Are Libertarians Unusually Selfish?

Some excerpts from Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (which is once again in stock at Amazon). [Please excuse the inconsistent capitalization of “left”. That’s because I’m grabbing text from different pre-publication versions.]

First, a pervasive criticism:

Many critics believe that libertarians are unusually selfish people. They think libertarians are opposed to helping others. They regard libertarianism as a defense of selfishness.

Another iteration:

Critics often say that libertarianism is just an attempt to rationalize greed and selfishness. For instance, the conservative Michael Gersen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, asserts that people turn to libertarianism during late adolescence because adolescents are egoistical and self-centered.

I respond, to start, that at base libertarians are no different from others. Some egalitarians are pompous jerks, the kind of people who will say to grad students, “Oh, you want to go to dinner with me? Let’s go to this expensive NYC restaurant, and you students can foot the bill in exchange for the privilege.” (Yes, I’m referring to a real person, but I won’t say whom.) Some are kind and loving people. Some socialists are callous and cruel. Others are generous and warm. Same with libertarians.

Are there systematic differences? Jonathan Haidt’s work show us some differences in people’s expressed attitudes, but we don’t know much about their behavior. (Also, many people whom I would classify as libertarian in this book–such as Jason Brennan–Haidt classifies as liberal.)

In principle, social scientists could study whether people of some ideologies tend to be more selfish than others. As far as I know, no one has done so. So, if we ask whether libertarians are more selfish than others, the answer is that we do not know, and we do not have any reason to think they are.

We might try to make such estimates by seeing whether libertarians donate more to charity. And, in fact, some social scientific work indicates that support for free markets is positively correlated with more charitable giving, even once you control for religious giving. Does that prove libertarians are actually less selfish?

…it’s tempting to conclude free market supporters are thus more selfless and benevolent than socialists and members of the left. After all, donating to charity costs real wealth. If I give thousands to charity, that’s a vacation I don’t take. In contrast, to advocate or vote for a welfare state with high tax rates costs me nothing. Suppose a left-liberal votes for a candidate who promises to triple her taxes and give the proceeds to the poor. Her vote has almost zero chance of changing her actual tax rates. (The left should be thus careful in accusing libertarians of selfishness.)

However, we should not rush to this conclusion. Perhaps the left gives less because they believe private charity does not work. On their behalf, we might say: If you refuse to throw money at what you regard as bad medicine, this does not show you are indifferent to the disease.

See how nice I am to the Left? If you give less, it might not be because you care less. It might instead be because you think that giving doesn’t work. That’s the charitable thing to say. But charity goes both ways here.

… libertarians often criticize institutions the left believes help the poor. For instance, libertarians often criticize the welfare state. To the left, this comes across as callous indifference to the plight of the poor. Yet most libertarians criticize the welfare state because they believe the welfare state hurts the poor more than it helps them. If libertarians refuse to throw money at what they regard as bad medicine, this does not show they are indifferent to the disease.

There’s a difference in strategy here.

When members of the left want government to help people, they often seek to have government do so in the most direct way: through handouts. Libertarians argue the best way to help the poor is indirect. Left-liberals say, “Let’s help the poor by giving them health insurance.” Libertarians say, “Let’s help by creating background conditions that generate so much wealth that no one needs a handout.” Left-liberals say, “Let’s give the poor free food.” Libertarians say, “Let’s create background conditions that make the poor rich so they can buy their own food.”

Why are we so suspicious of others’ motives? That’s only natural:

Psychologists have shown that most of us are biased to believe that people who hold political views contrary to ours must be stupid, irrational, and evil. It is no surprise that members of the left tend to think libertarians are selfish. They regard their own political beliefs as the only sensible expression of benevolence. They thus conclude libertarians must be selfish and cold-hearted.

It cuts both ways.

Libertarians are also suspicious of the left. Libertarians do not take it for granted that social democrats are benevolent or concerned for social justice. From the libertarian point of view, whenever the Left has power—and it frequently does—it seems all too eager to grant special favors to elite financiers, corporations, and special interests. Worse, many on the Left oppose free immigration. To libertarians, this makes the Left’s expression concern for the poor seem disingenuous.

And, of course, talk is cheap.

…if I publically advocate a welfare state, people will tend to assume I am a loving and kind person. I can feel good about myself, even if I haven’t actually done anything to help anyone. It is cheap and easy for me to advocate having people fed. I get to enjoy the warm glow of benevolence at no cost to myself.

  • One point you don’t touch on there is that there is a strain of libertarian thought that actually does advocate selfishness. Ayn Rand is, of course, salient in that regard; but it occurs in some people who do not seem to be Randians.

    Adolescents may indeed be egoistic. But they are also in the process of learning to take control of their own lives. That may be an alternative explanation of why libertarianism appeals to adolescents (if, indeed, it does – which seems doubtful, since most adolescents with an interest in politics seem to be Marxists of some kind).

    • Hi Danny, yeah, I didn’t mention her here. In the book, though, I discuss Rand at some length, in part as a response to the question, “Do libertarians believe everyone should be selfish?”

    • Sean II

      Given how much time and effort they spend trying to win the approval of others by conforming to the norms of their peer group, adolescents are definitely not selfish in the sense intended by Rand. Even the young Objectivists one encounters on campus seem to be merely putting it on as a strategy to get themselves noticed.

      Standard disclaimer: Rand said some crazy, nasty, nutty things (dexedrine will do that to you if you keep at it long enough). But one thing for which she deserves much more credit, is crafting a definition of selfishness that rises far above the grubby, self-destructive solipsism of the teenage dirtbag.

      Most adolescents are Peter Keatings at heart. If they think Rand is validating them as they are (and many do seem to think that), well…the joke’s on them.

  • martinbrock

    Whether people advocating a more libertarian order are more or less selfish than “leftists” and others advocating other organizing principles is one question.

    Whether a libertarian order would make people more or less selfish is a different question. Are freer people more selfish? Is “every man for himself” the natural impulse of men unyoked by an egalitarian master? Does “egalitarian master” even make sense?

  • trog69

    “From the libertarian point of view, whenever the Left has power—and it frequently does—it seems all too eager to grant special favors to elite financiers, corporations, and special interests. Worse, many on the Left oppose free immigration. …”

    Great job showing the hypocrisy of Democratic pols, but I don’t know very many Leftists who expouse either one of those actions.

    On a different note, please, show me where I can read about Libertarian solutions to poverty and it’s resultant adverse effects. I agree that if I am honest, I’ll gladly accept whatever will result in a better outcome.

    • martinbrock

      I’m not sure who qualifies as a Leftist these days, and I don’t much care, but as a libertarian, I’ve always felt more “left wing” than “right wing”, for what it’s worth, which isn’t much.

      The principal libertarian solution to poverty is an opportunity to exploit a comparative advantage through specialization and trade in a free market. To understand why people, even people with relatively little education and other advantages, have comparative advantages to exploit, start with David Ricardo.

      Beyond specialization and trade, libertarians like David Beito discuss mutual aid societies and fraternal organizations. A mutual aid society is not a charity, with the poor dependent upon the generosity rich. It’s more like an insurance pool. Insecurity is a characteristic of the free society, so free people will join insurance pools.

      “Every man for himself” does not well describe the state of nature either, not remotely. Hume’s war of all against all is nonsense biologically. Hume obviously never observed a herd of gazelles or even a pride of lions.

  • Jim

    people turn to libertarianism during late adolescence because adolescents are egoistical and self-centered.

    Adolescents tend to be students and students tend to be in favor of socialism especially in regards to schooling. Adolescents tend to earn less and be less sure of their own ability to take care of themselves which is another reason that they tend to be for more Government programs. In the middle part of life people tend to for less government spending. Late in life people tend to be for less government spending on everything except SS and Medicare and fro more spending on SS and Medicare.

    These show that people tend to be selfish at every age. It just manifests differently.

  • j r

    It depends on what you mean by selfish. Do you mean selfishness as a personality trait or selfishness as a political or moral principal? If it’s the former, then no, there’s no evidence, not even anectodal, that would suggest libertarians are especially selfish.

    As you point out, however, talk is cheap and many people hold some form of principled belief in selfishness or selflessness. For many progressives, it is important to appear to be selfless (by holding the appropriate political opinions, for instance) even if that appearance isn’t matched by any great degree of personal generosity. Likewise, you may have someone who bloviates ad naseum about looters and moochers, but who would give his neighbor the shirt from his back if there were a need.

    I have noticed no strong correlation between these two modes of selfish/selflessness. In fact, the relationship could well be inverted. Perhaps the personally selfish often feel a strong need to disguise themeselves behind the appropriately selfless political viewpoint. And simarlarly, perhaps the personally selfless adopt an outwardly Randian bluster as a sort of defense mechanism. That’s all speculation, of course.

  • Counsellor

    Self-awareness is often misperceived as selfishness or self-centeredness.

    There is no general “Libertarian ” persona.

    It is the viewpoints that are Libertarian .

    Viewpoints do not necessarily bespeak a persona .

    It is quite possible that most of those who hold (particularly those who have formed) Libertarian views may have a higher degree of self-awareness .

    However, we have to accept that there is no accounting for misperceptions.
    Often, it is pointless to attempt to correct them.


    Many critics believe that libertarians are unusually selfish people. Yeah, so what? If it turned out that Einstein was a really nasty person in his personal life (and there is at least some truth to this), do we therefore discard General Relativity. This is literally a stupid, ad hominem argument; but you cannot refute a political philosophy by attacking the character of those who hold it.

  • Sean II

    The parts where all or most libertarians need to come clean in re selfishness are:

    1) The knowledge aspect. We definitely believe people know best how to care of themselves, even if we disagree about whether that’s their main moral purpose in life. Most of us also believe people turn into idiots or worse the minute they start trying to manage each other’s lives. If that is not a type of selfishness, I don’t know what is.

    2) The economic aspect. Every time we talk about the power and the importance of incentives, we’re saying that people are reliably moved by self-interest. To the extent that we accept this a basic fact of human behavior, we are also accepting it as morally unobjectionable. Our opponents are ready to use force (with few limits) to over-turn the verdict of incentives. We usually aren’t. That must mean we are advocating a type of selfishness, or at least tolerating it (at what others believe to be an intolerable cost).

    The more explicit positions like self-ownership or Randian egoism are plenty controversial around here, but those points seem very widely shared by libertarians of all stripes.

    • Actually, I reject both (1) and (2).

      It seems to me false that people know best how to care of themselves. People often seek advice on that topic, and probably all of us offer some people advice on that topic from time to time. What I would say is that people are entitled to take care of themselves and are thus entitled to ask for advice or to accept advice when offered.

      The importance of incentives is not necessarily connected with self-interest (though it usually is). For example, some credit cards and savings accounts offer as an incentive to potential customers that the bank will make donations to some charity in proportion to money spent or saved. Now, of course, you can say that this appeals to self-interest too, in the sense that the customers must have in interest in helping the charity. But such an interest is not egoistic, and it is self-interest as egoism that we are talking about here.

      • Sean II

        I urge you to reflect on that. Point 1) is just a natural consequence of taking the calculation problem seriously. Life is a complex business, full of costs, benefits, trade-offs, etc. The only person who is consistently in a position to understand the trade-offs in your account is you (and of course that would include understanding when it might be advantageous to seek advice, and when it might not).

        But let’s say you gave control of your life over to some supremely clever computer, programmed to maximize utility. In individual cases it might well make better trades than you would make for yourself, but in the long run it will prove ignorant, because it lacks whole categories of information about you, and it’s easy to imagine how bizarre and ugly the results might become. Probably the machine would fix on whatever variables it could measure, to the exclusion of everything that is intangible, subjectively meaningful in your life.

        Now all day long, you’ve got some Kubrickian voice whispering in your ear. “Danny, you know you’re not allowed to eat that sausage.” “Put the book down, Danny; it’s time to begin your cardio.” “Danny, that woman may be attractive and exciting, but I’ve decided the risk of future drama and tension are not worth any pleasure you might experience tonight.” And when you choose to ignore that objection and demand your car keys anyway…you get the inevitable “I can’t do that, Danny.”

        You see what I’m getting at? It’s not that the computer is indifferent to you or cruel or evil or anything like that. It simply doesn’t see the upside of these apparently foolish choices, and it cannot understand the benefits that come from your so-called bad decisions. That knowledge belongs to you alone.

        • My contention that it is false that people know best how to take care of themselves does not entail that there is someone else who knows best how to run their lives for them. We are all pretty ignorant and very fallible concerning what is best for ourselves. But we are all even more ignorant and fallible concerning what is best for someone else. Still, we can all learn from each other.

          Consider a college leaver seeking careers advice. He might have little idea of what career would suit him. So he talks to a careers advisor who gets him to answer a questionnaire designed to identify his abilities and inclinations. The advisor then feeds the completed questionnaire into a computer which matches the info about the kid with an analysis of skills and inclinations usually possessed by people who are successful in different lines of business. The upshot is a prioritised list of suggestions of career options. As a consequence, the kid has a better idea, possibly a much better idea, of what sort of occupation will suit him. But the next step is up to him: pick one, suck it and see; then change course if necessary.

          Suppose the kid fancies a girl at his new place of work but is not sure about how to go about it (this not being college any more). He gets some advice from some of his colleagues or friends. He would not go back to the careers advisor for that information.

          The recognition that we do not know what is best for us but have to find out, usually by trial and error (but using information from knowledgeable people to reduce the costs of experimentation) gives no grounds for paternalism or socialism.

          • Sean II

            All “knows best” really requires in this context is “knows better than anyone else”. It doesn’t have to mean “knows much” and it certainly doesn’t mean “decides wisely”.

            When you say “we are all ignorant and fallible…but we are even more ignorant and fallible concerning what is good for someone else” you are making my original point, exactly as I intended it.

            So if you concede that people are better at making their own decisions (including when to take advice) than they are at making decisions for each other, what remains in dispute? How can you resist the conclusion that libertarianism entails at least that degree of “selfishness” as one of its key features?

            And if you do resist that conclusion, then where is the line between libertarians and everyone else?

            By definition, non-libertarians really do believe that people are better off when certain decisions are made for them and enforced against their will. The left tends to believe this in economic matters, the right in moral matters, with plenty of overlap. Both hold to the conviction that people are dangerous idiots when making their own choices, while still believing that, somehow, certain select people (or collectives) become capable of great wisdom when making choices for other people.

            Are there libertarians who don’t believe that? If so, where do they live, and how are they getting along with the rowdy bunch of untrue Scotsman who must also reside there?

          • As you point out, my claim in the first paragraph of my previous post, that “we are all even more ignorant and fallible concerning what is best for someone else,” contradicts the point I was trying to make. Let me take that sentence back. Here is what I should have said.

            1. People do not always know best how to take care of themselves. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.

            2. In general, people do not know how best to run the whole life of another person (for the benefit of that other person). That is what I should have said last time.

            3. It is often the case that someone else knows better than a person himself what that person should do with regard to a particular aspect of his life.

            4. From the fact that A knows better than B what B should do with regard to X it does not follow that A should decide what B does in that regard. But it would be kind of A to let B know what A thinks. It is then up to B to decide what to do on the basis of that advice, other information and his own inclinations.

            I think there is not much difference between us here. But there is some. I deny that the agent always knows best what is best for himself. I also (and therefore) think it is a mistake to build an argument for liberty upon that assumption, as some libertarians do.

          • Sean II

            I would never say an agent “always” knows anything about anything.

            But you make it sound like even-money whether a person is better off making his own decisions or having them made by others. “Sometimes they do….sometimes they don’t… often someone else knows better” in particular cases. I wonder if you can mean that in quite the way it comes across.

            Perhaps you would agree with this:

            A) In general, a person will know more about his own life than he does about anyone else’s.

            B) Knowledge is a necessary though not a sufficient condition for reliably making good decisions.

            C) Therefore, a person will generally be better positioned to make his own decisions, and he will generally do a better job of it than anyone else.

          • I think that every normal person is entitled to make his own decisions. ‘Normal’ is meant to exclude only people with some kinds of mental disabilities. That, I take it, is the libertarian claim.

            I think that, on the whole, normal people are better off making decisions for themselves. But this is not a straightforward issue. First, ‘on the whole’ is a numerical thing: there will be a proportion of tragic lives due to mistaken choices. Second, in relation to a specific individual, ‘on the whole’ means over a lifetime, not in every decision. Third, ‘on the whole’ takes into account the fact that even a decision that is bad in welfare terms is still a good for the agent in that it was his own decision. For a normal person there is great value in making decisions for oneself, even if they turn out to be bad decisions, because it means that one is functioning AS a person. This paragraph gives the rationale for the libertarian claim made in the preceding paragraph.

            Your (A) sounds true. But it is a bit amorphous. I know more about my life (i.e. what has happened) than anyone else does, though with CCTV all over the place it would be possible for someone else to know more about that than I do. But what we have been talking about is who knows more about what is best for a person in future. I think that people are generally ignorant about what is best for themselves in future. They have some ideas (often mistaken); and they have some information about what went well for them in the past (also often mistaken). As for the future, they have to make a guess and see how it turns out. It is quite possible that some other people will make a better guess. Sometimes we know a person better than he knows himself, in some respects. But the knowledge here is still fallible knowledge: no one knows anything for certain.

            I don’t know what your (B) means: the notion of ‘reliably making good decisions’ is not one that I would use. But knowledge is not necessary for making good decisions, because one can make a lucky guess. In fact, that is what a good decision is.

            Your (C) comes close to my second paragraph, though I would probably not put the point in those terms.

            Commenting on your response to Damien (below), I deny that libertarians need to be selfish or to advocate selfishness. Making one’s own decisions does not entail always deciding in favour of oneself.

            It is always a pleasure to debate with you, Sean.

          • Sean II

            No, please…the pleasure is mine.

            For me this one all comes down to a question of truth in advertising.

            As libertarians we want people to have more control over their own lives. We understand they will often, though of course not always, use that control for action designed to benefit themselves. And we’re cool with that. In fact we’re enthusiastic about it. We think it will very likely lead to a better world, across the board.

            Others hear us say that and react with disgust. If there’s one thing that could unite catholics, muslims, socialists, neo-cons, and my nosy grandmother in a common cause, it’s the fact they don’t like the sound of that, one damn bit.

            And when we come back with “oh, but you see it isn’t selfishness because of something you can read about in Adam Smith or John Rawls…”, they probably think we’re full of shit. We look like we’re trying to evade an obvious and natural consequence of policies that give a green light to self-directed and self-serving behavior.

            I think they’re right. And I think we should admit they’re right, and not be the least bit ashamed to do so.

          • I still disagree. Of course, people should be permitted to act selfishly: they have a right to. But, while we all act selfishly some of the time, most people do not act selfishly all of the time. We know that from biology: ‘selfish’ genes do not make selfish people. But most of us also have an aversion to people who are wholly selfish, or even significantly more selfish than average (for which, again, there may be a biological explanation). And that means that to advertise libertarianism as promoting selfishness is not a good way of selling it.

          • Damien RS

            “By definition, non-libertarians really do believe that people are better
            off when certain decisions are made for them and enforced against their
            will. The left tends to believe this in economic matters,”

            Some economic regulations are paternalistic, but many aren’t, aimed at limiting decisions that affect other people negatively, not decisions that affect oneself negatively. Externalities, for example. Others seek to ensure that accurate information is provided so that people *can* meaningfully decide for themselves; inspections, say, to deal with asymmetric information.

            “people are dangerous idiots when making their own choices”

            The tragedy of the commons and the prisoner’s dilemma aren’t about people being idiots; they’re about rational individual choice being dangerous in some situations, due to the structure of those situations.

          • Sean II

            Okay, I guess, but what of it? I certainly wasn’t claiming paternalism is the only reason why Leftos support economic regulation. But it sure is a favorite of the fanboys on that side.

            The question at hand is: are libertarians selfish? I say “Yes, of course. Let’s not be foolish and try to deny that. We want people to control more of their own decisions than those meddling kids on the other two teams. How can we not be more selfish?”
            As to the prisoner’s dilemma and the tragedy of the commons, those are surely not libertarian problems – i.e., not problems that arise from people making their own free choices. If people followed our advice, neither problem would come up too often.
            I mean, there’s a reason why we don’t call it “The Uncoerced Citizen’s Dilemma” or “The Tragedy of the Privately Owned Farm”.

    • martinbrock

      The knowledge problem is a central planner’s problem, not a problem of individuals. As a libertarian, I assume only that a central authority does not know and cannot know how best to care for everyone. This assumption does not imply that each individual knows best how to care for himself.

      I may know better than my six year old child how to care for the child. My oncologist may know better than I how to treat my cancer, even if he doesn’t know that I’d rather die a few years earlier than deplete my children’s inheritance.

      Barack Obama cannot know how best how to care for every six year old child and every cancer victim. A central, legislative committee can’t either. Neither can an administrative bureaucracy.

      Beyond very small groups, human interactions are too dynamic and complex for anyone to engineer, effectively to optimize the welfare of each individual or even to optimize some aggregate welfare.

      • Sean II

        I think you’ll find the knowledge problem applies quite literally here. I’m not suggesting an analogy or anything. I’m using the concept as is.

        Anyone who tries to take control of another person’s life IS a central planner, vis-a-vis that person. Anyone who tries to take control of another person’s life must end up making decisions about costs he cannot calculate and benefits he does not understand.
        The consequences of my choices are experienced subjectively, and only I know their weight (and not always too well). Anyone who tries to make my choices for me is in the same position, knowledge wise, as a purchasing manager at a shoe-lace factory in Nizhny Novgorod, 1937.

        He doesn’t know the price of things.

        • martinbrock

          A parent is a child’s central planner in your sense, but it doesn’t follow that the child knows better than the parent what is best for the child. A paternalistic state exploits a rhetorical analogy to the parent/child relationship, but an actual parent/child relationship is not meaningfully similar to a state/subject relationship.

          • Sean II

            Yes, a parent is a child’s central planner, in that sense and in others. I take it for granted readers here will stipulate that kids and imbeciles make the exception to such rules. Forgive me for not saying “mentally competent adults” wherever I said “people” above.

            That aside, I DO think the parent/child relationship is regrettably similar to the state/subject relationship in too many cases.
            For me, being a libertarian includes feeling deeply troubled by the power parents have over their children. Especially here at BHL, where we’re supposed to be so uniquely attentive to non-state forms of oppression, it seems important to reckon with the huge amount of misery, frustration, cruelty, and arbitrary power that children face at the hands of even well-meaning parents.

            The trouble is, what other choice does one usually have? Removing a child from his blood-related “central planners” and placing him with a state agent even further removed from knowing or caring about him is likely to be worse, except in extreme cases of neglect or abuse.

            So we’re stuck with the family until something better comes along. But we should keep eyeing it with suspicion, you know, like Larry David does when he’s trying to detect a lie.

          • martinbrock

            I’m not deeply troubled by the power that parents have over their children, though I have memories of resenting this power as a child. Parental power over children is inevitable. I might as well be troubled by the sun’s power. For all I know, a massive solar flare might destroy every electrical circuit tomorrow.

            Parents can also abuse their children, but parents are not naturally inclined to abuse their children. The relationship between state and subject is more like the relationship between a lion and another lion invading his territory. Among lions in the state of nature, these invasions are not improper, but resistance to such invasions by established proprietors is the genesis of forcible propriety.

            I also don’t see this site focusing on non-state forms of oppression. Forms of oppression linked to forcible propriety are state forms of oppression. Property is not liberty. It is a more or less useful imposition. “Life, liberty and property” is a minarchist formulation of the rights of man. “Anarchist property” is incoherent.

            In the libertarian sense, “freedom” is meaningful only within the bounds of propriety. I am subject to the law of Gravity, but this subjection is not oppressive. The only meaningful “freedom” in this sense is one man’s freedom from rules that another man enforces.

            What something better might come along? Children are somehow born with the knowledge of an adult? We somehow program a child’s brain with all of this knowledge at birth? I shudder to think of the programmer’s power over the child in this scenario.

  • Damien RS

    Actually, Haidt *has* studied libertarians.

    “It will not surprise Reason readers that the
    study found that libertarians show (1) stronger endorsement of
    individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle and
    correspondingly weaker endorsement of other moral principles, (2) a
    relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional intellectual style, and
    (3) lower interdependence and social relatedness.”

    “Libertarians scored slightly below conservatives on Harm and
    slightly above on Fairness. This suggests that libertarians “are
    therefore likely to be less responsive than liberals to moral
    appeals from groups who claim to be victimized, oppressed, or
    treated unfairly.””

    the Big Five
    Personality inventory, which is a broad measure of personality
    traits, libertarians scored lower than conservatives and liberals
    on Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Extraversion. According to
    some researchers, low scores on Agreeableness indicate a lack of
    compassion and a proud, competitive, and skeptical nature. On the
    other hand, like conservatives, libertarians are not generally
    Neurotic, tending to be more secure, hardy, and generally relaxed
    even under stressful conditions. And like liberals, libertarians
    scored high on Openness to New Experiences, indicating that they
    have broad interests and are very imaginative.”

    “Libertarians are the
    only group that scored higher on systemizing than on
    empathizing—and they scored a lot higher”

    “The utilitarian moral
    calculus is the same—save five by killing one. In fact, the
    researchers find that libertarians are more likely to resolve moral
    dilemmas by applying this utilitarian calculus than are either
    liberals or conservatives.”

    ‘On the
    Different Types of Love scale, it turns out that libertarian
    independence from others is associated with weaker feelings of love
    than liberals or conservatives have for friends, family, romantic
    partners, and generic others. The authors note that libertarians
    also report slightly less satisfaction with life than do liberals
    and conservatives. The researchers report that libertarians “score
    high individualism, low on collectivism, and low on all other
    traits that involved bonding with, loving, or feeling a sense of
    common identity with others.”’

  • ThaomasH

    The discussion would be improved by some actual examples of Libertairians being called “selfish,” presumably by a person that has defined “selfish.” Surely Gerson cannot the be the best exponent of this view if it is a view that needs to be defended against.

  • ThaomasH

    The initial post and most of the discussion would profit from
    examples of “Many critics believe that libertarians are
    unusually selfish people” Or “Critics often say
    that libertarianism is just an attempt to rationalize greed and selfishness”
    besides Gersen. If one wants to contradict a proposition, one should find the strongest articulation of it; these paraphrases
    could be taken as “straw men.”

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  • unclesamonmars

    Libertarians are self -obsessed, self-important and worst of all, pseudo intellectuals.

  • DiaboloMootopia .

    Libertarians say, “Let’s help by creating background conditions that generate so much wealth that no one needs a handout.”

    Liberals are suspicious of libertarian motives when we hear this. The reason is because no country has ever managed to do this. Not even the one country in history which has had by far the most material wealth, and the most free-market political and cultural orientation – the USA.

    The libertarian proposal to create background conditions so that nobody needs a handout are by purely market means, demonstrably impossible. Plenty of wealth is created, but in a market society, sufficient amounts of it NEVER find its way to the bottom so that nobody needs a hand out. So for liberals the only explanations are total ignorance of history, or an ulterior motive on the part of libertarians.

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