Steven Horwitz has an article at The Freeman in which he urges libertarians to embrace a humanitarian version of libertarianism, in the sense that libertarians ought not to want to be left alone.
Some quotes from Horwitz from this piece:
One sentiment commonly expressed by libertarians is the desire to just be “left alone.” This is often meant politically: “If people would just leave each other alone, the world would be a much better place,” or “I just want to be left alone to do what I want.”…
…Still, when our case for freedom appears to morph into a case for being left alone generally, I think libertarians are making both a substantive and rhetorical mistake that we might come to regret. This is part of a more general problem that James Peron called “Me Libertarianism” in a terrific recent blog entry: Libertarianism can too easily turn inward and become a case for freedom for me void of any sign of concern about the freedom of people who are not like me.
But the whole point of freedom, is that it offers one the choice to live according to one’s personal desires, provided they don’t violate anyone other’s rights to do the same.
Put simply, I do not want to be left alone, nor do I think that the ideal libertarian world is one in which we all leave each other alone. I would much rather live in a world where my extended family, friends, and community do not leave me alone in my time of need, but instead feel some sort of commitment to help me.
But this is precisely the difference. Horwitz has come to the conclusion that he does not want to be left alone. Therefore it is easy to conclude that a world in which many people would wish to be left alone would be undesirable. But what about other people’s wants? Why are they to agree with Horwitz on this? Why is his preferred type of libertarian society to be preferred by all? It is perfectly understandable that Horwitz himself prefers to not be left alone, nor (if he doesn’t have to) leave those alone who he cares about. But the whole point here is that others may disagree with him on this, and they do so for a reason. Horwitz is trying to project his personal social preferences onto others. It is a bit like saying “i believe we ought to all stop eating junk food in a libertarian society, because people would be healthier. live longer and probably be happier.” Well, maybe other people simply prefer the taste of junk food and the satisfaction is gives them over living a longer life filled with fruits and vegetables. Why is a libertarian qua libertarian to make any judgment calls here about what people ought to want, even in a society that is already free?
For me, one of the compelling arguments for freedom is that it enables us to discover new, creative, and more effective ways to care for each other.
All well and good. For me, one of the compelling arguments for freedom is precisely that: freedom. Freedom for its own sake. The possibilities and choices to lead the life in exactly the way one wishes to maximize personal happiness. If this is achieved by being a philanthropist and helping out your fellow-man, that is great. If it is by being an ambitious career man who’s caring stops at his immediate surroundings; his family and friends, that is also great. That is libertarianism; that is freedom. The freedom not to have conform to anyone’s personal ideas of how one ought to live. All of this, of course, provided the rights of others to do the same are not violated.
The problem with government welfare programs is not that the presumed intention to help people in need is a bad thing;
That is certainly not their main problem, no. Their main problem is the force behind it. But the secondary problem, to me at least, is the implicit lecturing mentality that one ought to live according to another man’s standards of moral behavior. This is what makes the force even worse. At least when force is used by a dictator for his own gratification, there is not the hypocrisy and sanctimony of using violence for ‘humanitarian’ purposes.
As an individual, void his libertarian philosophy, one can certainly have the opinion that man ought to help out fellow-man. As a libertarian however, which is a political (or rather anti-political) philosophy, it negates the intention behind the libertarian philosophy, which is to let each man or woman live his or her life in peace, however he or she wishes.
When libertarians adopt “leave us alone” rhetoric, they reinforce the negative stereotype of a selfish person unconcerned with the less fortunate. That’s no way to win people to the freedom philosophy. Libertarians who want to be left alone will soon find themselves very much alone in the intellectual and political wilderness, having forgone an opportunity to be seen on the side of concern for our fellow human beings.
There are several issues here. First of all, it is entirely subjective to see it as a ‘negative’ stereotype in the first place. To conclude that it is ‘negative’ is a self-serving statement, considering Horwitz’ personal views. Why libertarians ought to have the freedom to be selfish i have already explained. Horwitz is trying to introduce a specific type of moral conduct into libertarianism that lies beyond it because it is not dealing specifically with the non-aggression principle, thus turning it into a moral philosophy that deals with more than merely issues of force. But if that is okay, the door is wide open for, say, Christians to start tying their own religious moral standards to the libertarian philosophy (e.g. gays ought not to be aggressed against, but certainly rejected). Who is to say one is right and the other wrong when we are dealing with subjective preferences?
Second, Horwitz is using the argument as a means to invite a larger number of people into libertarianism. We need to win people to the freedom philosophy, and we might not succeed in doing that if we think that being left alone is perfectly fine in libertarianism. This may be true, at least for potential ‘humanitarian’ converts. But what about winning people to the freedom philosophy that are specifically attracted to the possibility of finally being left alone? Are we not alienating them by underlining an intention to be emotional collectivists? An intention to care for others instead of living our lives as we see fit? And why should people who are already libertarian, and who simply want to be left alone by both force-wielding and sermonizing people, want to continue being part of this if they are to be regarded as the “wrong” type of libertarian, and treated in roughly similar ways that smokers are in the modern age? Why would such libertarians care about winning over new people, if this means libertarianism would not only become about non-violence, but also about being morally badgered into becoming a ‘bleeding heart libertarian’?
To be left alone to lead a lifestyle of one’s preference is what makes libertarianism so attractive to many people. To argue that people who are currently still in the statist realm of society would only view libertarianism in a positive light if libertarians become humanitarian against their own preferences, is to argue that they ought to abandon the very reason libertarianism is attractive to them in the first place. Why cater to people who they disagree with so profoundly, that these same people have thus far seen fit to legitimize state force to impose their views on society? If they agreed with these people’s views on society to begin with, the force of government would have never been a problem to begin with, as one does not need to be forced in order to do what one wishes. To bend to their will, or their conception of the morally superior human being, is to defeat the whole purpose of libertarianism: the prerogative to be who one wants to be, do what one wants to do, not do what one does not want to do, and live the lifestyle that brings one the most possible happiness. The opinions of others be damned.
So my motto overall as a libertarian is: “Yes, leave me alone. If I want to help you, I will. If I don’t, I won’t. And in that case you can always turn to Steven Horwitz. Because in libertarianism there is space and freedom enough for both.”