Reclaiming Libertarianism, with Andrew Koppelman

A few years ago in Obion County, Tennessee, a homeowner called 911 to report that a trash fire in his yard had gotten out of control. The operator told him, however, that because he forgot to pay his $75 annual dues, the newly privatized city fire department would not help him. Firefighters eventually showed up to stop the fire from spreading to a paid neighbor’s property, but they let the fire consume the debtor’s home.

In his new book Burn down the house, Andrew Koppelman, professor of law at Northwestern University, considers that this episode reflects the form of libertarianism that has been popular with much of the modern right, which manifests itself in a callous indifference to the misfortunes of others. But Koppelman sees in it a corrupted form of the libertarianism described by one of its greatest exponents of the 20th century, the economist Friedrich Hayek. Although Hayekian libertarianism shares the right’s faith in capitalism and its distrust of central economic planning, it also shares much of the left’s concern for the welfare of the poorest members of society. society and accepts significant government action. In fact, in 1960, Hayek proposed a health care plan that anticipated the general idea of ​​the Affordable Care Act.

According to Koppelman, libertarianism as a right-wing phenomenon owes its reinterpretation by greedy interests and extremist thinkers like Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, who oppose almost everything the government does. Rothbard, in fact, “pushes the libertarians’ hatred of state oppression to its maximum. He calls for a world with no government at all, in which the market rules everything. Even police and legal services should be offered by competing contractors.

In this podcast discussion, Andrew Koppelman traces how Hayek’s moderate, pro-market libertarianism was hijacked in the service of right-wing extremism, like Charles Koch’s climate change denial agenda. It calls for a recovery of the original Hayekian vision in a way that can bring about more robust capitalism and more stable and inclusive societies.

Note: The transcript of this episode of The Vital Center will be posted here by 11/14.

Photo credit: iStock

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