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The libertarian flaw

March 21, 2016

The stated goal of the libertarian movement is maximum individual freedom.  Within libertarian philosophy, government is presented as the main obstacle to such freedom, either as a well-meaning but clumsy roadblock or as a genuinely malicious enemy.

Government arises in response to the conflicts created by the clustering of humanity in groups.  The larger and more diverse the group, the more frequent the occurrence of conflict within that group, the greater the impetus given to the establishment of authority and law, and the more numerous the victims of the law when established.  This function is sometimes closer to being exponential than linear.  Canada, with a population little more than a tenth of that of the United States, has a prison population less than one-one hundredth of that of its southern neighbor.

The physical locations where human beings cluster and come into conflict are called cities.  Individuals are frequently drawn to relocate from the countryside to cities by the presence of industries offering employment in those cities.

Therefore, if government is the enemy of individual liberty, and cities and industries are responsible for the birth or at least the rapid expansion of government, then cities and industries are also the enemies of individual liberty.

Are cities and industries permanent features of human civilizations?  No.  They develop and decline when driven by external factors, the most important of which are the size of the population and its growth rate.  A large population or an expanding population forces more people into close contact with one another, leading to the creation of cities and the rise of industrial production.

Therefore, if the growth of a population, or a large population, is responsible for the creation of cities and industries, and cities and industries are the enemies of individual liberty, then a large population is also the enemy of individual liberty.

And this is the chief flaw in the libertarian line of reasoning.  Libertarian philosophy rejects the use of the state to control or manage social conditions through regulation, but offers no alternative means by which a national, regional, or planetary population may be maintained at a consistently low level over time.  Nevertheless, a limited population is not only conducive to but necessary for the existence of personal liberty.  The closest libertarians come to offering a solution to this problem is to advocate the abolition of centrally-controlled currencies.  This would, of course, put an eventual end to large-scale industrialization and urban areas.  It would not, however, guarantee a reversal of the population growth rate, or the redistribution of the population back into rural areas, or the transformation of a post-industrial economy into an agrarian one.  Without those results, there would still be widespread human conflict, and with it an excuse and even a demand for government interference and protection.  No liberty.  No libertarianism.

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