December 8, 2008

As a strong believer in liberty, my attitude towards the term “false consciousness” is strongly pulled in two opposing directions. On the one hand, I have always hated the idea of “false consciousness,” because it seems to take the condescending attitude that even though you think you are better off doing X, other people know better than you that X is really something that makes you worse off. A theory like this excuses all manner of reforms and laws that people oppose, on the grounds that they really don’t know what’s best for them.

On the other hand, libertarians do have to employ something like false consciousness in attacking the status quo. “False consciousness” smacks of paternalism, but that doesn’t make it wrong. If you believe that there is one state of things that makes a person objectively better off than other states, as I do, then you can’t reject the notion that the affected individual is wrong about what that state is, and that the condescending paternalist is correct. It’s at least plausible. And libertarians do actually hold this position when they argue against the status quo. The policies libertarians love to hate, like protectionism, minimum wage laws, and rent control, enjoy wide popular support. Yet, when I argue that these policies are bad, I usually base my argument on the claim that getting rid of these policies would make people better off, even though they don’t realize it (BTW, my defense of anarchy also has this basis).

The problem for libertarians is to show that people who know better than anyone else what is good for them in their personal lives don’t have any idea what is good for them politically. The solution, I’d can be found in our long-ago discussion on smoking and the shortcomings of heuristics. People are individually rational, but that does not make them omniscient. Rather, they must spend time and energy to discover information. A rational person spends this time and energy to gather information that will be of use to him, and does not waste a lot of time and energy on problems that will have no application to his life. Thus, a person will be more likely correct on questions for which he has a great personal stake in the answer, (e.g. should I smoke?) and likely incorrect on questions where his belief will have a negligible impact on his life. (e.g. is free trade good?) This is the same point Bryan Caplan makes in his Myth of the Rational Voter.

Marxism is still wrong, but not because of false consciousness. Marxism is wrong about how markets work and wrong about whether “class” is a thing and whether it matters (it isn’t and it doesn’t). As a libertarian, I am still wary of “false consciousness,” but that is because more often than not, those who invoke it do so to explain why some truly awful policy has not been enacted, and why they should have more power. I oppose the enacting of awful policies and giving anyone more political power, but I can’t object to the idea of “false consciousness” itself.


2 Responses to “Libertarxism”

  1. tripinchina Says:

    Yeah libertarians are just as elitist as us hippies — we both know what’s good for others.

    As for your assertion that class doesn’t exist and doesn’t matter, I think you should expand on it. What you’ve written so far lacks any kind of analytical rigor and actually sounds like you want to negate sociology in its entirety just for spite.

    Finally, your beef with centrally planned economies and their disastrous effects should be with Lenin rather than Marx…but I feel like I’ve touched on that point before so I will leave it be for now.

  2. […] Thomas has said that what you’ve written so far on class lacks rigor and “sounds like you want to […]

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