People expect the government to protect them from being treated unfairly no matter what some “ism” demands that the gov’t do or not do.
What This Column Is About
On June 22, 2021 I published the below-referenced column that said that communism could never work well because its principles of altruism and sharing the wealth were in conflict with common, shared human instincts and proclivities — “human nature.”
Today’s column is about how shared human instincts and proclivities are in conflict with anarchism in its various flavors, including libertarianism.
What Do I Mean By “Human Nature”?
By “human nature” I mean how most people instinctively act or what most people instinctively believe about how the world ought to work.
When I say some idea, inclination, or instinct is “human nature” I mean that it is held or practiced by an overwhelming majority of the human beings who make up the center of a normal curve of the human race with regard to that issue.
It’s Human Nature To Want To Live
Most people share an instinctive desire to live. It’s human nature for people to do whatever they can, within reason, to avoid dying.
At one end of the normal curve of how human beings react to a threat to their life are those people who are suicidal or willing to give up their lives to achieve some goal — save the life of their child or kill their enemy.
At the other end of the normal curve of reactions to the threat of death, some people may act in extreme, unreasonable ways to prolong their life — murder others if it means that they will survive.
But, by and large the middle of the normal curve of the human race’s reaction to a threat of death, their human nature, is to act energetically but not outrageously to stay alive.
There are many other instincts, beliefs, inclinations, and attitudes that are shared by most human beings and comprise the universe of traits that we call human nature.
It’s Human Nature To Believe That People Deserve To Be Treated Fairly
The common feelings, ideas, and opinions that most people share about what they think they are entitled to get, what they think they are entitled to do, what they think other people have no right to do, how they think they deserve to be treated, what treatment, penalties or costs they think they don’t deserve to suffer, and how they think the world ought to work are some of the elements of human nature.
People get angry and upset when they don’t get some benefit they think they do deserve or when they suffer some detriment or cost they think they don’t deserve.
People don’t get upset when they think they have been treated fairly even if that treatment is painful or costly.
Human Nature Isn’t Necessarily Right
It doesn’t matter if under your logic, your morals or your philosophy you think that people shouldn’t have those beliefs or shouldn’t feel that way. People believe what they believe whether you like it or not.
You can make certain conduct illegal, but changing people’s instinctive beliefs is someplace between difficult and impossible.
I’m sure that there are shared beliefs that over time may change or be changed. Which beliefs and over how long a period of time are the critical questions. A generation, a century, a millennium?
The communists thought they could change human nature in a generation or two, that they could quickly make humans abandon their selfish, instinctive desire to advance themselves, get more money and do better and instead turn them into people who instinctively were willing to work harder so that other people could have more even if it meant that they would have less, that they could quickly turn the human-nature inclination to selfishness into altruism.
It didn’t work. Big time.
I think the instinct for selfishness over altruism is so fundamental that it can never, ever be substantially eliminated.
Some Other Elements Of Human Nature
It’s human nature to believe that
- A person should be paid a reasonable price for whatever you’re selling
- Sellers shouldn’t be able to charge an excessive price for something people need in order to survive
- People shouldn’t be able to take your money or your property without paying for it
- People shouldn’t be allowed to treat you unfairly
What Is Anarchism?
The core of the anarchist philosophy is that there should be no government at all. No laws and no rules other than the ones people and the organizations they belong to can themselves enforce.
An anarchist country is purely a “might makes right” society where you can get whatever you’re strong enough to take and you can keep whatever you’re powerful enough to hold.
Libertarianism Is “Anarchism Light”
People with money understood that anarchy was bad for them because without a police force to protect them, gangs and criminals could steal their money, and without courts whose orders were enforced by the government’s police, people wouldn’t have to honor their business contracts or pay their debts.
But rich people wanted to be as free as possible to do whatever would get them as much money and power as possible, so they asked themselves, “What’s the minimum government we can get along with and still be able to do whatever we want?”
Their answer was the so-call libertarian philosophy in which the government is allowed to have a police force to protect rich people’s persons and wealth and to operate courts to enforce their contracts.
To run a business you need banks and courts and highways so the philosophy allowed for a governmental infrastructure that provided those things.
The libertarians also figured that it was acceptable for the government to do things that people voluntarily paid for since that didn’t impact them.
Businesses Want To Do Whatever They Can Get Away With
Beyond that, the libertarian philosophy retained the anarchists’ ideal of no government activities or government rules that might limit what they can get away with, so that
- Powerful people and their corporate entities would be free to do whatever they could get away with to their customers and employees with no government there to stop them,
- People would be able to have as much freedom and wealth as they could grab and hold and
- People would have as little freedom and wealth as other more powerful people and organizations were able, without violence, to take away from them.
Of course, like any theoretical political system there are multiple “flavors” of libertarianism. Ayn Rand thought there shouldn’t even be government-operated schools or fire departments.
Some libertarians think that schools and fire departments are acceptable government activities, but the core of the philosophy is that the government should be forbidden from doing anything that doesn’t pay its own way and must be forbidden from regulating any businesses in any way.
Some Activities A Libertarian Government Is Not Allowed To Stop
- If a corporation can get away with paying its workers a dollar an hour with no overtime pay, then in a libertarian country the government is not allowed to make them pay more.
- If an employer can get away with operating a dangerous factory that maims or kills dozens of workers each year, then the government must let them do it.
- If an employer can get away with having no responsibility for paying the medical bills for workers injured in its factory then the government may not make the employer pay those medical bills
- If an employer can convince parents to allow their eleven-year-old children work ten-hour shifts in its factory, then the government must let them do it.
- If the major banks can agree that they will all charge a $100 fee for being one day late on a $25 credit card payment then the government must let them do it.
- If a lender can get away with taking your car, selling it and keeping all the money if you miss the very last installment payment then the government must let them do it.
- If an airline can get away with flying badly maintained, over-booked planes with poorly-trained pilots the government must let them do it.
- If a group of manufacturers can get away with forming a cartel and jacking up prices for their products or services the government must let them do it.
- If a corporation can get away with spewing tons of toxic material into the air, the ground or the water the government must let them do it.
- If a manufacturer can get away with mislabeling, adulterating or contaminating its products then the government must let them do it.
- Anyone can do anything that they want that they can get away with (short of theft and violence) no matter how dangerous, unreasonable, or unfair and the government must let them do it.
Yes, the consumer or employee can theoretically sue the corporation, but after spending millions in legal fees and after five or six years in litigation the corporation can just file for bankruptcy and pay nothing only to start up again with the same or different investors under another name and do it all over again.
Peter Thiel allocated ten million dollars to bankroll the legal costs in Hulk Hogan’s suit against Gawker. Almost no one has ten million dollars to pay to lawyers, especially when the maximum recovery might be less than $100,000. In short, 99.9% of the time the courts would offer no recourse or protection to injured employees or damaged consumers in a libertarian society.
Suggesting that any injured employee or consumer can get redress from the courts in a libertarian society is a ridiculous fantasy.
A Libertarian Society Conflicts With Human Nature
The above sorts of allowed conduct are where the libertarian philosophy runs afoul of human nature.
It’s human nature for
- People to think that they are entitled to be treated fairly and that they have a right to be protected from being treated unfairly. The things that many unregulated businesses will do to millions of their employees, customers and suppliers over the course of years or decades will very often be light years away from what most people believe is fair or reasonable.
- Ordinary, hourly-pay humans to instinctively believe that it’s the government’s job to protect them from corporations and employers treating them unfairly, denying them something they think they deserve, or causing them some cost or harm they think they don’t deserve.
The anarchists can repeat all day long their mantra that corporations and employers should be free to do whatever they can get away with, but that isn’t going to stop the human beings who believe that they are being mistreated, injured and overcharged from expecting and eventually demanding that the government do something about the cartels that have raised the prices of their drugs, fuel, energy, etc. to astronomical levels, imposed dozens of fees, sold them shoddy or toxic products, denied them services and polluted the air and water.
Yes, I’m well aware that the libertarian theoreticians claim that none of that will happen —
- that all employers will always do the right thing for all their employees,
- that all terms of employment are set by the market and thus are automatically fair,
- that no one will sell unlabeled, mislabeled, defective or dangerous products,
- that no company will operate in an unsafe or dangerous way,
- that there will be no child labor, no cartels, no monopolies,
- that no one will pollute the air or rivers, etc.
Because that kind of conduct
- reduces profits (utter nonsense–it increases profits)
- will always be stopped dead by the instant opposition of powerful and enlightened consumers and employees who will rise up and somehow quickly eliminate them (utter nonsense redoux) or
- will be compensated by the courts.
I’m not going to waste any more time debunking that fantasy which is on a par with the communists’ claim that once people are educated to accept the virtues of altruism and sharing the wealth, the need for and the existence of a government will automatically wither away and die.
Anyone who seriously believes either the communist or libertarian magical claims about how things will work in their theoretically perfect world is already beyond the ability to recognize the facts on display in the real world and is so much an inhabitant of an intellectual never-never land that trying to reason with them about how real people work in the real world is a profound waste of time.
The Bottom Line
In an anarchist or libertarian (anarchism light) society,
- Your freedom and your wealth will be equal to your power to defend them.
- Short of violence and outright theft, businesses that either alone or as part of a cartel control a material segment of a societal choke point will be able to do and will do anything that reduces the freedom and wealth of their suppliers, their employees and their customers if it makes them more money.
- The freedom and wealth of ordinary individuals, both as customers and employees, will be at the mercy of and will be taken away by those businesses and cartels.
A libertarian society is a “might makes right” environment where you can keep your money and keep your freedom only to the extent you are powerful enough to defend them against those who will profit by taking them away from you.
Most People Will Be Unwilling To Live In An Anarchist Society
Ordinary people have little power and are not going to be content to live in a world where their freedom and their money are at the mercy of vastly more powerful individuals and corporations.
If given the chance, humans will form a government that will function as their proxy and act as an expression of their collective power to protect themselves from being treated in ways that they think are unfair and unreasonable no matter how much the libertarian theoreticians’ catechism may say otherwise.
An anarchist society is like a farm where, in the name of freedom for themselves, the wolves have forbidden the sheep from hiring a shepherd.
The sheep’s instinct for self preservation will always be in conflict with that philosophy.
This article was originally published at: https://medium.com/government-political-theory-columns-by-david-grace/political-ideologies-cant-work-when-they-conflict-with-human-nature-f49b52e38964