Why I Don’t Like Mainstream Libertarians

I tend to dislike the more mainstream elements of all political philosophies.  Here I will focus on libertarianism.  I realize libertarianism, is a philosophy with many different tendencies and schools of thought within it.  If my critique does not apply to your school of thought… good for you.

First off,  I get the impression that mainstream libertarianism in America has become dominated by elitist types, who actually like the idea of de facto rule of society by the rich and the hyper-commercialization all aspects of life.  For them “all government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man”, as HL Mencken put it.  They find something  appealing about the notion of a “natural,” aristocracy made up of successful business types, who have proven their wisdom and efficiency in the market.  There seems to be an implicit agreement with Hans Hermann Hoppe, who said:  {The} “natural outcome of the voluntary transactions between various private property owners is decidedly non-egalitarian, hierarchical and elitist.”  In the same piece Hoppe went on to favorably compare the type of society he wanted to live in to a monarchy, stating his support for the development of a “voluntarily acknowledged ‘natural’ elite — a nobilitas naturalis which would be comprised of “families with long-established records of superior achievement, farsightedness, and exemplary personal conduct,” which apparently would be expressed by success in business. He argues that his problem with monarchy is not that with elitism, or aristocracy, so much as it’s coercive nature.  De facto rule by the economic equivalent of monarchs is apparently is apparently just fine.  This attitude, which to my knowledge is best articulated by Hoppe, can also be found as other influential figures in modern libertarianism such as Ayn Rand or Ludwig Von Mises.

It seems that for many of the followers of these figures, not only should such an elite exist, but it does exist, in the form of the existing business establishment.  To my surprise one of the best critiques of the tendency, came from Murray Rothbard who in a 1966 letter, said:  “For some time I have come to the conclusion that the grave deficiency in the current output and thinking of our libertarians and “classical liberals” is an enormous blind spot when it comes to big business. There is a tendency to worship Big Business per se … and a corollary tendency to fail to realize that while big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market, that in the contemporary world of total neo-mercantilism and what is essentially a neofascist “corporate state,” bigness is a priori highly suspect, because Big Business most likely got that way through an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.

More recently Kevin Carson has labeled the tendency to praise the modern business establish, as if it won it’s wealth, free of state intervention as “vulgar libertarianism”.  He states: “Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term “free market” in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get the standard boilerplate article in The Freeman arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because “that’s not how the free market works”–implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of “free market principle.”  I tend to agree with both of the sentiments above, as the state does many things that enrich elites at the expense of the rest of us and it is unfortunately that so many libertarians and conservatives want to ignore this or sweep it under the rug, or make excuses for it.  As such, I tend to see big business more as governments partner in crime rather than it’s “most persecuted minority” as Ayn Rand once put it.

One last thing that bothers me about mainstream libertarians and most conservatives is that all to often their anti-authoritarianism is limited to government authority.  They often are happy to make excuses for authoritarian workplaces, various forms gender discrimination, racial discrimination, the religious indoctrination of children, corporal punishment ect.  In contrast, I think non-state forms of authoritarianism are objectionable for the same reason as state forms. On a related not I’ll also mention that I strongly dislike the anarcho-capitalist ideal of creating a world, where one cannot occupy a space without owning it or acquiring permission from it’s owner.  That sounds like a world with far less liberty, than we now have.

It is unfortunate that over the course of the last century, libertarianism, or classical liberalism, went from being a radical movement that opposed the huge concentrations of wealth put into the hands of corporate elites by government action, to one that now largely makes excuses for the existing distribution of wealth.  It seems, anti-communism and opposition to the new deal and tons of funding to right-wing think tanks has created an unholy alliance, between the traditional right and libertarians.  These days, libertarians tend to be as likely to bash feminists, organized labor or “leftists” in general than they are to recognize, what should, be shared concerns they have with these groups.   I tend to sympathize more with libertarians who call themselves feminists, support organized labor, and Identify themselves as part of the left.

I find much more appeal in the argument that freeing the market, will in fact, subject the bloated business establishment to more agile competition, and give people more choices, making business, generally smaller, less hierarchical and more numerous, as self-employment increases.  I wrote about this position in my previous piece “Defending the libertarian Left”, so I will not repeat myself here, other than to say that it has much appeal than the idea that we should all live under thumb of some private monarchy. That said, I find within mainstream libertarianism, elitist, authoritarian attitudes, that are all to often directed at rationalizing the existing distribution of wealth and power and that is what I dislike about it.


“The Political Economy of Monarchy and Democracy and the Idea of a Natural Order,” pp. 94-121, Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, p. 118 and p. 119

Carson, Kevin. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, p. 142

Long, Roderick. “How to Reach the left”.  http://mises.org/daily/5226/

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