Libertarianism Vindicated:
A Reply to "The Connection Between
Marxism and Libertarianism"

by

Daniel V. Bowden

06-06-04

In the first issue of Southern Events of 2004 (Vol. 9, No.1), George Tomezsko of Pennsylvania authored an article entitled "The Connection Between Marxism and Libertarianism," in which he compared and criticised the two philosophies. Unfortunately, Mr. Tomezsko presented a wildly inaccurate portrayal of libertarianism,1 bearing little resemblance to the actual philosophy. I would like to set the record straight. First, I will recount the assertions Mr. Tomezsko made regarding libertarianism, and then I will explain why, in every case, his description of libertarian beliefs is off the mark.

Mr. Tomezsko's article is riddled with examples of the straw man fallacy, where the arguer accuses his opponents of holding certain easily-criticised positions, when in fact the opponent does not hold such positions at all. I question whether Mr. Tomezsko has actually read any libertarian literature, since the positions he ascribes to libertarianism bear little resemblance to either present-day libertarianism or to classical-liberalism, its intellectual ancestor. Mr. Tomezsko's central premise that Marxism and libertarianism share many central ideas or premises is a claim I find laughable.

In a point-by-point fashion, I will list the main criticisms which Mr. Tomezsko made against libertarianism, and rebut them. Note that he made essentially all the same criticisms against Marxism. I have no comment on the validity of his criticisms in regard to Marxism--I am dealing strictly with his arguments against libertarianism. However, I will note that it is difficult to determine whether his criticisms against Marxism are valid or not, since he gave no references to substantiate his claims about what Marxist doctrine contains. No references to libertarian works were provided either, but I am familiar with all principal doctrines and ideas of libertarianism, so I was able to address those comments. Among the claims made in the article were the following:

1. Libertarianism is based on the denial of any objective standards of moral right and wrong.

Libertarians can be roughly divided into two varieties–those who are utilitarians, and those whose libertarianism is grounded in Natural Law. These categories are not unique to libertarians. Utilitarians and Natural Lawyers exist among the members of many other groups. My understanding of utilitarianism leads me to believe that Tomezsko's claim might be valid as to utilitarians, but it is certainly invalid as to the natural law libertarians, of whom I am one.

The core belief of libertarianism, the principle from which all others may be derived, is the non-aggression principle. Simply put, it says that no person has the right to initiate force against another. This is because you do not own other people. You do not have the right to use force to control them and make them do your will, and they likewise have no right to control you. This principle flows from the right of self-ownership each person has over their own body. No other person may own your body, and you may not own another person. Anyone familiar with basic concepts of property will recognise that you have a right to use and control your property, but other people do not. Hence, the non-aggression principle. You may defend yourself against aggression, but you never have the right to initiate it.

Anyone who has spent any time discussing issues with a libertarian will surely find out that the libertarian believes quite a few actions of government violate objective standards of moral right and wrong. I believe that individuals have natural rights, inherent in their very nature, that cannot rightfully be abridged or violated by government. Any infringement on an individual's natural rights is objectively wrong. It is wrong at all times and in all places, regardless of circumstances or differences in customs, traditions, or political forms. For those interested in exploring the superb natural law libertarian tradition, I refer you to the works of Lysander Spooner and Murray Rothbard, particularly Spooner's Natural Law, and Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty.

2. Libertarianism assumes that human happiness and pleasure-seeking are equivalent, or that there is no difference between the two. In other words, libertarians are hedonists, and seek pleasure as the highest good and goal in life. Also, since libertarianism does not provide the answer to the meaning of life, any society built on libertarian principle would be marked with widespread mental depression, anxiety, and despair.

Though some libertarians may be hedonists, hedonism has nothing to do with libertarianism per se. Libertarianism is not a religious or life philosophy. It is a political philosophy.

Lord Acton2 said, "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for the security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life." Acton understood that it was not the purpose of political philosophy to tell the individual the "meaning of life." Political philosophy is merely concerned with determining the best way for men to live together in this world. No political system can provide "happiness." Recall that the Declaration of Independence stated some of man's rights as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Happiness is something that each individual must seek for himself. The best way to promote individual happiness is to ensure the maximum possible freedom of each individual to seek happiness which is consistent with the rights of others.

Libertarianism tells people nothing about what their life goals should be. It is not concerned with spiritual or religious matters. It is concerned only with explaining the reality of human interaction in this world. Economics similarly deals with the concept of the best way to provide people with goods and services in a world where scarcity exists. It has no application to a world of abundance. Libertarianism is not anti-religious, any more than economics and physics are anti-religious. These areas of thought are devoted to explaining phenomena in this world, and do not presume to deal with questions outside that realm.

Despite not revealing to us "the meaning of life," a libertarian society that leads to greater abundance, prosperity, and a higher standard of living for all people seems far less likely to produce widespread depression, anxiety, and despair than our current society, never mind a Marxist one.

3. Libertarianism has no notion of man as a species-being.

I assume this criticism is a variety of the claim that libertarianism suffers from "atomistic individualism," i.e., that it focuses on individuals too heavily and is an impractical philosophy for an entire society. This is untrue. As I explained above, libertarianism is a political philosophy whose sole goal is to explain how men can best live together and enjoy both freedom and the benefits of society (such as the division of labour). Robinson Crusoe alone on his island has no need of political philosophy, as he interacts with no one. Being alone, his rights cannot conflict with those of anyone else. But as soon as Friday shows up, there will be a need for some sort of philosophy or set of principles to define each person's rights, or conflict will result. Libertarianism is the most conflict-minimising philosophy I know.

4. Libertarians believe that all human beings are equal, having no significant differences in talent, ability, or bodily characteristics.

I have never known any libertarian to espouse such a view. Many expressly deny this very idea. Libertarians recognise that individuals differ widely, and that inequality is a part of human nature. See "Egalitarianism and the Elites," by Murray Rothbard.3 Libertarians believe that people have equal rights, not equal physical and mental characteristics.

Tomezsko himself seems to be labouring under a Marxist fallacy when he writes that a libertarian society would fail "because inequalities of talent and ability would cause some to acquire more at the expense of everyone else, meaning that the next generation of libertarians would start out on the road to acquisition on an unequal footing, effectively ending the system and creating the very same widespread economic misery that produced the Marxist and socialist movements." Of course, in a free market, people do not gain "at the expense of everyone else"-- the gains from trade are mutually beneficial. Franz Oppenheimer pointed out in The State that there are two ways of acquiring wealth: the economic means and the political means. The "economic means" describes the production and voluntary exchange of goods and services, i.e. the free market. This is how individuals and private businesses operate. The "political means" describes the use of force to take property involuntarily from others. Oppenheimer defined "the state" as "the organisation of the political means." Governments and criminals operate via the political means.

5. Libertarians believe that there is no fixed human nature that remains constant over time. Human nature is flexible and can be reshaped by social, political, and economic forces.

As I stated before, proponents of natural law believe in fixed and unchanging principles which are part of the reality of nature and the world. Human nature is among these principles. Libertarianism is not a philosophy designed for some New Libertarian Man who will replace the selfish, flawed humans we know. Libertarianism is a philosophy that takes into account man's flaws and weaknesses, and advocates institutions such as the free market which elicit peace and mutual cooperation rather than conflict.

6. The limitations on human nature that render socialism impractical also limit the workings of the free market.

Ludwig von Mises showed that socialism as an economic system was impossible because it lacked the ability to calculate prices, and thus could not coordinate and satisfy the demands of millions of individuals, a task that the a free, unhampered market handles automatically. The only limitation imposed on the free market by human nature is the desire of some people to control and dominate others. When this aggressive behaviour is held in check, and the free market is allowed to operate, it brings peace, prosperity, and an increased division of labour and standard of living. All trade is mutually-beneficial to both parties, otherwise it would not occur. The free market takes into account the limitations of human nature. It is the philosophies of socialism and statism that ignore the limits of human knowledge, and assume that all-knowing central planners can make better decisions than millions of individuals pursuing their own self-interest in the free market, who by doing so unfailingly benefit others via Adam Smith's principle of the "invisible hand."

7. Libertarians, at heart, are hostile to religion, and intend to remove religion from public life. The achievement of a libertarian society would mean the removal of restraints imposed by religion on private life as well.

As I stated above, libertarianism is not a religion. Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It is compatible with any religious belief, or no religious belief. However, if your religion advocated the initiation of force (the use of force against peaceful, non-aggressors), then in that case there would be conflict between the religion and libertarianism. Without getting into a discussion of the particulars of any religion, I would suggest that if your religion does advocate the use of force against peaceful people, there is something wrong with it.

Certainly there are some libertarians who are atheists, and some of these are not merely atheists but are avowedly hostile to religion. However, this has more to do with their atheism than with their libertarianism. There are also Christian libertarians (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox), as well as Jewish libertarians, Muslim libertarians, and probably libertarian members of most of the other religions as well.4

There is nothing in libertarian philosophy that conflicts with the private, voluntary adherence to religious principles, customs, or restraints. A libertarian society would be marked by complete freedom of religion, but no group would be able to impose its religious preferences on others by force (as is currently done through methods such as "blue laws").

After thrashing "libertarianism" for being allegedly containing a number of the same doctrines as Marxism (doctrines that libertarianism manifestly does not contain) Tomezsko concludes that "[w]e can now say with confidence that since these three axioms did not produce happiness when they were applied during the Great Experiment known as the Soviet Union, they will likewise fail in a truly libertarian society."

Tomezsko reaches the conclusion that since Soviet society (based on slavery, tyranny, collectivism and force) was a failure that this indicates that a libertarian society (based on freedom, peace, and cooperation through the free market) would also fail. I don't follow that line of reasoning at all. The argument is a non sequitur.

For an antidote to the idea that libertarianism necessarily means libertinism and hostility to religion, I recommend the excellent contributions from the writers at LewRockwell.Com, the best site on the web. Also, the talented essayist Joe Sobran proves that conservative Catholicism and libertarianism are compatible. Sobran and the writers at LRC are not only philosophical libertarians, but inveterate supporters of state's rights, original intent, and the right of secession. They have passionately defended the justice of the South's cause, and almost single-handedly disabused many people of the Lincoln Myth (see LRC writer Tom DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln).

From time to time within the Southern Movement, I have encountered hostility to "libertarianism," and yet when I talk to fellow Southrons about my own libertarian beliefs, we usually find broad agreement. I think it is not the substance of libertarianism which repels some Southrons, but its caricature. When they hear such people as the smarmy Bill Maher claim to be a libertarian, they are repelled. Rest assured that the real libertarianism has a deep and rich heritage exemplified by such giants of the past as John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Lysander Spooner, and Murray Rothbard, and carried up through the present day by leading lights such as Lew Rockwell and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Southrons should embrace the libertarian idea as one fully compatible with their own political traditions, and realise that sometimes, as Thomas Jefferson shows us, the greatest libertarians and greatest Southerners can be one and the same.


1 For a good overview of basic libertarian philosophy and history, see this site from the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University.

For an animated 10 min. introduction the basic ideas of liberty from the International Society for Individual Liberty, see here (enabling sound recommended).

2 Acton was a leading liberal of his day. Today, the term "liberal" has been co-opted by the Left to mean the exact opposite of its original meaning. The liberals of Acton's time were opponents of statism and supporters of limited government and individual liberty. Today such persons are known as classical liberals or libertarians.

3 PDF document online here.

4 For a good work examining the compatibility of Christianity and libertarianism, see Healing Our World, by Dr. Mary J. Ruwart.


Daniel V. Bowden is native of Barbour County, Alabama. He is a graduate of Auburn University and the Univ. of Alabama School of Law, and has been active in libertarian and southern organisations since 1996. He currently resides in Tuscaloosa.



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