L. Neil Smith's
Number 183, July 22, 2002


The Menace of the Libertarian Materialist
by Bob Wallace

Exclusive to TLE

"What if everyone believed it and acted on it?" is one question I always ask. If everyone followed "Do not murder" and "Do not steal" only good would come from it. You could say, "As you sow, you reap." People can believe what they want; they should be very careful before they act on it. Ideas have consequences, as Richard Weaver wrote. The truth, I believe, produces goodness. False ideas produce evil. The Truth, as the saying goes, will set you free. Simple cause and effect.

When I ask, "What if everyone believed in materialism?" I see only catastrophe in the future. It has certainly produced catastrophe in the past. It hasn't set people free, but instead enslaved and murdered them. When I say "materialism" I mean philosophical materialism, which is the belief that matter is all there that exists. Everything else-- life, consciousness, self-consciousness--is just epiphenomena. This, roughly speaking, is what science is based upon (I am not anti- science; I just believe it is for the most part based on the wrong premises, which limits its effectiveness).

Materialism I believe to be a false idea that will always have very poisonous effects. It's a bad tree producing bad fruit. Put it this way: if materialism is true, why are we not at home in such a universe? We should be quite comfortable in it, no matter how ugly it is. But we're not. Most people simply cannot say about it, "Never mind."

There are libertarians who are materialists. Usually, they're atheists who believe in evolution. Personally, I believe they are, in that particular way, leftists, but don't know it. I also believe materialism is a menace not only to libertarianism, but to freedom and peace. Ultimately, to humanity. Protest all that you want, but it essentially reduces Man to an animal. From there, it's but a short step to a cockroach. From there, it's even a shorter step to squishing him. That's why 177 million people died in 20th century wars.

The late Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, in his Leftism Revisited, (a book I can't recommend highly enough) placed materialism as the main characteristic of leftism. When you look at 20th century materialists, who you find are leftists such as Marx, Hitler, Stalin and Lenin. They were, to use one of Reinhold Niebuhr's terms, "Children of Darkness." Ah, yes, let's not forget Darwin and Freud.

"The Children of Darkness have always been more clever than the Children of Light," writes Kuehnelt-Leddihn. And materialism is a clever little philosophy. The materialistic, atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins, for a well-known example, is a clever little writer, one who I think protests just a little too much against those who disagree with him. Usually I find such people are protesting against their own tendency to want to believe.

Ayn Rand, a pseudo-libertarian child of darkness, for all her writings about libertarianism and reason, was also a leftist materialist. Like her unacknowledged mentor Nietzche, she attempted to impose her own will on what she considered to be a meaningless material universe. If you want to see what her philosophy invariably produces, once it reaches a critical mass, read Ellen Plasil's autobiographical Therapist.

The Princeton pseudo-philosopher Pete Singer is a perfect example of a hard-core materialist. He supports euthanasia, infanticide, bestiality, and, worst of all, vegetarianism. Sometimes I think Singer is just pulling everyone's leg. I'll bet he's not having sex with a chimpanzee, even if she makes goo-goo eyes at him while wearing a bikini.

There are, of course, people who have opposed materialism. C.S. Lewis used much of his writings -- especially his Space Trilogy--to point out the deleterious effects of materialism. Before him (and strongly influencing Lewis) was G.K. Chesterton.

Lewis saw Western civilization in the pernicious grip of four of materialism's most damaging characteristics: the rejection of reason and objective truth, the denial of personal responsibility, the dismissal of objective morality and the encouragement of coercive utopianism.

Materialism believes life, thought and emotion are nothing more than products of matter and evolution. "Reason" doesn't really exist, not as objective truth (hence such silliness as feminist or Marxist "logic"); empiricism is what really counts. An extreme example of this is B.F. Skinner's behaviorism, which believes only our behavior matters; what goes on inside of us is irrelevant. This led to such logical absurdities, as Scott Ryan has told me, of Skinner debating the philosopher Brand Blandshard and claiming Shakespeare's body could write his plays with no Shakespeare inside.

This raises the question of how a libertarian materialist believes that political liberty and economic freedom are the best way for humanity to live. Is it objective truth, discoverable through logic and reason? They'll often claim that liberty and economic freedom "evolved" as being best for humans, but they're on really shaky ground, since materialism is an essentially nihilistic philosophy that has no defense against murder. Or genocide. They're trying to use a foundation that won't support what they believe. It's a foundation that supports Hitler a lot more than it supports von Mises.

Then there is the denial of personal responsibility. This is one of the main characteristics of modern liberalism. When someone does something bad, it's not his fault; he's just the product of his environment. A libertarian materialist does believe in personal responsibility, but he's stuck with explaining how this can be when we are just the amoral products of meaningless evolution. Ultimately, what's wrong with murder or stealing? Animals do it all the time. They evolved that way; they're not responsible for what they are. Why should we be? Why should I act responsibly? I'm just the product of my environment.

And certainly objective moral truth doesn't exist. Different moralities evolve in different cultures. One is no better than another. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It's leftist multi- culturalism. Libertarian materialists will deny multi-culturalism, but but still prove themselves to be moral relativists by saying such things as, "I see nothing wrong with a single woman having a baby and raising it without a father." (This is also related to the denial of self-responsibility, as when they claim the extended family should help. This is saying, "Since I was selfish and irresponsible and can't raise the kid by myself, the extended family should help out and be responsible whether they want to or not.")

Last, we have the encouragement of coercive utopianism. No one who claims to be a libertarian can believe in the coercion of the State. But some libertarian materialists -- leftists, as I said -- do believe in a Utopia on Earth. We just need to get rid of the State, and religion. Then we will all be "free." Kuehnelt-Leddihn called the typical leftist "a utopian dreamer without honor." If this is true, then typical libertarian materialists would have a strong tendency to be dreamers lacking in honor and trustworthiness, and who would savagely attack (attempt to coerce, maybe?) those who disagree with them. Objectivists, and some anarcho-capitalists, are like this. They consistently attack others and attempt to coerce them in believing in their utopian fantasies.

I don't even consider materialism to be a mythology. It's more like a superstition. I think the moral relativists in libertarianism -- the atheistic, materialistic, pro-abortion types -- are why the general public, when it thinks of libertarians, says, "Aren't they the ones who just want to get high?"

The Founding Fathers, classical liberals (the precursor of libertarianism), were either Christians or very sympathetic to religion (with the exception of Thomas Paine, obviously). It was a good base for a country. Since they thought there was a transcendent order, they believed in Natural Law and Natural Rights. If one is a materialist, ultimately the only right one can believe in is that might makes right. That's not only materialistic, it's pagan.

For all its problems, the US has lasted for over 200 years, because it wasn't founded on a materialist base. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, on the other hand, were.

Can you have a libertarianism based on materialism? I don't think you can. It's a house built on sand. Since I can't see the future, I can't predict exactly what it will produce. But I can say this: it wouldn't be pretty.



Advanced Book Exchange

Help Support TLE by patronizing our advertisers and affiliates.
We cheerfully accept donations!

to advance to the next article
to return to the previous article
Table of Contents
to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 183, July 22, 2002