swiss?
World Value Survey shows that the Scandis “out-perform” Anglos on liberal/libertarian values – but all those countries have a bigger state.

mike otter
MO
mike otter
3 years ago

Totally agree with Neily Boy below. No Libertarian thinker, not Ellerman, Nozick, not even Hayek has argued for us to have the freedom to enjoy a plague of bears or unlimited rights to private property. For example “appropriation of land must leave enough for others or be taxed by society to compensate for the exclusionary effects of private property”
What the writer describes is not libertarianism but mere anarchy as advocated by numerous pseudo thinkers and nutters, often French or Russian. Initially i thought of Kropotkyn and Proudhon but on reflection the Grafton experiment seems to owe more to Aleister Crowley or Anton LeVey and the maxim “do what thou wilt….”

Jennifer Britton
Jennifer Britton
3 years ago

As with the Ancient Athenians, we recognize the need for virtue but seem unable to define it and then act accordingly.

Nigel Farrah
Nigel Farrah
3 years ago

“…this was also the Cameron-era Tory stance: economic liberalism plus an aversion to giving people moral lectures of any kind.

Anyone who has lived in the increasingly shabby and rancorous UK over recent years may be seeing certain resonances by now.”

If you don’t have the space to substantiate these lazy assertions, maybe don’t include them in the copy. It would be nice to have the opportunity to test their basis.

Andrew McGee
Andrew McGee
3 years ago

is it really true that the inhabitants of Grafton sought to remove all restrictions on personal freedom? Did they abolish the age of sexual consent? legalise all forms of sex work? Legalise public nudity? Abolishe the concept of private property?I rather doubt it. What the article really seeks to secribe is a form of economic anarchy, all in the pursuit of having no taxes.

To me that is a long way from really addressing the issue of personal freedom.

Bill Brewer
BB
Bill Brewer
3 years ago

It all comes down to a risk / benefit balance. That’s in a different place for different individuals but I suspect the “raw” mean location of that balance doesn’t differ much between nations once you take away the social conditioning. It is that mean position we need to aim at.

Unfortunately, in the current COVID situation most people seem to have no ability to either extrapolate the financial damage nor loss of rights into a future lifestyle impact. I think if they could they wouldn’t be so keen to obey or signal virtue.

Due to the current situation I re-watched 1984 and one statement (paraphrased) struck me as at the nub of current events; “Power is not the means, it is the end”. I think that’s what we are observing in our governments. Better to resist peacefully before it goes too far.

William Cameron
WC
William Cameron
3 years ago

Its a numbers thing. The more crowded the country the more it has to be state controlled.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

The more crowded the country, the less people should be able to determine the acceptable level of government intervention in their lives? Why?

andy young
andy young
3 years ago

Like many others here I thought the author was describing anarchy, not libertarianism. To me the latter means doing what you like – as long as it does no harm to anyone else; that’s the big difference.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  andy young

That’s part of it. The main idea of libertarianism is that people are free to manage their own lives and maintain the freedom to choose what government intervention into their lives they’ll accept. Intervention should be minimal and limited to only what’s necessary to accomplish the goal. It’s more about the relationship between the individual and government including limiting government control of your life than anything else.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago

Correct Annette. There seems to be a lot of nonsense being spouted on this forum, about what the values of libertarianism are.

Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jeffrey Chongsathien
3 years ago

The argument for the extreme authoritarianism tyranny of COVID1984 is the counterexample of extreme liberalism – is this a sick joke?

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
3 years ago

I hear you.

However I have to keep in mind that even though I disagree with the article in general, it’s at least a refreshing change to have an informed debate, instead of arguing with some cretin who demands that I defend selling heroin to children out of the conviction, based upon 60 seconds research, that this is what libertarians believe in.

Chris C
CC
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Several Libertarians on this thread have stated that they oppose the UK national minimum wage.

When the NMW was introduced in 1999, people working as night-watchmen and suchlike were being paid £1-£1.50 per hour. The NMW increased that to at the time to £3.60 ph (higher now of course). Abolishing the NMW would almost certainly lead to a massive plunge in pay rates at the low end of the scale.Yet that’s what these Libertarians would choose to do, accompanied by the rhetoric which crops up all over this thread along the lines that inequality is desirable, growing inequality (spiralling pay for CEOs and pay cuts for ordinary workers) is defended with tendentious arguments, and people “freely” “choose” to “accept” work at low pay rates, when the reality is that market forces give them no choice.

Not quite “selling heroin to children“, but still pretty extreme and a school of thought which puts it own ideology and its defence of property rights (another common theme here) ahead of human beings.

James N
James N
3 years ago

Interesting angle, Harrington, but as others have said, you’ve horribly misrepresented mainstream Libertarians. A book about a handful of radicals sounds sensational and titillating read, but I hope your “must read list” will someday include something informative on the subject of Libertarians. I recommend Reason Magazine. Judging by the comments on this article, and the autonomous tone I appreciate in each of them, I suspect you may already share an audience.

And FWIW, with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other monopolish communication channels happily censoring free-speech surrounding Covid, including legitimate peer-review from credentialed people like Mike Yeadon, Reiss & Bhakdi, the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration, etc., isn’t cheerleading for statist control is kinda redundant?

Richard Budd
RB
Richard Budd
3 years ago

asdf

Last edited 2 years ago by Richard Budd
Fraser Bailey
FB
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Budd

Funnily enough I have just read Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk In The Woods’ in which he talks at length about the difference between the brown and black bears and their different habitats along the Appalachian Trail, which incorporates NH. I still didn’t spot the mistake, but he seemed to think that all bears could be dangerous.

Hilary LW
HL
Hilary LW
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Budd

Black bears can be dangerous. There have been numerous accounts of maulings when careless people take these wild animals for granted, or provoke them. They wander into residential areas in search of easy food (eg rubbish bins) and lose their natural fear of humans. The black bear needs to be treated with a great deal of respect.

Rob Nock
RN
Rob Nock
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Budd

Technically not all brown bears are grizzlies. Brown are the bigger salmon eating coastal bears while grizzlies are the smaller inland bears. Blacks are generally smaller but not always black and biggest difference is shoulder hump (brown) and flatter back (blacks). Also not as simple as black are less aggressive as it depends on how habituated they are to humans. Blacks tend to be more used to humans and their rubbish dumps and so more likely to attack though an attacking brown is more dangerous. See https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-

Peter Gough
PG
Peter Gough
3 years ago

Someone needs to (re)read their Robert Nozick

Kris Beuret
Kris Beuret
3 years ago

An alternative model was the Greenbelt cooperative community created in Maryland in the 1930’s. When people’s enthusiasm frayed the mayor deliberately set the town hall on fire to create renewed impetus focused on rebuilding. Not sure whether this community has survived?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Kris Beuret

Co-ops have nothing at all to do with libertarianism. They are economic based organizations.

Korina Wood
KW
Korina Wood
3 years ago

And the opposite of “Im alright Jack” is ” You will live your life for others and we will enforce that on you, and I will decide what and how you will live your life” Freedom cannot be being forced to live your life for others peoples life choices.

Ralph Hanke
RH
Ralph Hanke
3 years ago

To continue…
that market failures is small enough to tolerate.

I, for one, would rather tolerate those failures than the failures of government overreach.

Both the libertarian and the “statist” have bullets to bite.

Dan Martin
Dan Martin
3 years ago

Methinks that being a little bit statist is like being a little bit pregnant. There is no simplistic scale with libertarianism on one end and statism on the other. Classical liberalism is the bulwark against the ambitions of the state and libertarianism is the voice crying in he wilderness, reminding us that once a society reaches a critical mass it will explode into statism, overnight.

David Uzzaman
OT
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

I’m not this is libertarianism. Libertarianism doesn’t prohibit association or volunteering. From the description they seem a group of misanthropists. The libertarian ideal would be a society in which people participated as much or as little as they wanted the only prohibition would be compulsion.

Andrew Baldwin
AB
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Mary presents a superb cautionary tale on the destructiveness of extreme libertarianism. A libertarian (I wouldn’t call myself one but I admire many politicians and writers who do) would argue that it is hardly an indictment of libertarianism in general. In some happy future all the great democracies may be faced with a choice between a social conservative party and a libertarian party to determine who governs, both on the right in conventional terms. Until that time, the political right has to try to be welcoming to both social conservatives and libertarians if it wants to have any hope of holding office. Fortunately, it isn’t that hard. Most libertarians are reasonable people and wouldn’t object to laws against feeding bears in urban settings.

F Wallace
FW
F Wallace
3 years ago

It doesn’t work for the same reasons communism doesn’t work. Absolute control and absolute freedom are not functional for a human society to work. We all need to have our own rights, and we also need to make relative sacrifices of our own autonomy for the greater whole to succeed. The debate on where you put the slider between these two extremes is the heart of where most left vs right debate exists.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  F Wallace

The rights of the individual are inalienable, whereas the collective rights are of contract only.

F Wallace
F Wallace
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

Even if that were true, a collective society is required to both grant and protect those individual rights. Unless people wish to live in some kind of Mad Max “only power counts” world.

Judy Johnson
JJ
Judy Johnson
3 years ago

I’d like some examples of virtue and common values that have been evident this year more than previously. I think that the committment of NHS workers has always been there but we have acknowledged them more this year.

Karen Lindquist
BM
Karen Lindquist
3 years ago

Hilarious. I just ordered the book.
I live in Salem, Massachusetts, but am up and down the highway that takes one to New Hampshire.
The state motto is “Live free or die.” Which sounds great and all, until reality hits.
The inhabitants of NH are so dumb that they still wont implement state or sales taxes, so nothing get funded. But they move there to be free of all those pesky regulations and taxes.
Then, they drive two to three hours each way to work around Boston, because there is also no work up there.
My favorite motto now is “build a wall!” But I want it at the border of NH. Those idiots are the reason our roads are unbearably congested, as their rusty old pickups are bumper to bumper each day on the highway. What they save in taxes, they spend in fuel. But those “kill a liberal” sticklers and AK-47 decals wouldn’t get the type of audience they want to offend up there. So, the daily parade of hateful, pro gun violence, pro-Trump folk need us job creating liberals to survive it turns out. No surprise there.

Lyn Griffiths
LG
Lyn Griffiths
3 years ago

This is from a section of an online dictionary “libertarianism is an incompatibilist position which argues that free will is logically incompatible with a deterministic universe”.
So, what is freedom, nothing more than parameters brought about by experience and our survival. Which is to say we are free in the UK to express our thoughts, but it must be seen between facts and ingrained logic and this derived by quality schooling and within that open expression to seek out truth and in between that, parameters to allow our freedom within a civililised society to exist! So what is freedom, I would say it is hard to define.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Lyn Griffiths

So what is freedom, I would say it is hard to define.
On the contrary, it’s quite simple to define: live your life, don’t hurt others, and don’t take their things. That’s it in a nutshell. The whole point of the Constitution is that humans have rights, the role of govt is to protect those rights, and your right to something extends only to the point where the exercise infringes on someone else’s rights.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Almost. I agree with all of this except the last part. Rights compete all the time. Libertarianism is about the relationship between free individuals and their government, not the relationship between free people and other free people. For example, libertarians can exist and cooperate with non libertarians. It’s your relationship with the state that libertarianism seeks to confine to minimal and necessary justified actions. Libertarianism is about choice essentially.

Ralph Hanke
RH
Ralph Hanke
3 years ago

One thing libertarians must, in my opinion, rely on is commerce/business/capitalism. For example, it must be a very stupid bunch of libertarians who have not thought of a private fire brigade. Yes, free riders would exist”perhaps one of the key concerns of a libertarian project”but services can be bought that would put out the fire at my neighbors house to protect my own.

The libertarians job is to talk about and demonstrate

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Ralph Hanke

Libertarians are not against fire departments. You’re describing anarchists. They are not the same.

John Riordan
John Riordan
3 years ago
Reply to  Ralph Hanke

You appear to argue that a reliance on free market capitalism is a weakness of the case for libertarianism: in fact, it is one of its key strengths.

Teo
T
Teo
3 years ago

The libertarian bears by trespassing won the debate against the American libertarians notion of absolute property rights.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Teo

the libertarian coyotes of the Southwest have tried that approach against the libertarian ranchers, often with deadly consequences. There is a reason why “do not feed the bears” is good advice. I suspect the more typical libertarian would have adopted some means of mitigating the bear issue.

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

“I suspect the more typical libertarian would have adopted some means of mitigating the bear issue.”

The answer actually already exists in libertarian theory: your rights of person, property and contract are protected under law. If your neighbour makes your house a dangerous place to live because they refuse to desist from attracting bears into the streets and gardens where you all live, you have a damages claim against your neighbour.

billwald123
BW
billwald123
3 years ago

Christian Libertarians are pleased to be able to help their neighbors.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

Bit strange to move to a town and effectively impose libertarianism on the poor folks that already lived there. Seems a bit authoritarian to me! Oh the irony.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

If they had done that, I’d agree. What they imposed was anarchy, not libertarianism. You cannot, by definition, impose libertarianism on anyone.

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
3 years ago

Reading that in the article was the first tip-off to me that they weren’t libertarian. Imposition and liberty are mutually repelling.

John Riordan
John Riordan
3 years ago

Interesting story, but it does rather rely upon a bit of an obvious fallacy. Before I get to that however, I’d at least like to welcome the positive distinction the article makes between Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism. Being from the UK, a classical liberal is what I actually am, despite the fact that I call myself a libertarian. The reason for this is very simple: not enough people commonly understand that classical liberalism is the diametric opposite of what Liberalism is these days, so it’s really just a way to avoid confusion.

It’s worth remarking upon, of course, that the word “Liberal” is yet another casualty of the hijacking of language of which Progressive Left is persistently guilty: Liberals are now people who oppose democracy in the name of condemning populism, oppose free speech in the name of opposing prejudice, oppose liberty in the name of preserving the interests of the collective as defined exclusively by themselves, and who uphold the principle of diversity as long as it does not include any diversity of opinion or values that might dispute the primacy of Liberal Orthodoxy.

But anyway, back to the point: the idea presented here is that the principles of libertarianism have failed in the example whereby the liberty of the person who wants to feed the bears conflicts directly with the liberty of the neighbour who finds their own property endangered by emboldened wild bears. The fallacy here is to presuppose that if laws existed to govern the problem, then the problem would not exist, but as we know from our own experience of living in societies which are at times rather illiberal and over-regulated, the existence of laws governing behaviour, does not guarantee compliance.

The point is of course touched upon by reference to the part about James Madison’s arguments about virtue, but once again even that part makes mistaken assumptions about the need for virtue as preconditions for a free society without allowing for the fact that such virtue can emerge after the fact as well: if this was not the case, then the principles and practice of Common Law would never have been able to form the basis for the ordered societies that we take for granted. It’s worth quoting Roger Scruton at this point, in one of the most powerfully argued bits of prose I’ve ever read, where he deconstructs and defeats Ronald Dworkin’s attempts to explain the role of law in modern societies:

“That conservative vision of the law was defended in other terms by Adam Smith in his lectures on jurisprudence. And it has been interestingly revived in our time by Hayek, a writer who is ignored entirely by Dworkin. Hayek’s argument for common-law justice dominates Volume I of Law, Legislation and Liberty. `To modern man,’ Hayek argues, the belief that all law governing human action is the product of legislation appears so obvious that the contention that law is older than law-making has almost the character of a paradox. Yet there can be no doubt that law existed for ages before it occurred to man that he could make or alter it.’

People cannot form a society and then give themselves laws, as Rousseau had imagined. For the existence of law is presupposed in the very project of living in society – or at least, in a society of strangers. Law is real, though tacit, long before it is written down, and it is for the judge to discover the law, by examining social conflicts and laying bare the shared assumptions that permit their resolution. Law in its natural condition is therefore to be construed on the model of the common law of England, which preceded the legislative powers of Parliament, and which for many centuries looked upon Parliament not as a legislative body but as another court of law, whose function was to resolve the questions that could not be answered from a study of existing precedents. ” – Roger Scruton, Fools Frauds and Firebrands.

Mic Mac
MM
Mic Mac
3 years ago

Libertarianism is a utopian concept. I am not sure it can actually be implemented in real life.

But good of the people of Grafton to try, so briefly, before descending into almost complete anarchy.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Mic Mac

It’s the exact opposite in reality. Libertarianism recognizes that utopia does not exist. And because it does not, libertarians believe that free people making their own decisions and selecting what government intervention they will accept is the best way forward. Any intervention must be justified and the minimum required to accomplish any goal. For example a fire dept would be a justified government effort.

The people of Grafton were not libertarians, they were anarchists. There’s a huge difference.

katrinaangus
KA
katrinaangus
3 years ago

But they did have restrictions. it was still in New Hampshire and subject to their laws and New Hampshire is still in the US. I looked up the story of the firefighter and this was a bit misleading. He put out a fire that people were using that was against regulations. These people sound like a bunch of idiots to be honest. Yes libertarianism has just as idiots too. Statism doesn’t allow us to get rid of them though.

David Eppel
David Eppel
3 years ago

As an anarchist i am a believer in leaderless society. I find this interesting, and I think Covid has shown what total dicks people can be in the West. Narcissistic, selfish and ignorant, preferring to lend credence to radical right wing nutjobs, anti-vaxxers etc

neilyboy.forsythe
neilyboy.forsythe
3 years ago
Reply to  David Eppel

Yeah, anarchism would have come up with a vaccine and organised its distribution like that (snaps fingers).

David Eppel
DE
David Eppel
3 years ago

No- co-operation is fundamental to anarchy – ability recognised and rewarded.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David Eppel

Surely an an anarchist you would be more sympathetic to anti-vaxxers.

David Eppel
David Eppel
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Er, no- it would benefit all people to have the vaccine- reaon trumps politics

Teo
T
Teo
3 years ago

Personal responsibility has become the abstract politics of the UK a conjunction between left and right. A cadre of the insignificant empowering themselves to deliver judgement over anybody and everybody. In the absence of a concrete political or religious moral code they draw authority from whimsical sentiment. The personal responsibility lunatics have taken over the asylum. God help us!

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
3 years ago
Reply to  Teo

“The personal responsibility lunatics have taken over the asylum”

Nothing about what has happened in the UK in 2020 can possibly support such a diametrically incorrect assertion. The facts support the complete opposite.