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Philosophical Reflections: Can One Have a Socially and Economically Libertarian Society? Not For Long

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While watching Atlas Shrugged, I began to think about the sort of society Ayn Rand wants us to live in: the “Objectivist” society. While die-hard Randians may disagree with my characterization of her view, I think it is roughly fair to say that she wants society to be socially and economically libertarian. The economy ought to have minimal interference from the government, and society should be free from traditional social mores. One is an individual first and foremost. You own yourself, and consequently, you can do what you want with your time, money, and body. No one has a claim on you in any respect. In fact, altruism hurts society. You ought to pursue your own “selfish” ends, and by doing so, you will find your fulfillment while society is streamlined and advanced by your innovation and efficiency, helping all in the long run. Thus, we can all live in a libertarian utopia.

While nice in theory, I don’t think it will work. The main problem I see is that social libertarianism tends towards larger government, which is the enemy of the economically libertarian society. Here is a quick reductio ad absurdem:

1. Society is socially libertarian. (Assume)

2. Society is economically libertarian. (Assume)

3. If society is socially libertarian, then social and individual mores, traditional norms, etc. are ignored. (Definition)

4. If social and individual mores, traditional norms, etc. are ignored, then more government is needed to maintain the safety, order, and well being of society. (Research Supports)

5. If more government is needed to maintain the safety, order, and well being of society, then the government will consume more money and assert more control over the economy. (Practical Fact)

6. If the government will consume more money and assert more control over the economy, then the economy is not free. (Definition)

7. If the economy is not free, then society is not economically libertarian. (Definition)

8. If society is socially libertarian, then society is not economically libertarian. (3-7)

9. Society is not economically libertarian (1,8)

10. Society is economically libertarian and society is not economically libertarian (2,9) (Contradiction)

11. Therefore, society cannot be socially libertarian and economically libertarian at the same time. (1,2, 10) (To avoid contradiction, we must give up one of our contradictions)

This argument is pretty straightforward. 1 and 2 are assumptions. 3 is definitionally true. 5 is practically true. 6 and 7 are definitionally true. As such, 4 seems to be the only premise in need of defense.

Defense:

Here are some examples of articles and books I offer in defense of 4. They each discuss how the tendency towards greater individualism and the loss of social norms has led to social decline and the rise of government.

Consequences:

If this argument is sound, then one cannot have a social and economic libertarian society for long. I would contend that one must either be a social conservative to maintain one’s allegiance to economic libertarianism (thus giving up social libertarianism) or one must become an economic liberal (thus giving up economic libertarianism. That is, one must embrace traditional norms and mores in social society so that individuals are self regulated and controlled, or one must embrace a larger government so that individuals are externally regulated and controlled. Either way, if you have libertarian tendencies in both directions, you have a bullet to bite. Sorry Ayn Rand.

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