Humanism and Libertarianism: Are they compatible?

Not really.

At the risk of pissing off some of my libertarian leaning friends and fans, I personally don’t think libertarianism is compatible with Humanism.  In concept, they should ally with one another. Individual liberty. Yeah, we Humanists love that.  We just don’t love it when it stands alone.  

Humanists embrace the concept of embedded autonomy, where the individual is embedded in a community. If the community thrives, they thrive. As a result, as individuals, we encourage people to be responsible to the communities in which they live.  Our goal is to create a better place for ourselves and for everyone else. 

This is what enlightened self-interest is all about. Self-interest without concern for others is just selfishness.

There is a really great article debunking libertarianism over at the Evonomics blog:

The list several problems with libertarianism. First, their idea of what humans are is flawed. Humans are not rational actors that will chose to maximize their gain while doing minimal harm to others. Ideally yes, we would, but in reality, we don’t. When we go selfish, we go short term. Short term problem solving discounts future harm and increases the value of current gain. Which is a fancy way of saying the value system is lopsided and there is no incentive to self-correct and take into account the the negative impact our actions may have on others.

For a Humanist like me, I think it’s out of balance and I would rather balance my autonomy with my responsibilities to others. I think this yield better results for me as an individual in both the short and long term.

Another way it seems to go off course is it discounts and diminishes our natural desire to act cooperatively. Humans are tribal animals. We like to work together. Individual is fine, but only to a point. Again, it’s not a realistic or healthy view of who we are as a species and as individuals.  I understand not wanting to be coerced into cooperation, but voluntarily cooperating with others in our community is what creates communities.  Cooperation is a good thing. Self-interest alone doesn’t encourage us to cooperate and the case studies of businesses and countries that have adopted Libertarian principles of government are proof of how badly things go when community investment and cooperation is eliminated and discouraged. Read the article for the details. It’s not good.

Which brings me to the last thing. It doesn’t work. This is one of those things that seems good on paper, but in reality-  leads to horrendous results, both for individuals and for the communities in which they live. At the end of the day, Humanists go with what is proven to work. And Libertarianism has proven, it doesn’t work.

As a Humanist, I celebrate individualism, but I am also firmly committed to being of service to my community. I get frustrated whenever I talk to libertarians who argue against voluntarily joining to pay for things like hospitals or schools or things like that. I understand philosophically why they are making that argument, but the level of selfishness that it exhibits is horrifying to me as a Humanist. I want to help. I want to pay taxes and purchase things collectively that help our community. I want to purchase health care for myself and my neighbors. I want to purchase schools for our kids and libraries. I like paying for cops and fire departments. These benefit not just me, but everyone.

The concept that everyone should be out for themselves and their own – lacks compassion. It’s selfishness rationalized.  And it really doesn’t seem very humanistic to me.  What are your thoughts?

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1 comment:

  1. Jennifer,

    a lot of your writing shows me what I feel about libertarianism too.

    I think a lot of people go into Libertarianism when they don't feel a stake or investment in society which Humanism can give.


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