Doctor Science Knows

Friday, August 13, 2010


John Quiggin at Crooked Timber asked why has there never been a serious attempt at a real libertarian utopia?. My comments:

I’m surprised that no-one has yet mentioned the factor that jumps out at me.

You can’t have a functioning human society that isn’t at least 1/3 female. Unless the libertopians include a lot of women, they can’t possibly establish anything that isn’t basically a club instead of a society.

More broadly, I think it supports my personal definition: Libertarians don’t believe that humans are social animals. Trying to put together even a small human society that doesn’t take account of our social nature is of course highly problematic. If you think, as many libertarians apparently do, that the foundation of human society is private property, you’ve already turned your back on anything anthropology and the history of religion can teach you about how humans actually operate in small societies.

Brett Bellmore:
What libertarians believe is that social animals can cooperate in non-coercive ways. Trade, and other voluntary forms of interaction.
Libertarians who try to build non-coercive societies are leftists or anarchists, and they don’t think of *trade* as the quintessential non-coercive interaction. Lefty libertopias have often been attempted (with varying degrees of success, of course), but they generally take “family” or indeed “love” as their grounding metaphor. They never (that I know of) are structured around private property as a first principle.

John Protevi:

Your comments clarify for me that the sort of trade Brett is talking about—strictly fair, balanced, and freely-chosen—does not naturally occur inside human communities. Most basically, what I think I’m saying is that under what you might call “natural” conditions humans do not survive on their own. We live with each other because we must, because otherwise we (generally speaking) die.

So on the one hand, we are ecologically coerced to live in groups, that is our niche. On the other hand, our nature is adapted to our natural niche, so we need to live in a group to be happy. We need other people emotionally, in a way that libertarian trade and freely-chosen contracts cannot satisfy; we also ecologically/economically need other people if we are to survive. That’s what I mean by libertarians not believing that humans are social animals.


Thank you for the link, that is extremely well-put.

I think your essay clarifies what right-libertarians like Brett are looking for: market-like social relations, because they simplify cost/benefit calculations, and thus can be more easily extended over a wider range of social contexts. As you say, traditional donation and obligation are both, by comparison, vague, difficult to predict, and prone to the stress of free-riding, for both sides of the exchange.

Now, those of us who’ve read any anthropology know that the description of a culture traditionally begins with a chapter on kinship—relationships that are not freely-chosen, so in libertarian terms they must be coerced. Because Right-Libertopia wants market-like, freely-chosen social relations, I have *no idea* what their kinship system would be. Without a kinship system, is there any surprise that there is no Libertopia?

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