What Libertarians Get Wrong About Human Nature

Lauren Reiff
9 min readOct 1, 2019
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Libertarianism has long been the bold, vigorous cousin of conservatism. Defined by a zealous individualism, libertarianism’s philosophy of “live and let live” has appealed to many. It isn’t hard to see its attraction. After all, the libertarian creed offers a tidy solution to the question of what one’s thinks is acceptable or not in the realm of society — if it doesn’t pertain to you as an individual, then your opinion is wonderfully irrelevant. It’s a tight, crystalline philosophy that elevates liberty, embraces the individual, and directs skepticism towards the state.

Let me be clear: The essential precepts of libertarianism such as free markets, limited government, voluntary association, non-interventionism, personal responsibility, and the like are enormously exemplary ideas. These principles are cherished because they have a good track record of producing not only economic prosperity for the society but also dignity for the individual.

Nevertheless, some aspects of its ideological purity make it unworkable as a realistic (or even desired) model of governance. Its unwavering religion of individualism can commit the error of brushing aside the social institutions necessary for a thriving society. Its calculation of liberty as the mere absence of government can neglect to consider the legitimate role it (government) actually has in maintaining it. The truth is, libertarianism has much to applaud, but perhaps there’s a reason that a libertarian never gets elected to office. Though impressively ideologically cohesive, the libertarian creed lacks a certain human touch. Its incompleteness is derived from its inability to integrate some of the inescapable facts of the human condition that necessitate a delicate balancing act between societal structure and total freedom.

One of the limitations of the libertarian philosophy is its distinctly (and arguably, solely) economic focus at the expense of loosely-grouped “societal concerns”. For the libertarian, such concentration is exacted on economic liberty because to dabble in “societal concerns” has immoral connotations attached to it. For the libertarian, if the state were to exert any kind of distinguishable influence on society this should be roundly treated as sin.

Lauren Reiff

Writer of economics, psychology, and lots in between. laurennreiff@gmail.com / I moved! Find me here: laurenreiff.substack.com