A criminal is a person with predatory instincts without sufficient capital to form a corporation.

— Howard Scott


Garry Reed's picture

Prof says individuals are myths and libertarians are Republicans

In a November NY Times article anthropologist John Edward Terrell claimed thatindividualism is an "American myth." While attempting to prove his position he misuses "libertarian" in his commentary, continually juxtaposing "libertarian," "Republican" and "Tea Party," indicating that he's as confused about libertarianism as he is about individualism.

Here's his first misuse: "Republicans, especially libertarians and Tea Party members on the ideological fringe, however, often trace their ideas about freedom and liberty back to Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, who argued that the individual is the true measure of human value, and each of us is naturally entitled to act in our own best interests free of interference by others."

First, while some libertarians call themselves "Republicans" or "Tea Party members" the Modern American definition of "libertarian" refers to people who embrace the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP) against coercion, intimidation and fraud. Republicans and Tea Party members do not. ZAP libertarians no more embrace these people as "libertarians" than today's socialists embrace Nazis or soviet communists simply because they called themselves "socialists" (The Nazis were "National Socialists" and the USSR was "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.)

Next Terrell says, "Self-described libertarians generally also pride themselves on their high valuation of logic and reasoning over emotion." In reality, libertarians can and do describe themselves in any number of ways, including emotional ways, just as the restof humanity does. The very fact that they reject coercion, intimidation and fraud is the greatest proof of their emotional commitment to humanity.

Then the author writes, "Contrary to libertarian and Tea Party rhetoric, evolution has made us a powerfully social species, so much so that the essential precondition of human survival is and always has been the individual plus his or her relationships with others.

Besides again conflating libertarians and the Tea Party the only "libertarian rhetoric" here is that "evolution" did not make us "a powerfully social species." We made ourselves that way, either through choosing or being forced into groups. Libertarians simply demand the right to choose our relationships, not to be forced into them as the Professor Terrells of the world would insist.

Lastly we're given this: "The sanctification of the rights of individuals and their liberties today by libertarians and Tea Party conservatives is contrary to our evolved human nature as social animals. There was never a time in history before civil society when we were each totally free to do whatever we elected to do."

While still confusing libertarians with Tea Partiers Terrell says some odd things for an educated man. Since The very definition of a "group" is "two or more people or things" there can be no groups without individuals and hence no group rights, only individual rights. Also, libertarians have never claimed that we are "totally free to do whatever we elected to do." See again: Zero Aggression Principle.

Libertarianism is not about individual versus group, it's about voluntaryism versus coercion. But in his clearly bigoted arguments against individuals ("selfish and self-serving," "self-interested and self-centered") and his glorification of groups in which he makes no distinction between coercion and mutual consent Terrell effectively becomes an advocate of coercion.

This makes Prof. John Edward Terrell more of an apologist than an anthropologist.