What is the end goal of libertarianism? Libertarians say it’s to maximize the liberties of every individual. It’s a simple, seductive idea that’s impossible to disagree with. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, libertarianism defeats itself on its own terms.
That isn’t to say that libertarianism has to defeat itself on its own terms, but the way that the ideology is practiced guarantees that it will be. Adherents don’t recognize that, as it is currently practiced, libertarianism is feudalism.
If you are a libertarian or libertarian-minded and now seek to bite my head off, hold on for a second! You’re undoubtedly wondering how I came to such an “absurd” conclusion. Let’s drop the labels as much as possible and explore the problems we’re dealing with today.
10 Years Ago
Back when I was in my early 20’s, I was a devoted libertarian, to the point of being an Anarcho-Capitalist. It all sounded great and logically consistent.
Temperamentally, I still lean libertarian. I think the libertarian end goal for society is the one that will produce the best culture and civilization – within reason.
So what changed in me?
You could say I got “older and wiser,” but that’s a copout. It’s something an uncreative, screeching “social justice” warrior would say, isn’t it? Let’s find something more compelling.
For starters, certain of the libertarian predictions regarding the economy at the time (2009) turned out to be inaccurate. That raised some questions. As Scott Adams says in Win Bigly, your filter on the world should do a decent job of predicting things.
Also, when you begin studying the dimensions of persuasion and power dynamics, you learn very quickly that, contrary to the standard libertarian assumptions, humanity is irrational almost all of the time. That was a second strike.
But here’s the biggest strike.
In the decade since 2009, we have seen the rapid creation of a dark, Orwellian society – but it isn’t government or state power that’s doing this. It’s had its part, but it isn’t the primary driver. The impetus for this has largely come from private hands, concentrated in the burgeoning tech monopolies.
In essence, we’ve come to live in a world of tech feudalism.
Libertarianism has had no answer to this challenge. Instead, we see libertarians defending these tech monopolies (which hate them, by the way) because they aren’t government entities.
Libertarianism’s impotency against tech feudalism
These tech monopolies don’t care about the liberties of individuals, particularly if they dissent from the groupthink they push.
If you’re unfortunate enough to fall into the latter category, you’ll be unpersoned for not carrying the modern mark of the beast. Your voice will be erased and you won’t be able to take part in economic life.
Traditionally, libertarians have subscribed to the notion that so long as the Non-Aggression Principle is followed, everything else becomes irrelevant. However, to their credit, this was a point of controversy in the libertarian communities I was a part of back in 2009.
Some have espoused the notion of “thick libertarianism,” which holds that it isn’t enough simply to stress the NAP. Instead, certain assumptions need to be in place in order to ensure a free society. One example would be the need for a social prohibition on discrimination, else you have a situation that resembles feudalism, where tyranny can still be enforced without a monopoly on violence (e.g., state power).
These explanations have been dumbed down for brevity, but that’s more or less how the argument went.
I was skeptical of these arguments. I thought that the market would easily provide a solution to these potentialities. I was wrong. Time has proven the “thick libertarians” correct.
For example, while the assault on free speech by the state (particularly outside America) remains a threat, the far bigger threat comes from private concentrations of power. The tech monopolies, and not the state, own the levers on how speech is expressed in the 21st century, and the tech monopolies are enacting the kind of feudalism that the critics of libertarianism have long warned about. They are the ones ruthlessly creating a de facto one party state and they’re becoming increasingly efficient at it.
In the 10 years since my Ancap days, we’ve stumbled into a world where failure to agree with giving gender reassignment surgery and hormone blockers to prepubescent children can get you…
- Censored in the modern public square (the internet and social media).
- Fired from your job or prohibited from participating in the internet commerce that is crucial to the 21st century economy.
- Get you and your family doxxed and harassed by “activists.”
If you’re forced to conform to groupthink or lose your livelihood, you aren’t free. If that groupthink creeps into more and more minute aspects of your life, you aren’t free.
Traditional libertarianism hasn’t taken a single stand against any of this. In fact, libertarians cheer this stealth feudalism even it as it can (and has) come for them. The ideology is simply impotent to deal with it. The “thick libertarians” are more capable, but even for them, these facts expose the flaws in their thinking. They suggest that voluntary action alone isn’t enough.
Libertarianism is impotent to prevent revolution
Beyond the Orwellian thought control that the tech overlords are rapidly creating, the 21st century is resembling feudalism in other ways.
Quintus Curtius and others have spoken of a “plutocratic insurgency,” where the very wealthy have aggrandized to themselves a sort of supra-national sovereignty, exercising transnational prerogatives to lord over society while insulating themselves from any responsibility to it. They see those beneath them as less like fellow citizens and more like serfs working on a manor. To make the association with feudalism more complete, these overlords are even segmenting themselves from the rest of society by building their “techno palaces” in the needle towers springing up in big cities (and which have ruined the Central Park skyline).
Since the 1970s, and accelerating in the 21st century, these overlords have become increasingly wealthy, while the rest of the population has stagnated or enjoyed only very small growth. Or worse.
These kinds of disparities of wealth have always led to social instability or even revolution and civil war. This was how the Roman Republic ended. That episode was very much on the minds of America’s founders as they created the Constitution.
These 21st century power structures are the reason why populism has grown and why socialism has come to the fore again, particularly among the young. To a libertarian, socialism is the greatest evil, and they’re right to be so averse to it, but libertarians also axiomatically defend the concentration of power in the hands of these new overlords because that power is in private, as opposed to state hands. As such, they are impotent in defending against the spread of the socialism they hate. 21st century socialism is where we’re heading if this issue isn’t resolved satisfactorily.
It doesn’t help that libertarians reflexively worship at the altar of open borders. All that does is ensure future voters for socialism or other causes that oppose the libertarians. It also helps the overlords with cheap labor that undercuts their countrymen.
The alliance between the 21st century overlords and these “activists” is indeed tenuous, but neither one is interested in individual liberty, and libertarianism is impotent to confront either of them. That’s what makes the difference.
All philosophies and ideologies need to adapt to the times. Like its cousin conservatism, libertarianism hasn’t. As traditionally practiced, it is impotent against the forces creating a 21st century, high-tech, leftist feudalism.
The preservation of liberty and a thriving national culture should always be the highest ends, but libertarians have abandoned the latter for a pretense of the former. The limits of the philosophy must be recognized.
Instead, the libertarian-minded should aim to preserve liberty by forging a proper balance of power between the various sectors of society – state and nonstate. That is the only historically proven method. Right now, too much power has accumulated in private hands in the tech sector, and the market isn’t going to solve it. Public action is required.
Help to preserve the balance of power with the persuasion skills in Stumped.