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Home > Libertarian Objections
There's No Collective or Social Reality
by Bob Powell, 11/12/07
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Might better read: "Some people refuse to recognize reality ... even AFTER they collide with it."
I sent out a column by Paul Krugman, Same Old Party (it's included at bottom), to my distribution with the preface below. I received a response from a libertarian that's worth considering, not because it makes sense, but because it illustrates how disconnected these people are from reality.

There's no talking to them and I have no illusion that anything I say or write will penetrate. This is for those who don't appreciate how they think and how dangerous they are to us all. They must be confronted, their insanity must be exposed, and their policies must be reversed.

Too many people buy into the simplistic libertarian nonsense that's destroying America.


Here's how I prefaced Krugman's column:

From: Bob Powell <scuba@usa.net>
Date: Wed, October 17, 2007 8:19 pm
To: Recipient list suppressed:;
Subject: Same Old Party By PAUL KRUGMAN
The combination of "conservative" (read libertarian) economics and authoritarian disregard of the Constitution is fascism, the combined government and corporate control of the nation.
On the purpose of the Republican, endless "war on terror", read the prophetic and insightful excerpts from the "War as Peace" section of #19 - Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell by Emmanuel Goldstein, The 'Book within a Book' from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four at Liberal Moment #19 - Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Note: Krugman's columns are now available for all to read at no charge at his NY Times web page.
(Read Krugman's column at the bottom.)


Here's the response from a libertarian.

Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2007 22:03:23 -0700
From: JW
Subject: RE: Same Old Party By PAUL KRUGMAN
To: Bob Powell <scuba@usa.net>
Your pathological hatred and misdirection of Libertarianism as having mauch anything to do with "conservatism and its modern practice is becoming both boring and stupid.
Nothing in Krugman's article has anything to do with Libertarian thinking or economics/


Clearly, JW is incapable of understanding what Krugman's column has to do with Libertarianism and "conservative" economics (which on economic issues carries the same message: "eliminate government and let the 'free market' take care of everything"). Their view is that the only purpose of government is to protect individual rights, because there is no such thing as society or a collective.

Here, piece by piece, are comments and responses:

JW. His comment

RP. My response to his comments
JW: His further comments
RP: My response to his further comments.

JW. Your pathological hatred and misdirection of Libertarianism as having mauch anything to do with "conservatism and its modern practice is becoming both boring and stupid.

RP. Congratulations. You're a perfect example of someone blinded by "ignorance is strength" doublethink.

Yes, I despise libertarianism because it leads to the destruction of a civil society and the very freedom libertarians claim to support. The reason I do is that I now have a real understanding of what's going on. Libertarians are sociopaths.

The end product of libertarianism is corporate control of government: fascism. Your defense of it is either ignorant and foolish or purely Orwellian.

JW: Your use of the term sociopath proves my point.  Libertarians, by definition, are THE MOST respectful of others rights and feelings.  Respect of others rights and property is paramount in the Libertarian philosophy.  However, at the same time you seem to have little or no understanding of the meaning of the terms "laws of nature" or "nature's God" as used in the Declaration.  There is no such thing as "social feelings," "social consciousness" or a "social being" or other such silly concepts.  Tell me Bob, where does this common mind or entity exist in humans?  It is a ridiculous creation of the socialist mind itself.  No two people think the same on any issue even if they have some common area of agreement.  Such common agreement is the lowest common denominator of agreement and typically represents the worst possible solution to any problem.  Individuals find their own solutions, negotiate their own agreements and act on their own volition to solve their own problems.  Tell me Bob, when was the last time you formed a committee to buy a house, a car, decide on how many kids to have, take a job or quit a job?  What?  Never?  I'm shocked!  You are the typical example of the common fool who believes such nonsense while actually practicing none of it.

RP: Here it is clearly. They believe:

There's no "social" anything. There is no collective. Only individuals have problems and individuals alone act on their own to solve them. Any idea of a collective reality is the ridiculous creation of a "socialist mind." Anyone who thinks otherwise is a common fool.

The problem with this is of course that there really is a collective dimension that's integral to reality. See What's Spirit Got to Do with It? and Problems: A Society's or An Individual's?

Ever hear that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?"

Well, that's literally true. because systems have "emergent properties." You can't cut an elephant in half and get two elephants; an elephant is the sum of its parts. A mind isn't in the parts of a brain; it's a manifestation of the whole of a brain and the interactions among its parts. There is society and culture that's made up of individuals, but is greater than the individuals themselves.

Here are examples of collectives that have a "mind of their own" and have a profound influence on our decisions, often without us being consciously aware of the influence:

Family. The reality that the family is a collective most directly drives a stake in the heart of libertarian belief.

Anyone who's familiar with the codependency model and has applied it to their own life knows this. When there's an addict in a family, the members of the family warp their behaviors in well-known, common ways to take on roles that help keep the family together. Roles: the enabler, hero, scapegoat, lost child, and mascot.

I once thought codependency had nothing to do with me, but that by attending a codependency workshop, I'd probably learn something anyway. To my great shock and dismay, I found my family members fit these roles exactly. And I'd thought I was too unique for that to be possible. I was too much of an individual to be so influenced. Oh, my.

Beyond this we know that maturity requires balancing between individual needs and family needs. Individuals can't just make their own decisions, independent of the family.

Unless, of course, they're juveniles ... teenagers ... libertarians. Teenagers and libertarians neglect responsibilities to the long-term and to the whole. They adopt a childish, teenage, foot-stomping, "I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it" attitude. Immature, irresponsible. They're not responsible human beings.

Community. Boulder has different values than Colorado Springs. In Boulder they invest in infrastructure and restrict growth to be attractive by maintaining quality of life, but high taxes and higher home prices reduce the regions attractiveness. Colorado Springs tries to remain attractive with low taxes, but infrastructure backlogs grow which makes it less attractive.

In Colorado Springs, excessively influenced by libertarian, right-wing economic beliefs, they want a more "free market" economy that redistributes the costs of development onto the public at large ... cost-side socialism ... that leads to infrastructure backlogs, and they want low taxes that leads to even greater infrastructure backlogs.

Because of national-level policies, problems related to growth cannot be solved at the individual regional level. See the Growth Facts of Life for how regions can be individually logical, but collectively irrational. For other examples of the individually logical, but collectively irrational, see The Trade Deficit and the Fallacy of Composition.

Mob behavior. Mobs behave in ways the individuals in a mob would never behave on their own. The libertarian belief that individuals make their decisions on their own denies this can be.

Culture. There are common sets of beliefs that affect the behavior of individuals in a society. Anyone who's lived in a foreign country (I have) understands that they believe differently and behave differently because of those different beliefs. Every society has a culture that influences individual behaviors. The decisions we make are influenced by society. Even the information we take in is filtered through societal filters, through what our neighbors tell us and through the media. Europeans see the U.S. as dysfunctional and short-sighted, which of course we are. And conservatives quite readily demean Europeans, especially the French.

Soldiers. Soldiers on the battlefield come to understand that they need to look out for each other. They know that there but for the Grace of God go I. I've often heard that they stay with their units because their buddies depend on them ... they're part of their unit, their team, their ... uhh ... collective.

The same is true for each of us. When we see a homeless person on the street, "There but for the Grace of God go I." Some people can work their way out of poverty, but national policies condemn at least 12% of us to live in poverty. See There's no 'free market' for Labor for why.

Committees? No, we don't "form a committee." It's more subtle than that. We're heavily, and mostly subconsciously, influenced by the beliefs of our family, our community, and our culture. Even what we perceive gets to us through filters. These filters let some information through and not other information.

JW. Nothing in Krugman's article has anything to do with Libertarian thinking or economics/

RP. This really proves you're either blind or can't read.

It's EXACTLY about that ... privatizing government functions into the hands of unaccountable corporations as contractors. Halliburton even moves to Dubai to escape scrutiny. These private corporations then use their profits to fund elections and control politicians ... creating fascism. That's why the occupation of Iraq, with more private contractors than troops, is so difficult to end ... tons of money are being made through "war profiteering."

JW: No Bob, it proves you can neither read nor think much without hurting yourself.  Libertarians neither desire or condone use of the state by rent-seeking corporations to obtain benefit for themselves.  Libertarians demand exactly the opposite.  An end to state power exactly so corporations cannot seek influence or benefit from them.  Without a huge sate apparatus in place to manipulate corporations live and die according to the free-market, not government induced influence through handing out power and benefits.  this again proves your breath-taking misunderstanding of Libertarian philosophy and practice.

RP: Now this is really telling. Corporations are fictional entities. They ONLY exist through the power of the state that defines them and the rules by which they operate: in the shareholder interest with limited liability. It's impossible to get rid of the state apparatus and have corporations.

The idea that there's a "huge state apparatus" that manipulates corporations ignores that it's the reverse. Corporations manipulate government to define the rules to serve their interests. These rules allow them to privatize the profits and socialize the costs onto the public through negative externalities.
Examples of negative externalities are pollution, injuries and deaths of employees, and increasing burden on infrastructure required to support their ability to sell and distribute their products. A smaller, less-powerful government that does not serve the public, the common, the collective interest only makes it possible for corporations to manipulate government more easily.
Libertarians would say that the individual should just sue the corporation to enforce their individual rights to recover damages. But when there's pollution, the cost to any given individual may be small and, on an individual basis, it won't be economically possible. If the pollution causes death, then each individual has to prove individually that the pollution caused the death; again this is not economically feasible.
This "you just don't understand Libertarian philosophy" is a recurring response to those who expose its flaws.
RP. "Baghdad Year Zero" (print-friendly versions: Word and PDF formats) explains that it's "freedom" and economic insecurity that have brought on much of the violence in Iraq. The neocon plans for a perfect libertarian "corporate utopia" morphed into a perfectly "ghoulish dystopia."
Attempts to be purely "libertarian" on economics inevitably slide toward the upper right of fascism (I don't totally agree with The Political Compass chart (see the "International Chart" on the Analysis page) ... fascism isn't simply at the top, it's at the top-right corner (see here) because "path dependence" creates powerful monopolies that control government ... as now.
Also see #17. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism that describes how the "free market" is incompatible with democracy ... very much like the "War is Peace" mentality with so-called "free market" reforms only being possible in a state of war and/or disaster.
For where the candidates are on the political spectrum, see #15. The Political Spectrum - 2007 Primaries. I wrote the Political Compass site on how their positioning of Gravel should be further to the right because of his support of the idiotic 'Fair Tax' plan. Someone from the site called from England to thank me and express interest in my site. He said he doesn't think Gravel really understands what he's endorsing.
He noted that "libertarians" complain about some of their questions. Like:
If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.
They don't like this question because they ignorantly believe that "free market", "free trade" economic globalization can ONLY serve humanity.

JW: What you do not seem to comprehend is about the difference between the current fascist corporatism enabled by the massive state vs true free-market capitalism which, again, is breath-taking.  You continue to confuse the government controlled and manipulated "capitalism" with actual free-markets.  Until the misanthropic conflation of such concepts can be rectified, I'm certain you'll continue to evince your misguided views upon the rest of us.

RP: Again, the idea that there is a "true free-market capitalism" independent of government ignores that corporations are a creation of government. They're a creation of, and protected from accountability by, the state he demeans.
It is possible to have the equivalent of corporations without the state. (We have to refer to the "equivalent" because corporations are chartered by the state. Duhh.) The equivalent is a feudal society, with individuals as serfs pledging allegiance to their feudal lords. Individuals have little, if any, choice because the power of the individual pales compared to that of the feudal lord.
When we have corporations that operate without labor and environmental standards that prevent them from externalizing the cost onto the public and that can assure the demand for labor is less than the supply to hold down wages, then what we have is a feudal society where the feudal lord IS THE STATE and in total control.
Fascism is the end result of "small government" that cannot control corporations, but is instead controlled by them.
For there to be "free enterprise" there must be a state to eliminate negative externalities and prevent structure of "path dependence" from creating monopolies that destroy the very competition that conservatives and libertarians worship. This structure is one of the many "systems thinking archetypes"; see them in the document, "The Archetypes, Generic Structures & Examples," on this page: ST & Problem Solving - Spring 2004. These are examples of recurring structures that illustrate that the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.
Government is needed for other purposes as well: to take advantage of positive externalities, to address adverse selection, and to invest in the long-term interests of the nation. See Explaining Liberal Principles.
Libertarians and other economic "conservatives," like Niccolo Machiavelli in the 16th century, believe that when government sticks its nose into any area, it does far more damage than good. But that doesn't have to be the case. See the discussion of this belief at Government Dysfunction.
Libertarians live in the 21st century with 16th century minds. .

Books on corporate power:
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
When Corporations Rule the World by David C Korten

Same Old Party By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: October 8, 2007

There have been a number of articles recently that portray President Bush as someone who strayed from the path of true conservatism. Republicans, these articles say, need to return to their roots.

Well, I don't know what true conservatism is, but while doing research for my forthcoming book I spent a lot of time studying the history of the American political movement that calls itself conservatism -- and Mr. Bush hasn't strayed from the path at all. On the contrary, he's the very model of a modern movement conservative.

For example, people claim to be shocked that Mr. Bush cut taxes while waging an expensive war. But Ronald Reagan also cut taxes while embarking on a huge military buildup.

People claim to be shocked by Mr. Bush's general fiscal irresponsibility. But conservative intellectuals, by their own account, abandoned fiscal responsibility 30 years ago. Here's how Irving Kristol, then the editor of The Public Interest, explained his embrace of supply-side economics in the 1970s: He had a "rather cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or fiscal problems" because "the task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority -- so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government."

People claim to be shocked by the way the Bush administration outsourced key government functions to private contractors yet refused to exert effective oversight over these contractors, a process exemplified by the failed reconstruction of Iraq and the Blackwater affair.

But back in 1993, Jonathan Cohn, writing in The American Prospect, explained that "under Reagan and Bush, the ranks of public officials necessary to supervise contractors have been so thinned that the putative gains of contracting out have evaporated. Agencies have been left with the worst of both worlds -- demoralized and disorganized public officials and unaccountable private contractors."

People claim to be shocked by the Bush administration's general incompetence. But disinterest in good government has long been a principle of modern conservatism. In "The Conscience of a Conservative," published in 1960, Barry Goldwater wrote that "I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size."

People claim to be shocked that the Bush Justice Department, making a mockery of the Constitution, issued a secret opinion authorizing torture despite instructions by Congress and the courts that the practice should stop. But remember Iran-Contra? The Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, violating a legal embargo, and used the proceeds to support the Nicaraguan contras, defying an explicit Congressional ban on such support.

Oh, and if you think Iran-Contra was a rogue operation, rather than something done with the full knowledge and approval of people at the top -- who were then protected by a careful cover-up, including convenient presidential pardons -- I've got a letter from Niger you might want to buy.

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration's efforts to disenfranchise minority groups, under the pretense of combating voting fraud. But Reagan opposed the Voting Rights Act, and as late as 1980 he described it as "humiliating to the South."

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration's attempts -- which, for a time, were all too successful -- to intimidate the press. But this administration's media tactics, and to a large extent the people implementing those tactics, come straight out of the Nixon administration. Dick Cheney wanted to search Seymour Hersh's apartment, not last week, but in 1975. Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, was Nixon's media adviser.

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration's attempts to equate dissent with treason. But Goldwater -- who, like Reagan, has been reinvented as an icon of conservative purity but was a much less attractive figure in real life -- staunchly supported Joseph McCarthy, and was one of only 22 senators who voted against a motion censuring the demagogue.

Above all, people claim to be shocked by the Bush administration's authoritarianism, its disdain for the rule of law. But a full half-century has passed since The National Review proclaimed that "the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail," and dismissed as irrelevant objections that might be raised after "consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal" -- presumably a reference to the document known as the Constitution of the United States.

Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: "Well, how did we get here?" They may tell themselves: "This is not my beautiful Right." They may ask themselves: "My God, what have we done?"

But their movement is the same as it ever was. And Mr. Bush is movement conservatism's true, loyal heir.

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Libertarian Denial of The Commons, Global Warming & Path Dependence
I Can Disprove 'Progressive' Anti-think
Government Dysfunction
"Fallacy of the Commons"
The Commons: What Tragedy? by Wilton D. Alston
Problems: A Society's or An Individual's?
Command and Control
Libertarian Quotes
There's No Collective or Social Reality
Objection to 'Explaining Liberal Principles'