Libertarianism is bound to be attractive to those types of people who have enough power and clout in society that government really is their biggest obstacle. So, for example, it makes sense that people like the Koch Brothers, or people like Cliven Bundy, are libertarians. For the Koch Brothers, there’s literally no entity in existence which has any real institutional control over them except for government.
This comment showed me something extremely elegant about libertarian beliefs that is worth capturing and simplifying:
People most oppose the obstacle that is most visible to them.
For the vast majority of the world, their obstacles are:
- being safe in their homes and on the streets
- having their families be safe
- having a job that’s decent enough to pay bills
- not being too sick to work
- not being denied a job for being the wrong race
- not being denied a job for being the wrong gender
Real, gritty, hard-life problems, in other words. And for them, the problem is the lack of government, not the fact that it’s overreaching.
For young white males, however, many of the issues above aren’t their top priorities. This isn’t because they’re necessarily bad people; they were simply born a certain way that happens to lack some disadvantages that others have.
They, like everyone else, see the obstacles that are impeding them, and those issues that are impeding others aren’t impeding them as often. For them it’s usually an overreaching government law or regulation that’s blocking them from reaching their goals.
This isn’t an argument for who’s right or wrong. It’s an argument of explanation.
I do happen to think that this view exposes libertarians as a group who lacks empathy for those who have it worse than them. Or, in other words, it seems to argue that thinking government is the problem is a luxury of privilege.
Again, this is usually framed in a bad way, as if the perpetrator did something wrong. They didn’t. They were simply ejected into the world in a given configuration.
The error comes not in having privilege; it comes in not realizing that it’s there and perhaps adjusting ones’ views of “the real problem” based on that context.
So if I’m a young libertarian, and the government is really annoying me, I should ask what net good the government is doing instead of what net harm it’s doing to me.
But now we’ve encountered a problem, because libertarians are not keen on thinking about everyone else’s problems. They look for what’s annoying them, and they work to have that problem fixed. If their problem is someone else’s solution, then that’s on everyone else to figure out.
The very concept of libertarianism is one of looking inside rather than out. It’s a focus on your own family, your own interests, and your own life. And it looks to counter anything that limits the ability for those things to thrive.
Government does that, in some measure, for the average libertarian who tends to be white, male, and young. So the conflict in ideas should be expected.
- You really must read the whole comment that spawned this post.
- I can see a counter to this line in that government could actually be hurting the poor as well via corruption that keeps markets from solving the peoples’ problems. But solving peoples’ problems is not often profitable, so I’m not sure how much/often this is an issue compared to the opposite.