Libertarians Ignoring Liberty
Let me state it upfront: many mainstream libertarians do not understand liberty as a grown framework that has evolved to become a firmly entrenched feature of modern society. Consequently, they are unwilling to support liberty in its modern form.
The chief reason for this odd deviation from liberty's trail is that libertarians do not endorse the model of the public that effectively underlies freedom in today's world.
Libertarians show great concern for certain fragments of the liberal vision, but they do not embrace the full framework in which the modern practice of liberty unfolds.
Their model of social order is inaccurate, and the public punishes the libertarians' incongruous stance by depriving them of attention and support. Indeed, it is not surprising that the public ignores libertarians by and large, considering that libertarians ignore the public in respects most vital to their exercise of freedom.
Unique Concept of the Public Underlying Modern Liberty
Under conditions of liberty in contemporary civil society the public is conceived of as a network of bearers
(a) of equal rights,
(b) equally barred from special privileges, and
(c) equally protected against arbitrary violations of (a) and (b).
I cannot think of any other conception of the public as radically individualistic, egalitarian, and democratic as this one.
Other conceptions of the public are invariably either divisive or paternalistically hierarchical, or both -- as seems evident from kinship-based communities, feudal-aristocratic-monarchical forms of society or the socialist paradigm with its divide between bourgeoisie and proletariat and its prospect of a machine-society run by an engineering elite that commands a population serving as small cog wheels.
Liberty and the Comprehensively Inclusive and Systematically Connected Public
So, liberty as observable in countries with advanced civil societies is effectively based on a historically unique notion of the public according to which
- each adult is to be granted free scope for autonomous personal action to the largest possible extent,
- subject to each individual being considerate of anyone else's same entitlement to personal autonomy.
Two features stand out:
(1) the full inclusion of all (sane and non-criminal) adult participants in society as members of the public sphere, and
(2) the assumption of a systematically connected relationship between the members of the public in the sense that empowering every citizen in the same way to act autonomously, and restricting such empowerment by an equal requirement of mutual considerateness, will affect each person in such a way as to enhance the public interest more than by any other arrangement.
That is: (a) granting freedom to everyone and (b) restricting such freedom only to protect the equal freedom of all, implies that everyone is an equally important contributor to the common weal.
Under this arrangement, no one is being forced to contribute to the common weal (except for contestable requirements of resource pooling through taxation and other takings); but any less inclusive constitution of the public is thought to be less productive of the common weal.
It is historically unprecedented to define the public by
(a) inclusion of all adults,
(b) endowing all adults with the same rights and subjecting them to the same restrictions, and
(c) a set of relationships generated under (a) and (b) that are supposed to systematically further the common weal beyond the means of any alternative arrangement.
Obviously, these properties of the democratic public are foundational for modern liberalism/libertarianism. Contradictorily, however, not a few liberals/libertarians do not recognise these properties and their consequences in the political realm.
Yet, the robust conditions of freedom (freedom of speech and association etc.), which are - with other implications in mind - highly regarded by libertarians, do ensure the right for every citizen to demand, design, and participate in shared decision-processes producing decisions (public choices) by which all are bound.
There are no good grounds to restrict the provisions of freedom to the context of private bilateral transactions of the market type. While the libertarian is strongly inclined toward such restriction, he thereby contradicts the epistemological argument for freedom, which accords the individual its central position in a free society with a view to her being the irreducible source of creativity, invention, discovery, and innovation in society. These sources of social advancement inherent in the free individual are no less significant in the public realm, whose participants should be protected against political abuse, instead of being deprived of politics altogether.
Libertarian Denial of the Public
Combining an unreasonably strong presumption in favour of private bilateral transactions with an unreasonably strong presumption against public choices, considering the former feasible and better substitutes of the latter, the modern libertarian paints herself in a corner, where the preponderance of public choices over private choices appears to her to be inordinate and driven by acts of bad faith that systematically undermine the possibility of a better society.
Built into the public-averse vision of the libertarian is a perspective that views the substitution of private decisions by democratic decisions (including cases where private decisions are impossible or unwise to resort to) as attacks on freedom. She ignores the essential role that public choices play in a community practising freedom. In this way, the libertarian subscribes to a distorted vision of society that seems to her to be (a) run by evil special interests and (b) constantly approaching new lows in terms of violations of liberty. Instead of an enduring trend toward the loss of liberty, what is at play here is the repetitive application of a mistaken interpretation of public life.
However, people need to act in the public dimension and they will do so, as long as freedom prevails, irrespective of libertarians trying to convince them not to.
Of their own accord, in refusing to participate in politics and public choices, but also by appearing to large sections of the population as impractical and lacking in realism, libertarians suffer and accept a debilitating lack of power and intellectual significance. By privatising politics, i.e. withdrawing to embittered armchair-heckling, they disappear from the political scene, leaving the public to those who cherish the options that freedom holds for political self-expression.
Freedom cannot be planned, she must be played out and found out about, by private initiative in markets as well as in the public sphere.
Related posts: Demos and Freedom - Robust and Non-Robust Conditions of Liberty, The Invention of the Modern Public, The Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion, Freedom and Ancient Greece, Summing Up the Universe - Sir Karl Popper's Three Worlds, Why Law (1/2), Why Law (2/2), Freedom - A Force of Creative Destruction in the Moral Realm, Freedom as Method, Freedom Limits Liberalism.