Posts Tagged ‘The American Dream’

I Wonder If I Am A Libertarian # 6

June 24, 2013

Key Concepts of Libertarianism


David Boaz

January 1, 1999

The following are quotes from David Boaz:

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.

Limited Government. To protect rights, individuals form governments. But government is a dangerous institution. Libertarians have a great antipathy to concentrated power, for as Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Thus they want to divide and limit power, and that means especially to limit government, generally through a written constitution enumerating and limiting the powers that the people delegate to government. Limited government is the basic political implication of libertarianism, and libertarians point to the historical fact that it was the dispersion of power in Europe — more than other parts of the world — that led to individual liberty and sustained economic growth.

End of Quote:

B. F. Skinner, the great American psychologist, once said, and I paraphrase his thought: That government which governs least, governs best..only when something else governs.

I have wondered what the “something else” was that he was referring to. I assume it was some set of rules based upon operant conditioning contingencies of reward (reinforcement) and punishment. It was not a likely a host of religiously derived rules, given that he was an Atheist.

In a book that he wrote, entitled Walden Two, Skinner laid out the contingencies of reinforcement (rules) needed for a smoothly functioning  society…a smoothly functioning small communal society. This book is a good read and it is certainly educational and thought-provoking. The cultural design is remote from the our Founding Father’s Ideals, but it could work within the protective realm of a larger political context, much as other communes have worked for various periods in America. Those who have found happiness in such settings have lived the American dream.

But without some larger and benevolent federal power, with a strong police and military force, how would such an entity live long without predation by other national and international forces? This has been the way of the world forever and was the prescient argument put forward in America’s Federalist Papers in favor of forming a union of our states.

I believe it is true that the government that governs best is the one that governs least. I believe that among the somethings else that made America the greatest socioculture ever in history were the reigning ideals of Judeo/Christian religious ethics (rules to live by), small unintrusive government, private property rights and free enterprise, legal/judicial rules, supporting sanctions, and the legal/governmental protection of privacy for all who wished to be “left-alone” to live their lives as they preferred.

On a recent drive through Green Bay’s beautiful farm land Door County, I saw countless sprawling farms remote from cities and towns. Clearly, such farms are now festooned with more governmental rules than ever regulating their business enterprise. However, they are alone on their land to otherwise behave as they see fit. Yet, they are not free. They have come under the firm control of their land, their animals and crops, their families and friends, their climate, and their markets, etc. The controlling contingencies of reinforcement and punishment, for them, are more natural (less contrived) than are those for most who dwell in geographical locations of densely packed populations.

I am increasingly convinced that this, and other, penultimately successful American sociocultural designs, minus the stultifying governmental taxation and regulation, can be recaptured, but not by the modern Republican and Democratic political parties. These traditional American political parties have lost the essence of what made America great. They are now dedicated to massive government, intrusive and coercive control of the population, and socialism…which morphs to tyrannical central planning of the major aspects of private life, the culture, economics and perfectly predictable failure—A great deal more of the kinds of failure that we are now witnessing in America.

The ethos of our Founding Fathers was Libertarianism. While I view a few components of this political design as self-defeating, in this modern age (legalizing the traditional vices, for example), in the vast main it is the only political system that can  save America….for the second time.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.

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