This essay is based on a paper presented at the April 1979 national meeting of the Philadelphia Society in Chicago. The theme of the meeting was “Conservatism and Libertarianism.”
Libertarianism is the fastest growing political creed in America today. Before judging and evaluating libertarianism, it is vitally important to find out precisely what that doctrine is, and, more particularly, what it is not. It is especially important to clear up a number of misconceptions about libertarianism that are held by most people, and particularly by conservatives. In this essay I shall enumerate and critically analyze the most common myths that are held about libertarianism. When these are cleared away, people will then be able to discuss libertarianism free of egregious myths and misconceptions, and to deal with it as it should be on its very own merits or demerits.
This is a common charge, but a highly puzzling one. In a lifetime of reading libertarian and classical liberal literature, I have not come across a single theorist or writer who holds anything like this position.
The only possible exception is the fanatical Max Stirner, a mid-19th-century German individualist who, however, has had minimal influence upon libertarianism in his time and since. Moreover, Stirner’s explicit “Might Makes Right” philosophy and his repudiation of all moral principles including individual rights as “spooks in the head,” scarcely qualifies him as a libertarian in any sense. Apart from Stirner, however, there is no body of opinion even remotely resembling this common indictment.
Libertarians are methodological and political individualists, to be sure. They believe that only individuals think, value, act, and choose. They believe that each individual has the right to own his own body, free of coercive interference. But no individualist denies that people are influencing each other all the time in their goals, values, pursuits and occupations.
As F.A. Hayek pointed out in his notable article, “The Non-Sequitur of the ‘Dependence Effect,’” John Kenneth Galbraith’s assault upon free-market economics in his best-selling The Affluent Society rested on this proposition: economics assumes that every individual arrives at his scale of values totally on his own, without being subject to influence by anyone else. On the contrary, as Hayek replied, everyone knows that most people do not originate their own values, but are influenced to adopt them by other people.
Thanks to BrotherJohnF