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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/2/13

Climate-Denying Libertarianism

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Source: Consortium News
The image of the Earth rising over the surface of the moon, a photograph taken by the first U.S. astronauts to orbit the moon.

An inconvenient truth for "libertarians" is that their ideology of a minimalist U.S. government grew out of the South's institution of human bondage, i.e., the contractual right of a white person to own a black person, and from the desire of slaveholders to keep the federal government small so it could never abolish slavery.

That is why many "libertarian" icons -- the likes of Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and the later incarnation of James Madison -- were slave owners who understood the link between the emergence of a strong national government and the threat to slavery.

More recently, "libertarian" political favorites, such as Ron and Rand Paul, have either opposed or criticized civil rights laws that, in their view, infringe on the rights of white businessmen to discriminate against blacks. And libertarian-oriented Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court and in  legislatures  across the country are gutting voting rights for black and brown Americans.

But an even bigger crisis facing "libertarianism" now -- and why the ideology is particularly dangerous -- is the existential threat from global warming and the urgent need for collective government action on a worldwide scale to reduce human output of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping chemicals.

The "libertarian" response to the overwhelming scientific consensus on this life-threatening reality has been either to deny the facts or to propose implausible "free market" solutions that would barely dent the crisis. Some dismiss the threat in mocking tones as some kind of "statist" conspiracy. Typical were sarcastic comments by the Independent Institute's Mary Theroux, writing: "The climate crisis is real, it's here, and it's time for absolute power for Obama!"

There's also lots of sophistry and quibbling about the science. The preferred "libertarian" position adopts the pretense that the release of carbon dioxide by human activity contributes little or nothing to climate change.

Other "libertarians" accept the science but still can't bring themselves to recognize that a coordinated government response is needed. Anti-government ideology trumps even the possible destruction of life on the planet, a very real possibility given the likelihood of mass dislocations of populations and the availability of nuclear weapons.

The "libertarians" are further hampered in their thinking about global warming by the fact that many of their principal funders are major energy extractors -- and it's nearly impossible to get people to think rationally about a problem when their paychecks depend on them not doing so.

Most notably the billionaire Koch Brothers who own Koch Industries, a giant oil and natural gas company, have lavished millions upon millions of dollars on "think tanks," academic centers and Tea-Party-style activist groups to raise doubts about climate-change science and to deflect public demands for action.

Pluses and Minuses

Clearly, "libertarianism" does have its valid points -- especially regarding the absurdity of U.S. drug laws, the destructive wastefulness of the American Empire and the excessive surveillance that followed 9/11 -- but there are many other crazy elements to the ideology and its resistance to reason.

Its principal tenet of unregulated "free markets" has been discredited again and again, through market crashes, economic depressions and the foisting of dangerous products on customers. There is also the grander lie that "free markets" somehow can or will address broader societal needs when capitalism is really about how to maximize short-term profits regardless of the danger inflicted on the environment or individuals.

There also are legitimate societal concerns that "libertarianism" would essentially ignore, such as how to care for the elderly, how to educate the population for today's economic challenges, how to ameliorate the suffering of the poor, how to maintain an effective infrastructure, etc.

That doesn't mean that government has all the answers. But there is a significant difference between adopting a position favoring a government only doing what it needs to do and the "libertarian" insistence on the smallest government conceivable. The former accepts that capitalism can handle many undertakings with minimal government regulation, while recognizing that the failure of "free markets" in other settings requires greater government intervention to "promote the general welfare" as the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution states.

For instance, the private sector can't do transportation infrastructure very well. Thus, governments have to step in with spending for roads, rail, airports, etc. Capitalism also has little need for aging, worn-out or sick workers. So, the government is needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

On a current topic, the Affordable Care Act represented the government's recognition that the profit motive behind private health insurance had failed millions of Americans, forcing them to overburden hospital emergency rooms and requiring some government intervention. Yet, "libertarians" still cry tears for the insurance industry.

Of course, even among those holding a pragmatic view toward the need for government, there can be legitimate differences over policy prescriptions, whether a certain rail project makes sense or how best to care for the sick. But "libertarianism" and its ideological hatred of "guv-mint" has an irrationality to it, which only makes sense if you reflect on the origins of the philosophy, born in the intensity of the South's resentment toward the federal government's intervention to end slavery and later to stop racial segregation.

Slavery's Interests

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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