Is Libertarianism a utopian model that only works in theory?

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

A great humanist instructed us to distinguish between the ethical and the utopian imagination. This is an important distinction.

Libertarianism, I posit, is more a moral than a utopian construct. It rests upon a particular handling of ethical principles regarding force in a universalistic manner, emphasizing reciprocity. It places a regulatory view of law against organizations and groups by nullifying claims to special privileges regarding the legitimacy of coercion, especially on class and group grounds. Liberty is radical, true enough, but only insofar as it bars state operatives from claiming special status, except, perhaps, in very limited, legally circumscribed ways. It is commonplace and unexceptionable in disallowing individuals as such from staking such claims.

Many people consider this utopian. I can see why. By taking on the state, the liberty principle is . . . bracing in its daring and consistency. This is so ‘not done’ that it seemsutopian.

But I regard that as a parallax illusion. The principle is homely and familiar; the state as it normally operates is not.

The best reason to absolve the liberty principle from a charge of utopianism is that it is not salvific in nature or intent.

Liberty relieves no one of responsibility.

The freedom libertarians offer guarantees no one of relief from the need to work, or be of use to others. Benevolent acts of generosity and unburdening (and non-reciprocal aid in general) remain relegated to communal and family action in a free society, and, of course, to private charity. But these are not guaranteed. The State, if it exists under liberty, is not there to serve as Messiah or offer anyone special dispensation. Utopian yearnings for cosmic justice have no place in the libertarians’ conception of law. Demands for godlike, magical fixes have no place in the liberal/libertarian imagination.

What libertarians offer in place of coercively guaranteed equality, or salvation, or advantage, is an environment where quality can more readily progress and evolve, practically achieving that which non-libertarian utopians demand as an indemnity.

What liberty provides is not utopia but, as Robert Nozick famously argued, a ‘framework for utopias.’ For we all have our various schemes for improvement. Experiments in living are what we expect in a free society. Liberty provides a playing field for our attempts to create a better social life. But utopian guarantees with recourse to legitimized aggressive, initiated coercion? Prohibited.

In my experience, most folks reject the libertarian idea not because it is too utopian, but because it is not utopian enough.

Libertarianism has so little to do with religion or ends-specific social scheming that it robs politics, in most moderns’ minds, of ‘all the fun.’

So, back to the question. Does it work only in theory?

Well, libertarianism is a reciprocal morality, arguably the most honed and refined such vision. We human being, whether ascended from apes or created by the Anunnaki, are prone to certain grifters’ plays in our value systems. Our basic moral instincts are, as Herbert Spencer noted (The Inductions of Ethics), to split morality in twain, simultaneously nurturing some with an ‘ethics of amity’ and harshly abusing the rest with an ‘ethics of enmity.’ We moderns jigger with words and principles and values routinely, trying to hide this basic dichotomy, often secreting it into the basic structures of convoluted statist institutions, all protected from scrutiny by some basic cognitive biases. These jiggerings often take the form of something very much like a confidence game trick, and we end up sneaking exploitation and predation and parasitism into our nobly expressed ‘ideals.’

This being so ubiquitous, built into the warp and woof of political life, we cannot know for certain if human culture and character can progress to the libertarians’ refined idea of law as applying equally to all.

We may be too baboonish.

That remains to be seen.

But our defects as a species, whatever their extent, would not scuttle the regimen of equal freedom because it is too utopian, but because too moral. Our desire for the advancement of self and our kinds (whether clan or class or some other clade) at the expense of others may be ineradicable, and the existence of state hierarchies too enticing a shiny (if illusive) savior to forgo out of respect for reciprocal rights.

We will see. Right now, we are so far into the current confidence game of the churning state that more honest regimes seem murky.

What we do know is more liberty is workable. How do we know? Well, one reason we know is that liberty’s current illiberal opposites are not working for the general benefit. We have big hints.

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .