Did libertarianism kick Mike Huben's dog?

Mike Huben, author of the “critiques of libertarianism” (“critiques of Randroid minarchist capitalism” would be a more accurate name for the most part), looks at efforts to communicate on the part of Egyptian activists, & chalks up the result as a libertarian flaw — because big business & government would collude to stop the concept of a truly unstoppable network.  Seriously.

I don’t have time to explain the entire history of where the divergence from what was originally an anti-government movement from the Left to being, in the popular mind, associated with people like the organizers of this event protesters got arrested outside recently.  To put the gist of such bluntly, the hackers and other agitators asserting absolute public rights over all spontaneous networks has a vastly more legit claim than the CEO of a company that attempts to regulate access to them.  Think about that for a moment.

Huben ends with this:

The solution is a citizenry that is attentive to good government, and seeks to change bad features. Libertarianism doesn’t solve that problem, because it has no method for deciding what constitutes good government, good life, or anything else.

This is because, properly understood, libertarianism rejects the premise he bases this on: that there is, or ever can be, such thing as “good government”, and that the definition of a good life is the proper decision of a hierarchy at all.


About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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6 Responses to Did libertarianism kick Mike Huben's dog?

  1. Mike Huben says:

    Ooo, I really like that title.

    It sounds like we agree that some libertarianism is worth criticizing: ” Randroid minarchist capitalism” for you.

    But the difference is like the difference between atheists and Christians. Christians reject all religions but one. Atheists reject one more, for the same reasons the Christians reject the other religions. Likewise, I reject your “one true libertarianism”.

    My point is not that libertarianism is smitten in some way. It is that the naive faith that many libertarians have in such slogans is unrealistic. The world is grounded in a reality of coercion: that is how property, rights, and government are formed. It is only through governments that we can band together to secure the rights and liberties we desire.

    In the US and other modern nations, deciding the good life is a complex, continually negotiated political process, not a mere decision of a hierarchy. If libertarians misunderstand this basic premise of liberalism and observation of real society, we must be wary of their claimed “rationality”.

    Individualism is no substitute. Otherwise some individuals will decide their vision of the good life includes having others as their slaves. Historically, slavery has NEVER been ended except by government fiat of large, powerful governments. The equality we take for granted in modern society is a product of government.

  2. B Psycho says:

    It’s not that I take in uncritically what’s associated with my favored interpretation. There are things we disagree with each other on, check out the comments here, and on this c4ss.org entry for example. We even have arguments about how fluid currency should be in a post-state society. Overall though, I do think that the radically pro-labor strain has much more to lend it than the unfortunate corporatism-plus-ganja kind that dominates public attention.

    As for individualism, I’m actually just fine with voluntary collectivism. On some things I’d even vastly prefer a collectivist approach than the alternative. The problem, IMO, is when you delegate power to a 3rd party like with a state you’re leaving a ton up to faith that they won’t ignore your interests & simply steal from you to enrich themselves and their friends. That’s the hierarchy, where all you do in reality is fund your own violation.

  3. Joe says:

    “In the US and other modern nations, deciding the good life is a complex, continually negotiated political process, not a mere decision of a hierarchy.”

    It may be a “continually negotiated political process,” but the question is: among whom? From my vantage point way down here at the bottom of the pyramid, it looks like most of the negotiating is going on between powerful financial interests and politicians whose campaigns were “underwritten” by said interests. If you’re suggesting that the average person has any real influence over this process, I’d question your rationality.

    “The equality we take for granted in modern society is a product of government.”

    Bullshit. Whatever “equality” we have to take for granted was the result of individuals who got tired of being pushed around and started demanding some rights.

  4. Mike Huben says:

    The reality of the world is that numerous people will have power, and they will compete to subject us to it. You can’t abolish power. The only solution to that problem is collective: we call it a state. The trick is to manage our own state so that it is better than the dreadful alternatives. While we might be victimized by our own state in various ways, that does not automatically make it worse than the alternative of being victimized by powers that do not represent us. Our goal should be to make our state represent our interests, because we will have no real influence in any alternative subjection. Our state is not evil: it is our only reasonable tool.

    Joe: demanding rights does not automatically result in rights. All rights in the US come about through legislation and enforcement of those rights by government (or at least with its legal approval, in the case of commonlaw rights.)

    Average people DO have influence: otherwise we would not have seen the radical improvement of civil rights that I’ve seen in my lifetime. People who don’t see this are too wrapped up in the “if I was dictator, things would be different” individualist approach. The goal is to give the multitude what it wants, despite often conflicting desires, not to satisfy individual ideologues.

  5. Joe says:


    Obviously we have very different conceptions of what the state is. I see it not as a collective in any real sense, but as a powerful minority imposing its will on the majority, while granting various concessions from time to time to the people it allegedly serves in order to maintain the appearance of legitimacy. Obviously the state isn’t going to disappear overnight, certainly not as long as a majority of the population is under the illusion that it’s necessary in order to prevent people from eating each other alive. But I think it would help to realize that the state isn’t really meant to represent “our interests.” As for whether “our” state is evil, I don’t know. How many Afghan children does it have to kill in drone attacks, how many people does it have to throw in jail for victimless crimes like buying or selling drugs, etc., before it qualifies?

    Of course demanding rights doesn’t automatically result in rights. That’s why, in the case of the civil rights movement, it took mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, and lots of people getting killed, in order for those rights to finally be granted by “our” government. This didn’t happen by people dutifully writing letters to their congressmen. (And by the way, I thought our constitution said that we were born with our rights, not that they were granted to us by the government.)

    In certain extreme cases, like the civil rights movement, average people may be able to influence the government (after quite a bit of kicking and screaming). But in the case of the farm bill, or whether to give Wall St. a trillion dollars in stimulus money, or on the question of whether we should invade a country that in no way threatens us, and on and on, the average person clearly has no influence.

  6. Clive says:

    Looking forward to find out which particular parts of Joe’s excellent post Huben would be sidestepping, I scrolled down to discover the answer: all of it!

    Remember kids, all your rights come from the government, your government loves you, and all praise to the great leader.

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