Truthout: Why Libertarianism Is Immoral

When it comes to American politics, most people think of two parties: the Republicans and the Democrats. Now everyone knows we have third parties, but usually people only think independents, and after the 2000 election many will reference the green party that Ralph Nader ran under.

One party that is fighting to make an impact however is the Libertarian party. However, they are not doing so as a true third party. Sure, Gary Johnson ran for president as the Libertarian candidate, but his campaign was an underfunded joke and he did not even manage to make a dent in the national election and failed to even make it on all 50 state ballots.

What we are seeing, however, is republicans running as republicans, but claiming to be Libertarians. Senators Ron Paul and his son Rand Paul are the two most famous. While holding onto their GOP electorate, they claim to fight for the libertarian agenda, arguing for smaller government, removing the government from everyone’s personal lives, etc.

In defense of actual Libertarians who do not identify with the GOP, they mostly reject the claims that these politicians are libertarian. Except in this case Ron Paul. Paul is the American poster boy for libertarianism, find any Libertarian in this country and nine times out of ten, you will find a Paul sticker on their truck and in their internet favorites (okay, maybe this is an over-generalization, but you get the point). Most of these politicians do not actually meet the ideals of the Libertarian party; they are just flying a trendy banner that the tea-party faction of the GOP is eating up.

This does however give us a chance, with libertarianism in the spotlight, to look at its ideals and uncover what the Libertarian agenda really is. When you lift up the rug and look at the platforms used what you find is a political ideology built on the free market capitalism that requires a bigger class divide than we even see now in the United States and you see one of the most self-centered views of freedom and liberty.

The basic ideas sound harmless. Work hard, earn money, and you can keep that money. A Libertarian government would ideally be tax free, but even most Libertarians would concede to a certain tax percentage to run a small government, mostly in the form of overseeing personal contracts and agreements, and maybe, keeping up things like cross state highways and railroads. That is a big maybe, though. For the most part, Libertarians want the citizens to finance things on their own, for projects that interest or concern them. If you don’t drive a car, you don’t need to pay for road improvements and upkeep. Don’t have a child in school? Why would you pay for education if you do not want to? Have a child in school but do not want to send them to a public school? Then why would your taxes go to fund a public school your kids do not attend?

On the surface, ideas like this could make sense. In reality though, they ignore some basic principles of society. Libertarians tend to believe you get what you deserve, meaning if you work hard and earn a good living, you will have food on the table, live in a nice house, get a good education, but if you do not work hard, you will struggle through life. For those left struggling, they can chose to look towards churches or charity to help them out, but don’t you dare look to them to pay taxes so that these “free-loaders” can get a government handout like welfare.

This is not how society works, though. There is such a thing as the social lottery. You do not pick what family you are born into, what neighborhood or social class you are in, and even more importantly the color of your skin.

If you are born into a poor black family in most parts of this country, but more specifically the south, you are given less opportunity regardless of how hard you work. Your schools are run down and underfunded, higher education is almost 100% out of the question, and social constraints usually mean these children are forced to leave school early to get a job and help pay the family bills. Even worse, these youth are the prime targets for criminals who know they can use these kids to move drugs, etc. offering them better pay than the local fast food chain.  The consequences lead them into a life of crime and far too often a life of jail and prison sentences.

Libertarians offer no sort of support to these youth. They would end any social programs that would improve school systems, they would cut funding to after school programs that would help keep kids off the streets while their parents work, and they would fully support a capitalist for-profit prison system that would fully benefit from the life of crime their slash and burn political policies lead these youth to.

What America needs is full universal education funding that makes sure all private schools are funded equally (to scale) and fully staffed to accommodate the childrens’ needs. A higher education system that is government funded, if not fully, then heavily.  And not funded through high interest loans, but through grants, that do not need to be paid back. Because if studies have shown anything, a well-educated society earns more and the economy prospers, and this would more than payback any grant needed to put these kids through college.

No Libertarian would stand for such a thing however, because this would mean giving up a percentage of their paychecks to pay for people they will never meet and to fund schools their kids will never attend.

A country like Denmark, who is voted happiest country on the planet, funds education from kindergarten through college. Their residents pay a 60% income tax, and to remind you, they are the happiest country on the planet. Why? Because his or her tax dollars pay for social programs that benefit everyone, not just the wealthy. These social programs assure that those who have the desire to go through college can, and those who want to start social groups and clubs can (Denmark will pay rents on space, etc if you decide you want to start a community group, such as a knitting club).

Higher taxes do not mean unhappier people, if you actually use those taxes to fund social programs that in the end benefit society. Instead, in the United States, most of the tax money brought in goes straight to the military industrial complex to fight in useless wars, but that is a conversation for another time.

Libertarianism worries about what happens to your own money, your own property and your own “rights”. However, candidates for libertarianism have not been for same-sex marriage (they believe this is a state’s right to decide) and they have been against abortion (Ron Paul said he would have overturned Roe v Wade).

So they support your rights, as long as your rights are the same as their rights. When they are too afraid to take a stand, they defer to state’s rights. Because in the Libertarian mind, a state has the right to discriminate all it wants, as long as the citizens have voted for it. One should fear, under state’s rights in a Libertarian America, it would quickly be illegal to be black or gay in many southern states, and don’t even get the south started on interracial marriage.

So the libertarian agenda leaves behind the poor and then blames them for their own problems, all the while pulling any programs that could help them succeed. It removes any real rights of the citizens of any minority group and turns over all decisions to majority rule, meaning rights are nothing but an illusion and liberty belongs to those who side with the majority.

Libertarianism has no social conscience, it does not worry about your fellow citizen, and it means worrying about yourself and your own personal survival. Libertarianism is pure social Darwinism, a true survival of the fittest.

Any ideology that is not strictly for the betterment of an entire nation and is only designed to ensure one’s own prosperity, at any cost, is no ideology that offers moral footing in society. This is why, by all accounts, libertarianism is immoral.

This article originally appeared in Issue 1 of Secularite Magazine and was later reprinted with permission online at

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  • JK

    You are doing a disservice by making a blanket statement against libertarian philosophy based on cherry picking the watered down faction that has gained actual political traction recently. I do not consider myself a libertarian, but I am very open and willing to engage libertarians in a political coalition aimed at ending wars of choice. Most real libertarians believe the military should only be used to defend our borders. I consider this to be an extremely moral position. I also agree with the actual libertarian stance on legalizing and regulating personal drug use and prostitution, as well as granting full equal rights for homosexuals. Imagine how improved society would be if people who use drugs, engage in prostitution, or are gay are no longer stigmatized and live in fear of being incarcerated? They will stand a far greater chance of living a happier more productive life, and in the case of drug users and prostitutes, will have a better chance of exiting a self-damaging cycle without having to spend time in jail and be tarred with a criminal record.

    I don’t see anything immoral with these views, especially wanting to end unnecessary military action. Why hasn’t a broad coalition of progressives and libertarians joined to work toward this goal? In the past it’s been because many people were unaware such a philosophy existed, but nowadays it’s because people like you create rifts like this damaging the chances for the necessary coalition by demonizing the entire philosophy based on the straw man that’s manifested itself in main stream media, eg. the Tea Party. If you cared about progress you would do better to highlight the positive points of the libertarian philosophy and work toward trumpeting the common ground between voters who would classify themselves as libertarian or progressive.

    Personally, I consider myself a true independent in the past I have supported both Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, as well as Ralph Nader and Ross Perot. You gain nothing by closing your mind inside of an ideology, it is better to prioritize your goals and work with whoever will help you achieve the most important.

  • Curt Doolittle

    RE: “There is such a thing as the social lottery.”

    Good post. I don’t really want to go into too much critique. But this one point is salient:

    The social lottery argument possibly holds merit if we are fairly equal in ability,success is random, or due to the family circumstance. But, if instead of 100% nurture, or even 50%nature and 50% nurture, the world is actually constructed of 90%nature (genetics) and 10%nurture(environment) then the social lottery argument does not, and cannot hold.

    To discuss this with you in depth would require quite a bit of knowledge of economic data and human performance metrics. And since about 2000, starting with Pinker’s work, the evidence has accumulated sufficiently that we are fairly sure the equation is on the 80%+ genetic, and 20%+ environmental. In other words, your parent’s can mess you up, but they cant really improve you much over the long haul. It’s mostly genetics that determine your state in life.

    So that argument, which is the Rawlsian argument, and replaced the marxist argument, back in the seventies, no longer flies. Because economic productivity actually depends on meritocratic rotation, and it turns out that the upper half really are ‘better at most everything that matters’.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have another argument for redistribution. (Or two really.) That argument, is that while we contribute vastly unequally to productivity, and labor increasingly has no value at all, in fact, only calculative skills have any value, we all contribute equally to the commons of norms that make the high trust society and it’s high productivity possible, if we refrain from free riding, fraud, theft, and violence, and do not undermine the commercial sector which does provide the productivity that we require.

    In other words, if you display ‘good civic behavior’, (basically respect private and public property, and defend private and public property) and generally display good ethics manners and morals, you are making the commercial society possible. As such you ARE contributing to production (and people who don’t do those things are not).

    This is the basic argument for Basic Guaranteed Income. Unfortunately, this argument is incompatible with open immigration.

    That is the direction your argument must now go. Not because you deserve something merely for existing, but because you actively invest in the society by NOT doing things that might be enjoyable, but which harm the high trust ethic that make our high performance economy possible.

  • Bill Walsh

    I’m no writer for Salon or nothing but I’m thinking a boy oughta know maybe a little sumpin bout what he’s writin about afor he writes or dat jus me?

    Nice neck ink, chief.

    • Dan Arel

      So rather than rebuke any comments I make you simply toss out an insult?

      Makes perfect sense, you barely made a coherent sentence so I am sure you lack the ability to actually discredit anything I have said.

      • John Lambert

        SO calling us immoral isn’t insulting?

      • Bill Walsh

        I’ve studied more political philosophy and economics than anyone at Salon. Nevertheless, all I know for sure is that your “article” got all it deserved from me.

  • David

    Contrary to what this writer erroneously believes, THIS is what libertarianism is.

    “Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It is concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation. That is it, in a nutshell. The rest is mere explanation, elaboration, and qualification—and answering misconceived objections.”

    This just explains the “why” of the above definition.

    “Libertarianism is simply self-ownership. You have the right to control your body. From this logically follows that you can own physical property that you have either used first or obtained through contract from a previous property owner. In practice this means non-aggression and a contractual society based on voluntary relations.”

    Obviously neither Republicans nor Democrats believe this. They believe that they can use the government to force individuals to do (or not do) something with their bodies and/or property which Republicans or Democrats (or, at times, both) believe is “right” or “good” which the individuals would not do voluntarily. The last time I looked, that’s what a dictator does.

  • Chucky Arla

    Which libertarian did you get this information from? Definitely not Rothbard.

  • John Lambert


    Not like the government policies have truly helped that “poor black kid” here in the US.

    You Denmark example is inaccurate. There is a study to show why they are considered one of the happiest nations, it is a nation that has amount of trust in their society. NOT their social programs. Which by the way, are benefiting from the fact that the US military (mostly stationed in Germany) is protecting them. Could they really afford their programs if the Danish were providing military service as well?

    Your social Darwinism line is total off base. BTW.. I would argue that is more the progressive line of thinking considering they are the ones who pioneered eugenics early last century.

    Libertarians believe you can’t use force and coercion to help the poor. It needs to voluntary. The reason is pretty self evident. The United States has a 17 trillion dollar debt. Continue on this pace.. either two things are going to happen: 1) Grandma’s social security check will bounce, or 2) a loaf of bread will be over twenty dollars a loaf and grandma’s social security check will only purchase so much.

    You call us “immoral”? Dan, I think you need to look in the mirror and see the immoral one.