You’re Not the Boss of Me! Why Libertarianism Is a Childish Sham

Great article from . Sums up the failings of the right-wing variety of libertarianism (for more on the difference between libertarianism and libertarian communism, see the An Anarchist FAQ – Version 15.0 ( Fully developed individual liberty is inseparable from full social equality, social justice, a democratic economy, and participatory politics. We must strive to be not just individiuals, but *social* individuals, where the rights, freedoms, and power of each is dependent on collective participation in the construction of a new world. A great old quote comes to mind:

“Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice; socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality”
― Mikhail Bakunin


You’re Not the Boss of Me! Why Libertarianism Is a Childish Sham
Libertarians believe they’re rebels, but they are really political children who scream through tears.
By David Masciotra / AlterNet
February 26, 2015

Limitless individual liberty without the context of a just, equal, participatory society almost always leads to not just the reproduction of the present system’s evils socially, but to a poisoning of the individual human spirit through a never-ending drive to feed one’s ego whether through the accumulation of property, wealth, status, or power.

Libertarians believe themselves controversial and cool. They’re desperate to package themselves as dangerous rebels, but in reality they are champions of conformity. Their irreverence and their opposition to “political correctness” is little more than a fashion accessory, disguising their subservience to—for all their protests against the “political elite”—the real elite.

Ayn Rand is the rebel queen of their icy kingdom, villifying empathy and solidarity. Christopher Hitchens, in typical blunt force fashion, undressed Rand and her libertarian followers, exposing their obsequiousness toward the operational standards of a selfish society: “I have always found it quaint, and rather touching, that there is a movement in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”

Libertarians believe they are real rebels, because they’ve politicized the protest of children who scream through tears, “You’re not the boss of me.” The rejection of all rules and regulations, and the belief that everyone should have the ability to do whatever they want, is not rebellion or dissent. It is infantile naïveté.

As much as libertarians boast of having a “political movement” gaining in popularity, “you’re not the boss of me” does not even rise to the most elementary level of politics. Aristotle translated “politics” into meaning “the things concerning the polis,” referring to the city, or in other words, the community. Confucius connected politics with ethics, and his ethics are attached to communal service with a moral system based on empathy. A political program, like that from the right, that eliminates empathy, and denies the collective, is anti-political.

Opposition to any conception of the public interest and common good, and the consistent rejection of any opportunity to organize communities in the interest of solidarity, is not only a vicious form of anti-politics, it is affirmation of America’s most dominant and harmful dogmas. In America, selfishness, like blue jeans or a black dress, never goes out of style. It is the style. The founding fathers, for all the hagiographic praise and worship they receive as ritual in America, had no significant interest in freedom beyond their own social station, regardless of the poetry they put on paper. Native Americans, women, black Americans, and anyone who did not own property could not vote, but “taxation without representation” was the rallying cry of the revolution. The founders reacted with righteous rage to an injustice to their class, but demonstrated no passion or prioritization of expanding their victory for liberty to anyone who did not look, think, or spend money like them.

Many years after the nation’s establishment as an independent republic, President Calvin Coolidge quipped, “The chief business of the American people is business.” It is easy to extrapolate from that unintentional indictment how, in a rejection of alternative conceptions of philosophy and morality, America continually reinforced Alexis De Tocqueville’s prescient 1831 observation, “As one digs deeper into the national character of Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: How much money will it bring in?”

The disasters of reducing life, the governance of affairs, and the distribution of resources to such a shallow standard leaves wreckage where among the debris one can find human bodies. Studies indicate that nearly 18,000 Americans die every year because they lack comprehensive health insurance. Designing a healthcare system with the question, “How much money will it bring in?” at the center, kills instead of cures.

The denial of the collective interest and communal bond, as much as libertarians like to pose as trailblazers, is not the road less traveled, but the highway in gridlock. Competitive individualism, and the perversion of personal responsibility to mean social irresponsibility, is what allows for America to limp behind the rest of the developed world in providing for the poor and creating social services for the general population.

It also leads to the elevation of crude utility as a measurement of anything’s purpose or value. Richard Hofstadter, observed in his classic  Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, that many Americans are highly intelligent, but their intelligence is functional, not intellectual. They excel at their occupational tasks, but do not invest the intellect or imagination in abstract, critical, or philosophical inquiries and ideas. If society is reducible to the individual, and the individual is reducible to consumer capacity, the duties of democracy and the pleasures of creativity stand little chance of competing with the call of the cash register.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently stepped on a landmine when he suggested that the Wisconsin university system remove from its mission statement any language having to do with public service or meaning of life. Education should only train people to work. Walker might have faced mockery and scorn for his proposal, but any college instructor can verify my experience of struggling to convince even a handful of students to consider the importance of ideas not directly related to their career choices.

Meanwhile pop culture, still having not recovered from mistaking the Oliver Stone villain Gordon Gekko and his “greed is good” philosophy as heroic, bombards Americans with reality television programs about shallow and self-destructive rich people whose mansions, jewelry, vehicles, and fashion choices are treated with a religious reverence. Their lives are in despair and disarray, but they find redemption through consumption.

Who then are the libertarians rebelling against? The most powerful sector of the society is corporate America, and it profits and benefits most from the deregulatory and anti-tax measures libertarians champion. That sector of society also happens to own the federal government. Through large campaign donations and aggressive lobbying – the very corruption that libertarians help enable by defending Citizens United and opposing campaign finance reform – they have institutionalized bribery, transforming the legislative process into an auction. Libertarians proclaim an anti-government position, but they are only opposing the last measures of protection that remain in place to prevent the government from full mutation into an aristocracy. By advocating for the removal of all social programs, libertarians are not rebelling, as much as they are reinforcing the prevailing ethos of “bootstrap” capitalism. The poor are responsible for their plight, and therefore deserve no sympathy or assistance.

When children yell “you’re not the boss of me” they believe they are launching a rebellion against the household establishment, but they are conforming to the codes of behavior visible among all children. Libertarians are attempting to practice the same political voodoo – transforming conformity into rebellion – without realizing that their cries for freedom coalesce with their childlike culture.

The philosopher Charles Taylor explains in his book, The Ethics of Authenticity, that the search for self-actualization is a noble and important enterprise in life. Authenticity is important, and people should not compromise their principles or passions to placate expectations of society. Taylor complicates the picture by adding the elemental truth of individuality and community that personal freedom is empty and meaningless without connections to “horizons of significance.” That beautiful phrase captures the essentiality of developing bonds of empathy and ties of solidarity with people outside of one’s own individual pursuits, and within a larger social context. Neighborhoods, religious institutions, political parties, advocacy organizations, charities, and social justice groups all qualify as “horizons of significance”, and the connections that arise out of those horizons inevitably producs politics of communal ethics and public responsibility, in addition to private liberty.

Encouraging and facilitating connections of love that revolutionize individual freedom into motivation for social justice, and reform politics to adhere to the truth of Cornel West’s insight that “justice is what love looks like in public” represents real rebellion in America. Defending and championing selfish indifference to collective interest and need conforms not only to the mainstream American practice of social neglect, but also to the most basic and brutish impulse of humanity’s mammalian origins. The rebel searches for higher ground. The conformist crawls through the shallow end of the swamp.

David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). He writes regularly for the Daily Beast, Salon and Splice Today.


2 thoughts on “You’re Not the Boss of Me! Why Libertarianism Is a Childish Sham

  1. Where Libertarians go wrong, in my opinion, is in applying the principles of autonomy to governmental policy. What works in ones life does not work in society. The Libertarian party is no more about liberty than the Democratic party is about democracy. In a state of oligarchical lockdown, there is no way to remove the fetters from the economic giants without giving them license to use the lack of oversight to dominate the playing field. I am an individualist, and I agree with many libertarian positions on a personal level. I, too, resent the imposition of control, whether by the oligarchs, a dictator, or the ‘proletariat’. I would not care if the imperatives were coming from an anarchist action committee or Adolph Hitler, they are still imperatives, and I do not believe that the masses composing a collective society are any more interested in my personal liberty than a current government. The safeguarding of individual liberty is an individual responsibility, and the only libertarianism that works is on a strictly personal level, a refusal to be controlled.

    The issues have changed since the time of the great political thinkers. There are new possibilities for both liberty and control that have emerged from modern technology. For example, true direct world democracy (government by electronic referendum) is now theoretically possible, although trying to actually implement it might be the worst idea ever. On the other hand, privacy has been stripped to nothing, and the only reason anyone has any is that nobody cares enough to gather all the information that could be gathered and collate it. As a personal example, my minor criminal record, more than a decade old and strictly misdemeanor DUi, would have meant nothing 20 years ago, because it would have been impossible to find anything on an international background check. Now, I am barred from jobs in most of the places I want to work for ancient mistakes. The internet empowers individuals to an amazing degree, but the same empowerment is also granted to corporations, governments, and other vehicles of control.

    I consider nearly all political labels obsolete, based on a society that no longer exists due to globalization and a technological revolution that happened so quickly we have not assimilated it yet. Those who did the best job of that were the creators of the technology, who are the “powers-that-be”. In order to sell their products and feed their power, they granted unprecedented personal information access to the world, assuming (correctly) that we would be so overloaded with it all that we would not be able to use the fool potential of the new technology to reshape society before they could lock it down. This is a new era of global information politics, and all of the old labels have associations that no either no longer apply or must be redefined.
    Even ‘anarchism” means what, in the 21st century, where the toppling of a single government will bring the rest of the power brokers in the world running. A Marx-style revolution might have been possible in a production based economy, but not an information based one. Just my opinion.


    1. Libertarians go wrong from the outset in that government intervention has always been part and parcel of capitalist developments. There was never a golden era of truly free markets. As far as the transformation of the economy into a global, information oriented one, that is only so much smoke and mirrors for the most part. Production of real goods and provisions of real services still form the heart of capitalist accumulation. The information age has made possible, along with getting rid of the gold standard, the creation of massive amounts of fictitious capital, massive credit subsidizing increasing consumption while wages remain more or less the same since the early 70s, and transformed Wall Street into Las Vegas with speculation run amok. So while the old labels may have baggage, the old theories (with updating to include the effects of technology and shift towards information as capital) are still extremely valuable in providing insights, a coherent analysis and critique, and provide a method – historical materialism – for understanding the dialectical relatioships at play. Capital still has to be accumulated, and that means surplus value must be extracted – that can only occurr at the point of production, whether in a factory or an office cubicle. There is a massive potential for revolutionary change *because* of the availability of information, the communications infrastructure, and technology that is being held back by the old capitalist relations of production. Lstly, only a small number of nations have developed beyond the traditional mass industrial production oriented economy, and that’s only led to a growth in the services sector. Even less of the economy (if we’re talking capital accumulation), is based on intellectual production or information production. For billions of humans and hundreds of countries, their lives are much like the lives of factory workers in Manchester Marx so vividly described in Capital Vol. 1. They live lives of intense misery and ultra-exploitation and they are very much proletarian. In fact, regardless of the fact that more people in developed nations work in the service sector they’re still having surplus value stolen from them, making *them* proletarian. So don’t be so quick to dismiss Marx or buy into the surface level appearances of economic activity, for underlying all of it is the never ending need for capital to grow. Information may now be capital, but it doesn’t create value – only human labor does (and one might add that corporations typically own any intellectual property their employees develop – meaning they’re being exploited in the traditional sense regardless of what they produced).


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