The Motivations of “Libertarians”

Image: John-Mark Smith


The cries of libertarians respond to the most primitive instinctual demands of a childhood lost forever

Since man moved away from the state of nature, freedom has been a value positioned at the center of human relations, which always seems to be conquered or in danger of being lost. Hundreds of civilizations have not been able to definitively resolve a measure of freedom that conforms to all, and emancipation, both personal and collective, is always something to come.

The historical situation we are going through, a pandemic in between, highlights an old tension between individual freedoms and collective care – the current name of social justice. Citizens who want to travel abroad who are “victims” of the policy of closing airports, the “anti-quarantine”, the “anti-mask”, those who cry out against the authoritarian encroachment of the impediment to free movement, all these are faithful representatives of those who aspire to the unlimited exercise of individual liberty. Any obstacles against her must be removed from the scene. It is clear that they are not willing to give up anything for the common good.

Two interesting facts to point out are that, in general terms, this group of libertarian people: (a) belong to economically privileged groups within society; (b) they feel represented by political options that interpret any attempt to distribute goods, wealth and rights as a populist, demagogic, Castro-Chavist and, why not, communist policy, considering any of these expressions as despicable qualifying adjectives.

It is necessary to remember that Chilean First Lady who, seeing how the popular demands did not cease even in the face of the carabinieri bullets in the face of the demonstrators, said: “They look like aliens, we will have to give up some of our privileges for them to calm down”.

The privileged is the one who presents himself as an exception regarding the collective, someone who does not feel within the rules of contractualism. If Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke, the fathers of contractualism, established that the fundamental principle of life in community is that each individual renounces a portion of his freedom to recover it in the benefits of a gregarious life, these subjects feel excluded from have to make such a waiver.

The fundamental question is whether there is any kind of motivation, beyond moral motives, to understand the foundations of this behavior that affronts society, and that – if we push the arguments a bit – even has a dissolving effect on sociability, because the The most extreme individualism is incompatible with community life.

Given my trade, and my custom when doubts swamp me, I went to the old fox of Vienna for help, looking for a little guidance.

Sigmund Freud, in line with the contractualist philosophers mentioned above, also thinks that civilization is the result of a renunciation, but the Freudian foundation is not sociological, but instinctual. It is about renouncing the immediate satisfaction of certain instinctual demands. This renunciation in turn is the source of a quantity of dissatisfaction that produces uneasiness. The guiding principle of drive functioning – the pleasure principle – must be suspended in order to find some substitute satisfaction in the interstices of reality.

In Freud's words: "This substitution of the power of the individual for that of the community is the decisive cultural step. Its essence consists in that the members of the community are limited in their possibilities of satisfaction, and the individual did not know such limitation”[I]

The constitution of civilization has the same logic as that of the subject who desires. A mythical human baby suffers from an unbearable tension caused by the need to eat, and his whole psyche is oriented to repeat the experience that once brought him satisfaction. What provokes the immediate hallucinatory investment of this experience. It will be the hard encounter with reality mediated by the help of the other that will teach you to wait and to make the necessary detours around the world. Only then will he learn to distinguish between hallucination and reality.

However, the false longing for a lost world will remain forever inscribed in the subject, in which it was only a matter of wishing for, without any mediation, satisfaction to arise. In this constitutive myth of human desire is anchored the idea of ​​unrestricted freedom, which is ultimately nothing more than a childish desire, a regression to an unreal stage.

Freud, in his monumental text Civilization's Discontents, refers to this issue as follows: “Individual freedom is not a heritage of culture. It was maximum before all culture; it is true that at that time it lacked value most of the time, as the individual was hardly able to preserve it. As a result of cultural development, the individual experiences limitations, and justice demands that no one escape from them. What appears within a community as a libertarian spirit can be rebellion against prevailing injustice, in which case it will favor further development of culture, and will be something reconcilable with it. But it can also stem from the remainder of the original personality, a remainder not controlled by the culture, and thus become the basis of hostility towards the latter.”[ii]

Sorry reader for the long quote, but I didn't have the heart to cut it, as I believe it is extremely illuminating.

The cries of libertarians, so associated by the mainstream media with supposed new forms of progress, are nothing more than new wine in an old skin, and respond to the most primitive instinctual demands of a childhood lost forever.

Ultimately, I can only end these lines of reflection by concluding that no one can be free in solitude and that there are progress that delay.

*Osvaldo Rodriguez Professor of Psychoanalysis at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Buenos Aires.

Translation: Maria Cecilia Ipar.

Originally published in the newspaper Página12.


[I] Freud S.: Malaise in Culture, 1930.

[ii] Freud S.: malaise in the culture, 1930.


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