Libertarians believe in liberty (it is in the word “libertarian”) – this is not the “freedom” of a wild fire, or water after a dam has been blown up, or even that of a rabid dog that has been let out of a cage, To confuse the liberty of human beings (agency) with such things is the sort of rubbish that Thomas Hobbes comes out with (in order to discredit liberty and give support to tyranny) it is not what libertarians believe in. Libertarian politics (that government, and private criminal, attacks on the civil liberty of human beings should be rolled back) is based upon libertarian philosophy – that humans are BEINGS (agents) capable of CHOOSING their conduct, of choosing between good and evil (unlike a wall of water from a blown up dam – or a rabid dog that has been let out of a cage).
Libertarians certainly do not claim that people always choose to do good (of course people sometimes choose evil – and in the full knowledge that it is evil – private criminals exist, just as government tyrants do). Nor do libertarians believe that the human mind (the “I” – agency itself) is not open to attack, brainwashing (conditioning) certainly exists (in various forms – mild as well as extreme) and people need to be told what others are trying to do them – and need to be helped in their resistance to it (in their struggle to retain control of themselves – and not let that control slip into the hands of others). If the human mind was invulnerable there would be no need to defend freedom (to defend the mind) against such attacks (and so no need for libertarians), just as if the human body was invulnerable there would be no need to defend human bodies against attacks (and so no need for libertarians).
However, do all libertarians actually believe in these basic principles? Or have they accepted the collectivist philosophy of their enemies – without understanding that collectivist philosophy naturally leads to collectivist politics.
The radical disconnect in F. A. Hayek (yes I know he never called himself a libertarian, and was actually a limited state person not a minimal state person, but he is often cited by libertarians) – the radical disconect between the statements he makes in such works as “The Road to Serfdom” (in favour of freedom, in favour of natural rights and natural law – of the existence of good and evil and the ability of human beings to choose good and oppose the evil of tyranny) and those statements he makes (not just in “The Sensory Order” – but little asides in such works as “The Constitution of Liberty” also) where human beings are reduced to the level of machines (not beings, not agents, at all) all of whose actions are predetermined by a series of causes and effects that go back to the start of the universe (no room for freedom at any point), and seeming to accept that there are really no such things as good and evil, and even if there were such things, humans could NOT choose between them. This radical disconnect (between Hayek’s pro freedom politics and the collectivist philosophy he was taught in Vienna in the early 1900s) is too well known to warrant further comment.
But what of Ludwig Von Mises (the modern dean of the Austrian School of economics – a school founded by Carl Menger on the Aristotelian bedrock of the ability of humans to really CHOOSE, on the idea that humans really are beings, agents).
Some of the time Mises does indeed seem to accept that humans are beings (that agency – choice, actually exists), but other times we are told (even in “Human Action”) that humans are not free “in the metaphysical sense” (i.e. we do not “really” have the ability to CHOOSE – to do other than we have done) and then there is the abuse.
And “abuse” is the right word – most humans are too “dull”. “stupid”, “inert” to understand anything of importance – only the intellectuals can understand things (perhaps only they can have freedom in the “metaphysical sense” – the rest of us being non agents, like water from a dam that has been blown up or rabid dogs that have been let out of their cages).
One is tempted to reply (indeed I would reply) – “well then Mises, the cause of liberty is quite hopeless”.
After all if only the intellectuals can understand things and choose their conduct then freedom from tyranny for ordinary people does not seem desirable – why should such scum (incapable of understanding and real choice – “stupid”, “dull” and “inert” be free of statism?) surely they should be controlled “for their own good”?.
Also the intellectuals (who, supposedly, MUST control everything – the culture being their plaything and no resistance to their ideas being even possible) are certainly not, in the main, in favour of freedom from statism – not for ordinary people in their ordinary (economic) lives.
On the contrary – the intellectuals are what they were in the days of Francis Bacon (the author of “The New Atlantis” and mentor of Thomas Hobbes), or Thomas Moore (the author of “Utopia”) or all the way back to Plato himself….
Like Tolkien’s Saraman – the intellectuals want to RULE – to control everyone. Because they are “wiser” than we are (and so may “Nudge” us) so they should rule us – “for our own good”. The intellectuals want POWER – they have always wanted POWER, and for all the talk of “for our own good” it would (to take an image from Orwell) be like a boot coming down on human face – FOR EVER.
Again there is a radical disconnect between the pro liberty politics and economics of Ludwig Von Mises and the philosophy he was taught (and takes for granted as background assumptions).
The contempt for the basic freedom of the human mind (at least for ordinary people – forgetting that it is us “dull”, “stupid” and “inert” creatures who admired his writings on various economic and political matters and the wise intellectuals who utterly rejected his arguments) and the contempt for the very ideas of natural law and/or natural rights – for the idea that good and evil might be anything else but (as with Hayek) calculations about advantage – with any action being permissible if it has useful consequences (“the good that only the wise can see” perhaps?)
Moral relativism, denial of even the existence of honour, of real good and evil – and even the denial that humans could choose between good and evil if they did exist. A denial of human agency itself – of humans as beings (a dismissal of it as “metaphysical”).
That is not a solid foundation of liberty in politics and economics – it is the philosophy of collectivist quicksand.
This radical disconnect between pro freedom politics and economics, and anti freedom (radically anti freedom) philosophical assumptions may explain a lot about the lack of impact of libertarians.
I must stress that I am certainly not claiming that political libertarians are all crippled by collectivist (anti agency) philosophical assumptions – but there is certainly a “lot of it about” and it, I believe, has undermined the effectiveness of pro liberty people even more than the attacks of our enemies (and those things they control – such as the education system and the “mainstream” media) have done.
It is a radical disconnect (a fundamental contradiction) between political beliefs and philosophical beliefs.
I have long known it exists (I have known for decades) – yet I have normally chosen to ignore it – on the grounds that a debate between such things as determinism and agency, and between moral relativism and objective honour would “spit the movement”.
However, I have come to the conclusion that I was in error – that these sort of philosophical differences can not be swept under the carpet – because the collectivist (anti freedom) philosophy of out enemies has so influenced (as background assumptions) so many leading defenders of liberty – crippling (crippling by contradiction) their efforts.
This poison (the poison of collectivist, anti freedom, philosophy) must be honestly faced – we should not continue to act as if the problem did not exist.