Libertarianism and More Inclusive Liberalism
With the arrival of Ron Paul on America's political scene, libertarianism has gained a visible and effective proponent. To understand what is to be expected from it and what should be done in its presence, it first merits describing what libertarianism is.
Libertarian Party was started in 1971 by an American political thinker named David Nolan. He questioned the traditional right-left divide in American politics and thought that it was not reflective of political reality or the intent of the Constitution. Instead he proposed a third direction: libertarianism which, to him, affirmed individual freedom and personal responsibility and wanted the government as much as possible out of people's lives.
Libertarian philosophy states that people are individually responsible for their lives and well-being; that property is "nature converted into productive use"; and that anything that takes life from people is murder and anything that takes property from the producer is theft. Libertarianism seeks a limited government whose purpose is protecting people's lives and people's property but that otherwise leaves people alone to run their lives and to be individually responsible for their lives.
Libertarian thought in America has been supplemented by the writings of a Russian-born philosopher known as Ayn Rand (real name Alyssa Rosenbaum), whose novel Atlas Shrugged has been listed as the second most influential book in America after the Bible. Ayn Rand affirmed capitalism, rationality and personal freedom and personal responsibility; she also portrayed people as being naturally self-interested and stated, with many arguments, that that was good. As part of her philosophy, she claimed that altruism is evil, that nature is only resources for men's usefulness, and that only individuals exist. Her work was praised by many people, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Gates. Many people see her philosophy, which she called objectivism, as profound, reasonable and useful in many areas of life.
There are certainly things to be said in favor of libertarianism and objectivism; however there is much in both that is incomplete; and these incompletenesses, when put into effect, carry grievous errors. Thus, one can see property as nature converted into constructive use, but not have any value for nature in and of itself. The obvious result of this failure to value nature is blind, stupid, short-sighted destructiveness that demolishes without sight for the future great natural treasures that man has not created and cannot conceivably re-create; a blindness that burns rich and beautiful environments such as the Amazon to create ranches that become useless in two years and then turn into desert, or insists on reliance on dirty oil and coal when there are many technologies that can meet people's energy needs at present and greater level with far fewer destructive effects.
Another is the hostility to altruistic activity and government action. The problem with this should be obvious to anyone with knowledge of history. Science - an altruistically valued, government-funded endeavor whose premise is creating knowledge for the benefit of humanity - is at the root of everything that business sells, and without it capitalism would be little more than exchange of basic commodities at the level it was in medieval Persia. Education - another altruistically valued, government-funded endeavor - makes people employable beyond manual industry. Parenting, in which the parents sacrifice a large chunk of their lives to bring into life and nurture new life, can also be regarded as altruistic. Soldiers sacrifice their lives for their country to protect life and property, including that of the libertarian. And government projects such as the Interstate and the Internet also have a vast role in prosperity.
The core error - the philosophical error - of these ideologies is that of equating the entire rational human nature with economic self-interest, based on the view, expressed in objectivism, that man is "a rational animal" who exists rationally as himself and thus carries orientation only in that direction. The problem with this view is that it is not nearly as rational as its proponents think it to be. A being that has evolved as himself, as part of humanity, and as part of life, will naturally and rationally carry orientation toward all the preceding, and it will be just as natural for the human being to seek well-being of humanity and of natural life as it will be for the human being to pursue his own personal gain. There is no denial here of economic self-interest; there is a recognition here that it is a part of human nature and not the whole human nature. And a more inclusive understanding of human nature, and pusuant that a more inclusive rationality, will recognize humanity-orientation and life-orientation as much as it will recognize self-orientation and will see them as rational, natural and valid directions of human interest while having value for constructive action done in these directions.
Libertarianism and objectivism are not, as some claim, malevolent; what they are however is incomplete. Ideologies that fail to value nature will result in a blind destruction of natural treasures that one has not created and cannot conceivably recreate, a poisoning of climate and nature, worsening conditions for future generations, and a world being left poorer for oneself having been in it. Ideologies that fail to value action done for the benefit of entities other than one's own immediate self will result in a failure to properly acknowledge and credit activities, such as science and education, that carry vast benefit, including vast benefit to business world. These oversights, like any oversight, have vast negative consequences, and they include vast negative consequences even to those people who only value economic self-interest. Without science, most of what business sells would not exist. Without education, most people would be unemployable. Without government projects such as the Interstate and the Internet, there would not be physical or informational infrastructure for people to do business. Without parenting, nobody would have survived past infanthood. And without the planet and nature, people would not exist.
So what is required here? First, it is to supplement these perspectives with things that they have failed to consider. And secondly, it is to influence a more inclusive political understanding that takes people's legitimate strivings and aspirations and directs them to a more viable place. Right now, many people are engaged in absurdity and psychosis, such as portraying global warming as a government hoax, claiming that Bush people were really liberals because they busted the budget, or stating that Federal Reserve, Jews, London banks or a "new world order conspiracy" secretly runs the world. Creating a more inclusive understanding will free more people to pursue their actual aspirations in a framework that is both constructive and informed by the best of ideals, in which it is possible to constructively implement benefit-seeking intention, rather than seeing vast numbers of people blaming everything on the liberals and going to psychotic and paranoid ideologies even as they consider themselves big rational reasonable responsible men.
Where liberalism fails with many people is in its denial of self-interest, especially economic self-interest. It is thought of as selfishness, as greed or as evil, when it is in fact a rational part of being human and of being alive. As such it deserves to be acknowledged and it deserves to be allowed. But it also must be seen, not as the whole picture as was thought by Ayn Rand and classical economists, but rather as part of the picture - along with interest in well-being of humanity and in well-being of nature, which would be likewise natural to a being that has come about as himself, as part of humanity, and as part of life.
With recognition of all these three interests as rational and valid aspects of human beingness, people's intellectual, creative, physical and productive activity will be freed to benefit all three. This will result in humanity benefiting at both individual and collective levels; it will also lead to nature being treaded upon more lightly and lasting longer - both for its own sake and for the sake of people who stand to inherit the world. The result will be a future that is sustainable and that has all the benefits of the present world while doing away with its shortcomings. Freedom will exist; prosperity will exist; so will science, education, and a livable natural environment. And this will create benefit for everyone - as individuals, as a species, and as part of life.