Essay:Libertarianism and Anarchy
This essay was written specifically to counter some of the ad absurdum arguments by Libertarians about such public health measures as water fluoridation, vaccination, etc. --PAL
Libertarianism is a collection of philosophies that defines the individual as the center of power. Common to most Libertarians is a "live and let live" philosophy, whereby the individual may engage in any behavior that does not infringe on the liberty of any other individual. A more complete exposition of the philosophy is available elsewhere. It sometimes seems that Libertarianism functions no better than Anarchy.
Libertarianism in Practice
Libertarianism, like any other political philosophy, must work out certain contradictions in order to be viable in the real world. For example, many Libertarians see any interference by the state as inappropriate use of force. Libertarians must decide where to "draw the line" in these circumstances. Should levies or taxes be raised for public projects such as roads? How should we support the common defense? How should society handle water distribution? Sewerage? Public health measures?
In a Jeffersonian agrarian democracy, Libertarianism fits in quite well, especially in a pre-industrial setting. People generally live far apart, and can choose to join with each other for projects that affect each others' common good. Individuals actions do not much affect other people because of distance. If an infectious disease afflicts a household, their Libertarian philosophy would teach them to isolate themselves for the duration of the illness, voluntarily restricting their own freedom so as not to infringe upon the freedom/health of others.
The modern world is much more crowded and complicated than an ideal Jeffersonian democracy.
- Rational Actor: Libertarianism, like many economic models, assumes the "rational actor", the idea that every individual will always act in their own best interest. Even in aggregate, this is difficult to define. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many philosophers, such as Sigmund Freud, have shown that individuals do not always act rationally and in their best interest. So-called "rational action" is inherently unpredictable.
- Conflicts: Often, two people's liberties are in direct contradiction. Without the coercion of laws and government, how are these disputes to be settled? Many writers and philosophers have addressed this. For an interesting look at alternate worlds of Libertarianism, see Robert Heinlein.
- Public Good: The modern world is crowded. Public health, transportation, sewerage, education, and other projects need to be accomplished. This inherently involves coercion against the individual, whether it be taxes, fees, or more draconian measures. How is this to be dealt with in the context of Libertarianism?
- The "opt out": individuals may be able to "opt out" of the larger society--they may chose not to pay taxes, or to receive vouchers back on their taxes to purchase utilities, education etc Unfortunately, this deprives the rest of society of the pooled income.
- Minimalist government: government can be limited strictly to providing for the common defense. Suffers from the problems of Anarchy.
Libertarianism vs. Anarchy
For Libertarianism to achieve its high ideals without resort to Anarchy, many compromises are necessary. For example, an individual may wish to eschew the government coercion inherent in vaccination, or in water fluoridation. In a representative (rather than direct) democracy, we elect representatives to help decide which of these measures are important enough to coerce individuals into compliance. In a Libertarian democracy, Libertarian ideals give rise to paradoxes--to avoid vaccines, you put your neighbors at risk. Which ideal is more important, individual freedom, or avoidance of harm to others? Anarchical Libertarianism would let individuals "fight it out". A representative democracy based on Libertarian ideals would abandon some power to the state in order to achieve a rational consensus.
No system is ideal, but to be able to live a pure Libertarian lifestyle and not bring harm to others, it is necessary to remove oneself from society entirely.