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Libertarianism sounds great - but is it smart?

Andrew Napolitano's new book ‘It Is Dangerous To Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case For Personal Freedom’ explains the Libertarian perspective on how 'big government' endangers personal freedom. The view itself is both right and wrong when considered in context of the reality of our socioeconomic structure.

Editorial View

By John P. Reisman – November 4, 2011

Andrew Napolitano was recently interviewed on the Jon Stewart Show regarding his new book (It Is Dangerous To Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case For Personal Freedom) where he makes the Libertarian argument "that government is best, which governs least."

His Libertarian beliefs do not match his Socialist actions.

He states “Government exists to take away freedom." He is correct. But is he right? Government also exists to provide law and order and administration as well as services that benefit the country. Without government, we would not be a free nation, we would have been overrun by another nation that had a government and a military and wanted our land. He also states that we need a military though, which seems confused when contrasted with his previous statement? The fundamental Libertarian view seems to have its 'own' view of just how much liberty is needed, but is it considerate of all relevant factors to achieve such liberty?

The argument that appeals to our emotions is the 'ideal' of liberty. In a world where there is enough space, opportunity, education, no crime, and everyone is willing to pull their own weight, this would probably work great. But it's not the world we live in.

It is important to understand the basis for various political philosophies in order to parse where they make sense, as well as how and what flaws may be derived from said beliefs and perspectives.

...can only be accomplished to the detriment of the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

Napolitano quotes Thomas Jefferson and speaks of tyranny... but pretty much anyone that wants to enhance their argument quotes Jefferson? Fifty years after Jefferson's death, both the North and the South quoted Jefferson to justify their positions for the American Civil War. Napolitano says things like: who is the government to tell you what to eat or who to marry? This is an 'appeal to emotion' argument technique; not a founding argument based on reason and context. Is it not the governments responsibility to prevent E. coli in our food through quality of regulation to protect the people? Note that to protect stockholders in public corporations it is an executives fiduciary obligation to maximize profits within the law. The problem lies in the strengthening of the corporate veil to reduce responsibility when things go wrong. This of course is done through Washington lobbyists to influence law. The result of said manipulation is a weakening of protections designed to protect the common good.

Too much regulation can diminish market capacity while too little regulation can put the people, hence our nation, at increased risk from short or long term threats to our economy.

In other words, without proper regulation corporations can place profit above risk while hiding behind corporate veils and legislative loopholes. A healthy policy needs to be duly considerate of both sides of this conflict. If the corporate veils were reduced so that penalties appropriately fit costs and damages, then a free market can work in a more healthy fashion.

We live in a world where we have inequality of opportunity, of rights, of empowerment, and of protections between those with more or less means to effectively lobby our legislators to build and maintain the protections they desire and enjoy.

The Centrist Party is not about giving everyone a free ride, it is about providing the foundation for access to a ride that you are willing to work for, and taking responsibility at all levels for our actions.

Napolitano remarks about our “...right to earn a living, the right to say what you want, and think what you want and publish what you say." This is a given, but it is also a distraction. Because it is reasonable, it leads one to think that maybe the other things he is saying are just as reasonable. This is an argument technique known as 'reasonable by association'.

...the 'American Dream' would have to be abandoned in favor of exploitation without constraint.

The Centrist Party tenets agree with the fundamental argument of free markets in that governments should not bail out failures, and responsible market systems work better in a transparent system. Our socioeconomic reality should be governed by work, not welfare. The underlying premise of recent Libertarian and Republican views seem to ignore how such views can diminish opportunity by virtue of corporate welfare and abuse of the legislation. The Centrist view is to clear the way and enable opportunity through incentive and fair access to opportunity, not giveaways and protections.

Napolitano: “Libertarians, like I am, believe the government should not pick winners and losers, the free market should.” The Centrist tenets agree – efficiency in government is key. Too much governance is in fact an imposition on liberty. But in defense of reason, too much liberty for a particular class, without consideration of long term impacts, is to the detriment of the common good/liberty. The liberty of a person or group 'can' unduly impose upon other individual or group liberties – therefore the ideal in this context is inherently flawed.

Andrew Napolitano was a judge. He worked for the government. He draws his retirement checks from the government. The definition of socialism is 'owned and operated by the government'. He claims to be for free markets but did not make his living from the free market – he made it from socialism. His Libertarian beliefs do not match his Socialist actions.

Napolitano's argument promotes the idea of degradation of individual rights...

We the people of the United States of America need to continue to examine and balance the extent to which we can achieve individual liberty and freedom, within the bounds of the needs of our communities, our nation, and our economy. Our goals need to include reducing system stress related costs such as crime and poor health, as well as the maintenance of peace and liberty in our communities, states, and nation. Empowering opportunity is a key factor in this goal.

To forgo one segment of individual/group rights over the rights of another individual/group can only be accomplished to the detriment of the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

To achieve such an ideal in our current situation, we would have to forgo the ethics and morals of reason and access to opportunity upon which our nation was founded. That liberty which enabled the 'American Dream' would have to be abandoned in favor of exploitation without constraint. In such an extreme the consequence would be to favor the liberty of a ruling class over individuals or groups, resulting in a more powerful and controlling oligarchy. Such 'libertarianism'  would result in a form of organized anarchy delivered via class rights by virtue of the ability to rule through said hierarchy.

Anarchy: absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.

In our current reality Napolitano's argument promotes the idea of degradation of individual rights reducing access to opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the very liberty he is promoting. Because in our current reality the profitability of corporations are in part achieved through legislative manipulation. This is by definition oligarchical and plutocratic.

Oligarchy: a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.

Plutocratic: government by the wealthy.

Simply put, there is a reason for speed limits and traffic lights in towns and cities, though a constraint to individual liberty. This is to protect those crossing the street from being hit by speeding cars driven by Libertarians amped up on 'too much liberty' while ignoring those individuals exercising their liberty by trying to get to school, go shopping, or get to work.

Logic dictates that we need limits to how much a corporation can exploit our resources and whether such exploitation under 'maximum liberty' poisons our water or food, or diminishes our long term ability to maintain our economies.

The Libertarian view tends to the extreme of liberty, even to the detriment of the people that a government has the fiduciary obligation to protect. The libertarian view in this respect is unrealistic in believing that people and corporations are motivated by morality and ethics, when in fact we are all motivated by our own desires for maximum liberty. It's easy to say I should get everything my way, and it's easy to forget that what I desire as an individual may, in the greater schema of sociopolitical interaction, do harm to my neighbor.

Liberty is wonderful as long as our liberty does not harm or damage our ability to maintain liberty. Lest we not forget, we are human after all, and to err is not beyond our ability.

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jim (memphis)
jim (memphis) says:
Jan 21, 2012 08:32 PM

" Lest we not forget, we are human after all, and to err is not beyond our ability." - this is exactly the point of napolitano. A part of freedom is having the freedom to 'err'. That doesn't mean we need a throned babysitter to control free market or other liberties. It sounds like you want the government to play God and a safety-net. And the government as its composed of 'humans', has just as much capacity to 'err' as regular citizens. You talk about extremist views, and then say libertarians don't want traffic lights or speed limits.... The point is the government is continuously dabbling in matters that interfere with individual freedoms set forth by the constitution. You are drawing straws this entire essay. Working for the government in any branch makes you a socialist? Really? Its called a job. You're problem is you are calling libertarians anarchists. Libertarians want to limit government influence the way the constitution intended, not to do away with all government, military, and road signs. Get real

John P. Reisman
John P. Reisman says:
Jan 21, 2012 09:59 PM

That's 'your' view of Libertarianism. Some Libertarians have stated publicly that we should get rid of the government. I agree with Napolitano on the point of that which governs least is best government, but it must include sufficient governance of the people, by the people, for the people. That means democracy and in our case a Republic to run things. Unfortunately, our Republic is suffering a bad case of special interestitis.

Libertarianism by definition is an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens.

Extremes are not what is required to achieve the common good as our Constitution intended; pragmatic should be the rule of thumb. Re. working for the government: Yes, if you work for the government your job exists because government exists. So if you work for the government, your job is to work for the people by a government owned and operated entity.

Definition of SOCIALISM
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Therefore, government jobs are in fact socialist jobs. You can say it's just a job, but it is a government job designed to assist in the well being of the "community as a whole'.

I am a free market advocate, but not at the expense of resource capacity and related impacts to externalized costs. Ignoring these costs and impacts will degrade liberty. If the goal is liberty, then we, the people, need to pay better attention to short and long term cost/benefit ratios.

And yes, 'extreme' views of libertarianism lead to anarchy.

That's as real as it gets.