Don’t Mistake Libertarianism for Utopianism

Libertarians, Liberty sympathizers, and opponents of Libertarianism alike must acknowledge the fact that Libertarianism does not purport to be a Utopian ideology or political system. Unlike the various forms of Marxism and Communism, there is no promise of everyone and everything being accounted for and taken care of by the ideological variations spread across the Libertarian spectrum. On the contrary, becoming a Libertarian is often rooted in accepting the fact that neither everyone nor everything can be accounted for or taken care of!

If one believes he can design a system that provides everyone with high-quality healthcare, education, food, housing, and whatever else, he would almost certainly reject the Libertarian principles of non-interventionism, private property rights, and laissez-faire spontaneous order. Why would he seek to dismantle the means of centrally planned civilization, as Libertarians to varying extents do, if he believes they are the keys to a Utopian world?

Though I cannot speak for all Libertarians, the bulk of us support Libertarianism for one or both of two reasons. The first is that it provides a consistent and reasonable code of conduct and ethics for government and society to follow. This code is often boiled down to 1) don’t hurt people and 2) don’t take their stuff. The second is that Libertarian principles, as they are applied to foreign policy, personal liberties, and economic policy, are believed to be the most affordable and productive for individuals and society at large. Libertarianism can be appreciated for either its morality or its utility (or both).

While Libertarians espouse that their principles would further enrich human life at both an individual and societal level, intellectually honest Libertarians do not claim to have solutions to all of the world’s problems.

For instance, Libertarians are perhaps most famous for not only wanting drugs like marijuana to be decriminalized, but for generally vying to fully legalize all drugs including potentially lethal ones. We believe you have the right to do what you want with your body, so there is no justification for prohibiting you from buying substances or applying them to yourself.

If all of the world’s drug laws were repealed, whether instantly or in a transitional method over time, it is highly probable that someone who would not have had access to a particular substance will gain access and wind up dead or otherwise harmed as a result. Libertarians would be foolish to deny this.

But the big picture is that drug prohibition automatically causes death and harm via force. As we all know, making something illegal does not make it go away, especially when it comes to narcotics. Instead, a black market is created and gives gangsters and criminals a monopoly over production and distribution. Prices rise, and the stakes get higher, so life and safety become expendable as the rewards of selling drugs begin to outweigh the risks of getting caught. Furthermore, innocent people who mistakenly or intentionally use drugs are subject to being thrown into the cages we call prisons (or worse) despite the fact that no one was victimized by their actions. And for those who don’t get caught, understanding the composition and source of the products they use becomes increasingly difficult, which bolsters the possibility of unsafe drugs being consumed and more damage being done. With a legal and legitimate drug market, drug dealers would be forced to provide knowledge about their products or risk being outcompeted by those who do, discredited by consumer critics, and charged with consumer fraud in a court of law.

Some might say that supporting drug legalization with knowledge that it could lead to deaths that prohibition would prevent shows that Libertarians are willing to sacrifice some people for their ideals.

But this logic is flawed. A sacrifice requires an actor with intent to sacrifice. Libertarians pushing for non-action cannot be accused of sacrifice because a non-action cannot be a sacrifice!

There is also an omission of all those who suffer as a result of the anti-Libertarian laws that already exist. The abolitionists are blamed for hypothetical suffering that could come about after changes are made to drug laws while their detractors ignore the actual suffering caused by the restrictive policies already in place. And as initially established, accounting for all of that suffering would be impossible anyway.

All in all, what Libertarians vouch for is a less restrictive and more individual friendly way of being governed, not a perfect world free of tragedy and trouble.

Perhaps the fundamental difference between a hypothetical Libertarian world and the non-Libertarian world we live in is that in a Libertarian world, suffering, hardship, poverty, and despair would be more proportionately experienced by individuals who make the worst decisions while in our non-Libertarian world, a less proportionate amount of suffering, hardship, poverty, and despair is felt by individuals who did not make the worst decisions.

Through redistribution of wealth via the welfare state, economic favoritism via business regulations, and arbitrarily determined restrictions on individual liberties (such as marriage and drug use), force is initiated to determine certain outcomes. Without or with fewer uses of government force, individuals would be more responsible for governing how their own lives wind up.

This does not mean that each individual would ultimately control his own fate in a Libertarian world. One could take impeccable care of his body via diet, exercise, and overall lifestyle, and still wind up with a disease he can’t survive or afford to treat. One could do all the research he’s capable of, develop a product or service that seems bound to be in demand, and work harder and more efficiently than everyone around him, and still get outcompeted by a lazy dope who just happened to have an idea fall in his lap.

A Utopian world would not allow this, but a Libertarian world would.

Utopian worlds do not allow children to go hungry, workers to be killed on the job, people to face racism, entire sectors of the economy to be replaced by machines, or unhealthy foods and drinks to be sold. A Libertarian world would.

The most important distinction between a Utopian world and a Libertarian world is that a Utopian world could never exist. The aforementioned instances of tough luck and bad behavior will always be a part of human life regardless of what laws and policies are enacted.

Libertarianism does not promise to make these unfavorable circumstances go away. It simply accepts their inevitability and tries to mitigate the consequences they bring about by way of preserving and expanding Liberty.

Libertarians should not sell their ideas as Utopian. And critics of Libertarianism should not hold it to a Utopian standard.


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Don’t Mistake Libertarianism for Utopianism

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