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L. Neil Smith's
Number 595, November 14, 2010

"The secession of the individual from the state"

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Temet Nosce
by Boyd W. Smith

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
—Sun Tzu

When one wants to see one's self a mirror is used. And that works for a single person. If the mirror is large enough, two, three or even more may look at the same time. But when you wish to have thousands look at themselves, a mirror just does not do. Then it takes something else. In this case a study done by 5 people at 3 different universities has taken an admitted important first step in understanding the psychology and morality of Libertarians.

It is a good read and can be found here. I found it through Reason magazine.

It can serve as a first glance at us. It takes a look at the role of psychological predispositions in formation of political attitudes. In other words why are we libertarians—libertarians?

And what did I find when I read the study? I found that instead of being "immoral calculating rationalists who also have a somewhat unseemly hedonistic bent."1, libertarians have a very highly developed and strong moral sense. I was shocked. And pleased. But it turns out to be very different in foundation and form from what liberals (those on the left side of the diamond) and from what conservatives (those on the right side of the diamond) or even, I assume, statist (those at the bottom) who weren't even considered at a separate group in this study.

Libertarian morality has been found in this study to be based upon placing the most important value upon the individual as the most important moral actor. Whereas liberals place more importance upon humanity as a whole and conservatives place more importance upon the group that one identifies with or is a member of. Both of those political identities are more based upon emotion than upon an application of reason and logic. And both regard groups as more important.

Libertarians (at least the ones in this study) have revealed that they "rely upon reason more—and emotion less—than will either liberals or conservatives."2 Something that I found to be very pleasing and rather expected. Almost all libertarians I know are much more concerned with the logic and rationality of a position or an argument than with its effect upon any one person, group, or organization. In fact Ayn Rand who laid the philosophical ground work upon which our political movement is the expression was a great proponent of logic and reason.

One of the most prominent personality factors found was the tendency among libertarians towards logic and reason. Much more pronounced than was found for either conservatives or liberals.

My belief is that our moral foundation is based upon individual liberty because it is more rational and logical to base a moral system upon such. Indeed this is a very common theme in both Libertarian and Objectivist writings. But, the study did not go into whether we are more logical because of our predispositions toward libertarianism, more libertarian because of our predispositions towards logic, or whether they are both expressions of the same psychological predispositions.

The study found that the range of libertarian moral concerns is very narrow in scope. In fact when all moral choices are examined with individual liberty being the paramount value it is unsurprising that libertarians are found to place all moral situations in the context of how it impacted individual liberty. It was not even just in the context of any particular person's liberty, but it also applied to individual liberty as a concept. It was even found that libertarians while showing less emotional in general exhibited their strongest reaction against interference from others in our exercise of our liberty.

Conservatives were found to have a much higher reliance on conformity, loyalty and tradition as guides in moral choices than were libertarians or liberals. Whereas liberals were found to rely on the concepts of harm, benevolence and altruism more than either conservatives or libertarians do. Libertarians relied on none of the traditional concepts of morality. But we matched where the other two groups we rated low on their reliance for those concepts.

We are also less affected by things that disgust conservatives and similar in our measure of disgust to things as are liberals. This is a measure of tolerance. This means, that we do not care what you do in your private life, but if you take pictures, we will want to see them but we will not be pushy about it.

When compared on dimensions of compassion, sympathy, and empathy to conservatives and liberals, libertarians exhibit much less of these. We will make fun of you in the pictures.

Libertarians were also found to be "more individualistic and independent compared to both liberals and conservatives"3. We value these traits. Libertarians look for these traits in other people and wish to associate with others who are like us. This is why we have the Libertarian Party. Humans are social creatures and need interaction with other humans. They also tend to want to hang out with those people who see the world in the same way. But that is a very much documented human trait. We will take pictures of ourselves and our close personal friends.

So when we look in this mirror, we see rational, logical, emotionally controlled and un-sympathetic people who are generally highly educated and who seek scientific explanations for the things that happen in the world. Sounds like Mr. Spock. And Vulcans are cool.

This is who we are.

But what about those other guys—the conservatives and the liberals? Compared to us they are less likely to try and use rational thought to form a system of morals. They are more likely to sacrifice the liberty of people to try and help them. Failing to realize that individual liberty is a justifiable end. Not just the best means for human achievement.

They are more reactionary and more emotional than we are. And there is a possible biological component. Like the study said "Psychologists have long theorized that values evolve from the interaction of heritable dispositions, childhood learning, and social-contextual factors"4. So, there is hope. They just outnumber us at the moment. We might need to engage in more outreach and education to the young. Because the strength of any of these factors is unknown and we might be able to teach liberty, freedom, logic, reason and capitalism to our young people and have a much more rational population in the future, and if we can do enough of this, maybe in the very near future.

Some of them are people that actually believe that not only are they their brother's keeper, but that everybody should be so. There are also some of them who believe that liberty is only appropriate as a means to an end and is disposable as needed. They completely fail to realize that individual liberty is necessary condition for human existence as humans. Nor is it realized that it is morally wrong to impose the position of 'brother's keeper' upon anyone or their brother unwillingly.

So, the question is how do we ensure that the paramount moral concern of individual liberty is preserved?

The thing is we are similar to liberals in some things. Similar to conservatives in other things. But are more logical and rational than either of them. And that I believe is our ultimate strength. We need to cooperate with the liberals in the goals that we have in common by appealing to their empathy and concern and respect for personal freedom. We need to work with conservatives on those goals that we have in common by appealing to their need and respect for stability and tradition and economic freedom. Even though we correctly value economic and personal liberty more than either of those two groups. And where we have goals that are uniquely our own, we can find a way to play one of them against the other and gain the support of that group that is more like us in that goal.

We need to have a plan that does this. And we should be able to do this. We just need to think, analyze, and plan. And those are our strengths.


1. The Science of Libertarian Morality, Reason Magazine Reason Magazine, Ronald Bailey

2. Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology. Ravi Iyer, Spassena P. Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter H. Ditto, and Jonathan Haidt ; pg 23

3. Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology. Ravi Iyer, Spassena P. Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter H. Ditto, and Jonathan Haidt ; pg 29

4. Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology. Ravi Iyer, Spassena P. Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter H. Ditto, and Jonathan Haidt ; Pg 17


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