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That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
As a philosopher and politician in Victorian England, Mill formulated his philosophy of the sovereignty of the individual in reaction to the stringent mores and laws of his time. Mill’s philosophy was essentially a liberal’s push back against social conservatism.
In our time, especially here in America, libertarianism has morphed into something ugly. It has become the philosophy of choice of the Republican party, and a justification for an attitude that is stupid, selfish and mean.
It doesn’t comprehend what an uber-libertarian world would look like in the long run. The rich would simply get richer, and we would all be at the cold mercy of corporate behemoths whose only virtue and aim is in making a profit, the environment and general well being of society be damned. Ultimately, American libertarianism is the enemy of Democracy as we know it in that the alternative it offers is a government of the fabulously wealthy and greedy, for the fabulously wealthy and greedy. Everywhere would be either Wall Street or Squalor Row.
The infantile selfishness of American libertarianism should be obvious to anyone with a brain. It is so much about the welfare of the individual that the collective is the baby thrown out with the bathwater. Like all philosophies doomed to failure, American libertarianism doesn’t recognize the whole of which it is a part. Life’s a balancing act and calls for checks and balances to keep it healthy. Some times call for a focus on the individual to effectuate the greatest good. Other times call for a bolstering of the health of the collective to keep things humming in the general direction toward progress. Make one the ultimate master of the other and doom will follow.
It is a philosophy of heartlessness at its core, and ruthlessly promotes division between the haves and have-nots. The only welfare offered by the quintessential American libertarian is that in times of need, pray harder and good luck. Economically it is survival of the fittest, and ignores the fact that humanity is endowed with more than a lizard’s brain. Love and compassion for humanity and our planet don’t fit into the libertarian rubric from what I can tell.
Starting about the time that Bill Clinton was sworn into office, a cynical machine, designed by libertarians to undermine liberal Democracy, was fired up and has been running full throttle ever since. That machine’s purpose is to destroy all the functions of government that protect the average citizen from the ravages of unfettered greed. In the process, libertarians like billionaires David and Charles Koch, who generously fund astroturf movements, like the Teaparty, have successfully convinced millions of Americans that it is in their best interest to screw themselves royally at the voting booth.
Being a self-respecting individual, I don’t consider myself a libertarian any more.
Originally published on October 22, 2011.