Friday, June 25, 2010

Libertarianism and hedonism

Bruce Charlton has a great post up about why libertarianism is not the future. Here's a quote:

The libertarian ethic is that the highest value is each individual being maximally free to take the choices which best enable self-gratification. While the libertarian may sincerely *hope* that other people will exercise these choices in a way which promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest number (however that might be measured) it is a more direct route to personal gratification simply to seek gratification for oneself rather than for society. Even in the ‘perfect’ libertarian society it is always possible for an individual to further increase their own gratification at the expense of others – while some choices (e.g. to be the highest status, most desired, most creative) intrinsically entail the deprivation of others.

And if gratification is the goal of human life, because human life is unpredictable then *immediate* gratification – right here, right now - is vastly surer and more dependable than undergoing the risks and uncertainties involved in pursuing long term gratification. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Let's see if GSS data support the view that libertarians tend to be amoral, short-term hedonists. Two questions come immediately to mind: 1) do you ever drink too much, and 2) have you ever strayed. Here are the percent of whites answering yes by political orientation as I defined it in the last post:

Percent who drink too much (sample size = 5,431)

Libertarian 41.8
Conservative 28.6
Traditional Moderate 31.8
Permissive Moderate 51.6*
Traditional Liberal 34.1
Permissive Liberal 51.9*

Percent who've strayed (sample size = 3,806)

Libertarian 29.9*
Conservative 11.4
Traditional Moderate 12.1
Permissive Moderate 29.3*
Traditional Liberal 14.6
Permissive Liberal 26.2*

*significantly more than conservatives

Libertarians and especially people with a permissive orientation are more likely to drink too much and to have cheated on their spouses. A "do whatever you want" worldview might encourage a person to behave badly.


  1. Amusing that 'traditional liberals' are almost like conservatives in this respect. Sometimes a little hypocrisy is a good thing.

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  3. Anonymous4:18 AM

    But why does it matter? Who is to decide what bad behaviour is? Are they breaking the law? No, they are exercising their freedom and human right. Is cheating a good thing? I would consider cheating a bad thing, but they aren't breaking the law. There is nothing wrong with being hedonistic unless you are breaking the law. Libertarians are not bad people, they are simply free. They are free from a culture that strains people from doing what they want.


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