Libertarianism is a label that covers a lot of different ideas.
There are left libertarians, and right libertarians who differ on the idea of private property. Each branch is split into sub-branches for instance the right libertarians are split into minarchists who advocate a minimal government that just provides for security and anarcho-capitalists who don't want any government at all. The anarcho-capitalists hold that police, court, and military services could be provided by private companies.
Today I want to focus attention on the right libertarians, because they are now a major political force.
The common thread for libertarians of all sorts is that personal freedom is a prime value and that the state inevitably reduces personal freedom.
Therefore the smaller the state is the better. One complaint about the state is that it extracts taxes by force to provide services such as schools, roads, hospitals, courts, police, and welfare.
The right libertarians are uniformly opposed to welfare they don't think that any of their hard earned income should be taken by taxation to support other people. Their view is that taxation is basically extortion money taken under the threat of force by the state. If you don't pay your taxes "men with guns" (to quote an old friend) will come and force you to pay.
And it must be admitted that this is true. The thing is that libertarians don't mind having men with guns enforcing what they consider to be legitimate interests. The minarchists want to have men with guns provided by the state to protect private property, enforce contracts, and provide national security. The anarcho-capitalists envision a system of private companies providing men with guns for a profitable fee.
The issue then is: what is a legitimate interest that justifies coercion by men with guns. As far as I can tell, this legitimacy is a matter of natural rights for libertarians. "Libertarians defend each person's right to life, liberty, and property rights that people have naturally, before governments are created." (David Boaz)
The problem is that there don't actually seem to be those natural rights, because humans have lived in societies that provide government functions from before they were human.
We have never lived as independent individuals.
How can natural rights legitimize anything if they don't exist?
Where does legitimacy come from? Doesn't it come from social structures, laws, and customs?
And doesn't that whole structure of legitimacy change from time to time?
Consider how legitimacy is changing as we speak in the Arab world.
Is it that people have a right to rebel?
Or is it that under certain conditions people do rebel?
A simple analysis shows that a libertarian society especially an anarcho-capitalist society would rapidly devolve into a warlord/oligarch society.
Even if everyone started equal, normal market forces would cause some people to prosper more than others.
And who would defend your individual rights against rich people with private armies if there was no state?
Even the minarchists, who want a minimal state to prevent fraud theft and to enforce contracts would end up being quite coercive. That's because rich people can negotiate from a position of strength and can impose unfair contracts on the poor, and then use the state to enforce those contracts.
And of course, libertarians oppose unions that enable the poor to strengthen their bargaining position. Unions are seen to be coercive instead of seen to be enabling people to strengthen their bargaining position.
But for some reason its not coercive for a businessman to negotiate from strength with employees. Now, presumably it is legitimate for the businessman to negotiate from strength, in the libertarian view, but it is not legitimate for the employees to form a union to increase their negotiating strength.
Now considering that libertarians claim to cherish individual freedom, why in the world would they be opposed to individuals being free to band together in negotiating with employers?
Smells fishy to me.
What do you think?