I Wonder If I Am A Libertarian # 5a

I Wonder If I Am A Libertarian # 5

Key Concepts of Libertarianism


David Boaz

January 1, 1999

“The key concepts of libertarianism have developed over many centuries. The first inklings of them can be found in ancient China, Greece, and Israel; they began to be developed into something resembling modern libertarian philosophy in the work of such seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers as John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine.”

What follows is first a quote by the author and then an analysis of the components of that quote, by me


The Rule of Law. Libertarianism is not libertinism or hedonism. It is not a claim that “people can do anything they want to, and nobody else can say anything.” Rather, libertarianism proposes a society of liberty under law, in which individuals are free to pursue their own lives so long as they respect the equal rights of others. The rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules, not by arbitrary commands; and that those rules should protect the freedom of individuals to pursue happiness in their own ways, not aim at any particular result or outcome.

End Quote.


This is an area of Libertarianism that I have problems with.

“Libertarianism is not libertinism or hedonism. It is not a claim that ‘people can do anything they want to, and nobody else can say anything’.” 

Libertarians often advocate that things people do in private, with other consenting individuals, should be legal. This is true in most cases, however, there should be a few exceptions…very few.

They also argue that outlawing the traditional vices such as prostitution, damaging drugs, gambling, and pornography cost more in time, effort and money spent than is practical and this also curtails freedoms that should be the rights and responsibilities of individuals. They promise that, if these activities are legalized, valuable resources could be saved and used more wisely, or be remitted back to the citizens in the form of tax reductions.

The problem with this argument is that the burden of proof should be upon the Libertarians to actually to demonstrate with real-life examples, in sociocultures similar to the America, that these economic outcomes clearly occur. To my knowledge, such idyllic outcomes have not been demonstrated.

Until I see the proof of such cost-savings, without worsening collateral cultural damage, I judge that the risk of great social harm by legalizing the traditional illegal human vices outweighs the hope of costs saved.

Libertarians further argue that the State should not intervene in the private lives of citizens when an individual’s actions harm only that individual. Things “that do not hurt anyone else and are consensual” should not be the business of the state”.

Libertarians state that each individual has the right to make good choices and bad ones and suffer the natural consequences of their actions.  The idea seems to be that individuals who may become drug, pornography, gambling, or prostitution addicted only harm themselves. This is a great fallacy that I will address shortly.

Libertarians assert that when a citizen frequently engages in the traditional vices they will be naturally defamed and shunned from mainstream society. They argue that for this reason such citizen problem behaviors will naturally be kept at low levels. They also argue that societies tend to isolate these activities away from mainstream geographical areas in society, and therefore they have a lessened influence on the rest of the citizenry.

This set of assumptions carries a great danger of the explosive and damaging forces of social chaos. Again, proof of these theoretical assumptions acting as predicted in a socioculture similar to our own is essential before their implementation.

Libertarians state: “The rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules, not by arbitrary commands;”

I will argue that this nation’s laws governing the traditional human vices listed above are examples of “generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules,” and not “arbitrary commands;”.

These laws evolved because humans are naturally highly motivated to engage in these potentially addictive reinforcing activities and that the many behavioral damages of such addictions commonly destroys the welfare and productivity of spouses, children, friends, neighbors, and the businesses or vocations of the addicted. Therefore the uncontrolled existence of the traditional human vices in a society works to destroy the health and viability of that socioculture.

The psychological mechanisms through which these destructive human forces increase within a socioculture comprise the force of bad behavioral contagion. behavioral contagion is dramatically catalyzed within dense populations and by social/cyberspace media. It contages individuals directly and indirectly through observation and imitation, word of mouth, through the media, and by someone  physically doing something to them or someone they know or care about.

Virtually everyone is oblivious to the principles and effects of bad behavioral contagion in a socioculture and this is a profound danger to us all.

Someone will have to prove to me, with actual cultural examples, that resources spent to control the traditional vices, are not prudently spent; much as my personal resources invested in health, home  and vehicle insurances are spent to protect the welfare of my family.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.

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