I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, when I came across a recent post from Being Libertarian, espousing that libertarians are not selfish.
This could not be more fallacious, as it completely contradicts one of the many hardships of being a human – namely, being selfish. I don’t think it is a wise idea strategically or otherwise to sugarcoat the idea that libertarians, just like all humans, are indeed selfish. Though, I do believe our selfishness better serves those less fortunate than the selfishness possessed by progressives and conservatives alike.
Aaron Virkler, the author of “An Open Letter to the Left: No Libertarians Are Not Selfish“, made some great points defending voluntarism in the face of state intervention, yet completely missed the point of the selfishness of the voluntarist ideology. Virkler touted that private charities not only donated upwards of $373 billion in 2015, but that number has actually increased from the previous year. Not only are we donating, but we are donating in an upwards trend.
However, Virkler fails to realize the selfishness involved in donating to those less fortunate, namely gaining a greater psychic profit. He highlights the desire to serve selfish needs through helping those less fortunate when he examines how Being Libertarian was able to raise $10,000 in just 5 days; and then he turns to the money Bernie Sanders raised, some $228 million, during his campaign. I’m not arguing that these donations happened voluntarily; certainly, they did (and out of selfishness, I must say, that I did play a part in donating to the Being Libertarian campaign). I am, more importantly, arguing that they did not happen in spite of selfishness, rather they happened out of selfishness.
Those who contributed to the campaign popularized by Being Libertarian did so to help, yes, and as a byproduct of helping, to gain a more favorable opinion by those who do not share our ideology. The latter reasoning is precisely selfishness. The same is true for all the Bernie donors. True, they wanted to help Bernie win, but they also wanted the benefits they would receive if Bernie actually won. Again, this is the epitome of selfishness.
Virkler, it seems, confuses selfishness in terms of monetary profits with the selfishness of psychic profits highlighted above, but there is no distinguishing factor between the two. Both arise out of humans acting voluntarily, applying means to achieve certain ends. Whether the ends are more monetary profit, or psychic profit is irrelevant, but they happen out of selfishness.
Imagine for a second: You are out holiday shopping and there’s a Salvation Army representative ringing a bell outside for donations. You can either choose to donate, or not. If you choose the former, you are donating to help, yes, but you are also donating to feel good about yourself, i.e. to raise your psychic profit. Selfishness is not, as erroneously believed, to be confined to monetary amounts.
Selfishness is not an inherent trait of libertarianism, but rather an inherent trait of human nature. We can stress this notion with both progressives and conservatives. First, let’s examine a progressive view. Progressives think taxation, with the implicit threat of force, is the best way to “help the poor” because they lack – despite believing that government just needs the “right guy” – basic trust in humans to do good strictly because they deny psychic profit having any bearing on an individual’s selfish action. They themselves are acting selfish by calling on the government, rather than themselves, to help those less fortunate. They think forcing others to help is morally superior than trusting others to help, so much so that they gain a psychic profit by calling on government to help.
Conservatives suffer from the same kind of selfishness.
Let’s examine abortion issues. Conservatives are largely against abortions because they see it as morally reprehensible. This leads them to castigate organizations such as Planned Parenthood as they commit atrocities, as conservatives see it. But here too, they are acting out of selfish desires, namely that abortion is morally reprehensible. In other words, they gain a higher psychic profit by knowing fetuses aren’t killed in the womb.
As we can see, selfishness is not limited to monetary profits, per se, but rather extended to any action that will make any individual feel better, and will differ for each and every individual. Virkler’s fatal misconception is displayed in one of his last sentences, “Helping others on a voluntary basis is in no way a selfish preference.” As I have highlighted, this is completely faulty, and in the long-run, a bad strategic move.
Libertarians should lead by example, and the desire to help others with the implicit benefit of leading by example is selfish. Strategically, we should not deny this. Rather, we should emphasize the potential psychic profit gained by helping others, to convince progressives (and conservatives) that in many cases the psychic profit gained will outweigh the monetary loss ensued. If this is true, and it can only be determined by individuals acting voluntarily, then the individual will act to gain the most profit, whether it be psychic or monetary.
I believe not denying our selfishness will fare better in changing minds about our “radical” views than the argument put forth by Virkler.
* John Douglas has a fierce desire to change the world by spreading the messages of liberty. John provides keen insights on politics and economics through a libertarian lens based on his own personal experiences and attempts to provide logical solutions to some of our nations most enduring misconceptions. He blogs at www.gimmelibertyblog.com.