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Antilibertarianism: Markets, Philosophy and Myth Hardcover – 23 Jun 1994
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"A lively and engaging imminent critique of "economic libertarianism . . . if there were any lingering plausibility in the view that a free market rooted in individual property rights maximizes individual liberty, Haworth puts a final nail in the libertarian coffin."
-Alan Wertheimer, University of Vermont
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This is a powerful and compelling critique of libertarianism which sets out to expose such mythologies for what they are. For Haworth, it is through the fabrication of myths, rather than by developing rationally compelling arguments, that the New Right has set about its beatification of free market capitalism: that is, it has set about convincing us that our wants needs and interests are circumscribed and satisfied by the operation of unconstrained market capitalism, and that individual liberty consists of no more than the absence of deliberate interference aimed at preventing us from doing or getting whatever it is that we want to do or get. Libertarians seek to manipulate us, after Mandeville's fable, into seeing ourselves as (busy) "bees" whose "private vices" will generate all that can be hoped for in the way of "public benefits". To surrender to such a metaphor, Haworth argues, is to lose all sense of our real human potentialities and resign ourselves to the operation of a free market moving in ever more mysterious ways its wonders to perform.
Haworth's perceptive and engaging critique is passionate as well as carefully argued. It gives vent to the anger those uninfatuated by libertarianism feel when confronted by it. Haworth ruthlessly exposes the mean and meagre moral vision that undergirds the New Right Project, and proposes an alternative myth of his own: that we are fallen angels who could once fly. What precisely this means, and how it might help us to overcome a still victorious neo-liberalism, is not entirely clear, but it seems that Haworth has something prosaic enough in mind: nothing more (or less) than the rediscovery and reaffirmation of the "loosely egalitarian vision" that was to be found, for example, in Britain at the close of the Second World War. Despite its unfashionableness, this vision is, he argues, more securely rooted in our culture, even now, than that of the New Right. It has the parable of the Good Samaritan and other root myths of Western morality on its side.
It is important that Haworth has exposed the libertarian myth not only as a myth, but also as a charmless and poorly narrated one. This is a terrific book.
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His criticism, however, is sorely lacking in understanding of his opponents. His dissection of Hayek's internal inconsistencies is excellent, but he never makes clear why Hayek's criticism of planned economies is necessarily relevant to libertarianism. Haworth also fails to properly understand the modern views of libertarian economic arguments, such as the necessity of "internalizing" things like pollution, instead ridiculing the libertarians for presumably forgetting all about this obvious rejoinder. Last but not least, his tone is condescending and childish, and this does not really help anyone's case, even if I feel (as one strongly opposed to libertarianism) that it might be deserved.
On the plus side, Alan Haworth's book is very useful for a memory refresher on the central tenets of libertarianism's conception of freedom (a conception too little attacked generally), and his destruction of Robert Nozick's mystifications of "innate rights" is well-done.
All in all, worthwhile, but certainly not the book you should get if you aren't familiar with libertarianism already, since there's a lot of straw in Haworth's version of it.
That said, this book is something of a paradox. It is an exquisite breakdown and deconstruction of all the sophistry that lays the foundation for Libertarianism; and yet, it does it in such high-level language and discourse, through logical analysis spoken with a Brahmin-tongue, that who is this Author trying to convince?
If Libertarians were well read in terms of: philosophy, history, economics, civics, moral philosophy, then they wouldn't be Libertarians, now would they? Yet, this book caters to such an audience, an audience of world-wise Libertarians; a group that largely doesn't exist due to the fact that the concept is completely oxymoronical.
For example we have paragraphs like this:
"According to Austin 'our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connections they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations', and the method he consequently recommends involves `field work', the careful description and classification of these in order to `dispose of the problem of Freedom' (1970: 183). This means that the whole thrust of Austin's argument runs in a direction quite contrary to that of Berlin's. For Austin, the distinctions embodied in `our common stock of words' are diverse and manifold. They are `likely to be more numerous, more sound... and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably practical matters, than any you or I are likely to think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon' (1970: 182), all of which renders the likelihood of construing freedom on a single model extremely low. It also means that the Austinian negativist - the `weak' negativist, as I shall call the proponent of this type of theory - has no need to speak in terms of `spheres' or `areas' at all. Where such terms are employed by this type of theorist, if they are, they need be no more than illustrative metaphors. We don't have to take them any more seriously than that. In contrast to Austin, as noted, Berlin stresses the notions of the area and the preventing obstacle a great deal. Are we to take this equally metaphorically? I think not, and for the purposes of my own argument I shall interpret Berlin as advancing a form of what I shall call `strong' negativism. Before I say why, just to make sure that I've made the point clear, let me summarize what I take the distinction between `weak' and `strong' negativism to be." (pg. 43)
Are you convinced yet?
This is the problem, the entire book is written like this, and it might have been fantastic if there were a lot of philosophy majors that were Libertarians, but that is obviously not the case for the very reason that those that make it their task to understand the truth are seldom fooled by such transparent politically motivated ideology and sophistical word-games.
If you would like to hear a deconstruction of Libertarianism on this type of astral plane of pure logic and theoretical argumentation, then this book is good. If you're a Libertarian then this book is probably not going to make any sense to you and you're better off reading something else.