Tibor R. Machan
Now that libertarianism has gotten some publicity in mainstream forums, those who are convinced of its merit have much work to do. This is because of the well publicized distortions of the position in prominent forums, especially by well credentialed academics in law, political economy, ethics, philosophy, and other disciplines bearing on public policy. You see, the idea that no one ought to coerce another even for noble purposes is pretty much common sense in America. Sure, some folks disagree, among them many highfalutin academics with great skills at sophistry. But the bulk of those who vote pretty much agree that when you want something from your fellows, you need to ask them instead of robbing them. So when this is being denied, lots of fancy footwork needs to be deployed, which is just what’s being done by numerous pundits at The New York Times and other outfits that champion all kinds of coerced wealth redistribution. (Of course, wealth redistribution goes on peacefully all the time, but that’s not under these statists’ control, so they don’t like it!)
What you can expect from these people is fancy discussions about how, in fact, the American system gives the legal authority to Congress and others in government to take, take, and take anything they want from you and me, as well as to force you to do what they want you to, “for the public interest.” And to make their case more palatable, they need to make it appear that the libertarian reading of the US political tradition–that reading that made it exceptional instead of just a watered down version of feudalism–is callous, heartless, and bent on undermining the public good at every turn. By besmirching the position this way, the unsophisticated citizenry, whose members are libertarian at the gut or second nature level, might then get turned around and give the statists the power they clamor for.
But here is an important piece of information that one can use to rebut this underhanded effort to discredit human liberty and to empower the statists: the American political system has a very clear doctrine of the public good (or interest). It is stated in the Declaration of Independence and it consists of a system of laws that secure the natural rights of the citizenry. That’s the American version of the public interest, namely, protecting everyone’s liberty to live his or her life by his or her own judgment. That is why a legal system is instituted, not to serve other ends, the bulk of which are, of course, on the agendas of the statists. What the Founders did so brilliantly is discern the public good or interest correctly, based on what in fact all members of the public will benefit from. And this is their being free from aggression by other people even when such aggression would be deployed for high sounding objectives.
Now it is very tempting to designate everything someone badly desires as being in the public interest. Just listen to all those lobbyists who march to centers of power peddle their special interests as in need of being pursued for the public good. But this is a ruse and it is precisely in the proper public interest to unmask and resist it, which is everyone’s basic right to life, liberty and property. That is what everyone benefits from without any cost to anyone else. That is a bona fide public good, not some trumped up version which always amounts to ripping some people off so that the goals of some others get served.
All this is vital to remember as one witnesses the desperate efforts of sophisticated statists to discredit human liberty, to label it “fundamentalism” and other ad hominems. Sadly the prominent, prestigious forums are mostly in the hands of statists so there will not be much of a chance to do intellectual battle with these sophists on the turfs them dominate. Have you ever read anyone in The New York Review of Books who had a nice thing to say about individual liberty or free markets? Just like Karl Marx did with the right to property–which he dubbed a right of selfishness that makes all sorts of mischief possible (omitting all the wonderful things this right serves as well and depending on the nasty version of “selfishness” so popular since Hobbes rendered the self something nasty and brutish)–these statists only stress the relatively rare misconduct that men and women engage in when they are free. So they will not permit anyone to say otherwise in those forums they dominate (which, by the ways, they could not do without the right to private property being well protected).
Libertarianism is a sound political idea but it faces an uphill fight given how its embrace means the demotion of all sorts of tyrants, Draconian or petty, who are very reluctant to give up their well entrenched power.