January 4, 2008

5 Common Libertarian Arguments Debunked: Part III – “Cultural Evolution”

Posted in Economics, Politics tagged , , , , at 2:47 am by Travis Bedford

In continuation of this five part series, today I will address the third of the most common libertarian arguments, and that argument is:

3. The argument from cultural evolution, associated with F.A. Hayek, who held that societies embody cultural traditions which compete with one another in a kind of evolutionary process, the most “fit” traditions – those most conducive to human well-being – being the ones that survive and thrive, driving their rivals into extinction, or at least onto the historical sidelines: hence capitalism’s victory over communism, a culture which respects private property, contract, and the rule of law being superior in cultural evolutionary terms to one which does not.

This argument is really quite strange. Please excuse me if I’ve misunderstood it, but I don’t speak gibberish. If what I see here is correct, the author is arguing that capitalism and “freedom” are better because cultures which contained these characteristics have been selected for, and are therefore “better” for its people.

The similarity to biological evolution is clear, but the conclusion is not. With evolution, the replicator (in this case, “Capitalism” or “Communism” are the replicators) which is best able to make copies of itself is the most successful. The comparison holds up to this point, to a degree. When we reach the “conclusion” (note that biological evolution doesn’t have an equivalent), the problem is apparent. TalkOrigins has a more in depth explanation of biological evolution.

The replicator best able to produce is not inherently “better” than another, at least in this case. Capitalism is not better than Communism (not quite opposites, socialism would be a better word for communism) because it reproduces better, it is better because it creates the greatest good for society.

Still, extreme capitalism (the economic side of libertarianism) is not necessarily the best option for society, either. Part I of this series goes into this in more depth. To reiterate, it’s not what’s the best, it’s what reproduces the best.

As with the previous arguments, this one is appealing on the outside, but lacking on the inside.

Part IV of the series will cover the contractarian argument.


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    1. […] Part III […]

    2. […] Part III […]

    3. […] Part III – “Cultural Evolution” […]

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