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Entry 415, on 2006-10-27 at 12:59:37 (Rating 4, Politics)

My dictionary defines Libertarianism as "An ideological belief in freedom of thought and speech." Who would not support an idea like that? We all want freedom of thought and belief, don't we. Even people who don't really want it at least say they do! And that seems to be the case with most Libertarians I have come across.

The idea of Libertarianism by that name is new in New Zealand, but the ideas behind it have a much longer political history. Unfortunately for them their ideas have generally failed quite badly. Maybe the popularity of Libertarianism in the USA is partly due to the fact that neither big party has a great deal of commitment to it. The best political ideologies are always those which have never been tested and shown to be lacking!

A common error in political debate is to indulge in the "straw man" fallacy. That is, to argue against a false position instead of the real position of the opposition. I hope I'm not doing this too much in my criticism of Libertarianism, but if it seems that I am, remember I'm arguing against their real position, not the philosophically pure position they sometimes claim.

So what is the problem? Well the dictionary definition says more than you might think. The problem is the second word: "ideological". As soon as a political (or any other) position is based on ideology it is basically guaranteed to be something which we should be very wary of. Its easy to see this in some Libertarian arguments, especially those which they have an emotional opposition to, such as environmental protection, government regulation, etc. For example, there is a good case to enforce strong environmental regulations because the short term aims of most businesses don't account well for environmental damage (including climate change). But because this conflicts with Libertarian dogma they reject it without really looking at both sides of the argument.

There is some good and bad in all political views, but pure Libertarianism seems to be one of the worst. They say they want to return power to the people, instead of the government, but in reality they seem to want to transfer power to business people, especially big corporations. They would be about the only group I would trust even less than the government! The government is elected by the people and looks at the big picture, and they can be voted out at regular intervals. The underlying philosophy of business is based on greed and exploitation, and most people have no control over who our business leaders are.

So I think Libertarianism has some merit but, at least in its purest forms, its disadvantages far outweigh its advantages. Even if the world is bogged down with regulation and government bureaucracy at least we are better off than under an equally artificial regime proposed by the Libertarians!


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